Taking the MCAT: Where to Start and Tips for Studying

If you’re just deciding to take the MCAT, you are likely wondering how best you can start studying for it. The results of this test could determine your career path, so it’s best to make use of all the resources available to you.

Here’s what you need to know about the MCAT and where you can start when it comes to studying properly:

What Kind of Exam is the MCAT?

To start with the basics, the MCAT is a multiple-choice test that is split into four categories, all designed to test different abilities, including critical thinking, problem-solving, written analytical skills, and your understanding of specific scientific concepts and principles. Here are some tips and advice on how to study for it:

MCAT self prep study

When to Take the Test

The first piece of advice is to get your test booked for an appropriate date, usually as close to your taking your prerequisite classes as possible. Memory is fallible, and it’s easy to forget concepts if there’s too large a gap between your preparatory classes and the day you take the test. The best advice is not to procrastinate. 

How Long to Study

Many scholars recommend dedicating at least 200 to 300 hours of focused MCAT studying before taking the exam. This means that if you study 10–15 hours per week, you’re looking at a four- to six-month study period before you’re ready to take the exam.

Taking Practice Exams

Nothing can really prepare you better than taking practice test after practice test. Resources such as an MCAT test prep program can provide practice tests and even help you identify areas where you need to improve your study. Taking advantage of resources such as this program will help you feel more confident when it comes time to take the actual exam.

When you take each practice test, try your best to recreate the test conditions. No cell phones, for example, and definitely no cheating! 

Try Different Study Habits

Due to the in-depth nature of the MCAT, you have to pace yourself with study to avoid facing burnout. Start slowly and build up so you can determine the methods of study that work best for you and get into a good studying groove. 

It’s all about figuring out what works best for you. Do you do your best when recreating your optimal learning environment? Do you prefer reading whole chapters at a time of study textbooks, or breaking it up into chunks? Perhaps you work best with others, in which case you might consider putting together a small study group. Whatever methods you choose to study, make sure they work long term so you don’t get overwhelmed and burnt out before the test date rolls around.

Know Your Goals

Are you aiming to get in the very top percentile, or are you happy just to pass? Obviously, loftier goals require longer and more dedicated periods of study. By managing your goals early on, you can prepare yourself for the work ahead that will be required to get the score you’re hoping for.

One goal you’ll want to make sure you have on your list of priorities, however, is to aim to pass the first time you take the test. It’s more efficient and worth your while to prepare yourself as best you can to do well on the first exam attempt. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take it again to improve your score, but by going into the first exam as ready as possible, you’ll know exactly what to change to manage future expectations and handle the challenges that come with taking the MCAT.

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