MCAT test prep is no easy undertaking. So, how to study for the MCAT? In this blog, we will discuss the best MCAT prep strategies and what the ideal MCAT prep plan should include. Plus, we will provide expert tips for your MCAT study schedule and failproof learning strategies that will help you ace your test!

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What is the Best MCAT Test Prep?

Most importantly, the best MCAT test prep should be tailored to meet your needs. Each student’s MCAT prep will be different, as no two students are the same. To get the best results, make sure that your MCAT prep strategy is customized to address your weaknesses and fill your knowledge gaps. Do not blindly follow general MCAT prep books and other study materials to get ready for the test. While content review is certainly important, personalized prep strategies are essential for your success. This means that you must carefully plan which books, materials, and learning tools you use to get yourself prepped. 

How to study for the MCAT will also depend on your learning style and preferences. A good MCAT prep strategy should take into account your individual learning needs. For example, maybe you retain information by writing it out with pen and paper on flashcards? Or maybe you like to use mnemonic tactics to memorize vocabulary? Or perhaps you enjoy explaining the concepts you learn to another person, thus solidifying your own understanding. Your MCAT study plan should definitely incorporate all the learning techniques that you personally find useful.

There are of course general characteristics that are present in all good MCAT prep strategies. For example, you will not have any luck with the real exam if you do not prepare for its format. This is why it’s so important to learn how hard the MCAT is and how long the MCAT is, and here’s why:

MCAT’s format is one of the things that makes it so challenging. The number of questions, the variety of topics, and the time limits you are given for each section, all make it one of the most grueling exams ever. Its length, a total of 7.5 hours, is also what often scares students from ever taking this test. But remember that there are very few medical schools that don’t require the MCAT, so rather than avoiding the test you should focus on prepping for its difficulty. Therefore, a good MCAT test prep strategy must inform and warn you of these challenges right off the bat. This foreknowledge will allow you to incorporate prep tactics that will help you overcome these challenges. 

Another important element of any MCAT prep is figuring out when to start studying for the MCAT. The MCAT tests you on many different subjects and topics, so your prep must include a well-organized and structured study plan to optimize your retention, focus, and readiness. Additionally, this plan will also help you decide when you should take the MCAT. You might instinctively think that the more time you spend on MCAT prep the better, and to some extent you are right. You should not rush your preparations for the test but prolonging your study period is also not advisable. It is best not to spend more than 6 months on your MCAT prep. Why? Because if you stretch your prep into 8, 9, 10 months, or even a year, you will never properly prepare. You will start forgetting what you learned at the beginning, lose focus, and distract yourself from concentrating on results. Having a solid MCAT prep schedule of 4 to 6 months is ideal. This way, you will keep on top of the new content that needs revision, have time to review topics and subjects you already covered, and practice with questions that will allow you to apply your knowledge. Therefore, make sure that your MCAT prep strategy includes a plan for when you can start studying for the MCAT in earnest.

Wondering when the best time for you to take the MCAT is? This infographic will help:

Keep in mind that if you are wondering “should I retake the MCAT?”, your initial MCAT prep strategy was not strong enough. Do not make the mistake of trying to prepare for the test a second time using the same techniques. Using the same prep tactics that led you to a poor MCAT score will not yield better results! If you have decided to retake the exam, make sure to develop a better plan. Read on to see how you can devise a better MCAT prep strategy!

How to Start Your MCAT Test Prep?

As we already mentioned, do not start serious MCAT prep before you really decide to take it. MCAT prep should be focused and scheduled, so be sure to start real prep once you know you are ready for it. Once you are, the two main steps in starting your MCAT prep should be:

To set yourself up for successful MCAT prep, you must complete these 2 steps first and foremost.

Take the MCAT Diagnostic Test

The first step of any MCAT test prep should be taking the MCAT diagnostic test. This full-length practice test is meant for one thing only: to assess your baseline. Do not worry about acing the test, do not cheat, and do not worry about your result. The point of taking a full-length practice test at the onset is to identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as gaps in your knowledge. When you go over the results of your diagnostic, you will note which subjects need more of your attention and which subjects you have strong knowledge in.

Furthermore, the diagnostic test will introduce you to the passage-based format of the test. As we already mentioned, not many students will be familiar with this form of questions before they study for the MCAT, so a full-length diagnostic is a great way to experience the format first-hand. And remember, there is no need to feel alarmed about the difficulties you experience. In fact, instead of worrying about how challenging the initial diagnostic was, write down what made it challenging. For example:

All of these obstacles should be noted and incorporated into your study plan. Further down in this article, we will discuss how you can overcome all of these challenges. However, at this stage of your MCAT test prep it's simply important to note down any difficulties you run into when you complete a full-length practice test.

If you're looking to learn more about MCAT diagnostic tests, check out this video:

We recommend using one of the official AAMC full-length practice tests for your diagnostic. Your diagnostic results will be fundamental in creating your MCAT study schedule. There is no better way to determine what subjects and disciplines to prioritize and which content materials to study than to review your diagnostic results.

Remember to use our MCAT Scaled Score Calculator to convert your scores from raw answers. This will help you see where your score stands and help you track your improvement.

Create Your Study Schedule

Before you rush into content review and practice questions, it is important to create a clear schedule that outlines which days you can dedicate to MCAT prep. A good study schedule will include the following information:

Tips for Creating the Best MCAT Study Schedule:

Additional Tip: creating a personalized study schedule is very challenging. Many students struggle with estimating how much time they will need to cover each topic, or how much time they should dedicate to practice questions. Additionally, students sometimes struggle with coming up with good study strategies. This is all understandable. The MCAT is not like any other test you have ever taken, so your uncertainty about how to prepare for it is totally understandable. If you find yourself in this situation, an MCAT tutor or advisor can be of great help. Not only will they help you devise an individual plan of study, but they will also keep you accountable for your schedule and provide feedback on your progress. If you find that you need that extra bit of help and support when it comes to planning your prep, don’t hesitate to reach out to a tutor.

What Your MCAT Test Prep Should Include: A Step-be-Step Guide

Once your schedule is good and ready to be used, you can follow the steps we outline below.

Content Review

The level of content review you will need to complete is totally dependent on your levels of knowledge. Remember that diagnostic test you took at the beginning of your MCAT test prep? Its results should show you how prepared you are for each of the disciplines covered on the test. Which content you review and at what level will be dependent on how well you are prepared for these disciplines.

It is totally possible that you have just completed all your medical school prerequisites and feel ready to take on the test, but most of us will need some time to revisit, study, and absorb the topics and subjects that will be covered on the test. This is why content review should be the first step of your MCAT prep.

Typically, the heavy content review phase lasts about 3 months. Dedicate this time to study and revisit all the disciplines and topics that may come up in the exam. As we mentioned before, how deep you delve into each discipline will depend on your level of knowledge of each subject but try not to leave out any of the Foundational Concepts that may come up on the test. Even if you feel that you know a subject very well, dedicate some time to revisiting it during this review phase of your MCAT prep.

Some students who plan shorter study schedules make the mistake of focusing only on high-yield MCAT topics. While it makes sense to dedicate a lot of time to biology, since it’s a dominant discipline on the MCAT, you should aim not to dismiss any subjects and disciplines, no matter how unlikely they are to appear on the exam. Firstly, because you never know which test form you may get. The variations in test forms may allow for topics you are not expecting to come up on the test. Secondly, the attitude of cutting corners is really not the right approach to acing the MCAT. While your schedule and study strategies should be efficient, they should allow you to tackle all the necessary information you may need to get a good MCAT score

Want to learn more about MCAT scoring and what's considered a good score? Take a look at this video:

During the content review phase of your MCAT prep, you can certainly do some practice tests. However, do not spend much time on them. The whole point of the content review phase is to prepare you for the next phase of your preparations, which will involve lots of practice questions, quizzes, and multiple full-length practice tests. Essentially you got to ask yourself: how can you increase your knowledge of the disciplines and do well on practice tests without studying the subjects first? Therefore, your first 3 months of MCAT prep should be almost exclusively content-driven.

Study Strategies

But just because you need to review content does not mean that these entire 3 months will be spent over a book! You will need to use active study strategies to absorb new information and solidify information you already know. Have fun with this! As we already mentioned, the active strategies you use are up to you. What helps you memorize important vocabulary? What helps you grasp the necessary equations? What helps you identify the most important aspects of a CARS passage? The answers to these questions will be different for everyone, but we do have some general tips for active learning techniques:

Need to work on your MCAT CARS score? Here's some tips:

CARS Prep

And since we already touched on working on your MCAT CARS strategy, let's make something very clear – preparing for CARS will not be anything like preparing for the other 3 sections of the MCAT. There are no mnemonics tactics or content reviews that can help you with this portion of the test. This is why you must dedicate some of your MCAT prep schedule to reading challenging texts. This will be the backbone of your CARS prep.

But as we already emphasized, your prep for CARS does not have to be boring or inactive. You are encouraged to join book clubs, take literary classes with seminars, read your favorite books, and organize reading groups with fellow MCAT-takers. Discussing ideas and arguments is what can really help you in solidifying your understanding of the 3 CARS question types (foundations of comprehension, reasoning within the text, and reasoning outside of the text).

Another tip for an active learning strategy for CARS is reading and analyzing everything you read. And we mean, everything. If you read an article in the newspaper, ask yourself: what's the main message? What is the purpose of this article? What are the arguments they use to make their case? What counterarguments can I come up with?

Or if you read an ad on the subway, ask yourself: what is the purpose of the ad? Is the author biased? Can I come up with counterarguments to make a case for a different point of view? Another big advantage of this prep tip is that you can continue your MCAT test prep outside of home and assigned prep days. Habituating yourself to analyze everything you read can really help you train for this challenging MCAT section. Your MCAT CARS prep will be in conjunction with the rest of your studies, so make sure to incorporate whatever active learning strategies you use in your schedule – except, of course, your ad reading time on the subway.

Practice Questions and Full-length Practice Tests

Once the heavy content review phase is over and you covered the majority of topics and disciplines that may appear on the test, you should begin the practice phase of your MCAT prep. This is the time to apply your knowledge and test how well you do in realistic exam conditions. The only content review you should be doing at this point is of concepts and disciplines you do poorly on in the practice tests.

So how does this phase of MCAT prep works? Essentially, your weeks will now consist of practice tests and questions. For example, as the fourth month of your MCAT prep rolls around, plan to take a full-length practice exam in the first week. Here's what you've got to do:

  1. Set your practice test in an environment that mimics the test conditions, i.e., in a quiet room with a timer and without your study notes.
  2. It is ok at this point to go over the time limit, but try to stick to time frames for each section. You will be training on MCAT timing at the same time, so do sit the full exam and try to mimic the test’s environment as much as possible.
  3. After you complete the first full-length exam, review your results. Are there any gaping holes in your knowledge? Should you review some of the content you did poorly on? Include a review of any weak knowledge areas in your week's schedule.

The rest of your weeks will involve taking practice questions and exams based on disciplines. For example, in week 2 of your fourth month of MCAT test prep, take the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBLS) practice questions and review your results. Any gaps in your knowledge? Take this week to review any of the concepts you missed in your practice questions. Do these practice quizzes for every section of the test, noting any knowledge gaps as you review the results and working to fill them throughout the week.

One important tip for this MCAT prep phase: in the last 2-3 months of your prep, do try to take at least 6 full-length practice exams. These will really be the pinnacle of your prep in the last few weeks before the test.

Practice Timing

As you enter the practice phase of your MCAT test prep, you should start working on your MCAT timing. Your first MCAT prep priority should of course be the ability to answer MCAT questions correctly. However, as you grow in knowledge, your focus should also include the ability to answer questions in the allotted amount of time.

Your first prep strategy for improving your MCAT timing is taking the full-length practice tests in a timed environment. This will help you gauge how well you are doing in terms of timing and identify sections that take you the longest time. And these will be the sections you must pay special attention to as you practice your timing.

To help you with your timing, we are here to share the two most time-saving tips that will require almost no real prep from you:

  1. Figure out the answer for each question first. This will help you eliminate the answer options that are clearly wrong. This way, you can quickly identify the right answer and move on to the next question. 
  2. Learn to rank your passages and questions by difficulty. Take a minute to scan all of the passages in the section and identify the passages and questions you will easily answer. For example, if you are a pro in covalent bonds and you see a passage that is focused on this foundational concept, you can start answering this passage and questions, as you will complete them in the shortest amount of time. Essentially, you want to address any of the passages and the questions that will take you the least amount of time first. Then you can move on to the harder questions and dedicate more time to them.

Timing is only improved through taking practice questions, quizzes, and full-length tests. This is why the second phase of MCAT prep should also focus on improving your speed.

Practice for MCAT’s Length

Your MCAT prep must include strategies that will help you stay focused and energetic throughout the entire 7.5 hours of the exam. Here’re some of our tips to help you prepare for the length of this grueling test:

Who Can Help You with MCAT Prep?

MCAT prep can be overwhelming. It’s hard to balance all the moving parts of this intricate process all on your own. This is why it’s important to remember that you can reach out for help. Here’re some of our suggestions for the best MCAT prep help out there:

MCAT Prep Course

There are thousands of MCAT prep courses out there, and some of them are truly helpful.

Firstly, you can always check out your school for any MCAT prep courses they offer. Many colleges and universities offer pre-med MCAT programs. However, these courses tend to be more group-focused, as most schools do not have the funds or the opportunity to make MCAT prep courses individualistic.

Of course, the best MCAT prep course will be the one that gets you the desired MCAT score. However, the method of achieving this score may be different from course to course. Make sure to research the course’s strategies carefully, and review what they offer in terms of actual guidance. If they simply offer study materials, you can always use the AAMC’s official study resources instead. If they are not willing to spend time giving you individual feedback, then maybe going with something more customized might be a better choice.

The truth is, the best MCAT prep course will be tailored to your needs. Whether it helps with MCAT content, answer strategies, or MCAT timing, a good MCAT prep course will be able to address your particular weaknesses. This is why we strongly encourage you to seek out personalized prep help. A great prep course will help you from creating your MCAT study schedule to reviewing your practice tests and giving tips on how to overcome certain knowledge gaps. A prep course should be a totally comprehensive and personalized experience.

MCAT Tutor

You can also always look into getting personalized help from an MCAT tutor. MCAT tutors tend to customize MCAT study plans for each individual they work with. So if you are finding that MCAT prep courses are too general for you, a tutor is the best way to customize your prep. Your MCAT tutor should have enough experience to detect what areas of knowledge and strategy you are lacking. They should be able to provide individualistic feedback on what you can work on each week and see if you are making progress.

Additionally, one of the most valuable aspects of an MCAT tutor or prep course will be their ability to identify when you are totally ready for the exam. You might never feel ready for the test! But a course instructor or a tutor will be able to assure you that you are ready as soon as they see that you can ace the test!

If you're considering an MCAT tutor, see this advice:

Medical School Admissions Consultant

A medical school admissions consulting service can do more than just prep you for the test. While they can certainly help you prepare for the MCAT, they can also be a more holistic help in your attempt to get admitted to medical school. Not only can they help you prepare for the test, but they can also help you get into medical school with a low MCAT if you decide to use them after your not-so-successful MCAT attempt.

Medical school admissions consultants will be able to address and help you with any of your application components and create the ideal application for you and your experiences.

Should You Get MCAT Test Prep Help from BeMo?

If you are looking for an extra push to help you ace the MCAT, we have another suggestion for you. Our "Free 90-Day MCAT 520 Challenge™" may be the perfect opportunity for students who like a little competition. We are offering an exciting challenge to students who want to get the perfect score! If you get a score of 520 or more within 90 days of enrolling in one of BeMo's MCAT prep programs, we will convert your MCAT prep enrollment fee into BeMo credits, so you can use them to participate in any of our other prep programs, including med school app review, CASPer prep, interview prep, and so on. This means that we will essentially be paying for you to do well on your MCAT test!

However, if you do not get the score of 520 or more within 90 days of enrolling in one of our MCAT test prep courses, than you can repeat the MCAT prep program for free.

Sounds too good to be true? If you would like to test and see if our prep program is for you, you can take advantage of our “100% Love It or Your Money Back” guarantee by trying one consultation session absolutely risk free. 

Conclusion: Why the Professional Help Might be Useful

Whether you prepare for the MCAT all by yourself or use a professional service is totally up to you. However, you should keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. Your MCAT score is important. The main reason for this is the fact that application rates are steadily growing, while medical school acceptance rates remain the same. This means that the competition is constantly on the rise and medical schools use any possible methods to weed out weaker applicants as soon as possible. This is where your GPA and MCAT come in. Even if the rest of your application is stellar, having a weak MCAT score may remove you from the applicant pool before the admission committee gets to look at any other components.
  2. With that being said, your MCAT score is not everything. Let’s say you wow the admissions committee with your score, but then they read a poorly written AMCAS Work and Activities section. Your score will not save you then. In addition to a competitive MCAT score, you must prepare outstanding med school application components, including your medical school personal statement and medical school recommendation letters.

This means that as much as your MCAT prep is important, it's only one piece of a successful medical school application puzzle. This is why getting the help of a medical school admissions consultant can be beneficial for both aspects of the application process. They can help you with the MCAT test prep, and then help you compose the application that will take your candidacy to the next level.

FAQs

1. How long should MCAT prep take?

You should dedicate around 6 months to MCAT prep. If this is impossible, dedicate at least 3 months.

2. What’s the best MCAT prep?

The best MCAT prep will take into account your levels of knowledge and your learning style. Your MCAT prep should always be customized to meet your needs.

3. What should MCAT prep include?

MCAT prep should start with an MCAT diagnostic and planning of a study schedule. You can then begin the content review, CARS prep, practice tests and questions, and more. Please review this blog in full for more MCAT prep steps.

4. Should I use MCAT prep books?

Yes, you should use prep books that can help you form answer strategies and prepare for the exam format.

5. What is a good MCAT score?

Simply put, a good MCAT score is a score that is above the MCAT score requirements of the schools you want to apply to.

6. Can I get into medical school with a low MCAT?

Yes, you can. There are some methods you can use to outweigh your MCAT score, such as a high GPA.

7. Who can help me with my MCAT prep?

You can join an MCAT prep course or hire an MCAT tutor or medical school advisor.

8. Can I prepare for the MCAT by myself?

Yes, you can, as long as you stay accountable to your MCAT study schedule. However, external help might help you feel more confident.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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