The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is the standardized, multiple-choice exam that admissions offices use to assess an applicant’s problem solving skills, critical thinking and knowledge of the foundations of science. It is arguably the most significant factor in determining an applicant’s competitiveness.
The MCAT is typically required in order to apply to medical school. There are a few exceptions, such as joint degree programs and pipeline/early assurance programs. Nonetheless, the MCAT requires you to learn how to take standardized tests. Because this is just the first of many standardized tests throughout your medical school education, it is important to learn how you typically perform.
Preparing for the MCAT
1. Research the test. Understand what it is!
The MCAT is NOT just another test. It is specifically designed to test your critical thinking and problem solving not just what you know or are able to memorize. If you are not familiar with the test, I highly recommend reading the AAMC’s materials about the test.
The 2019 MCAT Essentials contains further details about the MCAT itself, test dates, cost, etc. This is a document that you want to print out or save on your computer so that you have it on hand throughout your application process. It makes it easier to refer back to when needed.
2. Select a date & score.
Before even beginning to study, you should select a date to take the test. This will make it real and give you a time frame for your studies. We are human and need deadlines. Putting off registering for the exam/selecting a date will only prolong the process and give you anxiety. Also determine a score for which you will strive to get on the exam. Aim high – push yourself!
3. Create a personalized study plan.
Determining HOW you are going to study for the MCAT is singlehandedly the most important step in your preparation. The research recommends 4-6 months of studying for the MCAT. This is variable by person, but most individuals who have been successful on the MCAT spent around that much time.
Once you determine your test date, make a calendar. Figure out how many days & weeks you have, how many hours a day you want to study, whether you will include weekends, when you will take practice tests, scheduling in holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc. When you determine which resources you will use, organize the content in order to complete the plan, scheduling your days down to the hour if you have to.
Recommended resources include: the AAMC, Khan Academy, Princeton Review, Kaplan, ExamCrackers, and many more!
4. Invest in the resources you will need.
Once you have created your study plan, you should determine which resources you need. I advise that you stick to 2 or 3 resources in order to have consistency and stay organized. MCAT prep can also be a costly investment so only obtain what you will actually use.
One resource that I highly recommend above all else is the practice tests, question banks, and other supplemental material provided by the AAMC. Because the MCAT is made by the AAMC, the practice tests resemble the actual test more similarly.
5. Study and self-evaluate.
Stick to your study plan! Treat MCAT studying like a job so you should be working about 8 hours a day. Make sure that you are taking breaks and not overwhelming yourself. However, stay focused, and keep up the momentum.
Taking practice tests is the best way to evaluate your progress while studying for the MCAT. You will be able to see if your score is improving and determine which areas may need more attention. Most importantly, taking practice tests will get you accustomed to taking the real exam. I recommend simulating the exam when taking a practice test by: going through the morning routine as if it were test day, going to a quiet location, and taking the test with absolutely no distractions. Repetition is critical, and your body will already be used to going through the motions when test day comes.
6. Take the test.
Do not cram the last few days before taking the test – it is not helpful and will only stress you out! Make sure to get good quality sleep in the days leading up to the test. The morning of, be sure to wake up early, eat breakfast, have all of your required belongings and snacks, and arrive to the testing center early. Be relaxed but focused. You got this!
Check out my blog posts about taking the MCAT, retaking the MCAT and the study plan that worked for me!