Whether you’re taking the MCAT for the first time as a pre-med student or are retaking the exam for a better score, having a well-planned MCAT study plan is crucial to your success on the MCAT.
However, students either make damaging mistakes or poorly made plans leading up to the exam. The AAMC has free and purchasable resources available, and we at Savvy Pre-Med hope to guide you through creating an effective and doable MCAT study plan for such an important landmark in your pre-med journey.
Without further ado, here are our biggest do’s and don’ts for making your MCAT study plan. Check out our downloadable 6-month and 12-month study plans, too!
Studying every day for weeks before an exam in college is already difficult enough. Imagine for months on end! Studying every day is not a viable option, and you should consider giving yourself breaks that fit your schedule.
Whether it is a few hours each day, or a full day of no studying, you should place these blocks of free time in your schedule because burnout is the last thing you need to happen in the weeks leading up to the exam.
Maybe you are a Psychology major who is very familiar with most of the Psychology/Sociology section and performs poorly on the Chemistry/Physics section. Though it is important to review every section, you should spend more time studying the content you’re less familiar with than the content you understand. Meaning, if you score very well on the Psychology section in the practice MCAT and poorly on the Chemistry portion, you should be dedicating more hours to Chemistry.
There are plenty of resources for CARS prompts, including those from Khan Academy and Varsity Tutors, with 5-8 questions available with each prompt. You should practice one prompt per day, which would probably take 30-60 minutes to complete and review. CARS content on the MCAT is based on your analytical skills, and little to no outside knowledge, which is why most pre-med students dread this portion of the exam. The best way to prepare is to practice these prompts leading up to your exam. Be sure to check out Savvy Pre-Med’s resources here.
Things happen. Your dog might get really sick and you need to take them to the hospital, and for days, you don’t have the motivation to study until they get better. Or your friend wants you to come along on a weekend trip to a vacation spot that you have always wanted to visit.
Plan to make your schedule structured enough to stick to it when you can but lenient enough that you can afford these inconveniences or surprises. If you are sticking to your MCAT schedule consistently, and you suddenly know that you will be too busy to study for a few days, distribute your content schedule for other days.
It is great to take your first MCAT practice exam before starting to study to gauge your strengths and weaknesses and progress from there. We suggest taking a practice exam once a week within the 2-3 months before the exam, and at least two practice exams per month.
If you can, take it on the day of the week and time that you would be taking the official exam in order to get yourself used to it. Don’t use the days you take a practice exam to study, but rather just take the exam and review your work afterward. Every time you review your MCAT practice exams, take notes on the subjects you need to work on more and adjust your study schedule accordingly.
The best investment is investing in yourself. Part of making your MCAT study plan is ensuring your plan is compatible with the way that you learn. Whether it is through self-studying or classes, be sure to determine your method early enough in your MCAT schedule.
If you believe that you need that nudge or discipline to study for the MCAT, be sure to invest in proven programs and courses, including but not limited to those provided by Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and Blueprint. However, a class is not for everyone, and determining this early enough leaves room for you to try different options to see what works best for you.
Whether or not you have a target school you want to attend, it is best to set goals for yourself and monitor your progress based on your practice MCAT exams. Be sure to take practice exams as often as you can, so you can see the most updated versions of your progress as you study.
If you notice that you are consistently getting a lower score than you wish, be sure to take a day to adjust your MCAT study schedule accordingly to allow more time to master the material. If you feel like you are coming to the deadline without mastering the content as you had hoped, consider moving your test date a month or two forward to allow yourself more time. However, if you are slowly increasing your score to your goals, then keep succeeding!
Not completely sticking to your designated schedule is normal (you’re only human), but doing it consistently will cause you to not be prepared for your upcoming MCAT exam. Next thing you know, you’re a month away from the exam, and you’re panicking that you have only a small amount of your content studied.
Try to study at least a few hours a day if you lack the motivation, and gradually extend your study time until you get used to studying for large blocks of time per day. Perhaps start your MCAT plan with topics that you need a refresher in.
Whether you have 3 months or 1 year to prepare, stress management is important to maintain throughout your MCAT schedule. Be sure that the allocated breaks throughout your MCAT study schedule are truly breaks where you’re not thinking about or working on any MCAT content. This will be key in avoiding burnout.
You should not be studying or reviewing until the last day or two before the exam, and avoid all-nighters especially in the last three weeks before your scheduled MCAT exam. In fact, your last month before the exam should only be dedicated to reviewing and not learning any new content!
Don’t have your MCAT study plan set up to be three full weeks of biochemistry before moving on to the next subjects. Mix up your schedule a bit. One thing that leads to study burnout is to read the same content every day for weeks.
Try to study Biology for one week, then study Chemistry for the following week, and so on. This will keep you engaged while studying and will inhibit you from sticking to content that you might have more difficulty with, which will consume the time that you could be studying other crucial subjects.
There is no issue in moving on from subjects that you are repetitively not understanding or having trouble grasping for a later period of time (such as the Krebs Cycle).
Be sure to focus on the study strategies as much as the content itself. Reading your guides, and trying to recite the terms word-for-word written in your books will only get you so far.
The way you study for your pre-med courses should also be the same way you study for the MCAT. The difference in your rate and quality of progress with passive and active studying techniques are vastly different, making active studying techniques far more superior.
Examples of active learning include, but are not limited to: simple, straightforward flashcards or rewriting condensed versions of your notes.
It is difficult to know where to start when making your MCAT study plan. We at Savvy Pre-Med have created free 12-month and 6-month MCAT study plans based on the AAMC’s foundational concepts and a breakdown of these crucial topics found on their site. We hope that these tips will guide you in making an effective MCAT study plan, and be sure to check back regularly for more helpful content!
About the Author:
Atalia Cohen is a non-traditional pre-med student who graduated with her Bachelor's of Science from Humboldt State University in General Biology and Zoology. She has spent countless hours in the veterinary field, but has changed her career route to become a Pain Specialist after her own personal experience of the field. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her three dogs and is in the process of applying to medical school.