Many prospective medical school students wonder how to start studying for the MCAT when they realize they want to become doctors. Taking the MCAT is often necessary for medical school admissions, but this exam can be fairly difficult for those who have not spent enough time preparing. Future doctors everywhere hope for a great MCAT score but may not know exactly where to begin when it comes to studying for the test.

This article explains why it is important to get to studying for the MCAT early, relays some crucial tips on how to study for the MCAT, and explores the benefits of academic consulting for your MCAT preparation or your medical school application as a whole.

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The 4 Main Reasons It’s Important to Start Preparing Early for the MCAT When to Start Studying for the MCAT How to Start Studying for the MCAT How Academic Consulting Can Help FAQs

The 4 Main Reasons It’s Important to Start Preparing Early for the MCAT

  1. It’s complex. The MCAT is more complex than a lot of premed students often realize, and it is important to prepare for it as soon as possible in your medical school application journey. It is a very challenging test that is necessary for almost every school, except those on the list of medical schools that don’t require MCAT, of course.
  2. It’s long. Many students at the undergraduate level are not necessarily accustomed to taking tests that are over seven hours long. The MCAT is not to be taken lightly. If students do not prepare effectively or anticipate the importance of this exam, they could end up with a low score that will affect their chances of acceptance to medical school.
  3. Many schools have high MCAT thresholds. This means you are less likely to be considered (or will not be considered at all) if you do not meet their requirements. You will want to get the best score possible the first time you take the test to save the most time and energy. That is the ideal. You do not want to retake the MCAT multiple times for schools to simply choose the best score. Some schools will even prefer your most recent score, rather than your best, so multiple attempts could be completed in vain if they do not significantly improve your score.
  4. The MCAT is more than just memorizing facts. It is also about applying your knowledge to the specific format of the MCAT, which you need time to research and master. Lack of preparation, lack of strategy, and lack of confidence are why most premeds do not perform well on the MCAT. Studying in advance can prevent all of this.

Wondering how to study for the MCAT to get your desired score? Watch this video:

When to Start Studying for the MCAT

When you are dealing with a test of this much importance, it can be difficult to know when to start studying for the MCAT and where to start with reviewing your study materials. Thinking of your preparation as a step-by-step process and devising a schedule will lessen your study load and make you feel more productive overall as you prepare for this endeavor.

There is no best time to write the MCAT, and you can schedule your test at almost any time of the year, so you are not pressured to be ready by a specific date that you do not choose yourself. However, you still need to be strategic about when you take the MCAT. Schools often accept test results taken within the last two or three years, so you need to take it late enough to allow yourself to gain enough knowledge, but early enough for it to be done with by the time you are submitting applications. There is no reason not to succeed when you give yourself enough time to prepare.

How to Start Studying for the MCAT

Step 1: Learn Everything You Can About the MCAT

The MCAT has been around for a while, and thousands of students take it every single year. If you want to prepare for it, one of the first things to do is to learn everything you can about the test. In other words, you can “study” the MCAT itself first. Nowadays, all the information you need is out there if you look for it. Many resources are at your fingertips. When you are well informed, you are able to make the best decision for you. Learn about the goals and rationale of the MCAT. What is its purpose? What is it supposed to be testing you on? Why is it such a strict requirement? For medical school, motivation is key. When you figure out why you may need to take the MCAT, it will make you more motivated for the substantial amount of studying you are about to undergo.

In addition to knowing why the test itself exists, look into the content of MCAT so that you know what to expect. Know the fundamentals of the test: 230 multiple questions over 4 different sections ranging from traditional premed studies of organic chemistry and biology to fields such as psychology, philosophy, and sociology. You will need a fundamental knowledge of science as well as enhanced literacy and critical thinking skills to do well on the MCAT.

Each section has a score from 118 to 132, leading to an overall score between 472–528. To find further information, do a few searches online, read detailed blogs about the MCAT, and skim through some common MCAT prep questions to get an idea of what you may face. Official forums, expert-led webinars, and student testimonials may also be a good idea for you to address some initial concerns about the test. If someone you know has taken the MCAT and done well, asking them for advice will surely help you out. When it comes to the MCAT, the more you know prior to taking it, the better.

Step 2: Take a Diagnostic Test

One of the best ways to start studying for the MCAT is to take an MCAT diagnostic test. This is one of the very first things you should do after learning enough information about how the MCAT functions, even without officially sitting down to study. The diagnostic test is essentially a practice run that will really help you plan your study schedule. This initial assessment will test your MCAT timing and affinity for the question types typically presented on the test. You are essentially seeing where you stand before really delving into the studying process.

For maximum effectiveness, mimic the real test-day conditions as much as possible while you take the diagnostic to properly simulate the MCAT. Take the diagnostic in a quiet environment. Remove any devices and distractions as well. This will ensure that the baseline score you receive from the diagnostic will be accurate. By doing an initial exam, you will know exactly which sections or areas you have to work on and how you did before any real preparation. You can access a full online practice exam from the AAMC website, available to take at any time you need it.

It is perfectly okay to not perform the best on the diagnostic test. In fact, you may not have an acceptable score at all. Completing the diagnostic successfully already shows a drive to perform well on the actual MCAT and get into medical school. It means you are heading in the right direction. This is why you are preparing for the actual test in the first place. A diagnostic test is not meant to discourage you but help you kick off how you will approach the studying process.

The study schedule you make will inevitably be based on improving these results now that you have them. Make sure to take note of what made the diagnostic challenging, even if is not solely about the test. Think about how you were feeling physically and mentally as well throughout the entire test. Did you struggle with the tough readings? When did you start feeling tired? Is there a section in particular that threw you for a loop? How was your time management? Taking a diagnostic test will allow you to reflect on your test-taking abilities and have a game plan moving forward.

Step 3: Set a Schedule

Once you have taken a diagnostic test and assessed your results, it is time to register for your test date and create a study schedule. Thankfully, the availability of MCAT test and release dates is quite open. It may be ideal to set your test date near the end of the summer and use the break from school to do most of your preparation. These students will receive their scores in early fall, well before their applications for medical school are due.

Starting to study approximately six months before your test date would be the most beneficial to you, but a minimum of three months is recommended. What is important is that you split your study time into two phases. In the first phase, you will be reviewing MCAT content 70% of the time, while the remaining 30% will be putting that knowledge into practice through practice tests and passages. In the second phase, these two percentages will flip. With the knowledge you have acquired, you will put most of your efforts into mock MCAT exams. Based on your baseline scores from your diagnostic test, it could be beneficial to start with the areas or sections that need the most improvement.

When creating an MCAT study schedule, be detailed and plan as much as possible in advance with a calendar. How many hours do you think you can reasonably put into studying each day or week? What times are you usually not available? Account for all the commitments you may have when setting up your schedule. Devise a way to hold yourself accountable and keep track of what you have accomplished, whether it be through a checklist or other format.

Also, not every day on your study calendar has to be the same. Try out different ways to study using active learning strategies such as groups, flashcards, pop quizzes, switching between online and physical materials, etc. If you study the same way every day for months, you may begin to burn yourself out.

Once your schedule is done, it is important to remember that it is not set in stone. Do not be afraid to revise and update your schedule as the weeks go on. Life happens and priorities may change, that is only natural, so do not feel guilty about a few changes here and there. As long as you feel like your schedule is helping you stay on track to earn a high MCAT score, that is what matters.

Step 4: Gather Materials

As the first phase of your study time will be 70% content review, make sure to gather the right materials in advance so that you are not stuck looking for them when you are meant to be working. Go through your textbooks and notes from various courses to evaluate how they may benefit your preparation for the more science-related sections.

To further help with planning, the AAMC has valuable resources and other practice materials that you could work into your schedule. These can wind up being essential to furthering and testing your knowledge when the time comes.

When figuring out how to review MCAT CARS, the challenging reading materials needed for that section may not be immediately available to you if you were the traditional premed student, since this section focuses on psychological, philosophical, and sociological texts. Premed students need to specifically prepare for the CARS section, as they will likely have less familiarity with the concepts within it due to their science background. In addition to the regular content review in chemistry and biology that medical students know well, additional readings you use to help study can be crucial to your success.

Readings should come from a variety of fields to diversify your MCAT reading comprehension. It may not seem obvious at first but consuming multiple types of readings outside of your comfort zone will improve your critical thinking skills and help you interpret the complicated passages that will be part of the test. Newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times or The Economist, represent complex world issues in a more accessible fashion. Academic journals in psychology, sociology, and philosophy will introduce you to various thinkers, scholars, and theories you may come face-to-face with on the day of the exam. Classic literary works will teach you to analyze writing and come to conclusions based on the presentation of a text. Coming up with a thesis, evaluating the strength of arguments, and searching for evidence are all skills needed for the MCAT. As a general rule, accept these reading materials with open arms and make sure they are in your hands early.

Step 5: Rinse and Repeat

When you have a schedule and know what materials you will need and how to get them, the actual studying process is rather repetitive, even though you will be moving from topic to topic. You are basically now troubleshooting and adjusting until you take the test. In a six-month schedule, along with minimal practice tests, you should primarily be reviewing a different content domain each week for the first three months. For instance, in the first week of every month, you might focus on the CARS section, then the next week would be the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section, followed by the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section. Then, you would finish the month reviewing for the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section.

In the second phase, your focus would turn to different practice tests and review each week, in addition to sample questions or passages and the continuation of reading challenging material. At this point, you apply your knowledge again and again to notice what is working and what is not. Keep a mistake log, where you can note the types of questions that are troubling you to address later. Learning where you went wrong will be crucial to improving your score.

Take note of timing as well. The actual test is not only about getting the right answers but doing so within the time limit as well. Create a pop quiz of various answers and questions to see if you are retaining the information.

When you complete practice tests, they can be separated by section and do not have to be the full test every time at first. By the end of the six months, you should be taking more full-length practice MCATs to see how your score compares to your first go around. Once you are scoring in at least the 90th percentile multiple times in a row, that is when you know you are fully ready to complete the MCAT. The day before your test, you should try and rest without doing much studying to make sure you are in tip-top shape for your actual MCAT.

How Academic Consulting Can Help

Due to the intense amount of preparation necessary for the MCAT, many students seek professional help from an MCAT tutor to ensure that they ace the test and get into the medical school of their dreams. Working with academic advisors from BeMo Academic Consulting is a step you can take toward achieving your goals. With the best-quality MCAT prep, students can save time and money by benefitting from services that are guaranteed to produce positive results. With BeMo, you can receive help to plan how to start studying for the MCAT, create an effective study schedule, answer questions about the test, and more. Your sessions can be as broad or as tailored as necessary, even including an MCAT CARS prep course for those who need help for that particular section.

Through one-on-one strategy sessions, expert consultants can provide worthwhile feedback, advice, and testimonials to guide you through your studying process. As these consulting services are available online, they can be delivered anytime, anywhere to support your needs. They can also help with any other aspect of your medical school application. Whether you have trouble writing your medical school personal statement or would like to test your communication skills with a mock interview or learn the best strategies for the CASPer test, academic consultants are there to alleviate your stress.

If you are serious about acing the MCAT and getting an acceptance letter to a medical school of your choice, consultants can work with you until you are 100% ready to write the exam. Studying for standardized tests is not easy but having someone in your corner can make all the difference for a student in need.


1. What is a good MCAT score?

This really depends on the medical school, as admission requirements vary from one institution to another. The trick is to aim for the highest score possible and then go from there. If you end up coming up a little short, you could still focus on how to get into medical school with a low MCAT or take more time to study and then retake it.

2. Why is MCAT CARS considered the most difficult section for premed students?

It is one of the sections that is the least similar to previous studies in chemistry, biology, or physics that premed students are used to because it tests critical analysis and reasoning in texts that are purposefully challenging to read. Luckily, knowing how difficult this section may be for you makes it easier to anticipate. Employing a useful MCAT CARS strategy with the right amount of preparation will also make this section much less daunting.

3. How many hours should I spend studying for the MCAT overall?

If you are consistently performing well on practice tests and quizzes, you may need less time. However, in the ballpark of 200–300 hours is a good range.

4. What if I don’t have a full six months to study?

Six months is ideal, but it is normal to not have as much time to study due to other commitments or the need to complete the MCAT sooner. There are schedules available that account for three months or other time frames. A dedicated student could properly prepare for the MCAT in less time, but six months is the most realistic scenario for those getting ready to take the test.

5. Why is the MCAT so long?

The whole test takes about 7.5 hours, as it is 230 questions in total. A common myth about the MCAT is that it is solely about memorizing information and knowing facts. However, it is meant to be a test of both knowledge and ability. You will have to focus under pressure and maintain concentration for a long time, a skill also needed for most future doctors or surgeons. 

6. Are there breaks during the MCAT?

Yes, there are breaks, considering that the test is pretty long. They are about 10 minutes long and are usually between sections. These breaks are optional, but it is important to take them to grab a bite to eat, stretch your legs, and recenter yourself for the next round.

7. How many times can I take the MCAT?

You can take the MCAT up to seven times in your lifetime, but the maximum number of times you can take the test in any given application year is three.

8. Why would an MCAT tutor or academic consultant be necessary?

An MCAT tutor or academic consultant will help you feel like you are not going through this experience alone. When it comes to studying, you can discuss your plan of action with someone who is knowledgeable about the MCAT. With a private consultant, you will benefit from great, tailored feedback that you will not be able to get anywhere else. If you need any form of medical school application help, partnering with an academic consulting firm is one of the best steps you can take to ensure your success.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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