AAMC, Kaplan, TPR, Gold Standard, Berkeley Review…so many choices for CBTs, so little time.
Before we get started, check out my comprehensive review of some of the most respected full-length MCAT practice tests out there. They’re very fresh…I just sat for the MCAT in June!
Now, let’s get down to the topic at hand…how many MCAT practice tests one should take before exam day. There’s not really an ideal number, but more is always better.
“Not like any other test!”
How many times have you heard this ominous warning: “The MCAT is not like any test you’ve ever taken?!” If you’ve done any reading up about the MCAT (especially the new one), you’re sure to come across that line and wonder what it really means. I’ll admit the first time I heard it, it put me into a state of anxiety; I’d always been able to prepare for exams in the past by using reviews and study guides. How could anyone prepare for a test that’s unlike any they’ve ever taken?
While it’s true the MCAT is different from any other college/professional exam you’ve taken in the past, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is no good way to prepare for it. On the other hand, don’t fall into the rut of studying and memorizing vast amounts of information…just because that always seemed to work out in the past! Many a failed MCAT prepper has gone this route—cramming as much info about any and every equation and scientific formula into their minds to “dominate” on test day. It won’t work.
There IS an effective way to study for the MCAT, and it includes three main pillars.
First, if you’re in core science classes, learn the material! Nothing can prepare you like working hard in your hard science classes (e.g. biology, chemistry, physiology and especially biochemistry) and actually learning the material you’re taught. (Read: stop cramming overnight!)
Second, as you approach your test date, set up a study plan. Use book sets, videos, classes, and/or online tutorials to re-learn what you already know from your university classes. You can find posts on this site and other sites that help you set up a study plan in order to to adequately prepare for test day.
Third, take at least 6 MCAT practice tests over the course of your studies. In my opinion, this was the most important part of my MCAT prep. And while I’m recommending at least 6 practice tests, I’d fall back on the theory that more is always better! Take as many MCAT practice tests as you possibly can!
It’s not just memorization, folks!
The MCAT is unique, in that it tests your ability to understand scientific passages and problem solve. More important than remembering facts and equations is learning HOW to approach the questions you’ll confront. You can read all of the textbooks in the world and have every physics equation memorized, but if you have never practiced applying that knowledge to MCAT-like questions, you will be blown away on test day.
That’s right, you’ll be blown away…
MCAT practice tests rock!
If you can take 15 MCAT practice tests over four months of studying, do it! If you only have four weeks to study, I would take at least one test each week, and two tests the week prior to test day.
As you take these MCAT practice tests again and again, you’ll become more and more comfortable with the format, question style and time constraints. While these factors aren’t directly related to content on the MCAT, they will be important determinants in your final score. The more comfortable you are with all aspects of the MCAT, the more energy you’ll have to focus on the questions at hand and hit that optimal level of anxiety on test day.
My CBT experience
I took 12 MCAT practice tests over two months of study. I began with one test per week in my first two weeks, and averaged two per week in the following six weeks. The payoff was huge when I sat down to take the MCAT and the dreaded moment came for me to press START TEST. I felt calm because I’d seen that screen so many times before.
In order to fit in a minimum of 6 MCAT practice tests, you can schedule them weekly or if you have only a month or so to prepare, more often. Give yourself a few days between practice tests, so you don’t burn out. If you can take more than six, do it! If you have the luxury of studying for four-plus months, I would still suggest taking at least one practice test every week.
For longer term study plans….
If you’re studying for your test in a more unconventional way (an hour or two every day for a year), I would suggest taking a baseline MCAT practice test early on, and then when you’re 4 or 5 months out from test day, begin taking practice tests each week.
If you are taking these full length MCAT practice tests regularly, you can rest assured you’ll feel comfortably familiar with the MCAT on test day.
Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive review of MCAT practice tests!