10 tips on studying for the MCAT

Dreaming Big

Your undergraduate years are coming to an end and you have one thing on your mind: getting into medical school. For years, you’ve had your heart set on becoming a doctor and helping hundreds, if not thousands, of patients over the course of your career. However, there is one major obstacle in the way of you gaining acceptance to your dream medical school: the MCAT. 

This test can make or break your application. With a high score, you can beat out the competition and set yourself apart. A low score, however, may mean not getting accepted at all. However, you have time and you have resources that will help you succeed. If you follow these 10 tips for MCAT preparation, you’ll be well on your way to attending med school and receiving your white coat. 

1. Fully Understand What’s on the Test

The first step to tackling a problem is to analyze just what the problem is. In this case, to best prepare for the MCAT, you must fully understand just what kind of material is on the test so you can focus your study efforts. 

Your undergrad studies should have started to prepare you for its four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.

2. Identify Your Weak Spots and Work on Them 

On the exam, there are naturally going to be categories you excel at and others that you struggle with. Given the scope of the test and how much you will need to study, it is recommended that you focus on your weak spots. This strategy will prevent panic during the test.

3. Give Yourself Plenty of Time

The MCAT covers a wide range of subjects and takes over six hours to complete. With this massive of an exam, it’s recommended that you study for at least three to six months. During this period, think about test prep like its a full-time job. Create a schedule to fit it in with the rest of your life. The goal is to absorb the information properly without burning out.

4. Build Stamina

The MCAT is a marathon, not a sprint. It will be a test of how long you can sit and take an exam just as much as testing you on the material. Because of that, you should design your studying around studying in blocks. This style of preparation will allow your mind to compartmentalize the different subject areas better so you can easily move on from one topic to the next during the actual test.

5. Practice with Distractions

One crucial fact that you must contend with is that no testing room is perfect. There will be shuffling papers, coughing, sniffling and the ticking of the clock that will seem louder and louder as time goes on. All of these noises can distract you and throw off any momentum you build during the test. Practice studying with ambient sounds to better adapt yourself to distraction.

6. Practice with Actual Test Questions

To best prepare yourself for what is on the actual test, you should try studying with MCAT practice questions. These real questions will allow you to see the structure and material typically covered on the test. While the problems won’t be the actual questions on the test, they will give you a better idea of how to approach the exam.

7. Take a Few Full Practice Tests, Too

Along the lines of studying with practice questions, taking full practice tests is also recommended. This best prepares you for the rigorousness of the actual test. You can hone in your strategies and see if they work in practical use. Furthermore, you can see how much stress the test itself will put on you, allowing you to adapt before you sit for the actual exam.

8. Understand the Scoring

Once the test is done and scored, you will receive a number. It would be best if you understood what this number means. The MCAT is scored in four sections of up to 132 points. In turn, there are 528 combined possible points. This score determines how well you did on the test in each section and overall. It also determines the success of your application for medical school.

9. Know What Your Dream School Requires

Every school has a score they are looking for in the students they accept. Every school gets many more applicants than they can take, so they must whittle the pile down using selection criteria. Be aware of your prospective schools’ minimum score requirements.

10. Process of Elimination

While taking the test, it is virtually impossible to know the answer to every single question. However, you can increase your chances of choosing the right answer through the process of elimination. Generally, tests will have four options for answers in multiple-choice questions and you can cross out which choices you know for sure are wrong. If you manage to eliminate three of the solutions, the last one is most likely the correct one.

Nail a Process Down

While there are many preparation strategies out there, the point of the process is to find a process that works for you. For example, if you’re a slow reader, read the first and last sentence of the section and skim in the middle. 

Also, you can move on if questions are out of your grasp. The test is timed, so don’t waste your energy on questions that are too time-consuming to figure out. Go with what you know and come back to any question you left empty if you have time in the end.

Prepare and Execute

The MCAT is an extensive test for medical school admissions. It requires an enormous amount of time and dedication to get it done. You need to take it seriously. Treat studying as if it were a real job. With proper preparation, you can ace the exam and have your pick of med school options. 

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