When it comes to the MCAT, every student has their own way of preparing for the potentially life-altering exam. Depending on how your brain works best and how much time you can commit to test prep, your study plan may look drastically different than those of your fellow pre-med classmates. To achieve the best score possible, you have to study strategically and spend your time and effort where it’s needed most. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and paid resources out there to help guide you through the test prep process.
Defining Your Timeline
Before defining your studying strategy or selecting an MCAT prep course, you need to create a clear timeline for preparation, taking the exam, and submitting your medical school applications. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommends that pre-med students spend somewhere between 300 and 350 hours studying for the MCAT over the course of several months. If you intend to attend med school straight out of undergrad, you can start submitting applications in May or June following your third year of school.
To determine when to take the MCAT, you should consider how long you’ll need to study, how long it takes to receive your scores, and how many times you think you’ll need to take the exam. In your sophomore and junior year, keep an eye out for the MCAT release for test dates so you can start planning accordingly.
Course Options for MCAT Test Prep
To perform well on the MCAT, you’ll have to review all of the material included in the AAMC’s official MCAT content outline. How you accomplish this is up to you. When planning out your course of study, consider the prep courses and materials available, how much you can afford to spend on such materials, how long you have to study, and how you retain information best.
- One-on-one Tutoring– Many test-takers benefit from personalized learning experiences. By working with a tutor one on one, you’ll have help from a professional who can identify your strengths and weaknesses and cater your preparation plan accordingly. Not to mention, hiring a tutor means you’ll have a built-in support system. However, hiring a one-on-one tutor typically comes at a higher cost than other test prep options.
- Structured Online Course– Are you the type of person who needs clear assignments and deadlines to learn or review material? If so, an online course led by experienced teachers can keep you accountable and help you stay on track with your studying commitments.
- Flexible Online Course– Some students thrive when they have greater flexibility. If you want professionally developed MCAT prep materials but want to work through them at your own pace, a flexible online course may work best for you.
- Bootcamp– MCAT boot camps help students who can’t commit to studying for several months leading up the test. Both online and in-person boot camps push students to study intensively for roughly one month. These programs tend to have strict daily requirements and come at a higher cost than traditional prep courses.
- Self-guided Study– Some med school applicants do just fine on the MCAT preparing by themselves. If you have the self-discipline, purchasing a few test prep books and working through them on your own may be the perfect way to prepare at a lower cost.
- Question Bank/Quizzes– To assist with their studies, many MCAT test-takers purchase question banks and quizzes to use for casual practice.
- Practice Tests– The MCAT itself is a lengthy juggernaut of an exam. Many students say that the only way to truly prepare for the exam is to take timed, full-length practice exams.
- Podcasts– Nowadays, there are podcasts for everything, including MCAT test prep. The AAMC recommends this list of five podcasts for pre-meds that can help you through the application process.
No matter how you choose to prepare or how much time you commit to studying, taking the MCAT is a stressful ordeal. However, it will pay off in the end when you finally don that white coat. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to study; preparing for the MCAT requires you to be honest with yourself about your studying habits and how much time you can realistically commit. With these factors in mind, you can create a personalized preparation plan that will secure you a spot at your top picks for med school.