The Best MCAT Study Schedule and Recommended Resources

How to Create the Best MCAT Study Schedule

Dr. Ken Tao

Posted in: MCAT

Table of Contents

It is absolutely essential that you spend time creating an MCAT study schedule before you start studying. An MCAT prep schedule provides a broad overview of what you need to study and helps you divide your work into manageable blocks of time.

You’ll often see an average recommendation of 300 study hours in order to be prepared for taking the MCAT. In my experience, the average number of study hours risks an average MCAT score, somewhere around 500, which is not optimal. After all, 511.9 is the average score of medical school matriculants.

This study guide will help you understand how to judge the amount of time you’ll personally need to study, how to create an effective study schedule, and what resources you’ll need for your MCAT test day.

(Need to brush up on what’s covered on the MCAT? Check out this breakdown of the MCAT sections by Prospective Doctor.)

“Creating a schedule was one of the most important aspects of my MCAT preparation. Being able to adhere to a schedule with set blocks of time dedicated to different types of content review and practice passages works as a powerful force on two fronts: it not only provides the foundation for highly effective studying and concentrated preparation, but also enables a compartmentalization of time that gives you space to participate in extracurricular or leisure activities.”

1. Take a Full-Length Practice Exam

Taking a full-length practice test before you begin studying isn’t mandatory, but it will help you identify your baseline. Any learning gaps that require more study hours will become more apparent.

Your results on a full-length practice MCAT exam help you create an MCAT study plan, particularly if you have a little less time than most students. As your study progresses, you can see the progress you’re making when you take additional practice exams.

When your goal is to score at least 510, and you got a 500 on your diagnostic exam, then 300 hours will probably be sufficient to boost your score with a well-planned study schedule. If you scored closer to a 490 on your diagnostic test, target 400-500 study hours instead. (That’s one reason I recommend taking a full-length practice exam before scheduling your test date.)

I’m not saying you can skip studying the topics you did well on, either. I just mean you’ll know where to focus more of your time and energy. After all, there’s little use spending 3 weeks on a topic you know well when you could allocate some of that time to your learning gaps.

MedSchoolCoach has the most realistic MCAT practice exams in the industry, complete with detailed analytics showing where you need to study most. We also have free resources like our MCAT Study Tips and MCAT Equations Sheet (because you can’t use a calculator on the MCAT).

The diagnostic score from an MCAT practice exam is also a great way to identify when you might be ready for the real exam.

2. Choose a Test Date

Before creating an MCAT schedule for studying, pick a test date and testing center. Depending on how many hours you estimate you’ll need to study, pick a date that balances the ideal time for your application cycle and how many months you need. 

The MCAT can be taken from January through September, with over 25 test dates for you to choose from. The latest you should take the MCAT is the end of May in the first year of your application cycle. For 2024/25’s cycle, the latest test date for the highest chance at acceptance is May 24, 2024.

Do not leave the MCAT test date open-ended by telling yourself that you’ll choose one when you’re done studying. This is a recipe for last-minute cramming, burnout, and inconsistent preparation leading to an MCAT retake.

Related reading: How Long Does It Take To Get MCAT Results?

3. Identify Your Personal Study Needs

When choosing a test date and making your study schedule, consider how much time you need for test prep in relation to all your other commitments. Consider these questions to help prepare:

  • Are you working part-time or volunteering? How many hours per week?
  • Do you still need to prepare other components of your medical school application? 
  • Do you have family responsibilities that will take your attention?
  • What is your current courseload, and will your study time for classes interfere with MCAT studying?
  • According to your grades and MCAT practice exam, what high-yield topic areas should you spend the most time studying?

Ask yourself these questions and be realistic about how much time you need vs. how much time you have. A study schedule is not just about managing your time but also about ensuring you are not overwhelmed by your workload. If you give yourself a set amount of time each day to study, the process of preparation will be less stressful.

If you need to study for about 400 hours, you can do that in ~34 hours per week over a 3-month MCAT study plan. When you look at the rest of your schedule, can you devote that many hours per week to studying with your other commitments?

Given the breadth of MCAT content and the importance of scoring in a top percentile, studying should not be rushed or underestimated. There is a lot to get through, so make sure you give yourself enough time to study and take advantage of every resource available to you.

A good study plan should balance content review and practice questions. You’re not “sacrificing” one for the other. You should plan on doing both for a good study plan.

4. Schedule the Content Review Phase

Dividing your study schedule into two phases will help you get an overall idea of how much time you will need to study. The first phase should focus on MCAT content review. Reviewing content means reading books and study materials to digest the subjects that are on the MCAT exam.

Half of the time you intend to spend studying should be on content review, and it will taper into practice testing. To better plan how much time you will need for your study schedule, count how many chapters you’ll need to read for each subject. Consider your own reading pace and break up the content review phase into manageable blocks for your time and study abilities. 

Remember, the subjects you’ll be tested on during the MCAT include:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Biochemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Sociology
  • Physics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

Divide your study between high-yield areas and all other areas. Each person’s needs are different, but in general, you should spend around 75% of your time on high-yield MCAT topics and the other 25% on other areas.

It’s also a good idea to review MCAT math strategies to help you get through the necessary calculations without a calculator.

If you are able to read a chapter or two a day, you can plan for 6-8 weeks of content review. During the 5th or 6th week, the content review should begin to shift into the next 6-8 weeks of the practice phase.

Based on the number of days and hours you’ve allocated for study, you can begin to specify what you’ll be studying each day during your MCAT content review schedule. For example, on January 12th you might choose to cover topics in genetics – maybe transcription, translation, and the post-translational modification of proteins.

When planning what you’re going to study, be as specific as you can and write the details down in a format that is both organized and helpful to you. The most common format is a table/calendar.

Read Next: How to Be a Standout Medical School Applicant

5. Schedule the Practice Test Phase

The second phase of studying for the MCAT will involve plenty of practice passages, practice tests, review, and filling in learning gaps. A common mistake I see made by students is doing too much content review and not enough practice.

The early weeks in the practice phase may be spent using non-AAMC practice questions and reviewing how you’re progressing, as well as spending significant time with an MCAT tutor. 

A tutor can help teach you content, plan your studying, go over your practice materials, and improve your test-taking ability. This will definitely reduce some of the stress of having to do everything on your own.

Our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the MCAT. They can help you create a plan to boost your MCAT score.

The last portion of your schedule should be dedicated to doing timed AAMC practice passages and full-length exams to improve your test-taking performance.

Remember to give yourself a day off after taking a full-length practice exam for mental recovery.

6. Adjust as Needed

Setting a study plan that spans weeks and months will give you plenty of time to adjust or repeat the steps and processes. Even after you have covered all the study material you had hoped to, you should make room to go over any weak content areas.

You are in charge of your study plan and can make changes accordingly. If you study better after a meal, then plan to read your chapters after lunch or dinner and do your homework in the morning. 

Some of us wake up and are ready to tackle the day, and some of us hyper-focus in the middle of the night. Do what is best for you, but make sure to adjust your sleep schedule and other commitments accordingly. 

One of the best ways I recommend studying for the MCAT is to download the MCAT Prep mobile app, which features hundreds of MCAT science content videos, sample questions, and flashcards. 

Our app also has an in-built scheduling function to help you stay on track with your MCAT science content review. This function is built to accommodate both part-time and full-time MCAT studying equally well.

FAQs

Considering the amount of study material to get through, most students need between 3 and 6 months to prepare. In addition to giving yourself a few months to study, you’ll also need to dedicate enough daily study time to prepare so that you are consistently in ‘study mode.’ This will help you stay motivated and on track while keeping the content fresh in your mind. There’s no hard and fast rule for how long you should study for the MCAT. I recommend tailoring your study plan to your specific needs and preferences. A tutor with plenty of experience teaching pre-med students can also help you plan effectively.

How many hours a day you study for the MCAT will depend on what you feel is best for your learning preferences. 

An MCAT study schedule with a full time job or for a student going to school may look more like 2 to 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 5 to 6 months. Those planning to study full-time, on the other hand, may end up studying 6 to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 2 to 3 months.

A daily schedule for studying during the content review phase may look something like this:

  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. — Have breakfast, check emails, and get ready for the day.
  • 8:30a.m. – 11:30 a.m. — Start reading the biochemistry chapter of the day.
  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. — Head to the gym or go for a run, cool down, and have lunch.
  • 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. — Continue reading the chapter, go over notes and diagrams, and start the second chapter for the day if it is a two-chapter day. 
  • 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. — Take a break. Watch a TV show, check in with friends, and have a snack.
  • 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. — Finish the second chapter if it is a two-chapter day, review the content you’ve read, make flashcards if they are helpful to you, and note any areas you think you want to review with your tutor.
  • 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Make dinner and take time to unwind and relax until bed.
  • 11:00 p.m. — Brush your teeth and go to bed.

A daily schedule during the practice test phase may look like this: 

  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. — Have breakfast, check emails, and get ready for the day.
  • 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. — Look over some flashcards and do a rapid-fire study session. 
  • 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. — Take your practice exam
  • 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. — Watch a little TV or go for a walk, have dinner or a snack. 
  • 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. — Review your practice test and make notes for what areas you want to improve.
  • 9:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Check your social media accounts and meal prep for tomorrow.
  • 11:00 p.m. — Brush your teeth and go to bed.
Depending on your baseline score on a diagnostic test, you should plan on studying anywhere from 300-500 hours to be prepared for the MCAT. These study hours can be during longer days spanning a short period or spread over the course of a 6-month MCAT study schedule.

100 days is a little over three months to study for the MCAT. For some, this will be an adequate amount of time for studying, but for others with differing commitments, it may be too short. If you’re following a 50/50 split between content review and practice questions, this will give you about 7 weeks for each phase.

Essential Resources for MCAT Prep

With so much to study, you’ll need the best MCAT resources and prep books for high performance. Fortunately, plenty of these resources are readily available online for test-takers. Some of them include:

If you work with one of our expert MCAT tutors, you’ll gain access to all of these resources and more. You’ll also get personalized tips, advice, and insights that are proven to boost your MCAT score.

Nail your MCAT exam and med school application with the help of our tutors and Physician Advisors. Our students improve their MCAT scores by 12 points on average! Schedule your 15-minute consultation today.
Picture of Ken Tao, PhD

Ken Tao, PhD

Ken is the Director of MCAT at MedSchoolCoach. He is an alumnus of UC Berkeley and Harvard University, boasts degrees in Bioengineering, Molecular and Cell Biology, and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Ken previously worked with undergraduate students at Princeton Review where he was the only tutor certified in all subjects. Ken was one of the highest rated MCAT tutors ever and a teacher trainer. He founded Magoosh's MCAT division and has written content for dozen's of MCAT books and guides.

Recent Blog Posts

View All Posts
How to Beat the Chem/Phys section of the MCAT | MedSchoolCoach

How to Beat the Chem/Phys Section of the MCAT

How to Beat the Chem/Phys Section of the MCAT An MCAT webinar with Dr. Tao https://youtu.be/4e0nva_cbZw Sign Up for a[...]

calendar-icon April 12, 2022
A female student doing last minute study for the MCAT with a male student encouraging her

MCAT Test Day Rules and What to Bring (And Not Bring)

Table of Contents Knowing what to expect on the day of your MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is key to[...]

calendar-icon February 13, 2024
MCAT Study Schedule

How to Create the Best MCAT Study Schedule

Table of Contents It is absolutely essential that you spend time creating an MCAT study schedule before you start studying.[...]

calendar-icon December 27, 2023

Guidebooks

View all guidebooks
The Pre-Med Journey

The Pre-Med Journey: What it Takes to Get into Medical School

Thinking about applying to medical school? Discover what high school students need to know about obtaining a career in medicine.

Download
Successfully Planning for the USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK

Successfully Planning for the USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK

Get ready for the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 with this free guide to study planning and resource utilization.

Download
100 MCAT Study Tips

100 MCAT Study Tips

Taking the MCAT? These 100 tips and tricks will help you ace the MCAT.

Download

Happy April Fool’s Day from MedSchoolCoach!


While mastering sleep-learning is still a dream, MCAT Go helps you study for the MCAT while you are awake. Listen to MCAT Go for free (a $99 value) by entering your email below to receive an exclusive discount code. This ain’t no joke.