Are you planning on taking the MCAT soon? If so, you might want to consider our list of the best ways to study for the MCAT.
Ultimately, preparing for this challenging exam will depend on the person. There are dozens of ways you could get ready for the test - and no single strategy is right for everyone.
However, what’s important is that you take the time to prepare, regardless of your skill level or confidence. Here are some expert-approved tips to help you brush up and get ready for this important test.
What Is The MCAT?
The MCAT, short for the Medical College Admission Test, is a standardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the Caribbean Islands.
The goal of this computer-based test is to assess problem-solving skills, critical thinking ability, written analysis skills, and content knowledge related to scientific practices and principles.
The current version of the test reports scores in four sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
You’ll be expected to take the test a few months before you plan to enroll in medical school, but it’s important to note that most schools do not accept scores that are more than three years old. Generally, the test is scored on a range of 472 to 528.
Best Ways To Study For The MCAT
Admission to medical programs is competitive - and trying to get into the top medical schools will require a high score on the MCAT.
In 2018, the average MCAT score was 506. However, the average MCAT score of students who were accepted into medical school was 511. These figures alone show how tough it is to get into medical school. Therefore, the better you can do on this challenging exam, the higher your odds are of getting that offer of admission.
Here are some of the best ways to study for the MCAT.
Figure Out Where You Are At
Before you decide to follow any study plan or sign up for an MCAT course, it’s important that you take the time to determine your baseline.
What is a baseline? It’s a score that you would receive if you showed up at a testing site, with no additional preparation, and took the test today. For most students, that score is going to be pretty humbling!
Before you start preparing for the exam, take an MCAT practice test. Try to set yourself up for real-life testing conditions by mimicking the environment, time restrictions, and other conditions.
Once you score your practice test, you’ll have a good idea of your strengths (a good confidence booster!) and your weaknesses (which will inform you of the necessary areas of study).
Be sure to compare your baseline score to the minimum score required for admission at your goal school, too. That way, you’ll know what kind of preparation you need to do to get your test-taking abilities up to snuff.
Creating a self-review plan is a good option for test-takers who are confident, budget-conscious, and super organized. To create your own study plan, you will need to purchase review books or practice tests on your own - nobody will be there to guide you.
If you don’t do well studying independently, this might not be the best option for you. However, the benefit of preparing yourself for the MCAT is that you won’t have to spend money on classes or tutors - nor will you have to travel to weekly classes.
Take A Class
If you struggle with self-motivation or time management, you may want to sign up for a class. There are hundreds of MCAT prep classes you can take, many of which are offered online (an equally large number are offered in person). You can find some of the top courses in our best MCAT review courses guide.
Usually, these classes are well-organized and taught by a professional who really knows his or her stuff. You’ll follow a set schedule that will walk you through all the steps of the MCAT.
This kind of focus is perfect for students who lack the organizational skills to force themselves to study on a certain schedule each week. However, keep in mind that you will want to spend some extra time studying outside of class - up to six hours - in order to score well on the exam.
It’s important to remember that MCAT classes can be quite expensive, too. Some are several thousand dollars or more, which can be prohibited for some students.
Work On Speed, Accuracy, Content, And Test Taking Skills
In order to do well on the MCAT, you need to focus on the four major dimensions of taking this exam.
One is speed. Like most standardized tests, the MCAT has a time restriction. You’re going to have to answer a large number of questions in a short amount of time. Time yourself when you take your tests - but not right away.
Before you can work quickly on the questions, you need to be able to do them accurately. In order to be accurate in answering the practice problems, you should have a good mastery of the content.
You also need to have good test-taking skills. Re-acquaint yourself with these strategies, as it may have been quite some time since you last took a standardized test in the same vein as the MCAT.
Focus On Quality Instead Of Quantity
It’s important to get yourself on a good schedule when it comes to studying for the MCAT. However, you shouldn’t set an arbitrary number when it comes to how much or how frequently you will study. Telling yourself that you will study for ten hours a week doesn’ mean much if you’re spending most of that time zoning out.
Instead, break down how you intend to spend that time and have a clear plan for your review process. That way, you’ll avoid making the steam mistakes - or getting distracted - during each study session.
Build Your Stamina
While you’re preparing for the MCAT, try to take as many practice tests as possible. It can be tough to stay focused over the course of several hours, but practice makes perfect. Work on your practice sections over increasingly long periods, taking short breaks in between, until you find that you can concentrate for several hours at a time.
Try to mimic the real-life conditions of the test, too. You don’t have to do this every time you do a practice test, but every now and then, try to complete an entire text in a single setting. Take short breaks between sections but don’t allow yourself to have any food or water - except during those breaks.
This will not only teach your body to work under the stress of actual MCAT conditions but it will also help your brain manage your stress under anxiety-provoking test-taking situations.
Work On Regular Repetitions
While taking a practice test every week or so is a great study habit to get into, even more frequent revisiting of the content might be beneficial, too.
Consider signing up for an app, like MCAT 2015 Mastery, that will help you prepare for the test. If an app isn’t really your style, there are test prep services, like Kaplan, that will send free MCAT practice questions to your email every day, too - for free!
Don’t Expect To Study 24/7
While it can be tempting to totally clear your schedule to dedicate all of your spare time to studying for the MCAT, try not to fall into this trap. You’re not only going to burn out quickly - meaning you’ll be less likely to retain the information you studied or stick to a studying schedule - but you’re going to be miserable, too.
You do need to commit yourself to studying for this exam, but it shouldn't be the only thing you do. Try not to tack studying for the MCAT on to your full-time job or school obligations. Make some arrangements so that your schedule is freed up a bit more to prepare for the test.
Give yourself plenty of breaks and days off from studying. And no, sleep doesn’t count as a break (although you need to make sure you get plenty of sleep, too, in order to do your best).
Ace The MCAT - No Matter What
The most important thing to do when you are preparing for the MCAT is to be honest with yourself. Constant self-evaluation is going to be the key to your success. Use your results to help you improve and don’t let yourself “cheat” out of actually learning the content.
Rather than blaming a missed problem on poor or confusing wording of the question, ask yourself what kinds of questions you are consistently missing. How can you improve? What kind of passages give you pause? What answer traps do you fall for?
And don’t just consider the answers you got wrong - also look at the questions you got right. Were you right because you had truly mastered the content - or because you got lucky?
By being honest with yourself and working hard to prepare for the MCAT, you’ll be able to succeed regardless of how difficult the questions are on test-taking day. Keep in mind the best ways to study for the MCAT, and you’re sure to ace the exam.