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 depends on you. There are dozens of ways you could get ready for the MCAT exam – and no single strategy is suitable for everyone.
However, what’s important is that you take the time to prepare before the MCAT test date, regardless of your skill level or confidence. Here are some expert-approved MCAT preparation tips to help you brush up and get ready for this critical 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.
This computer-based test aims 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 MCAT exam 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 during the medical school admissions process, typically a few months before enrolling in medical school. But it’s important to note that most schools do not accept scores over three years old. Generally, the test is scored in the range of 472 to 528.
Best Ways to Study for the MCAT
Admission to medical programs is competitive, and getting into the top medical schools will require a high score on the MCAT.
The 2021-2022 average MCAT test score was 511.9. However, the score is an increase from 511.5 in 2020-2021. 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 of getting that admission offer.
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, you must take the time to determine your baseline.
What is a baseline? You would receive a score 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 taking MCAT prep courses, take MCAT practice tests. While taking practice tests, 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).
Also, compare your baseline score to the minimum score required for admission to your goal school. That way, you’ll know what preparation you need to do to improve your test-taking abilities.
Creating a self-review plan is a good option for confident, budget-conscious, and super-organized test-takers. However, to make your study plan, you will need to purchase review books or practice exams 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 lessons.
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 provided in person). In addition, 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 knows their stuff. You’ll follow an MCAT study schedule that will walk you through the MCAT exam steps.
This focus is perfect for students who lack the organizational skills to force themselves to study on a specific schedule each week. However, keep in mind that you will want to spend a few hours learning outside of class – up to six hours – to score well on the exam.
It’s important to remember that MCAT classes, like med school, can be pretty expensive. Some are several thousand dollars or more, which can be too much for some premed students.
Work on Speed, Accuracy, Content, and Test Taking Skills
To do well on the MCAT on test day and get into one of the top American medical colleges, you must 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 MCAT exam tests – but not right away.
Before you can work quickly on the questions, you need to be able to do them accurately. That’s what the practice phase is for. Therefore, to answer the practice problems accurately, you should have basic knowledge and a good mastery of the MCAT content.
You also need to have good test-taking skills. Re-acquaint yourself with these testing 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 essential to get yourself on a good schedule when it comes to studying for a challenging test. However, you shouldn’t set an arbitrary number regarding how much or how many hours you will study. For example, telling yourself that you will study for ten hours a week doesn’t mean much if you spend 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 same mistakes – or getting distracted – during each study session. So, before beginning the studying process, create workable study schedules.
Also, quality in place of quantity is essential in the content review phase. Take time to review study materials and think of ways to connect the study resources content to the questions.
Build Your Stamina
While you’re preparing for the MCAT exam for medical school, try to take a practice exam as often as possible before the test day. We recommend taking full-length practice tests. Full-length practice exams cover four sections of the MCAT and your practice test scores will show you when you’re within the range of your goal score.
It can be tough to stay focused for 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. Of course, you don’t have to do this every time you do a practice test, but 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 food or water – except during those breaks.
This will teach your body to work under the stress of actual MCAT conditions and 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, a frequent revisiting of the content might be beneficial, too. However, don’t sacrifice practice for content review.
Also, reviewing the course material alone will not improve your practice scores or the final MCAT score. Instead, consider signing up for an app, like MCAT 2015 Mastery, that will help you prepare for the test. If an app isn’t 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 clear your schedule and dedicate all your spare time to studying for the MCAT, especially in the week leading to the exam date, 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.
It would help if you committed yourself to study for this exam, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do. Try not to add studying for the MCAT onto your full-time job or school obligations. Instead, make arrangements, so 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 ensure you get plenty of rest to do your best).
Conduct Research on the Medical School’s MCAT Requirements
Most medical schools have MCAT score requirements that pre-med students must meet. This makes it tricky to set your score goal, but you can search and compare information on US med schools using AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements. This research is essential to determine the time you’ll spend studying, whether to start the MCAT early, and the learning style to use.
Ace the MCAT – No Matter What
The most important thing to do when 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 consistently miss. How can you improve? What kind of passages gives you pause? What answer traps do you fall for?
Don’t just consider the answers you got wrong – also look at the questions you got right. For example, were you right because you had truly mastered the content or 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 the test day. Remember the MCAT study tips we shared on the best ways to study for the MCAT, and you’re sure to ace the exam.