Who can you trust for the best MCAT study tips?
No one knows you better than you, which is why you’re the best person to design the best MCAT study plan for you as you begin this most important ascent of your college career. So which MCAT study tips should you follow, and which can you ignore?
As we pointed out in our review of some of the best MCAT prep book sets, everyone is different. You’ll have to make your assessment on the basis of your strengths and weaknesses, and your ultimate goals. However, read on for some tried and true strategies for success that will help carry you from Day One of prepping for the MCAT all the way through Test Day. You can use these MCAT study tips, along with our MCAT study schedule post, to get you to the top of your own personal MCAT game, so to speak.
Do the prep
You should expect this to be a somewhat grueling process. Based on your school schedule, you’ll have to decide whether to prepare over the course of an entire year, or whether to shrink your intense prep time down to 8-10 weeks. This post is not meant to address the timing, but rather the content of your study, and the habits you set in place to ensure success. The point is, you’ll need to slot in sufficient time to ensure the indepth study the MCAT requires.
Establish a baseline
Start with a baseline full-length MCAT practice test. There are plenty of sites out there dispensing MCAT study tips that will tell you to go slow and only take one test section at a time, approaching the practice test as an elephant that needs to be eaten one bite at a time. This is a reasonable approach. However, your baseline test score is an essential element to (1) give you early experience with the format and feel of the test, and (2) show you your weak points.
Now it’s time to get down to work. There’s universal agreement that the best place to start is with AAMC’s MCAT prep materials, since they’re produced by the team the writes the actual MCAT. Here are AAMC’s must-have MCAT study tips and resources every pre-med should start with:
—AAMC’s MCAT “Sample Test.” This test approximates the real thing both in length and question type. AAMC offers it for just $25, which allows the purchaser to take it up to five times online. Handy tools help you figure out why you missed specific questions and highlight material for additional review. Unlike the Practice Exams, this test does not offer a scaled score.
—AAMC’s Full-Length MCAT Practice Exams (two). For $35 each, you can purchase two AAMC full-length exams that are 230-questions long and approximate sitting for the actual exam as much as possible. The same tools are offered here as with the Sample Test, and scoring is provided to help you see how you’ll do on the actual day of the test.
—AAMC’s Question Packs (these are like gold). With these packs, you can choose your weakest areas to focus on. The whole bundle is just $72, and includes 720 questions that were used on previous MCAT exams. There are a total of four question bundles covering natural sciences (chemistry, physics and two in biology), plus two additional packs for the CARS section. They’re designed to mimic the actual MCAT.
—AAMC’s Section Bank, which consists of 300 all-new practice questions, created by the MCAT writers, and oriented specifically to the new exam. The sections highlighted by this bank of questions are: biochemistry, psychology and sociology. The set of questions costs just $45 and is a great resource for your MCAT studies.
Create a schedule and stick to it
- Treat your MCAT schedule like a job. Clock in and out, and record the number of hours you’re spending. Don’t let distractions minimize the effectiveness of your study time. Put your phone away, don’t answer calls (unless it’s an emergency!), and put yourself on a social media diet. Make sure you are meeting your original goal.
- Build up your stamina. You may start with three-hour blocks of study, but over time you’ll need to be able to sit longer and longer until you’re ready for the 6 1/2 hour MCAT. If you start with only 10 weeks to cram in your study, you may need to ramp up to studying 6-8 hours a day right away.
- Plan ahead for an MCAT prep course. Taking a course isn’t a necessity. In fact, here are some considerations for whether you should take a course or not… But if you are planning to take one, think ahead. Set aside the funds. Choose the time and location. Block out time in your schedule. If you wait too long to schedule it, chances are you won’t get a spot in the testing center you want. And choose carefully which company you go with. Here is our review of a couple of the best courses.
Customize your study plan
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses. After your baseline test, begin to identify the subject areas where you are weak that require the most attention. Do practice questions and buy books to help strengthen you in those areas, and be very deliberate about trudging through the material until it becomes familiar and digestible. Remember, you are eating this elephant one bite (subject) at a time! MCAT study tips are only as successful as your determination to succeed.
- Take multiple full-length tests. Here are our recommendations for how many practice tests you should take and a review of the best full-length tests. Leave plenty of time to fit in several, and each time you take one, spend the same amount of time combing through it to learn what you missed, and what you did right. The review is as important as the test.
- Create personalized study aids. Make flash cards and assemble your personalized study guide of material that needs your greatest attention. Even if you’re taking an MCAT prep class, you’ll still want to create your own study guide to help you to focus on areas where you’re lagging. Write down questions and content you want to review again and again. This is one of the best MCAT study tips you can employ!
- Hire a tutor. Again, this is a personal decision. But whether or not you’re taking a prep course, you may be the type of student who benefits greatly from having someone walk you through the fire, and point out your weaknesses as well as the most troubling parts of the MCAT. Check out our posts here and here to help you decide if you need a tutor.
- Study with friends. MCAT study doesn’t have to be done in isolation. In facts, different levels of learning can be achieved ideally as you challenge friends and help each other. Plan some time studying in groups or one-on-one with fellow pre-med gunners if you’re the type who likes “assisted learning.”
Relax and have “fun!”
- Don’t freak out. If your first experiences with MCAT full-length tests or the AAMC Question Packs leave you feeling faint, don’t worry. MCAT study is a process, and every step you take will bring you closer to readiness for the real thing. Understand that all your pre-med friends are having the same “out-of-body” experience you are!
- Leave time for relaxation. Whether it’s hiking, reading or exercise, you’ll want to reward yourself with regular “gifts” for keeping up with your study plan. No one has an inexhaustible supply of stamina. De-stressing can help you be more successful when you do sit down to study.
Beyond these MCAT study tips, you may want to check out these other MCAT prep posts: