Creating an MCAT study schedule is key in setting yourself up for success on test day. That's one of the first things we always discuss with our own students in our unlimited MCAT prep programs. In a daunting seven and a half hours, the MCAT will test nearly everything you have learned during your undergraduate studies. The exam is meant to provide admissions committees with a way to compare students from a varied range of backgrounds and heavily influences medical school acceptance rates.
With such a huge task ahead of you, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you compose your own MCAT study schedule, we’ve developed a comprehensive guide. This blog includes an overview of important information to know before you start studying, a detailed example of a six-month, three-month, one-month, and even ONE-WEEK MCAT study schedule – broken down to help you organize your time effectively – and tips to overcome test day stress so you can perform your best!
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What You Need to Know Before You Start Studying
Remember, even the easiest medical schools to get into have certain GPA and MCAT thresholds that must be met. Before they even look at your AMCAS work and activities section or medical school personal statement, the admission committee members will evaluate you based on your GPA and MCAT score. Your MCAT score is a fundamental part of your medical school application and one of the most important initial considerations for admissions committees when evaluating your application. Some medical schools, like Queen's University medical school, will not continue the review of your application if you do not meet their MCAT expectations.
As you embark on your MCAT test prep, it is important to first understand the format of the test. When you hear of someone improving their MCAT score 10-15 points between their first and second attempt, they did not get significantly smarter in between those scores. They simply figured out the test, and that is your job when it comes to preparing for the MCAT.
Start by completing the AAMC’s required reading The MCAT Essentials, to learn about testing logistics and other important information. Then, review BeMo’s "How hard is the MCAT?" before you even think about designing your study schedule. Utilize our blog "How long is the MCAT?" to understand the MCAT format, how much time you have for each section, foundational concepts covered, and key skills tested on the MCAT. Then, review our solid MCAT CARS strategy to learn what to expect in your MCAT CARS section, perhaps the most challenging part of the exam.
Here are some other resources you can use as you plan your MCAT study schedule:
1. AAMC Planning and Study Resources
3. BeMo's Ultimate Guide to MCAT CARS
Keep in mind that while it is possible to get into medical school with a low MCAT score, it is better to focus on achieving a high score in your first attempt, rather than having to retake the MCAT or settle for an unsatisfactory score. You do not want the additional stress of worrying about how to offset your low MCAT with other application components. Plus, the higher the score, the more medical school options you will have.
When Should You Start Preparing for the MCAT?
Now that you know the basics of the exam, you might be wondering when to start studying for the MCAT. The good news is that you started studying years ago when you entered university! The amount of time you will need to dedicate to MCAT preparation will partly depend on whether you have already completed introductory-level college courses in biology, psychology, sociology, etc., and, of course, your understanding of the material covered in these courses.
The next big question is when do you hope to take the exam? The MCAT is administered multiple times a year, so there is flexibility in when you can take it. Be sure to account for MCAT submission deadlines for your programs of choice. Once you have a test date in mind, register as soon as possible, as MCAT test dates are first come, first served. As long as your test date is at least six months away, you should have sufficient time to prepare.
With a test date in mind, when should you start studying? Be realistic! Be honest with yourself about how much time you have daily and weekly to dedicate to studying for the MCAT. Every student is different in the number of hours and months they put into studying for the exam. It is recommended that you devote between 200-300 hours of dedicated study time. If you can only dedicate 10 hours per week to studying, you may require 6 months to adequately prepare.
Remember, you should be spending 70% of your study time reviewing content in the first phase of your MCAT prep
If you can dedicate more hours each week to MCAT preparation, you may be ready in closer to 3 months. Build some flexibility into your schedule as well. Be sure to consider the amount of time you can study each week, including breaks and holidays, when determining how long you will need to prepare for the MCAT and when you will need to start.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to revise your MCAT study schedule. As you prepare for the test, log the number of hours you study each day and what topics you covered. Make note of your level of focus at different times of the day and assess trends in your studying. If something is not working, it is ok to revise your study schedule – make tweaks to suit your learning style and spend more time reviewing a specific content area if needed.
Check out our video to learn how to study for the MCAT.
How to Create Your MCAT Study Schedule
Your MCAT study schedule will be comprised of two different phases. In the first phase, you will spend 70% of your time studying the MCAT content and 30% of your time on practice questions, passages, and practice tests. In the second phase of your MCAT schedule, these numbers will be reversed, and you’ll spend 70% of your time practicing and 30% on content review. These phases should split your MCAT schedule in half. For example, if you have a six-month study schedule, the first three months will be dedicated to phase 1, and the following three months will be focused on phase 2 study.
You’ll know how many weeks you’ll have for each phase of MCAT study once you choose an MCAT testing date and decide whether you’ll need 1, 3, or 6 months to study and how many hours you can dedicate each week. If you can only dedicate around 10 hours each week, for instance, plan to cover at least a few chapters of content per week. If your schedule is for 3 months, aim to take at least one practice exam per week during phase 2, and so on. Your schedule should be flexible and suit your needs but should allow for enough time to cover all the recommended study materials and to take at least 5 full-length practice exams.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to creating your MCAT study schedule and calendar.
- Choose your MCAT testing date
- Decide how many hours per week you can dedicate to study and create your timeline
- Draw up a calendar and write down all your commitments outside of MCAT study
- Split your study schedule into Phase 1 and Phase 2
- Create your Phase 1 schedule and write down what content you will study each day
- Create your Phase 2 schedule and note when you will take practice tests
Aim to make your schedule as detailed as possible. Not only will this help you keep organized in your studies, but it will also eliminate stress and anxiety from distractions like planning out your day and finding the right resources. Remember, when you delve into content review and practice, you do not want to worry about where and how you will find the right information or how you can test your knowledge.
Check out our tips for how to get a good MCAT score:
Comprehensive Six-Month MCAT Study Schedule
After some honest assessment and initial planning, use the following comprehensive MCAT study schedule as a template for creating your own. Include check boxes next to each item and mark them as completed as you proceed. This will help you keep yourself accountable and aware of subsequent steps as you progress. Be sure to leave time each week for rest to avoid burnout, and if you start drifting into procrastination, take it as a sign that you need an extra day off. Being honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and performing is incredibly important.
Additionally, consider enrolling in an in-person or online MCAT prep course if your budget can accommodate it. This is especially recommended if you’re feeling overwhelmed in the initial planning stages or feel off-course or confounded later on. Having an expert offer guidance on how to study for the MCAT can make a huge difference early on, preventing you from developing any bad or inefficient study habits.
You can also see if your university offers any free or low-fee MCAT prep opportunities. The AAMC also offers a wide array of free resources, including subject-specific study guides and other tools. On this point, you may be tempted to lean into the advice scattered throughout the MCAT Reddit and Premed Reddit but we caution you against employing too much of the often conflicting and misrepresentative information in these forums. Solidarity and community discussion are great, but the structure of this kind of discussion can often create a false sense of consensus about a given idea or strategy.
One last note: as you practice, use our MCAT Scaled Score Calculator to see where your score stands and whether you are scoring in your desired percentile.
Month 1 – 24 Weeks to Exam Day
Month 2 – 20 Weeks to Exam Day
Month 3 – 16 Weeks to Exam Day
Month 4 – 12 Weeks to Exam Day
At Month 4, you’ll begin transitioning away from content review and into MCAT practice questions and more active learning strategies. Continue with your mistake log to keep track of questions you miss and concepts with which you are struggling. Focus your now limited content review time on topics you find yourself missing during your practice. Although you’ve now switched to privileging answering practice questions, you’ll need to make sure you’re still learning from your mistakes, and careful, targeted review is the way to do this. Take ample time to understand why you missed a question so you can approach your next round of practice with updated information. Approaching each full-length practice test or sets of practice questions with an improved knowledge base is essential for improving your MCAT score.
Month 5 – 8 Weeks to Exam Day
Month 5 will be the most demanding so far in terms of practice questions and exams. Each week, you’ll complete a full-length practice MCAT and utilize your remaining study time for highly targeted review and practice. You’ll also continue with your MCAT prep course if you’ve enrolled in one.
Month 6 – 4 Weeks to Exam Day
You’re in the home stretch! The last few weeks leading up to exam day you’ll continue focusing on practice questions and exams and wrapping up your prep course, but you’ll also need to start preparing for the big day by keeping calm and resting/recuperating from the last few months of intense study.
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Tips for Shorter Study Schedules - 3 Months, 1 Month, and 1 Week
What if you do not have six months to devote to MCAT preparation? While we strongly recommend that you stick to a six-month study schedule, it is possible to prepare for your MCAT in less time. Use our six-month study schedule as a guide, and check out our tips below for shorter MCAT study schedules:
Three-Month MCAT Preparation
It is not uncommon for students to take their three-month summer break to study for the MCAT, and it is more than possible to prepare for your MCAT in this amount of time.
Your first step must be to take an MCAT diagnostic test. You cannot skip this step, as it will allow you to learn which content areas you need to improve! Again, do not feel any pressure to ace the practice test – your first practice test is just a diagnosis of what you need to include in your study schedule. Once you know your results, you can create an appropriate study plan to cover each of the four MCAT sections.
You will still need to review content for each section, but your study schedule will be compressed. This means that you must create a rigorous study plan and stick to it firmly. Refer to our 6-month schedule to see which content you need to review and when to take practice tests to assess your progress. Your schedule must also include reading challenging texts every week to get ready for the CARS section. This is a crucial step that you cannot skip! During your three-month preparation, continue to take full-length practice MCATs. Ideally, you will take 5 to 7 practice tests to gauge your progress.
Additionally, it's important to begin tapering your studying as you approach the MCAT. You should take your last practice test the week before the exam and ensure you take the day before the test off.
One-Month MCAT Preparation
To successfully prepare for the MCAT in one month, you will need to be completely comfortable with the content covered on the MCAT. Perhaps you have just taken all the necessary coursework and feel confident in your knowledge. If this is your case, your first step should still be taking a diagnostic exam to see if there are any content areas that you do not ace.
Next, create a list of 15–20 content areas that you need to brush up on and begin to review those topics. Only study the content areas you struggle with and try to cover a few topics per discipline each week. For example, two biology topics per week, plus three chemistry topics, and so on. For a one-month study schedule, you will need to significantly reduce the amount of content you cover and the number of challenging texts you read in preparation for the CARS section. Try to review an edition of The Economist and one book, per week.
As you study, continue to take practice tests and set a goal to complete five practice tests before your MCAT date. Not only will you review concepts and disciplines you already know as you take each practice test, but you will be able to see if your score is improving and whether you have overcome any challenges you encountered in your initial diagnostic exam.
It is important to note that this is not a sufficient study plan for most students. You must be completely ready for the MCAT content to consider taking the MCAT after only one month of studying. Nor is this a recommended approach to retaking the MCAT, which requires modifying and enhancing your study habits, not limiting them.
Remember, only take the test if you feel completely ready and make sure you take the day before the test off!
One-Week MCAT Preparation
A one-week study schedule should include taking a diagnostic exam first to see if you are truly prepared for the MCAT. You must know the content covered on the exam very well because you will not have time to review it.
If you are preparing for the MCAT in a short period of time, please note that a last-minute crash course is not helpful. Instead, use practice tests to pinpoint weaknesses in specific content areas, then focus your content review in these areas so you are ensuring maximum improvement. If there are a few concepts that you do not feel completely comfortable with, make sure to study them. However, realistically, you will only be able to squeeze three to five topics into a one-week study plan.
Content review will need to be reduced in favor of getting ample practice with sample questions and full-length practice tests. We recommend that you use this week to take several practice MCATs to ensure that you feel prepared for the format and duration of the exam and to prove that you are consistently scoring in your desired score range. Aim to take the evening before the test off to relax and get a good night’s sleep. This is not the time to try to cram and pull an all-nighter, as that will simply impact your performance on test day.
When deciding how many months or weeks you will devote to preparing for the MCAT, be honest with yourself about how much time each day you can set aside for MCAT preparation. Select a test date that will allow you to set yourself up for success, then plan your study schedule from there.
How to Reduce Stress Before Test Day
You have been studying for months; don’t let stress hinder your MCAT performance! While a healthy amount of anxiety will keep you alert and boost your focus on test day, too much stress can work against you.
#1: Don’t study just before your test
Do not study the day before your MCAT! Resist the temptation to spend the day before the exam frantically trying to review all your notes, as this is not an effective strategy to improve your score. It is not beneficial to study the day before the MCAT, as you will not retain any information, and it will hinder your performance by increasing your anxiety.
#2: Rest the day before
The day before your MCAT is best spent resting and doing things you enjoy. This will ensure you can stay calm and get a good night’s sleep. Consciously take deep breaths throughout the day to quell any nerves and to ensure you are thinking clearly. Also, avoid having conversations with friends or family about the MCAT, as this too can lead to stress.
#3: Plan out the day of your test
Prior to the test, work out logistics, such as traveling to your testing center and making sure you know where to park and that you can find the correct building. This will help to reduce stress on test day and, importantly, ensure that you are not late! Review the AAMC’s information about what can and cannot be brought into the testing center.
Before going to bed, set yourself up for success! Prepare everything you will need for test day so you do not feel rushed in the morning, which can start a stream of nervous feelings – something you don’t want.
The morning of your test, wake up with plenty of time to spare. Eat a light, nutritious breakfast and get to the testing center by the recommended time. Before starting the test, your identification will need to be confirmed, which takes some time; be sure to consider this extra step when planning your arrival time.
Remember: however long you have before the exam, you must take the MCAT diagnostic test before you create your MCAT study schedule!
The MCAT is a huge milestone and a major source of stress for most medical school applicants. After reading through this guide, you have the tools needed to build an effective MCAT study schedule to help you achieve a competitive score.
Having a good understanding of the MCAT format, following our comprehensive MCAT study schedule, and taking several full-length practice exams will lead to confidence on test day. Remember to also implement our stress reduction strategies to help you put your best foot forward. Preparing for the MCAT can be a daunting task – take it one day at a time and remember that we will be here to support you every step of the way!
1. What is a good MCAT score?
Asking this question means you are focusing on an ineffective MCAT study strategy. Focusing on a “good” score that will just get you in is not advised. Our advice: aim for the best score that you can achieve – don't settle for a "good" score when you can strive for a great score. Maximize your medical school options by maximizing your score.
After taking the MCAT, set aside some time to research medical schools and determine the median MCAT scores for previous admissions cycles at your programs of interest. When designing your school list, include several programs where your MCAT score gives you a reasonable chance of acceptance.
2. When should I take the MCAT?
The simple answer is that you should take the MCAT when you feel 100% ready to do so. How can you gauge if you are ready? Aim to consistently score in the 90th percentile or above on each section type during your last several MCAT practice tests, for a total MCAT score of at least 514.
Another metric is to continue to study as long as your scores continue to improve. If your MCAT score stabilizes, it is a good idea to take the exam, as long as that score range is acceptable to you. Do plan ahead and leave time within your university career to re-take the MCAT if needed. However, avoid letting the option of re-taking the MCAT distract you from making your best effort to prepare. The most successful applicants are those who set out to take the MCAT only once, whenever that may be.
As you study, take note of how you are scoring on full-length practice tests. When you consistently score in the 90th percentile or above, at least 3 times in a row, you can feel confident that you are ready for the real thing! Head over to our MCAT test dates and release dates blog to find out when you can register for the test.
3. How do I know I am doing well enough on practice passages, since they are not all scored?
If a passage is not scored, you should aim to get as many questions correct as possible. Aim to answer 90% of the questions correctly. If you are within this range, then you can be confident that you are doing well.
If you are missing a lot of questions, do not panic – ensure that you figure out not only why the correct answer is correct, but also why the wrong answers are wrong. Think about why you picked the answer you did, and why it and each wrong answer are wrong. If you can do this, it will ensure that you really understand how to apply the concepts and that you are set up for success.
4. What if I do not have six months to devote to MCAT preparation?
The best plan is to take several months to devote specifically to MCAT preparation; however, a six-month study schedule may not be possible in your situation. In that case, use our six-month MCAT study schedule as a guide to effectively prepare for the exam in a shorter timeframe.
If you are preparing for the MCAT in less than six months, you will need to dedicate more time each day for preparation. Content review may need to be reduced in favor of getting ample practice with sample questions and full-length practice tests. Please note that a last-minute crash course is not helpful, as you will still need adequate time to do practice passages and full-length tests.
Use your practice to pinpoint weakness in specific content areas, then focus your content review in these areas so you are ensuring maximum improvement. Be honest with yourself in how much time each day you can set aside for MCAT preparation. Select an MCAT test date that will allow you to set yourself up for success.
5. How many full-length practice exams should I complete before taking the MCAT?
It is essential to take a diagnostic full-length practice test in the first week of your MCAT preparation to determine an accurate baseline prior to studying. From there, after completing several weeks of content-heavy studying, take several full-length practice tests and review the questions and content you missed or found challenging. If you apply this strategy, completing 8-10 full-length practice test should provide sufficient MCAT practice.
Remember, it is important that you only take the MCAT once you feel fully prepared.
6. Can I do the same MCAT practice sections more than once?
Absolutely! You can definitely repeat practice passages or sample MCAT questions more than once as you study. Simply wait several weeks after doing them the first time, as this will give you enough time to come back to each practice section with fresh eyes.
7. How can active learning make my MCAT preparation more effective?
Active learning reinforces information while engaging several of your senses at once, rather than simply reading words in a textbook or staring at the same deck of flashcards over and over again; these are examples of passive study strategies – you may be able to convince yourself that you get it, but do you truly understand it and can you apply your knowledge?
Active learning ensures that your brain stays engaged in learning, which allows you to study effectively. Here are a few examples of active learning techniques: drawing multi-subject diagrams that incorporate many different colors, explaining concepts out loud as your draw or write, creating audio summaries at the end of a study session then listening to them later as you work out or commute to school.
When you review the practice sections you completed using active learning, it should take you at least twice as long to complete the review of the questions as it took to actually do them. Be sure to consider which active learning techniques will be suited to your particular learning style. Does this mean you should abandon more traditional study methods? Absolutely not; use active learning to break up your study schedule and engage with the content you are studying. If used correctly, active learning strategies can help you determine your level of understanding for recently reviewed concepts and highlight gaps in knowledge.
8. What is the best way to study a content area that has given you trouble in the past?
We all have our favorite subjects, as well as certain topics that we find particularly challenging. Maybe you struggled with physics early in your academic career and now you are feeling nervous about facing this section of the MCAT.
Look at your MCAT preparation as an opportunity to demonstrate how far you have come since first encountering this subject. It is likely that several years have passed since you took your introductory courses. You are a different and more advanced student now. You have a better understanding of your learning style and what study techniques are effective for you – use this to your advantage!
Rather than shying away from a subject area that you may have had trouble with in the past, use your MCAT preparation to look at those subjects with a fresh eye and conquer the challenges these subjects presented.
9. I am only having trouble with one MCAT section and I am doing well on the rest of the sections. Does that matter?
Medical schools can interpret your score however they like. Some may put an emphasis on one section over the others, for example, CARS.
However, generally, a balanced score is better than an imbalanced score. Therefore, aim to do equally well in every section rather than performing well in two or three sections and poorly on the other sections. Why? Consistency across every section shows your ability to critically think and reason in many different areas and with different types of information, which is a valuable consideration for medical schools.
10. What if I need to take the MCAT exam with testing accommodations?
Qualifying students may take the MCAT with adjustments to standard testing conditions, such as modifications to testing environment or testing time. An application to secure the necessary testing accommodations, as well as the required medical documentation, must be submitted to the AAMC with ample time for review and approval of your accommodations. Application review can take up to two months, so be sure to submit your application early.
Once approved for testing accommodations, you will submit an MCAT scheduling request online, your preferences will be reviewed, and you will be provided with potential test dates that can meet your accommodations. For more information, visit the AAMC’s page on taking the MCAT with accommodations.
11. I don’t feel ready. Should I postpone my MCAT?
This depends on your individual circumstances and timing of the current application cycle. Keep in mind the rolling admissions process and that postponing your MCAT may mean that you will be applying later in this year’s application cycle.
With about a month to go until your scheduled MCAT, it is important to evaluate your progress. Are you improving in content knowledge and in your scores on full-length practice tests? If you continue to improve at your current rate, will you hit your target score in time? Remember, it is normal to feel nervous as test day approaches. You may never feel “ready,” but hopefully you can rest easier thinking about the extensive time you have put into MCAT preparation.
That being said, it is important that you feel confident going into the MCAT and that you only take it if you feel ready. If you have major concerns, take one additional week to study, then complete another full-length practice test. Now that you have one more score to consider, you should have enough information to make a sound decision. If at that point you truly feel unprepared, postponing your exam can give you additional time to study and improve, increasing your confidence and chances of achieving a competitive MCAT score.
12. How many times can I take the MCAT?
You can take the MCAT exam seven times in your lifetime and three times in an application cycle.
13. Do I have to take the MCAT for medical school admission?
Not necessarily. While most medical schools include the MCAT as an application requirement, there is a list of medical schools that don't require the MCAT. Be sure to check your program's requirements in advance.
14. I failed the MCAT, will I be the only one re-taking the test?
Absolutely not! The MCAT is a very challenging test and sometimes things do not go according to plan. You will certainly not be alone in your endeavor as 24% of all test-takers re-take the MCAT, likely to try and improve their score. Ensure that you follow our study schedule and do not re-take the test until you feel confident in your abilities.
15. Should I take the optional breaks during the MCAT?
Absolutely! It is important to give your mind a chance to rest, grab something to eat or drink, and to stretch your legs. Remember, the MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint; it is important to allow yourself the chance to rest before continuing on.
16. If I feel I did not do well on the MCAT, should I void my score?
Voiding your score is an option that you have at the end of your test day. You can decide to void, rather than submit your score. If you void your exam, it is not scored at all, and medical schools do not see that you voided your score when you apply.
However, this will still count as one of your attempts at the MCAT. If this is the only time you have taken it, you will have to take it again as you will not get a score and you will need one to apply to most medical schools. Voiding your score is really a worst-case situation; you should not do this without proper thought and reasoning.
Here is what to think about prior to voiding your score:
a. You fall ill during the MCAT exam or you hear about a family emergency. This is a valid reason to void your score as your illness will affect your ability to do well.
b. You genuinely feel you missed large portions of the MCAT or did not do well. Importantly, this feeling should not be driven only by nerves or by anxiety. Everyone will feel nervous and think they got certain answers wrong after any test, that is normal! You need to reflect before your test day and think about how you usually feel after a test and the types of nerves you get. Genuinely feeling that you did poorly is not the same as nerves.
c. You know you have time to re-take the MCAT and do better. This depends on your application timeline and the time, effort, and money you have to attempt the MCAT again. If you are voiding your score, you will need to take the MCAT again if you plan to apply to medical school, so make sure you are certain you can take it again.
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