It’s official – you’ve registered for an MCAT exam date, acquired prep materials, and figured out exactly how many months you can set aside to study. You’re ready to get started! While this can be an exciting time, for the majority of students, it’s when paralysis sets in. How much time should you spend on content review versus strategy practice? How many chapters should you read per day? When should you schedule full-length practice exams? These questions, and many more, lead students to wonder – how on earth can I set up an MCAT study plan that works for me?
As a tutor, I tell all of my students the same thing: it’s virtually impossible to focus on planning and studying at the same time. This makes it essential to set up a structured study plan at the beginning of your prep, leaving the rest of your time for the important task of actually reviewing the material. If you decide to take a prep course or work with a tutor, it’s likely that some form of plan will be provided to you. However, if you’re studying largely on your own, you can still create a great plan if you keep a few tips in mind.
1. Plan practice exams and days off first.
In the 4-6 weeks immediately before your exam date, you’ll want to take a full-length practice test approximately once per week, if possible. It’s best to set aside as much time for review as you do to actually take the exam, which means a full day (or more if necessary – full-length review is enormously important!). Plan these days first, since you’ll want to schedule time with no interruptions to mimic test-day conditions. As for days off, unless you’re limited to less than 2 months of prep time, give yourself one per week! You’ll earn it, and it will help you maintain an MCAT-life balance.
2. Next, plan your content review.
I’ve found that the “average” MCAT student needs about 1.5 months of content-focused preparation, but this amount can vary wildly depending on your memory of premed course material. For the first few days, gauge how many chapters you can comfortably cover in a day, being sure to take notes on the most important points of each chapter. Then, plan the remaining chapters accordingly. It can help to set aside at least one day per week where you cover no new material, and instead return to your old notes for a refresher.
3. Finally, plan strategy and passage practice.
You’ll want to work through MCAT passages (especially CARS, or verbal) consistently throughout your entire prep schedule, but once you’ve completed your content review, this strategy practice can really begin in earnest. The specifics of this practice don’t need to be planned out now – allow yourself to find out your strengths and weaknesses through content review first. However, do get an idea of the resources you’ll be using. If in doubt, AAMC resources (which include the Question Packs and Section Banks) are great sources for practice passages from the test-makers themselves. I typically advise my students to break down these resources and cover a small chunk of passages every day, while constantly returning to your notes if you struggle with a particular topic.
Hopefully you now have an idea where to go from here regarding your MCAT plans! However, if you’re still lost, don’t fret. Ask other premeds how they made their own plans, consult online resources (where countless study plans are available), or reach out to a tutor or MCAT professional for advice. With a little bit of guidance, you’ll be able to ace the exam and move forward to reach your medical school goals!
Clara Gillan is the MCAT Content Director at Next Step Test Prep and has been teaching and tutoring for five years. She scored a 526 on her own MCAT, with perfect scores in the CARS and bio/biochem sections. Her favorite part of test prep is finding alternative ways to explain tricky concepts. Clara also plays an important role in the development of Next Step’s practice tests and other resources, where her top priority is making content as representative of the official exam as possible. In her free time, she runs a Girl Scout troop in Los Angeles and loves watching movies.
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