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 Study Package (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!