How Long Does It Take to Study for the MCAT?

How Long Does It Take to Study for the MCAT?
How Long Does It Take to Study for the MCAT?

You’ve spent most of your life telling anyone who asked that you wanted to be a doctor when you grew up. Now that you’re wrapping up your undergrad work, the time to put up or shut up is upon you, and the MCAT looms. 

You’ve begun to wonder how long it takes to study for the MCAT because you want to prepare. And also, if you blow it, you know you’ll never hear the end of it.

How much time will you need? How far ahead should you plan? There’s no single, simple answer, so let’s look at some elements you should consider as you prepare for the test.

Know What You’ll Need to Know

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) seeks to determine if you, the test taker, will make a good student when it comes to medical school. 

It tests your knowledge of various subjects, and one of the test’s purposes is to determine which medical school hopefuls have the analytical skills they’ll need. The test also tries to determine if potential med students have an ample grasp of science and other related concepts.

Subject Matter

Knowing what you’ll need to know means knowing what’s on the MCAT. The test contains four sections, and if you’re super confident in one or more of them, you may not feel the need to spend much time studying for that portion of the test.

The MCAT’s four sections cover the following:

  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills
  • Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior

If you already have a solid knowledge of chemistry and its roles in biological processes, you may not need to spend as much time studying for that part of the exam. You don’t want to skip it entirely, but if you’re already an accomplished chemist, you can likely spend some of your study time on other subjects.

Know Yourself

Approaching the MCAT well-prepared means knowing what you’re already comfortable with when it comes to medical-related academia. Our parents tell us how smart and perfect we are for our entire childhoods, but most of us figure out that they might be biased.

Our parents are lovely, sure, but don’t believe their hype. Your mom thinks you’re smarter than the smartest kid at Harvard, but you need to understand that she might be wrong, and that means you’ll need to spend some time studying for the MCAT rather than just planning to breeze in and ace it.

Know what you’re good at and what parts of the MCAT might cause you problems. If aspects of biology confuse you or trip you up in your classes more than chemistry, plan to spend more time studying biology and a little less on chemistry.

Taking a practice test may be the best way to do this. Taking a few of them as you prepare can be helpful, but the first one you take might be the most important in terms of planning your approach to studying for the MCAT.

A practice test can show you where you are in terms of the subject matter, which can in turn tell you what you need to work on. If you think your analytical and reasoning skills are sharper than they are, a practice test will tell you so.

And what do you do then?

Adjust your studying tactics to help you close that particular gap. But without having taken a practice test, you wouldn’t know about that one area in which you’re both underprepared and overconfident. 

How Long You Need To Study For The MCAT Depends on Your Needs

Having the basic self-knowledge that a practice test imparts can help your plan of attack when it comes to studying for the MCAT. For that reason, there’s no simple answer to “How long does it take to study for the MCAT?” Unfortunately, the best answer anyone can provide comes down to “it depends.”

It depends on how knowledgeable you are about the subject matter the test covers, how much time you have for studying day to day, what sort of learner you are, and so forth.

Base Knowledge

The MCAT isn’t an out-and-out science test, but there’s a bunch of science stuff on it. If science isn’t your strongest subject, you’ll do yourself a favor by spending adequate time before the test getting prepared for and improving in that subject matter.

Again, a practice test can give you a (perhaps) more realistic sense of what parts of the MCAT might give you difficulty.

How Much Time You Have

If you’re preparing for the MCAT, the chances are good that you’re in college pursuing undergrad work. That means there is other studying you need to do, research projects or papers that need attention, and you might have a job or work-study program that requires some of your time each day.

Planning to spend eight hours a day studying for the MCAT is unrealistic even if you don’t have any of that stuff going on. If you do have some of those time commitments, studying all day isn’t just unrealistic, it’s impossible.

Making a plan of attack can help you prepare. Maybe you get in the habit of spending one hour every day on MCAT prep. As the test gets closer, you can adjust your schedule to be able to devote more time each day. 

Whatever your plan, you must have a plan. While there’s no evidence that Benjamin Franklin ever said or wrote “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” it’s still a wise adage. Approaching your MCAT preparation without a plan is unlikely to work out well for you.

Your Learning Style

You know better than anyone which learning style best suits you.

  • Auditory learners need to hear things rather than see representations of them, and learning devices like mnemonics serve them well.
  • Kinesthetic learners are hands-on people who learn by doing.
  • Some learners work best by reading and writing information, so they spend time in books and take lots of notes.
  • Visual learners excel when they have pictures, charts, and maps to convey concepts and information.

Your preferred learning style can help you decide when, how, and for how long you need to study in preparation for the MCAT. Auditory learners, for instance, may need more time to listen to lectures and other representations than reading and writing learners since most of us read much faster than lecturers speak.

How Motivated Are You?

Even the best of us sometimes get sidetracked. If you’re easily distracted or aren’t the most disciplined academician, studying for the MCAT alone in your bedroom might not be the best approach for you.

MCAT prep courses exist for people who need a little more structure in their learning, so you may want to investigate those sorts of options. A prep course can help you better determine your weak spots and address them, and it will certainly provide a framework for your plan of attack when it comes to studying for the MCAT.

How Long Does It Take to Study for the MCAT?

With all this information and the above caveats, a baseline timeframe is about three months. Since you’re planning on taking the MCAT, as we’ve already established, you’re probably currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

And the chances are good that you’re about to get that degree in a field somewhat related to medicine – maybe you’re studying biology or chemistry. 

So we can assume that most MCAT hopefuls already have solid science backgrounds and won’t need to spend huge amounts of time acquiring basic scientific knowledge.

Taking an hour or two each day and devoting it to MCAT preparation for three months should more than likely be enough time for you to feel fully prepared for the test.

Again, though, a practice test at the start of your preparations can point you in the direction of areas of study that you might need extra time for.

Practice tests can also help you get an idea of what the real test will be like in terms of its structure and time limits. Since the sections are timed, you probably want to be comfortable working under the pressure of a ticking clock.

Final Thoughts

How long does it take to study for the MCAT? You know the answer better than anyone in that you know your learning style and study habits. While three months is a good and general answer, you may need more or less time. 

If your schedule is packed and won’t allow time for study every single day, you may need longer than three months. And if the test is only a month away, then you just have one month.

You need a plan, you need to stick to it, and you need to focus. The MCAT is the next hurdle in your pursuit of entering the medical field, so it’s of vital importance that you prepare well for it. And again, Benjamin Franklin probably never said it, but it’s still a good thought: failure to plan is planning to fail.

Eric Williams

Eric Williams

Eric Williams is a writer for the Exam Pass team. He discusses tips and strategies for passing certification exams, in addition to news regarding education advancements and technology. The Exam Pass daily newsletter is curated by Eric, who is also in charge of the coverage of all our Test Taking Tips. Before he started working at Exam Pass, he was a freelance writer for and covered news about mobile applications.
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