How to Study for the MCAT
Reviewed By: Dr. Jordan Bilezikian
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a test used by medical schools to help select candidates during the medical school application process. It is a high stakes exam that requires a lot of preparation. Learn how to study for the MCAT below.
This test requires much more than memorizing the knowledge presented. Students must be able to use that knowledge to make decisions. Both knowledge and critical thinking skills are put to the test. If that’s not enough, the time limit creates a stressful environment that makes it even more difficult to focus.
In order to succeed on this exam, students must prepare properly. Use the resources and MCAT study schedule in this article when studying for the MCAT.
Summary: Prepare for the MCAT with our free resources below. Consider a best MCAT prep course for additional help.
MCAT Study Habits
When studying for the MCAT it is important to have some good habits in place. Use these MCAT study habits and implement them when preparing for the MCAT.
1. Take a Diagnostic Exam
A diagnostic exam should be taken at the beginning of your MCAT studies. A diagnostic exam will show you what score you would get if you took the exam today – it is a great way to get a baseline and a better idea of where you stand.
In addition to getting a baseline, you will also be able to see how your MCAT studies are progressing when you take another exam after studying for a bit. You can use our MCAT practice test to get a baseline.
2. Do Not Focus on Memorization
Focusing on memorization when studying for the MCAT will hurt your scores. When taking this exam, you will be asked to apply basic knowledge to various situations – some of these situations could be completely new.
It is important to ensure that you understand the material and are not just memorizing it.
3. Nail Down Concepts First
While the MCAT is a timed exam, this should be dealt with down-the-road. Focus on learning the concepts first. Learn the material and take untimed practice exams first. This will allow you to learn at a pace that fits your needs.
Once you feel comfortable with the concepts, focus on the timing aspect. But, if you focus on the timing aspect of this exam from the get-go, you will find it a lot harder to study for the MCAT.
4. Improve Focus
The MCAT is a 7+ hour exam. You will need to have laser-sharp focus for these 7+ hours. When preparing for the MCAT try to build up your focus.
You can improve your focus by slowly increasing the time of your study sessions. Try to build on the amount of time you study for the MCAT as you progress.
5. Use Full-Length Practice Exams
Taking multiple full-length exams will help improve you focus and help you better prepare for the amount of time it takes to finish the exam. They will help you become more comfortable with the exam and the format in which questions are asked.
6. Utilize Answer Explanations
Practice questions and tests are great, but make sure to utilize the most important aspect of them when you study for the MCAT. Answer explanations will help you better understand the material and learn why an answer was right or wrong.
Remember, you need to understand concepts and cannot just memorize everything. Answer explanations will help assist you in this process.
7. Evaluate Your Progress
It is important to take a step back and evaluate your progress while studying for the MCAT. It is very easy to get caught up in a MCAT study schedule (which we cover later on in this article). Students get so caught up in “checking the boxes” and just finishing things on their MCAT schedule.
Remember to pause and reflect on your studies. Evaluate which topics and subjects you are good at, and which subjects you struggle with. Spend more time on the subjects you struggle with – don’t avoid them!
8. Manage Your Workload
Many students who want to learn how to study for the MCAT think they need to study 24/7 for 6 straight months. This is not the case. It is important to manage your workload to avoid burnout.
Students who are burnt out heading into their actual exam will not do great. Make sure you give yourself enough time to study for the MCAT when you signup for an exam. Use one of the MCAT study schedules below to find something that works for you.
How Many Hours Should I Study for the MCAT?
It is generally recommended that students spend between 200 and 300 hours studying for the MCAT. How long to study for the MCAT will depend on your availability and other things going on in your life.
If you can dedicate 20 hours per week you would be at 240 total study hours after 3 months. This would put you right in the ballpark for total number of MCAT study hours.
However, if you can only dedicate 15 hours per week, it would take you 4 months to reach 240 total study hours.
It is also important to note that the number of study hours will vary for each student. Some students may need to spend extra time reviewing certain concepts, which will bump up their total study hours.
MCAT Study Schedule
There are multiple criteria used when evaluating prospective medical school students. One of the more heavily weighted criteria is your MCAT score. Achieving a high MCAT score is essential in getting into medical school. The first step in making this happen is crafting a MCAT study schedule.
Creating a MCAT schedule is one of the most important first steps you can taking when preparing for the MCAT. A MCAT schedule will help you plan your time, give you a timeline, and organize your studies.
Some of the best MCAT study plans are included with a MCAT prep course. You will be given the ability to build your own study schedule using their tools and software. However, if you are self-studying, keep reading and we will help you craft your own MCAT study schedule.
Building Your Own MCAT Study Schedule
Step 1: Choosing a Test Date
The first thing that goes into creating your MCAT study plan is choosing a MCAT test date. Choosing a date will allow you to know how much time you have to study, which is important when crafting a study plan.
Some things to consider when choosing a test date:
- When do you plan on applying to medical school?
- What time commitments do you have? These could include school, jobs, extracurricular activities, etc..
Remember, it is generally recommended that you spend between 200 and 300 hours when studying for the MCAT. Pick a test date that allows you to meet this study goal.
Step 2: Build the MCAT Study Schedule – Phase 1
When building out your MCAT schedule, you can break it into 2 distinct phases. Phase 1 will be more content learning based while phase 2 will be more practice based.
In phase 1, you should be spending about 70% of the time on content-based learning and 30% of your time on practice. 30% of your practice should include a MCAT diagnostic exam to kick off your studies – this will allow for a baseline and help you track progress.
When constructing phase 1 you will need to decide how long you will be studying for. Whether it is 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, or 16 weeks, split the amount of time in half. If you are studying for 12 weeks, 6 weeks will be spent on phase 1 and 6 weeks will be spent on phase 2.
Once you know how much time will be spent on phase 1, start planning out the content. Look at your study resources and count the total number of chapters you will need to learn by the end of Phase 1. You can then plot out those chapters on your schedule. It is best to be conservative in the amount of time you think it will take you to cover a chapter.
There are tons of tools out there that can help you make your MCAT schedule, but we like Google Calendar as it is easy to manage and 100% free.
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When working on phase 1 of your schedule you will need some sort of resource to learn from. Most students who study will use a set of MCAT prep books.
Some important aspects of phase 1 to keep in mind:
- Be conservative in the amount of time you think it will take you to study each concept/chapter. This will help you not fall behind or feel rushed.
- 70% of phase 1 should be content related and 30% should be practice related. 30% of the practice should include 2 full-length exams (a diagnostic exam and an exam at the end of phase 1).
- Use a tool to keep track of everything. We like Google Calendar because you can easily add things, send yourself reminders, color code, and mark items as complete.
- Try to follow a schedule. If you like to enjoy the weekends, do not plan anything for Saturday and Sunday.
Step 3: Build the MCAT Study Schedule – Phase 2
After completing phase 1 you should have a great base of knowledge. Phase 2 focuses on practicing. Phase 2 should consist of 70% practice and 30% content review.
All of the content you review for this phase should include concepts and topics that you know you struggle with. Use your previous practice exams from phase 1 to narrow down these topics.
When reviewing practice problems in phase 2, make sure you are reviewing the answer explanations and trying to really understand why something is right or wrong. Focus on understanding the questions and answering them correctly first, then focus on nailing down the timing portion of the MCAT.
Since phase 2 consists of a lot of evaluation and seeing where you are at with certain topics, we recommend building out this phase on a week-by-week basis. For example, every Sunday you can evaluate what subjects and topics you want to focus on based on where you are struggling.
Some important aspects of phase 2 to keep in mind:
- 70% of phase 2 should be practice related and 30% should be content related.
- The content portion of this phase should be content that you struggle most with. Mix in every topics to ensure you stay sharp on everything, but definitely focus on the harder concepts.
- Make sure you are mixing in both practice questions and full-length practice exams for the practice portion. Most students will end up taking about 5 full-length practice exams by the time they are done studying.
- Review answer explanations to better understand the material.
- Build out your schedule on a week-by-week basis for this phase. Things will change.
Best MCAT Study Plans - Templates
We understand that building your own MCAT schedule can be stressful and be very time consuming. We have gathered some great study schedules to help students better understand how to study for the MCAT. Use these schedules as they are or as a base template for your own schedule.
1-Month MCAT Schedule
A 1-month timeline for the MCAT can be done, but it will take a lot of dedicated study time each day. You can expect to spend about 8 hours per day studying. This will put you at 240 hours of total study time.
3-Month MCAT Schedule
A 3-month timeline is one of the more common timeframes for studying for the MCAT. You can expect to spend about 20 hours per week when studying on a 3-month timeframe. This will put you at 240 hours of total study time.
6-Month MCAT Schedule
A 6-month timeline is perfect for individuals who may be working or still in school. With a 6-month timeframe you can expect to spend about 10 hours per week. This will put you at 240 hours of total study time.
How to Study for the MCAT FAQs
How long should you study for the MCAT before taking it?
If you can devote 8 hours per day, you can be at 240 total hours in 1 month. If you can devote 20 hours per week, you can be at 240 total hours in 3 months. If you can only devote 10 hours per week, you can be at 240 total hours in 6 months.
How do I start studying for the MCAT?
After choosing a test date, decide how you want to study. Some students choose to self-study with prep books while others choose to use a prep course.
Once you have a study method, make a MCAT study schedule. This schedule will help you stay on track and ensure you meet your study goals. It will also help keep you organized. The best MCAT prep courses will include study schedules for you.
How many hours a day should you study for the MCAT?
Example: 250 hours / 50 days = 5 hours per day.
Is 3 months enough for MCAT studying?
If you are very busy with a job, school, family, or something else, you may want to consider allotting more time to study.