I’ve received a few emails asking me for an overview of my MCAT prep study schedule, so I’m going to post it for you here. I have to admit though, that my schedule definitely wasn’t ideal. I crammed it into a short amount of time because I couldn’t find a way to study for the MCAT during the school year, when most people do. I was just too overwhelmed with work, extracurriculars, and my classes. So I signed up for a test in late July, and got started studying the day after finals in May.
If that sounds something like the position you find yourself in, you might find some of what I did helpful. Just incorporate what works for you, and toss aside what doesn’t. I’ll lay it out for you in three parts: My MCAT Prep Study Schedule, Resources and Stats, plus the pros and cons of my methods.
My MCAT Prep Study Schedule
Week 1 – I took two timed, full-length computer-based AAMC practice tests (CBT) as there were several test options available. I hadn’t cracked a book yet, so I scored very poorly, but it gave me a feel for the sort of questions I needed to be prepared for and in which sections I was weakest. I was also able to use my scores as a point of reference as I took more practice tests later on.
Weeks 2-3 – These weeks I dove in and read through the Examkrackers MCAT Complete StudyPackage (I found it on Amazon), to make sure I’d seen all the content I could possibly be tested on. Although I completed the practice problems embedded in each chapter, I wasn’t taking any full-lengths practice tests yet.
Moving through so much material so quickly, I learned early on that I needed to be in the habit of taking copious notes and refusing to move on until I fully understood what I was reading. It was tempting to skim, but I knew I didn’t want to have to learn concepts later on when I needed to be honing my test-taking skills.
Weeks 4-6 – After I finished the Examkrackers set, I started taking a practice test once every 2-3 days and reviewing the results on the days in between. While reviewing, I’d comb over each question and each answer, writing down in detail why I got the question right or why I got it wrong. I’d write out what I was thinking when I chose the answer, and what principles had informed my decision. Whether I was taking a test or reviewing the results, it usually took somewhere in the ballpark of 4 hours. Reviewing the results of previous tests was the most important part of my MCAT prep study schedule, for the record.
After that, I’d take an hour break, and then spend a couple of hours on practice problems from the Examkrackers: 1001 Questions series. I usually chose to focus on whatever subject I’d performed most poorly on in my most recent practice tests. I found these less stressful than full-length practice tests, but a good way to test my knowledge of the concepts. In the remaining hour or two, I’d read from the Berkeley Review full set, to make sure I had the content down pat.
Weeks 7-8 – Crunch time. These were some of the most stressful weeks of my life. But I hunkered down, and started taking a practice test (sometimes just a section, but usually a full test) every single day. After the test, I’d take a break, and then review the results of the test I’d taken the day before. At this point, I was no longer reviewing content, unless it was to review the material for a problem I’d missed.
That’s it! I took a day off before the test, woke up early the day of, and took the test. It was about as hard as I was expecting (except for a few passages in the biology section—EESH!).
Resources and Stats:
Books (all were purchased used):
- Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package (click here for an in-depth review)
- The Berkeley Review Full Set (click here for an in-depth review)
- Examkrackers: 1001 Questions Series
- ExamKrackers MCAT Reasoning Skills: Verbal, Research & Math
Full-length CBTs from:
- A very thoroughly documented 3-Month Plan on StudentDoctor.com
- A very thoughtful strategy guide from Get-Into-Medicalschool.com
Time Spent: 6-8 hours per day, 5-6 days per week, for 8 weeks.
Prior preparation: None, other than my premed coursework.
My Score: 32
The Pros and Cons of Full-time MCAT Prep for 8 Weeks
- You cover tons of material pretty quickly, making it possible to save studying until after the Spring semester’s over.
- You don’t really learn the material as well as you could if you gave yourself more time.
- Since you’re burning through so much material so quickly, you need lots of material. Even though I didn’t enroll in a prep course, I probably ended up spending somewhere near $1,000 on materials. Too much, in hindsight.
- You’ll probably end up neglecting really important things in your life, like friends, family, school, work, and your health.
All in all, I was happy with my score, but I wouldn’t really recommend trying to condense your MCAT prep study schedule into 8 weeks. You don’t give your mind the time it needs to learn it all, and it’ll really wear you out. If you have to though, go for it, but be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices. Also, plan on budgeting for caffeine, since it’s really the only way I found to fend off burnout when the going got tough.
Lots of ways to set up an MCAT prep study schedule…
Keep in mind that there are dozens of study guides, preparation courses, sample tests and even flash cards to help you prepare. Some of the best test prep books are offered by Kaplan’s, Princeton Review, ExamKrackers, Barrons and Berkeley Review. (See Pre-med Ask It! reviews here.) You should create a study plan based upon your ideal learning environment. If you learn best in a classroom (and still have the time!), sign up for a course. If you learn better in a solitary study environment, you can purchase the study materials and practice exams and create your own personalized study plan. Most important is to make a study plan, ideally covering at least 2-3 months, and plan to fit it into your life. In the beginning you’ll need to set aside a few hours each week for study. Later, when you begin taking practice tests, you’ll spend bigger blocks of time studying.
Where to find more schedules?
Most MCAT prep companies provide study schedules to help you fit in all the study time you need. If you’re self studying, then the time that would otherwise be spent in class will be dedicated to reading the guides. Obviously, if you decide to take a course, a large chunk of your time will be spent in the classroom. On the ExamKrackers website (www.examkrackers.com/MCAT/MCAT-HomeStudy.aspx) you can check out a 10-week schedule based on using the company’s study guides and audio classes, along with AAMC practice exams, for the self study option. The schedule will give you an idea of the intensity of the mental workout you’re about to face. No matter where you buy your materials, or whether you sign up for a live course, it’s important early on to plan out the number of hours per class/subject needed to fully prepare. Once you commit to taking the MCAT, commit fully to your study schedule so you don’t end up burning the candle on both ends when the time for the test arrives. That is the worst possible way to walk into this most important of events in your life!
And if you’re looking to pick up some other helpful prep books you know are out there, check out my rather comprehensive list of 2017 MCAT prep books here.
If you’re inclined to forego the personal study route, or want to try a combination of personal study plus taking an MCAT prep class, you can check here for courses by Kaplan (check out their MCAT Community Homepage for a $250 premedFAQ.com discount) and The Princeton Review (click here for the premedFAQ.com discount of $300 Off Ultimate Courses and $600 off Summer Immersion classes) .
I hope that helps. Good luck!
Thank you so much for posting this! I was having a really hard time figuring out how to structure my study time since I decided not to retake my Kaplan class. Its really hard working a full time night shift position while studying for this exam, so I appreciate the help!
If you don’t mind me asking, when did you start hitting your ideal score during the process? So making 30s on practice tests? I’m currently three weeks away from the exam and I’m not sure what I should be expecting at this point. It seems like the last two weeks were the tell-tale signs – did you see a trend in your scores throughout the 8 weeks? Thanks!
So sorry I was out of commission during the time when you asked your pertinent question. Hope your MCAT went well. Everyone’s pace is so different hitting their stride that I don’t know if my input would have helped much. My scores came together in the last couple of weeks, rather than weeks early. My best score was on the actual test. Hopefully that was your experience too! Kudos on finishing up.
I find myself in the same situation as you, I have roughly 6 weeks before my exam date. I planned on reviewing for a few weeks (like you did) then going straight to full length tests the last month.
The only issue I’m having is how am I supposed to cover over 72 chapters in a matter of weeks?! I have the new kaplan study books and theres no way I can read more than a chapter a day.
Did you go over the review summaries of each chapter then made sure you understood completely then move on? I feel like this is the only way you can manage to cover all of the subjects quickly, and still understand the big picture each chapter of each section truly teaches.
Hope to see a reply soon,
A response from Brooks Johnson, a correspondent on our website:
Sorry for the delay on getting back to you. I know that time is of the essence here.
So, the first thing is this, during my last few weeks, I didn’t exclusively do practice tests. I did do two tests a week, and I focused more on practice questions within the books as I studied, but I was still doing content review on stuff I felt shaky on.
When I was studying, I would spend 7-8 hours a day on the books. I could usually get through one book from the Kaplan study set, minus a couple chapters. It wasn’t easy. I was focused for the entire 7-8 hours, and I tried my best to minimize distractions. I feel like the key to getting through a lot of material is to not read too far into the material. The MCAT won’t expect you to have minute details or in-depth explanations memorized (although, the post-chapter questions and some bad practice tests usually do). What you do need is a broad, intermediate understanding of everything you find in the books. Don’t spend any time memorizing equations or principles.
So, here’s my advice: still plan to focus on practice tests and questions in the last few weeks of studying, but don’t completely forget about content review. Next, try not to dwell on minute details and equations; it’s a waste of your precious time!
My study plan, as I indicated, is dependent on your knowledge coming into the MCAT. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken core science classes, or you just don’t have a good grasp on the principles, you may need to change your plan and consider changing your test date. (I know that’s not something you want to hear)
Your practice tests will give you a good idea of where you stand. If you’re scoring above a 500 on the Kaplan tests, you should be alright (depending on how you want to score on the test). If you’re scoring below a 500, especially in the last few weeks of studying, you might want to diagnose your problems and make a decision as to how to continue.
All things considered, you’re doing great! Studying for the MCAT is overwhelming and it sucks, but you’ll be fine if you put in the work and honest effort! I found myself overwhelmed a number of times, and I seriously thought about giving up on my test date, but everything worked out, as it will for you!
Keep up the great work!
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, so you can bypass the website. Sometimes the messages get backed up in there.