MCAT is challenging, and it’s hard to figure out when is the right time to start studying.
The fact is that most students require around 4 to 6 months of solid prep to get the results they want. According to the AAMC, most students who get a decent score (above 500), spend between 250 and 300 hundred hours on the prep.
But it really depends on your schedule and time availability. If you’re able to study full time (40+ hours per week), you’ll need around 3 months to get fully prepped. But if (like most students) you’re dealing with other obligations, you’ll need 4 to 6 months of 20+ hours per week.
It’s best to analyze where you’re at and do the math. How many hours of intense study can you really put in every week? If it’s 20, you can calculate 300 h of total prep / 20 h per week = 15 weeks.
You have 40 hours per week? 300 h / 40 h = 7,5 weeks. Always make sure you have some leeway and plan for emergencies. There will always be something that interrupts your study so don’t argue with reality.
Schedule enough time so you can complete 15-20 full-length practice tests before the actual test day. Yes, that’s a lot, but nothing will help you more than doing actual tests and carefully analyzing your results.
But keep these pointers in mind before you begin:
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 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 really important, reserve enough time so you’ll 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, you should 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 MCAT in one or two months
Due to many obligations, some students decide to start studying 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 of time? 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.