Reflecting on my experience deciding when to start studying for the MCAT, I find myself wishing I had approached my study schedule more strategically. Like many aspiring medical students, I initially underestimated the magnitude of this crucial exam. My decision to start studying just a month before the test date is one I deeply regret.

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Article Contents
4 min read

When to Start Studying for the MCAT The Ideal Time to Start Studying for the MCAT Factors Influencing Your MCAT Study Timeline How to Design Your MCAT Study Plan FAQs

When to Start Studying for the MCAT

Ideally, you should start studying for the MCAT 3-6 months in advance of your MCAT test date.

I underestimated the challenges and found myself procrastinating the rigorous MCAT preparation. I believed I could cram all the necessary knowledge into a few weeks of intense study. But I was very wrong.

I am a first-generation college student, so I had zero guidance when it comes to applying to medical school. I did not know that I had to take the MCAT as part of medical school requirements until about 5 months before the cycle I planned to apply.

To give a little more background, I accelerated my undergraduate degree into 3 years, so I spent most of my time focusing on taking the required classes, with many rigorous courses crammed together at once. Originally, I thought I was doing very well in all my pre-med classes, so I should be good for the MCAT if I studied for it in 1 month.

The month-long study period proved insufficient for thorough content review and skill practice. I found myself in a constant state of stress and overwhelm, each day feeling like a frantic sprint to memorize intricate concepts and cover extensive material. My typical study days involved 4 hours of content review followed by another 4 hours of practice questions. I did not take a single day off for an entire month. Despite my relentless efforts, I struggled to retain information effectively.

Practice tests only intensified my anxiety as they highlighted glaring gaps in my understanding. With each revealed deficiency, my confidence waned, and doubts about my readiness for the exam crept in. As the test date loomed closer, the pressure mounted, and I found myself wishing for more time to prepare thoroughly. In the end, my MCAT score fell short of my expectations, underscoring the consequences of inadequate preparation.

If I could go back and do it again, I would have started studying at least 3 to 4 months in advance. This would have given me the time to thoroughly review the content, take numerous practice tests, and refine my test-taking strategies. I also would have taken a diagnostic exam early on to identify my weaknesses and create a more targeted study plan.

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The Ideal Time to Start Studying for the MCAT

When deciding when to start studying for the MCAT, be honest with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, and schedule constraints. Don't fall into the trap of cramming everything in at the last minute, as I did. Instead, give yourself the time you need to truly master the material.

The ideal study timeline for the MCAT is typically 3-6 months, with 3 months being the minimum recommended time for most students. However, this timeline can vary significantly depending on individual circumstances—it is not one-size-fits-all.

Students with a strong science background may be able to prepare in as little as 3 months, while those without a science focus may need the full 6 months. The key is to create a personalized study plan that takes into account your unique strengths, weaknesses, and schedule constraints. Regardless of your background, it's essential to plan on dedicating at least 300 hours to MCAT preparation.

Factors Influencing Your MCAT Study Timeline

Time Availability

Consider your current commitments—academic workload, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and personal obligations. Allocate realistic study hours each week. Look at your calendar and be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to MCAT prep each week. You might find it helpful to start studying during a lighter academic semester or over the summer.

Academic Preparedness

Take a diagnostic MCAT practice test early on to assess your strengths and weaknesses. This will help you determine how much content review you need and plan your study schedule accordingly. Assess your grasp of foundational concepts in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology, and strengthen any weak areas before diving into MCAT-specific content.

Goal Score

If you are planning to apply to highly competitive medical schools, you may need to start studying earlier to ensure you have enough time to prepare and achieve your target score.

Study Style

Evaluate your preferred study methods—self-paced learning, structured courses, or collaborative study groups. Choose an approach that aligns with your learning style.

How to Design Your MCAT Study Plan

Start Early and Allocate Sufficient Time

Aim to start studying at least three to six months before your intended test date. I recommend starting the content review process 6 months out, and then transitioning to practice questions and exams in the final 2-3 months.

Create a Balanced and Realistic Schedule

When designing your MCAT study plan, it is important to create a balanced schedule tailored to your availability and energy levels. Aim for consistent, manageable study sessions rather than intense, unsustainable cramming. I would recommend studying 3-8 hours per day, 6 days per week, depending on whether you are studying or working full-time or not. Remember to also schedule rest days to avoid burnout.

Incremental Progress

Break down your study goals into manageable milestones to maintain a balanced schedule of content review and practice sessions throughout your preparation. Start with foundational topics and gradually increase the difficulty and complexity of practice materials as you progress. Incorporate full-length practice tests throughout your study timeline. These tests are invaluable for assessing your overall readiness and identifying areas that need more focus.

Remain Flexible and Adaptable

Throughout your MCAT preparation, it's crucial to remain flexible and open to adjusting your study plan based on progress assessments and evolving needs. Regularly evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and areas requiring more attention. Be willing to refine your schedule and tactics as necessary to ensure you are optimizing your study time and achieving your target score.

FAQs

1. When should I start studying for the MCAT?

There are a lot of factors that can affect your MCAT study start date, but try to give yourself around 6 months between your diagnostic and your test date if you are studying for about 10 hours a week. This means that if your test date is in July, you should start studying in January.

2. How long does it take to get ready for the MCAT?

Depending on how long ago you took your required courses, your MCAT prep can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. We recommend no less than 3 months of prep and no more than 6.

3. What is a good MCAT score?

A good MCAT score is the score that meets and exceeds the MCAT requirements set by your chosen school. In other words, if your chosen school's matriculants' average MCAT was 519 last year, you should aim for this score to get in.

4. When should I take the MCAT?

You should take the MCAT only when you are 100% ready. You should be scoring no less than 90% in your practice tests as you approach your test date. Remember that you can cancel or reschedule your test date if you feel that you will not be ready.

5. How should I get ready for the MCAT?

Not sure how to study for the MCAT? The first half of your MCAT prep will be mostly content review, so check out the high-yield MCAT topics to get a sense of what’s on the test. Your MCAT prep schedule should also include at least 1 full-length practice test a week. 

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

Yes, it is possible to get into medical school with low MCAT, but you should do your best to do well on the test to increase your chances of acceptance. Many medical schools consider MCAT and GPA before any other parts of the application, so you do not want to make a bad first impression with your scores.

7. Can I avoid the MCAT?

Yes, there are some medical schools that do not require the MCAT, but these are few and far between.

To your success,

Your Friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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