Tackling the MCAT? Deciding when to dive into prep can be daunting.
Most aspirants find that a solid 4 to 6 months of preparation leads them to their desired scores. AAMC stats suggest those scoring above 500 typically invest between 250 and 300 hours into preparation. How does this translate for you? If you can dedicate full-time study, think 3 months. But if, like many, other commitments beckon, you might need 4 to 6 months at a 20-hour weekly pace. It boils down to personal math: at 20 hours a week, for example, you’re looking at roughly 15 weeks of prep. Can commit 40 hours? That’s about 7.5 weeks. Always factor in some buffer time; life has a knack for throwing curveballs. Aim to complete 15-20 full-length practice tests leading up to the D-Day. It sounds hefty, but real test practice and analysis are your golden ticket.
But keep these pointers when you start studying for the MCAT:
1. Only start when you’re ready to commit
Only register for the MCAT and start studying when you’re ready to fully commit to your study schedule. If it means doing it during your senior year or even taking a gap year, so be it. Otherwise, you’ll end up overwhelmed and won’t get your target score. And you know it’s important to nail the test on your first or second try because med schools look at all your MCAT scores.
2. Clean up your schedule before starting your studies
Begin your prep when you clear your schedule and your life. For around 4 to 6 months, you’ll need to turn into a study machine. This means no distractions, no partying, no negativity, and less time for friends and family who disrupt your flow. Plan the exact number of hours you’ll study every day. And measure your performance. If you don’t treat it like a process, you’ll fall behind without even knowing it.
3. Make time for relaxation
Include some time for chill and relaxation in between your study sessions. Go for a daily walk, rest for 10 minutes between study sessions, do meditation, exercise, and find other ways to relax and clear your mind. In this way, you won’t burn out after two weeks of intense study.
Usually, you’ll go through three distinct phases of study:
#1: Reviewing the MCAT subject materials (~ 2 months) #2: Doing individual practice questions and reading the explanations (~ 1 month) #3: Doing the full-length practice tests and analyzing your performance (~ 2 months) Note that the actual prerequisite courses you go through already count as MCAT prep. You’ll be tested on the course knowledge so if you want to save time, take them seriously. You’ll review all of them in phase #1 in around two months. The next two phases should be all about maximizing your score with real-world practice questions and tests. It’s best if you’re able to reserve your MCAT spot during the October opening so you can pass the exam in the summer. In this way, you’ll be free from your regular obligations so you can dedicate more time to study. Also, and this is important, reserve enough time so you’ll be able to take the MCAT more than once. This can potentially save you a year of your life and let you apply to a med school on time.
Considering an MCAT course to keep you on track
If you’re serious about your prep, you’re probably contemplating taking an MCAT prep course. These courses allow you to revise all the content that will appear on the exam and usually take 3 to 4 months. This includes live online classes, as well as doing hundreds of practice questions and a few full-length practice tests. If you’re thinking about signing up, do it around 4 months before your chosen exam date. The date of the prep course and the actual exam should be synchronized as closely as possible. In this way, you’ll retain the maximum amount of information when you step into the testing hall. What’s great about these courses is that on day one, they’ll put you through a diagnostic test. This establishes your baseline and then, based on your result, you can make your prep more or less intense. If you’ve scored around 490-500 on your first attempt, you’ll need less time for prep. But if you’re way below the average, you’ll know you need to adjust your schedule and put in more reps.
Studying for the MCAT in one or two months
Because of many obligations, some students decide to study just one or two months before the MCAT. This is certainly doable, but you have to ask yourself a question: will I be able to cram in 300 hours of study in such a short period? And will I retain the information? Most likely the answer will be “no”. I know you’re a genius, but your brain still needs a bit of time to absorb the content and retain it. Trying to get too much information in a short time is the major source of stress and overwhelm. That’s why you need to plan your time better and work at a moderate intensity for 4 to 6 months. Next up, you may want to explore a list of the top medical book publishing companies.
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