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MCAT Prep: 5 Strategies for Exam Success


You have long known that you want to become a doctor, and you have been preparing for this career by studying for years. Now that you’ve picked your choice, it’s time to get ready for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). You may be wondering how to prepare for the MCAT because, like most pre-med students, you have heard about the test’s importance and difficulty.

The approach to MCAT preparation is not right or incorrect. According to Julio Sierra III, Associate Director of Admissions, Eastern U.S. and Puerto Rico for American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), obtaining a competitive score is doable if you dedicate enough time to your MCAT preparation. Sierra, who evaluates applications and grants offers of admission to hundreds of students each year, recently offered a number of MCAT preparation advice.


1. Recognize the MCAT

According to Sierra, the first step is to comprehend what the MCAT is. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) states that the MCAT is a computer-based, standardized, multiple-choice exam that has been a component of the medical school admissions process for over 90 years. MCAT scores are now required for almost all medical schools in the US and several in Canada, and they are now accepted in place of other standardized exam results by many universities and graduate programmes. The MCAT exam measures your proficiency in the knowledge and abilities that residents, doctors, medical educators, and medical students have determined are essential for success in medical school and in the practice of medicine.


2. Choose your undergraduate courses carefully.

A lot of pre-med students believe they should take several scientific classes in one semester and jam as much as possible into their schedule. While it’s a good idea to major in a field related to the type of doctor you hope to become, it’s equally crucial to avoid overspecializing in any one area. One way to prepare for the MCAT is to have a comprehensive undergraduate education. A well-rounded education that encompasses the humanities, accounting, psychology, and literature will aid in your preparation for the four main components of the MCAT. Among them are:

  • The Biochemical and Biological Bases of Living Systems
  • The Chemical and Physical Underpinnings of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

As you take these science courses, practice applying the concepts you’re learning—you can start by using the challenge questions often included at the end of your textbook chapters.

3. Start your MCAT test prep early

When should you start preparing for the MCAT? The answer depends on the strength of your MCAT study skills, but the AAMC recommends that the average pre-med student spend between 300 and 350 hours over several months on MCAT prep. Remember the rule of three (months) – the general rule of thumb is that you’ll need to dedicate about three months studying for the MCAT.

It is important to start your MCAT prep well in advance, which will give you plenty of time to master the core concepts. While you may have scored favorably on standardized tests for undergraduate admission—the American College Test (ACT) or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)—the MCAT is a totally different challenge.

4. Find a study schedule and routine that works for you

As you wonder how to start studying for the MCAT, remember to keep your learning style at the forefront. Everyone has a different study routine for MCAT test prep—from flashcards to concept maps to study groups—but the most important thing is to gain a deep understanding of concepts you may be tested on so that you can apply that knowledge. Memorization won’t work. Comprehension is truly the name of the MCAT prep game. Make sure to also schedule time to review content you’ve already studied to continue to reinforce these topics over time. Creating a study plan schedule can help you maximize your time, and stay on track for your test date.

When preparing for the MCAT, make sure you also get the support you need—from a study partner or group, an online forum, or a trusted professor or advisor, all of whom might be able to help you better understand a concept that’s just not sticking.


5.  Take MCAT practice tests often

Once you’ve got a firm grasp on the concepts, start to look at MCAT practice exams and questions. Practice problems are a great way to determine if you are ready to sit for the test. You should also take full-length practice exams to ensure you have the stamina for the actual test day. When you take your practice tests, try to mimic the testing environment as much as possible. For example, if you plan on taking the MCAT at 8 am on test day, take your practice exam at 8 am, too.

The AAMC offers a number of planning and MCAT study guides, including a free official MCAT prep sample test.

Beyond these MCAT prep tips, the normal rules of a big exam apply: eliminate distractions, don’t cram the night before, get a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, and consider doing a practice run to the test site so you’re comfortable with the route and not surprised by the parking situation. Remember that there is no one best way to study for the MCAT. Try out various methods and see which ones work for you. You’ve got this!

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