Planning to take the MCAT exam? See how much time you need to study for the MCAT, how to create an effective study schedule, and identify key MCAT prep resources.
Most aspiring medical students understand the significance of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). It is one of the most important considerations that admissions committees make. The MCAT is used to determine whether students have a high likelihood of completing programs and becoming licensed clinicians and physicians. For instance, admissions committees may use a student’s performance on the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section to determine if they have a high chance of passing USMLE Step 1 later in their studies. A student’s MCAT score, then, is viewed as a reflection of their potential to excel in medical school, and their ability to graduate.
The medical school admissions process involves plenty of requirements that demand a student’s time and full effort. With the MCAT being one of the most important among these, it only makes sense to study as best as you can. And, as most students who have taken the MCAT will tell you, you should prepare to study a lot.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how long you should study for the MCAT; at the end of the day, you’re the test-taker. However, considering the amount of study material you need to get through, most students need 3 to 6 months to be confidently prepared.
Students have 7.5 hours to complete every section of the MCAT. The four sections are Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS); Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. Given the breadth of content that students will need to grasp in preparation for this lengthy exam, studying for the MCAT should neither be rushed nor underestimated. It is a lot of work to get through, so make sure to give yourself enough time to study and take advantage of all the necessary resources.
In addition to giving yourself a few months to study, you’ll also have to dedicate enough daily study time to prepare so that you are consistently in ‘study mode.’ This helps you to stay motivated and on track while keeping the content fresh in your mind.
It is normal for those studying part-time to study 2 to 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 5 to 6 months. Meanwhile, those studying full-time can expect to study up to 6 to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 2 to 3 months, So either way, buckle down!
It is absolutely essential for test-takers to spend some time creating an MCAT study schedule. The schedule will give you a broad overview of what you’ll need to study while helping you divide your work into manageable blocks of time and content. A study schedule is not just about managing your time, but also about ensuring that you are not overwhelmed by your workload. Giving yourself a set amount of time each day to study will make the process of preparation less stressful.
The MCAT Prep mobile app has hundreds of MCAT content review videos, thousands of questions and flashcards, but also can help you develop a study schedule as you prepare. Within the app, the “schedule” function accommodates both part-time and full-time test-taker equally well.
Taking a full-length practice test before your studying commences may help identify learning gaps and allow you to spend more time improving your weaknesses. A diagnostic test will show you what you’re already good at and what you still need to work on. This, on its own, can help you shape a more realistic study schedule, particularly if you have a little less time than most students. This is not to say that you do not need to study the sections you did well on, it just means that you’ll know where to focus more of your time and energy. After all, there’s little use spending three weeks on a topic you are confident in if some of that time could be allocated to your learning gaps.
MedSchoolCoach has the most realistic MCAT practice exam in the industry, complete with detailed analytics upon conclusion – so that you can determine where you need to study more.
The diagnostic score from an MCAT practice exam is a great way to identify when you might be ready for the real exam. Many students don’t think that waym so if you do, it could give you a leg up!
Before drafting a study schedule, you need to pick a date to take the test. The MCAT can be taken from January through to September, with over 20 test dates for students to choose from. Knowing when you’ll be taking the test will give you a visible goal to work towards. Do not leave the test date open-ended by telling yourself that you’ll choose one when you’re done studying. This can lead to procrastination and inconsistent preparation habits.
When choosing a test date, remember to consider how much time you need for preparation in relation to all your other commitments. Whether you are working part-time, volunteering, preparing other aspects of your application or involved in family responsibilities, you should be realistic about how much time you need compared to how much time you have.
While there are many strategies for building a solid study schedule, dividing your study content into manageable blocks for each day is generally a good place to start.
Based on the number of days and hours you’ve allocated for study, specify what you’ll be studying on a given day. You can be specific by labeling each date. For example, on January 12th you will cover Genetics in Chapter 1 from your biology book. Be as specific as you can and write these details down in a format that is both organized and helpful to you. The most common format is a table/calendar.
No matter what learning style you have, studying for the MCAT will involve plenty of reading, practice tests, reviewing your answers and filling in learning gaps. If you have asked for the help of a tutor, your preparation will also involve dedicated study sessions with them. It is important to make room for all of these phases in your study schedule.
Divide your study schedule into larger blocks (weeks or months, as opposed to days) that are dedicated to each of these phases. For instance, if you have created a six-month schedule, the first two months may be dedicated to reviewing content learned from your undergraduate (or college) content, with minimal practice.
The next two months 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 with crafting a study schedule to take some of the stress away from having to plan everything on your own.
The last portion of your schedule should be dedicated to taking AAMC practice questions and full-length exams and reviewing your performance.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to 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 content areas that are still weak. Think of it as a ‘refresher’ course for yourself.
With so much to study and the weight of the MCAT’s importance, you’ll need the best resources for high performance. As mentioned earlier, your study schedule will involve reading content, taking practice exams and, if you choose, working with a knowledgeable tutor. This means that you’ll need a variety of textbooks, online sources and practice papers by your side.
Fortunately, plenty of these resources are readily available to test-takers. Some of them include:
If you are taking a prep course or working with a tutor, you’ll also have the benefit of some of the best and most relevant resources! See what MCAT tutoring from MedSchoolCoach has to offer.
Or, if you already know you want to find an MCAT tutor, schedule a free consultation with an enrollment advisor, and they’ll help get you started.
Good luck as you prepare for of the most important test of your medical career!
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