Scoring high on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is undoubtedly a hard nut to crack for premeds. It is most probably the hardest exam you have taken so far. Although MCAT is not a cakewalk, it is not impossibly difficult to pass. You just need to follow the right tips and tricks to ace the test like a pro.
Are you a premed looking forward to starting your MCAT prep? Is the stockpile of books by your side making you anxious about how to score high on the test? Of course, you need to score 515+ (75th percentile) to be on the safe side and get into the med school. In order to achieve such a high score, a certain degree of prep is required. In this article, we will provide the best MCAT study tips that will actually increase your score.
Top 14 MCAT Study Tips and Tricks
Have a look at these top 14 MCAT study habits before starting your preparation journey.
1. Dedicate at least 3 months to your MCAT prep
The foremost thing you need to do before starting the MCAT prep is to take out dedicated time for study. A lot of students require 3-4 months of dedicated study time for MCAT preparation. However, this duration might vary from student to student depending on their learning abilities and study habits.
You can easily achieve perfect score by being consistent and taking out uninterrupted time for the test prep. Thus, keeping your studying capacity in view, set aside about three months for studying for MCAT. During these 3 months refrain from any commitment, job, or activity demanding your time and attention. All you need to do in this duration is study, study, and study!
2. Don’t start preparing too early.
Although some top scorers suggest starting your MCAT preparation as early as possible. But sometimes even the early birds do not get many benefits. Therefore, we would recommend not to start preparing too early as you may end up forgetting things. Let’s be real! You cannot remember stuff, especially facts, and figures learnt 7 or 8 months before the test date. We end up forgetting things even from our study session last week.
However, this could be an exception if you are having a job. In that case, you can start preparing early and take out a small window of time daily for your test prep.
3. Find your baseline score
Your “baseline score” is the score you would achieve if you appear for the MCAT today. Before starting your prep, take a full-length practice test and simulate the actual test day environment. It will help you in analyzing yourself. This self-assessment will not only provide you with a baseline against which you can measure your progress but also shed light on the test areas that require more focus.
4. Make a study schedule.
Based on your performance in the self-assessment, set up a balanced study plan. Keep your test date in mind while making the schedule. This study schedule should include dedicated study time of around 8 hours a day five days a week. In addition, it should also include rest hours, small breaks, and days off.
Think of MCAT as your full-time job. Just like a full-time job requires a lot of time and hard work, MCAT also requires dedicated study time and immense effort.
Furthermore, MCAT requires you to dive into a sea of knowledge and grasp a lot of concepts. But it is technically impossible to cram everything. Therefore, while making your MCAT study schedule divide your time wisely. Allocate more time to “high yield” MCAT topics and relatively less time to the “low yield” topics.
5. Balance is the key!
The MCAT is not a test from your undergraduate classes. Its prep demands a lot of time, it does not mean that you should be studying all the time. Remember, it is impossible to study 16 hours a day and even if you do so you will soon feel burned out. Therefore, always keep a balance between your test prep and routine activities.
Take small tea breaks, exercise, or watch a movie in your free hours. You can even take a day off to hang out with your friends. Sometimes, it’s good to have distractions.
Also, do not confuse “sleep” with “break.” Having 6-8 hours of sleep is necessary for your mind and body to function properly. Otherwise, you will not be able to concentrate and soon lose interest.
6. Accuracy comes first!
Do timed exams freak you out? Then this MCAT study tip is for you. Keep in mind that you acquire the skill first and then learn to do it in minimal time. The same goes for MCAT. First, take the practice tests in untimed mode and pay attention to your weak points.
When you are done with the necessary preparation and work on your weaknesses, start taking tests in timed mode. Set a timer and solve the sections within the given time.
Combining accuracy with speed will help you succeed and get admission into the med school.
7. Take a lot of self-assessments- practice, practice, practice!
Self-assessment is a great way to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Take as many practice tests as possible. You can take free and low-cost full-length practice tests offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). These self-assessments provide you with percentile rank and a scaled core. In addition, BoardVitals also presents MCAT self-assessment series.
8. Combine content review with practice questions
The best way to prepare for the test is to combine practice tests with content review. Sometimes the candidates go through the entire content but are not aware of the type of questions that will be asked from that particular content section. The best way to overcome this issue is to take practice tests once you are done reviewing a section’s content.
Consider the MCAT question banks offered by various online resources like UWorld, Kaplan, Princeton Review, and BoardVitals. Instead of using these qbanks as self-assessment tools, utilize them to:
- Practice your test-taking abilities.
- Look for the content details you are missing
Each question in these Qbanks comes with a detailed explanation. Use these explanations to take notes of the things you’ve missed during the content review.
Another important tip is to take notes, jot down key points, and make flashcards while reviewing the content or Qbank explanations. It is a great way to revise things in one go at the end.
9. Do not cram- grasp the concepts!
A key strategy to employ while preparing is to focus on understanding the content instead of cramming it. The MCAT checks your critical analysis and reasoning skills and assesses the concepts that you can imply to understand things in your medical school. Therefore, apart from just learning the answers, you need to focus on the concept behind each answer. Grasping concepts will enable you to apply your knowledge to solve the MCQs on the MCAT exam.
10. Work smarter, not harder!
It seems impossible to grasp every concept and cram every detail. In addition, you cannot give equal time to all content areas. Therefore, the test-takers suggest finding out your weaknesses from the practice tests and allocating more time to your weak areas.
Some high-yield topics are repeated frequently on the MCAT. It is optimal to spend more time preparing these high-yield topics. Studying smartly can save you from missing any question or topic that might appear on the exam.
11. Mimic real test conditions.
While taking practice tests, try to imitate real test conditions as closely as possible. It will help you test your endurance. MCAT is a lengthy exam and taking a test for an extensive duration can be quite a challenge. Therefore, tutor yourself for the MCAT exam day. When you are taking full-length self-assessments, try to simulate real MCAT conditions by spending approximately 90 minutes on each section, taking a break after completing each content section of the MCAT, and completing the test within 7.5 hours. These self-assessments will help you build up stamina before the marathon (i.e., your exam day).
12. Consider group study.
Find a study partner or sign up for an MCAT prep course. Joining an MCAT prep course might sound unpleasant but it can boost your learning experience and can help you keep up the pace. The tutors in these study groups are really experienced and can help you with your weaknesses.
If you are not interested in joining a study group, you can also look for a study buddy. The combined study can help you in many ways. It can help you exchange knowledge and ideas, save you from the fees of study groups, and lift your morale. While studying with your friend you can discuss your weak areas and review the content together.
13. Relax- do not overstress yourself!
Is the lengthy MCAT content making you feel overwhelmed? Relax, you can do it! Stress can be your biggest enemy. It deteriorates your physical and mental health and increases the chance of burnout. Thus, keep your calm and work hard. Your performance in MCAT can reward you with your dream profession. Give your ultimate best and you will succeed.
14. Take a day off before your big day
Studying consistently for three months can make you feel mentally exhausted and physically tired. On the other hand, you need to be physically active and mentally receptive on your test day. And reviewing the content or solving practice problems at the very last moment can only result in stress. Therefore, the best advice is to take a day off before your exam to relax your mind and give your best on the MCAT.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is undoubtedly an extremely difficult exam. It requires the premeds to be consistent and devote uninterrupted time to its preparation. Therefore, we recommend you take out a dedicated 3 months of study time for the MCAT exam preparation and then fabricate a study schedule depending on your “baseline score.” Pay more attention to high-yield MCAT topics and focus on your weaknesses. In addition, take a lot of practice tests under real test conditions. Keep your calm, work hard, and use these tips to ace the exam and achieve goal score on your MCAT.
The best time to take the MCAT is when you feel the most prepared. If your practice test score is within the range of your goal score and you have mastered the MCAT content, you can take the test. Although the med schools consider only one test score while shortlisting, they might have a look at the previous test record as well. Therefore, take the test only when you are 100% ready.
MCAT is an extremely difficult exam and one requires uninterrupted time for its preparation. An average MCAT student requires approximately 8 hours daily, five days a week for the test prep. However, we recommend looking for what works best for you and how many hours can you spend studying daily without burning out. Then set your schedule accordingly.
Usually, 515+ (75th percentile) or higher score with no section score below 127 is considered a good MCAT score. The best advice is that your score must lie within the 75th percentile if you want to be on the safe side.
Good MCAT score also depends on the med school of your choice. For instance, if you want to attend Rosalin Franklin School of Medicine, you must score around 516 on the MCAT to be on the “safe side.”