How to Study for the MCAT
- Academically reviewed by Dr. Jordan Bilezikian - MCAT Expert
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is designed to prove that a student is capable of navigating the curriculum found in medical schools. It’s a difficult test that’s required during the application process and it will push you to your limits. 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 important test, students must properly prepare. This article will show you how to study for the MCAT and get the highest score possible.
Summary: Learn about some different methods on how to study for the MCAT.
How to Study for the MCAT
You may think you know how to study for the MCAT. However, the MCAT is not an ordinary exam. It is not just a score you are earning, but it is the score that could allow you to enter into medical school. There are little, and not so little, tips and strategies everyone should know when learning how to study for the MCAT.
One great way to study for the MCAT is to bear down and study on your own to determine just how ready you are for the real thing. It will save you money and you will be able to figure out what your weak areas are by examining your scores closely.
You can start off by using our free MCAT practice tests.
Each of the four sections on the MCAT will have a top score of 132. The lowest score possible will be 118. The four scores on the MCAT will be added together with the person receiving a final total score ranging from 472 to 528. Check out our guide to MCAT scores for more information on scores.
If you are able to see that you are repeatedly averaging a low score on one or two of the four sections, then you will quickly realize what to focus on. In reality, if your final score on the MCAT is lower than 500, you are going to have a difficult time being accepted into a medical school unless you have an outstanding resume put together.
How important to you is achieving a high score on the MCAT? Enough to make a sizable investment for a prep course? There are several MCAT prep courses offered by reputable companies. A few even guarantee that you will receive a higher score on the MCAT than you did previously (of course, this would mean you have had to take the exam already.)
There are many advantages to taking a prep course. You will be paired up in a class with a qualified instructor. They will provide you practice exams that are similar to the real MCAT. They can identify areas that are your strengths and weaknesses. With a prep course, they will basically lay out a study plan for you to follow. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
However, there is one drawback. Prep courses can be expensive. If you are close to wrapping up four years in college, you probably don’t have too much disposable income. Think of a prep course as an investment in your future as it will help you get into medical school and become a doctor.
We offer some discounts exclusive to our users - you can find those on our MCAT prep course review page.
There are two types of people in the world. Those who can study better with a group and those who are better off studying on their own. The advantage of studying with a group is being able to work with others that may bring out your best.
For instance, they can introduce you to better studying habits that perhaps you haven’t thought of or committed to. Their knowledge of certain areas on the MCAT could just be what pushes your score up to a higher level of achievement.
In addition, a group will keep you on task. It is easy to lose motivation and put off studying another day when you are tackling the MCAT all alone. But if you are studying with a group of people that all have one common goal, you will hold yourself more accountable as you do not want to disappoint your study partners.
People are physically connected to their phones just about 24 hours a day. They use their phones for practically everything. It is their alarm, their reminder, their note-taking, their way to communicate to friends and loved ones, and a million other uses as well. You might as well take advantage of your phone to help you study.
There are numerous MCAT apps available that will pepper you with questions and digital flashcards during your downtime. Just think how often you check your phone throughout the day for practically no reason at all.
Instead of checking your social media accounts, use this time to brush up on your skills and get ready for the MCAT. There are some free trial MCAT apps out there. If you sign up for a prep course, most of them offer an app to allow you to study anywhere.
Sometimes there just isn’t anything better than experience. Experience can carry you a long way in life. If you would like the most "bang for your buck," then you should find someone that has achieved a high score on the MCAT recently and ask them to tutor you one on one.
Their knowledge about the standardized exam could lead to you duplicating their high score. Plus, if they are currently in medical school, they could probably use the boost in income. If you do not know anyone willing to tutor you locally, a lot of the prep courses offer a tutoring option. This is great for students who need some 1-on-1 attention.
MCAT Prep Books
Who needs technology or tutors to help them prepare for the MCAT when you can go do it with an old school method? Sometimes there is nothing better and more dependable than pulling out a book, taking a seat, and starting to learn.
There are plenty of MCAT prep books that can provide you thousands of practice questions as you prepare for the big day. Being able to physically carry one of these books around with you wherever you go might enable you to constantly focus on getting ready for the exam.
Plus, you can get a bit of a workout at the same time. Many of these books are well over one thousand pages.
Start Studying as Soon as Possible
Most experts agree that students need at least 300 hours to properly prepare for the MCAT. That means you need to start studying as quickly as possible. Give yourself several months to master the core concepts that you’ll find on this important exam.
Cramming a lot of studies into a short window will add extra stress to an already stressful situation and can lead to severe test anxiety. Keep in mind that the 300-hour recommendation is for students who score high on their undergraduate tests. If you scored lower on those tests, you’ll need to dedicate more time into studying for the MCAT.
Create a Study Schedule that Works with Your Lifestyle
After taking a practice test, sit down and create your study schedule. Get everything together and develop a study routine that works for you. Most importantly, treat your study time like a precious commodity.
Remember that the MCAT requires much more than just memorizing information from textbooks. You have to understand the concepts being presented. Comprehension is more important than memorization. The MCAT doesn’t test memorized factual knowledge alone, it tests a student’s ability to apply critical thinking to that knowledge.
Finally, consider whether or not you want to join study groups or if you want to do all studying alone. Either option is fine, but most people find solace in groups.
Learn to Manage your Stress
Tests like the MCAT are designed to foster a stressful environment. Medical students must prove that they are able to use their critical thinking skills while under immense pressure. Stress management is a good habit to pick up right now.
Like with all stressful things in life, you can mitigate a lot of the pressure through proper preparation and the right mindset. Always work relaxation time into your study schedule. Never try to be a perfectionist. For the MCAT, passing a practice test will give you a huge confidence boost on test day so be sure to use this to your advantage.
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Before you can get accepted into a medical school in the United States or Canada, you must earn a solid score on the MCAT (among other things). The MCAT is a standardized exam created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that is used to predict just how much success a person will attain in medical school.
The MCAT will assess a student’s:
- Knowledge of Science
- Critical Thinking Skills
- Ability to Use Analytics
- Writing Skills
- Problem Solving
All of these skills are prevalent in the medical field as professionals often have to think quickly on their feet. Unlike most industries, it really is a matter of life or death in many instances in the field of medicine. The MCAT helps to ensure that a prospective student is up to the task. These skills are tested in the seven and a half hour exam through four sections.
The four sections of the exams are:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
You may take the MCAT up to four times in a span of two years. Hopefully, you will be able to nail down a solid score the first time around with the proper preparation. After all, what medical college admission’s board is going to be eager to accept a medical student that took four times to pass the MCAT exam?
The best approach is to come in completely prepared the first time as a higher score will lead to a better acceptance rate from all medical schools.
Make Sure You Are Ready
When it comes down to it, even though you may feel like you just want to get it all over with, you should wait until you are completely ready for the life-changing exam.
A good majority of us want to start checking things off of our “To-Do List” as soon as possible in life. We aren’t a very patient species for the most part. Still, there are times in life you should be patient. Deciding when to take the MCAT is one of those times.
If you are rushing to take the MCAT as soon as possible, this might mean you will not be as prepared as you should be. Patience is often something that needs to be learned. More than likely, you will know when you are truly ready to take the MCAT exam - trust your better judgement.
No one scores perfect on the MCAT. It’s designed to be difficult so don’t set your expectations too high. Perfect scores are not necessary. As long as you pass the MCAT with an above average score, you’ll be fine.
The reason we bring this up is because you don’t want to add the weight of scoring perfect to an already stressful situation. This is a mistake that’s made by so many medical students. There are a lot of students who shoot for those perfect scores and end up sacrificing other essential elements of their application, so they end up getting rejected because they are not well-rounded applicants.
As long as you lay out a study plan and come to the test prepared, you’ll achieve your goals.