Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

February 6, 2023

John Arnold

How to prepare for the MCAT: Tips and study habits you should know

If you’re an aspiring doctor and want to apply to a medical school, you must beware of some obstacles along the way. One of the most essential and stressful requirements you must pass is the MCAT, also known as the Medical College Admission Test. Students who want to catch the admissions committee’s attention must acquire a high score, but achieving this takes hard work.

If you’re unsure how to form a plan to study for the MCAT, you’re in the right place! In this article, you’ll learn the top study tips and habits to help you prepare for the exam and boost your score. Additionally, you’ll learn everything you should know about the MCAT exam, and more.

What is the MCAT Test?


The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a requirement for getting accepted to medical schools around the U.S. and Canada.

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice, and computer-based test developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to prepare medical schools with the proper measures for accepting applicants. That said, admission committees consider many factors before allowing you to start a medical career, such as your MCAT score, your academic success, and other materials.

The MCAT test assesses the knowledge and skills of aspiring medical students, medical educators, and residents who want to practice medicine. Additionally, the exam is administered many times each year in multiple test sites, starting from January to September.

An interesting fact is that over 85,000 students sit for the exam yearly. In fact, according to statistics, in the 2021-22 school year, the estimated average MCAT score of people accepted into med schools was 511.9, making this an extremely competitive process.

Who is Eligible for the MCAT Exam?

When it comes to eligibility, the MCAT admission committees have specific requirements you must meet before applying to take the test. For example, if you’re a student from the U.S. or Canada, you must obtain a UG degree in the first place. But if you’re pursuing the MCAT for another reason, you must get special permission from AAMC teams.

However, students interested in medical fields can sit for the MCAT test, including the following careers:

  • Allopathy
  • Osteopathy
  • Veterinary
  • Podiatry

What are the Contents of the MCAT Exam?

The MCAT test is so broad that not only it tests your knowledge of general medical subjects, but also your critical reasoning skills. This means applicants must have a broader understanding of the content that goes above and beyond, as it allows them to apply their critical thinking skills to the test.

That said, the exam measures your knowledge in specific subjects, such as:

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics
  • General Biology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology

The content of the MCAT test, on the other hand, is comprised of four sections:

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

Generally, the test includes 221 multiple-choice questions, with each section having a score from 118 to 132. In total, students have 7.5 hours to complete the exam with some breaks in between.

How to Prepare for the MCAT Exam

Achieving a high score on the MCAT test takes massive preparation and hard work. Although most students take plenty of time to prepare for the exam, sometimes that’s not enough. However, an AAMC survey shows the average studying for the MCAT is 20 hours weekly or three months, equivalent to approximately 240 hours of prep time.

Even if you’re in the first stages of studying for the MCAT and don’t know where to start, here are some tips and study habits you can learn to help you learn effectively. This is a helpful strategy that requires a lot of diligence, but with the right mindset, you can achieve a high score and get into any medical school you’ve ever dreamed of.

Avoid Procrastination and Create a Timeline

Procrastination is one the enemy of all students. If you want to prepare for the MCAT, you must start early and plan your study time. If you haven’t reviewed the material in a while, you should aim for around 200-300 hours of study prep time.

Regardless of when you decide to sit for the exam, you should avoid procrastination at all costs. Ensure you have sufficient time to absorb the material, whether it’s new or you’re reviewing it.

In other words, the MCAT is not a simple test you can learn in some weeks. You can start preparing for the test early in your undergraduate studies, preferably during the junior year.

Take a Practice Test

Finding the baseline score is the same score you would have if you sat the exam today. So before studying for the test, try to take a practice exam to test your current abilities. This tip is helpful because it allows you to see which areas you need to focus on the most and which areas need less attention.

You must note that the MCAT tests your ability to reason out arguments and apply basic knowledge to potentially new situations. So if science is not your forte, you can take more time to practice in that area.

It’s essential to remember that most students tend to perform better on practice tests, mainly because they’re less stressed about the actual exam. Additionally, you’ll benefit from these mock tests because you’ll be aware of the time constraints and gain a better understanding of the overall test structure.

Master Study Tactics You Used in the Past

Pursuing med school is not something any student is academically capable of doing it. So if you’re talented enough to pursue it, you’ve probably had your fair share of study tactics in the past. And if those tactics have worked for you, why change them for the MCAT test?

Essentially, you must do what’s worked best for you, but if you need additional guidance, you can attend preparation courses in advance.

Regardless of the tactic you choose, creating a detailed study schedule ensures you stay on track during your prep time for the MCAT.

Set Goals for Yourself

Every student is familiar with exams during college, but if you’re planning to sit for the MCAT, you can’t do a simple review of the material and call it a day. Similarly, only reviewing your notes before the test is not a successful strategy either.

That’s why you should set goals to achieve the score you want. At the same time, setting smaller goals allows you to keep yourself responsible throughout the progress. These smaller targets can include the amount of study material you should cover within a week, how many hours you need to study daily, or the score you’d want to acquire on your mock exams.

Focus on Accuracy

When taking a practice test, it’s crucial to test yourself to see whether you’re accurate in speed. Initially, you can start with untimed practice and take your time to understand the questions, and answer based on your current knowledge.

Still, before learning a new skill, you must first learn how to do it well rather than doing it quickly to get it over with. As you become familiar with the practice questions, you can focus on improving the accuracy of each section untimed.

If speed is your main concern, you can start recording how long it takes you to do each section or passage of the exam. After that, you can focus on avoiding the same mistakes you used to make.

Manage Your Stress

Every applicant sitting for the MCAT exam knows how stressful it can be, especially with the time constraints. However, managing your physical and psychological well-being is just as important. Studying and practicing continuously every day isn’t beneficial because you’re too tired, to the point where your brain doesn’t function properly anymore.

You need to lay out your schedule and plan everything in detail, including how and when you can relax. Additionally, you can add working out into your schedule, going out for a walk to clear your mind, or just taking some time off to rest. After all, if you’re constantly stressed about the exam, you’re less likely to manage your stress when the time comes.

Constantly Self-Evaluate Your Work

The key to success and improvement is to constantly self-evaluate your work. Don’t try to just answer the questions and review the total score at the end. Depending on which questions you got incorrect, you should use the results to improve your work.

Among many questions, you should ask yourself about the type of questions you seem not to know, the types of passages that require too much of your time, and the types of ‘answer traps’ you fall for. Either way, self-evaluation is the key to your personal and academic improvement.

Aim for Success in the First Time

While it’s true you can retake the MCAT exam if you don’t like the score, you should also remember that this is a time-consuming, stressful, and costly test. So if you decide to retake it, most med schools will usually take an average of both of your scores.

Still, you should aim for the best first time because it’s in your interest. Since this exam takes a lot of hard work, you’ll benefit if you don’t retake it and go through the same procedure all over again.