Balancing MCAT prep with school or work (and other extracurriculars) is far from an easy task. For certain pre-med students, it can seem next to impossible. After all, who is good at juggling college or graduate school classes, extracurriculars, research positions, work, and MCAT study sessions? It takes sacrifice, but it is possible. Here’s how:

Begin review during an academic break

Some pre-meds opt to begin studying for the MCAT after they finish their classes and can take a break from any other activities. This means using winter or summer break to tackle the MCAT in order to make balancing MCAT prep possible. If you have the time to take the MCAT immediately after either break, this is an idea well worth considering.

Balancing MCAT study

“I’m relaxing for the MCAT!”

Treat the exam as if it is the single most important thing in your life. Consider it your full-time job. This cannot be stressed enough. Set a schedule where you can focus on the MCAT, and only on the MCAT. If your compressed timetable makes it impossible to take an MCAT prep class, then personalized tutoring, like that offered by Varsity Tutors, can be very helpful in balancing MCAT prep, as it targets your specific goals and needs. You may also need to tell your family, friends, and significant other that there will be no dinners out or get-togethers for the foreseeable future. They may be disappointed at first, but if they see how important a great score is to you, they will likely support you.

Schedule time for relaxation

Balancing MCAT prep can be stressful, especially if you must also attend to school or work. Remember to save time for healthy stress relief, as reviewing for hours each day can burn anyone out. For example, perhaps you can dedicate one hour to cooking and two hours to playing a favorite sport, after MCAT study is done.

Choose activities you enjoy. Allowing yourself this relaxation time can give you something to look forward to every day, as long as you accomplish your MCAT prep goals. This can, in turn, limit distraction during your study sessions, and prevent MCAT review from cutting into time set aside for school or work responsibilities.

Be as strategic as possible

If the option is available to you, think about reducing your work schedule to part-time hours, or use your vacation days for a brief but intense period of review. (If you’re accepted to medical school, you won’t need them anyway!) You can also capitalize on every free moment you have—think bus or train commutes—with mobile study solutions.

Two options for balancing MCAT prep that we like are the Varsity Tutors MCAT Tutoring App, which includes flashcards and practice tests, and the Varsity Tutors MCAT Mobile App. With the latter, you can meet with an expert MCAT tutor using any phone or tablet.

Regardless of your particular prep situation, you must do several key things:

1. Create a detailed study schedule that you can follow; account for every hour of your day.
2. Closely follow your review schedule. If you require assistance in this area, consider an outside motivating source like one-on-one MCAT tutoring.
3. Limit distractions—temporarily cancel Hulu or Netflix, sign out of Facebook or Instagram (allow a friend to change your password), and set your cell phone on silent.
4. Eat healthy meals, exercise, and sleep (proper sleep helps your brain function, and is conducive to learning).

Good luck!

Here are some helpful posts in your MCAT prep study season:

Comprehensive list of MCAT prep books

8-week MCAT prep study schedule for procrastinators

MCAT full-length practice tests: best of the best!