Five Tips That Will Help You Maximize Your MCAT Score
Created to assess problem-solving and critical-thinking skills along with knowledge of natural, behavioral and social science concepts and principles, the Medical College Admissions Test® (MCAT®) is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). According to the AAMC guide Using MCAT Data in 2019 Medical School Student Selection:
- There were 239,681 MCAT exams administered to a total of 186,450 examinees from 2015–2017.
- From 2015–2017, the mean MCAT score was 500 out of a minimum score of 472 and a maximum score of 528.
- Admissions officers at 130 medical schools identified the MCAT total and trend scores as one of their most important considerations when ranking applicants.
Preparing for the MCAT exam is essential, as nearly all U.S. and Canadian medical schools require applicants to submit exam scores as part of their application process. Since the test lasts approximately seven and a half hours, the MCAT requires a lot of mental stamina.
This article provides several study tips that can enhance your preparation for the MCAT. However, before you can incorporate these strategies, it’s essential to know the four fundamental sections of the test. Each of the four links below will direct you to an overview page from the AAMC with more information regarding its respective section:
MCAT Preparation and Study Tips
Once you have a solid understanding of the MCAT, you can develop your custom study plan. MCAT scores carry significant weight on the overall medical school application. Knowing this, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed about the MCAT preparation process and uncertain about where to start. Below are our top five strategies to help you prepare for the MCAT:
1. Study the Latest Content from Credible Sources
Using current data from credible sources was a vital lesson you learned as an undergraduate, and the same philosophy holds true for the MCAT’s test developers. The AAMC regularly reviews the MCAT and makes any necessary adjustments based on industry changes and curriculum standards.
The AAMC also develops, tests and changes questions on the MCAT to prevent the test from becoming too easy or difficult. If you use the most current edition of an MCAT test preparation study book or online practice quiz, you’ll increase your odds of finding the same or similar questions on the exam on test day.
Several resources that can help you begin preparing for the MCAT include:
2. Establish a Personalized Study Schedule
Staying organized is critical to keeping track of coursework, fulfilling volunteer commitments and meeting work obligations. Developing a personalized study schedule for the MCAT will allow you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, establish a structured routine and reach all your targeted benchmarks in the preparation process.
We recommend that you give yourself six months to study for the MCAT. While that may seem like a long time, between exams, leadership projects and workplace deadlines, preparing for the MCAT will be another major task in your already busy schedule. The sample timeline provided below is a good starting point to use when formulating your study schedule:
Duration - Six months
Hours per week - 10–15, with one full day off per week
Months one through four - Commit to focusing on one of the four main MCAT sections each month. In addition, if you concentrate on a different subject area each day of the week — biology on Mondays, for example — you may find it easier to absorb the critical knowledge that will be required in each respective test section.
Months five and six - Build your test-taking stamina by taking practice tests and reviewing your weakest areas.
3. Gain Insights From Previous Test Takers
Discussing preparation and test day experiences with friends and colleagues that have already completed the exam is a great way to learn more about the MCAT. These individuals can provide valuable insights into which study tactics worked for them and what they would do differently if they took the test again.
If you don’t personally know anyone who has completed the MCAT, the AAMC has a useful webpage that can help you gain insights from people who not only took the MCAT but also scored exceptionally well.
4. Take Practice Tests to Simulate Test Day
Practicing the MCAT enables you to replicate the test-day environment, build your test-taking stamina and assess which areas you still need to focus on. The Princeton Review and the AAMC are two of the many places that sell online versions of the MCAT.
While it can be tempting to take the practice test, calculate your score and then move on to the next part of your test-prep plan, it is important to review all of the answers — even the ones you answered correctly. In many practice books, there are brief explanations for each question that provide the reasoning behind each answer. These explanations can help reinforce your existing knowledge base and shore up any weaker areas. Experts advise reviewing correct answers in addition to incorrect answers because it will help cement familiar concepts and provide both a confidence boost and a welcome break from focusing exclusively on your shortcomings.
5. Make Time for Yourself
Knowing your limits when studying for the MCAT is essential to maintaining your mental focus. Odds are that you’ve experienced a feeling of burnout when you studied for an exam at some point, usually resulting in a blank stare directed toward your textbook or computer screen. When your feel this, it is a telltale sign that you need — and definitely deserve — a break.
A break provides you with an opportunity to decompress and spend time with your friends or family. It will also give you the chance to mentally compartmentalize what you’re studying and feel recharged when you come back to your textbooks.
Studying for the MCAT is a time-consuming process, and the best study approaches will vary with individual needs. By understanding the test and reviewing the study strategies outlined above, however, you can develop your own custom plan and maximize your MCAT score.