The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is one of the many hurdles aspiring Pre-med students need to overcome before applying to medical school. The MCAT aims to assess whether Pre-med students have the analytical skills to succeed in med school. Split into four sections, the exam covers:
- 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
Properly preparing for the MCAT can take months of effort, and successful matriculants to med school earned a score of at least 511 for the 2021–2022 academic year. Here’s everything you need to know to study hard and get the score you need.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Before you begin a test prep course or study on your own, it’s a good idea to do a full-length practice test so you can see your baseline score before you’ve put any work in. This will help you focus your time on covering subjects that are a bit weaker for you rather than starting with a comprehensive prep and wasting time on things you feel confident about. After taking a practice test, write down a list of the areas you struggled with and tackle those first before anything else.
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2. Give yourself time to study
Most students spend more than 200 hours studying for the MCAT over several months. This is not an exam that can be crammed for in a short amount of time, so give yourself plenty of time to prepare to take the test without stressing. Most medical schools won’t review your application until they’ve received your scores, so you want to ensure you aren’t cutting it too close when the applications open in late spring. However, you also don’t want to take it too early—wait until you have taken all your prerequisites before tackling the exam.
3. Be strategic with test prep
The MCAT covers such a wide variety of topics that it might seem overwhelming. However, remember each subject is not equally tested, so you won’t be required to go into great detail for each topic you’re covering. Savvy test-takers concentrate on finding out which topics are commonly covered in the MCAT. You should also create a schedule for your study blocks, with specific things you plan to study and when. You want to have blocks that have attainable and specific goals so you don’t find yourself trying to overcome an unrealistic mountain of work.
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4. Simulate test day conditions
The MCAT is a marathon of a test—it lasts seven and a half hours with optional breaks between the four sections. Work on your mental stamina and focus during your practice sessions to ensure you can handle such a long exam. The exam starts at 8:00 am, so you’ll be finishing up in the afternoon. Be sure to do some practice exams in the early morning to ensure you’ll feel awake and refreshed, and take advantage of official test prep materials to study effectively.
5. Focus on quality over quantity
Doing as much prep as possible isn’t always the best technique—you’ll burn out even before you take the exam. Instead, strategic test-takers should do practice tests as well as review explanations and think about the content. It’s key to know the information outside the context of the exam because it’s information you will need when you get into medical school. The review process can be just as valuable as doing practice tests!
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6. Have a good study balance
While you might be obsessed with studying for the MCAT because you’re worried about nailing the exam, schedule downtime where you can mentally recover from all the hard work you’ve been doing! This recovery time can help you bounce back quicker from a tough study session and help you go into the test with a clear, less stressful mindset.
7. Only take the exam when you’re ready
It’s never a good idea to sign up for an official MCAT without being 100% prepared. If your practice tests aren’t in your target score range, you probably aren’t ready to take the exam. Some schools will see all your MCAT scores, so it isn’t a good idea to take a test that won't help you on your path to medical school.
Related: How to Get into Medical School: Top Tips for Pre–med Students
The MCAT is a huge step on your way to medical school and your future career. It should be taken seriously, but you also shouldn’t let yourself get overwhelmed. With these tips and other online resources, you can prepare well for your exam and get a great score on test day. Good luck!
Do you know what medical school you’re applying to yet? Start finding grad schools to send your exam scores to with our Graduate School Search tool.