How does one study for the MCAT? The simple answer is that there really isn’t a simple answer. Whether you team up with a study partner, assemble a group, go it alone, or invest in a professional test preparation course depends on your personal learning style and budget. The key is to devise a study strategy that feels right to you, and that’s something only you can do (though you can send us an email and we'd be glad to help with that, if you’d like).
That said, several general, tried-and-true MCAT study strategies tend to keep popping up in my conversations with students and graduates. I’ve shared four of my favorites—plus a special bonus tip that might work for you!
MCAT Study Tip #1: Remember the Rule of Three (Months).
This one might seem obvious, but still bears emphasis: the MCAT isn’t an exam you should cram for. The general rule of thumb is that you’ll need to dedicate about three months to prepare effectively for the test. I recommend 300 hours of carefully regimented study time at an absolute minimum. Regimented is the key word here: Set a schedule in stone and stick to it. If you’ve decided to set aside two hours daily to study, for example, don’t skip one two-hour study session and plan to make up for it with a four-hour cram session later that week. That’s when procrastination starts to sink in—and before you know it, it’s two weeks before the exam and you’re scrambling to catch up.
MCAT Study Tip #2: Less Memorizing, More Understanding.
The MCAT isn’t designed to assess your skill at simply remembering formulae and data—it tests your critical analysis and overall reasoning abilities. So focus more on comprehension, less on memorization. You can’t go in with the materials memorized and expect to ace the MCAT on that alone. Rather, you’ll need to be able to read a passage quickly, extract the necessary information, apply your reasoning skills, and select your answer based on critical analysis.
MCAT Study Tip #3: Eliminate Distractions.
How you perform on the MCAT could be a make-or-break moment that significantly shapes your future, and it could warrant cutting some activities out of your personal calendar. I hear concerns about this often: Many students are working, have family, and could be conducting research or volunteering. But for a test of this magnitude, it’s important to have laser focus, with as few distractions as possible—with maybe one other thing on the side, to keep yourself sane.
MCAT Study Tip #4: Get More Mileage Out of MCAT Practice Exams.
We’ve found that most students tend to use MCAT practice exams as evaluation tools, to determine which subject areas they’re strong in versus other subjects that might be a little more challenging. Then, they’ll adjust their study schedule accordingly. I think that’s a good approach—but you can use practice exams for even more. Try this: Take the practice test
, then go through every single question and your corresponding answers. Strive to understand why each answer is right or wrong. This will go a long way toward increasing your comprehension of the subject material.
One more note: When you take your practice tests, try to mimic the testing environment as much as possible. For example, if you plan on taking the MCAT at 8 am on test day, take your practice exam at 8 am too. Find a computer room, if you’re able, and take the practice exam there. That way, on test day, you’ll have already settled into something of a groove.
BONUS TIP: This one might not work for everyone, but many students have told me that they make the day right before the MCAT a no-study day. Having that extra day to not think about the MCAT could really help. That way, you could get started on test day with a fresh mind.
Jamie DeTrinidad, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, has been with American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine since 2012. Feel free to send Jamie an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.