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General Information About MCATs

  • Five hours of computerized testing on the basic material required to start medical school. Includes section on Biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry), Physical Sciences (physics and general chemistry), Verbal Reasoning (passages with reading comprehension questions), and Writing Sample.
  • Important, but less crucial than GPA or letters of recommendation. Provide a standardized way of comparing students from different schools with different courseloads.
  • Aim to do as well as possible on the first try. Above 10-11 on each section is good. Although not advisable, you can retake the MCAT, but schools will see your earlier scores so don't go into the test planning to retake it. Schools will usually look at the average of your two scores, so be sure if you're planning to retake it, that you will do better the second time.
  • Plan to take the MCAT by the end of April of your Junior year so you can have your scores before deciding which schools to apply for.
  • Aim to have most of your premedical course requirements (biology, chemistry and organic chemistry, and physics) done by the end of Junior year. It is okay to be taking the second half of either organic chemistry or physics at the time of your exam if you have finished all the other courses.
  • Scores are good for 3 years before retesting is required. If you have completed enough coursework, you may consider studying for the exam summer before Junior year and taking it before Junior year begins, so that it is out of the way and you can focus on getting good grades Junior year. Only do this if you are confident that you are ready and do not need additional coursework to prep!

How to Prepare for the MCATs

  • Do well in your premedical courses. These form the foundation of required knowledge! You want to mostly be reviewing things you already know for the MCATs, not learning too many new things for the MCATs.
  • Give yourself enough time to study (at least a few months). Be thinking about how to study for the MCAT by December of your Junior year.
  • The MCAT does have a lot of content, but primarily it is a critical thinking test. The test-makers want to see whether you can reason your way through problems you've never seen before by applying a fundamental knowledge base, so it is important while studying to establish "an approach" to doing problems. The only way to do this is to be 100% familiar with the types of questions you will be asked. You MUST do as many practice questions as possible, at least a few thousand! A common mistake that students make is to focus their energies and worries solely on reading and do not spend enough time doing questions and learning from their mistakes.
  • Do not blow off the Verbal Reasoning (VR) and Writing Sample (WS) sections. These are as important as the science sections. Also, they are sections that rely the least on specific "study-able" knowledge, meaning they have the most emphasis on critical thinking and learning the format and technique. Therefore, you cannot "cram" studying for VR and WS; you must be doing practice VR passages and practice WS essays all along, for at least a few months before the exam.

Taking a Review Course

  • Kaplan and Princeton Review courses, lasting anywhere from 4 to 15 wks, with variable time commitment.
  • Helpful if you need external motivation to hit the books and stay on track. Generally gives you a pretty complete package with lectures, study books, online question bank, practice tests, etc. You won't be needing to purchase additional resources or make additional study plans if you go with this approach.
  • You may consider it if you are uncomfortable with standardized exams or if one or more of your basic science courses was weak
  • Very expensive, and limited financial aid available.

Self Study

  • Obviously much less expensive than a review course
  • Customizable to your needs as far as which content to emphasize, the timing and hours spent, etc.
  • Takes considerable self-discipline to stay on track. Consider forming a study-group or getting together with a study-buddy for additional motivation.
  • Likely adequate if you have done well in your basic science courses, and are generally comfortable with standardized exams.
  • You will need to purchase content review (books), as well as practice questions (either books or online).
    • Content review - consider Kaplan, The Gold Standard, Princeton Review, Examkrackers
    • Questions - for books, Examkrackers gets good reviews for questions.
      • Online
        • The best practice questions are those from real MCATs. The AAMC releases practice MCATs available for purchase online. If you are self-studying, these are highly recommended and will give you the best idea of your score. There is one of these tests available for FREE here. Buy the rest of them here.
        • You may consider purchasing just a question bank from Kaplan or other service.
  • Make a self-study schedule. Be sure to give yourself enough time to study (at least a few months).
    • Be as detailed with your study-schedule as possible in order to motivate yourself to keep on track. Week-by-week, plan out which chapters of your content review books you want to cover.
    • Study the subjects in parallel, not sequentially (e.g., don't study ALL of Biological Sciences before starting on Physical Sciences...by the time you're done with the second, you'll have forgotten the first).
    • Do targeted science questions as you go along in order to reinforce your science content review.
    • Start practicing full verbal reasoning passages and sections, and doing practice writing sample essays right from the get-go. For more practice reading the style of writing that VR passages tend to be written in, you can read the Economist and ask yourself what the main ideas and arguments are of each article.
    • Plan to be completely done with at least a first pass through your content review for some time before your exam date so that you can concentrate solely on doing as many questions and full practice tests as possible at the end. Obviously there's no hard and fast rule, but one month to dedicate solely to questions and practice exams is reasonable.
    • Take your practice exams seriously. Pretend you're doing the real thing, do it uninterrupted in a quiet space, don't cheat, check your answers, adhere to timing, do it at same time of day as your scheduled exam. Doing enough full-length practices in the weeks leading up to the exam will also improve your stamina for this long test.
    • Go over your practice questions and exams to identify weak spots and learn from your mistakes. Return to content review in a targeted fashion if needed.