You have always dreamed of becoming a doctor and, right now, you can’t wait to start studying from medical books, formulating disease diagnoses, and treating patients. One of the steps that you will need to complete in order to become a physician is to pass the Medical College Admissions Test or MCAT, which is the national standardized test that allows entry into US Medical programs. 

Read on to discover more information about MCAT basics, along with a few helpful tips to guide your preparation for this important exam. 

MCAT Basics

The MCAT tests your abilities in different areas such as science, critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills. The test has four sections, which are: 

  • Physical sciences (chemistry and physics)
  • Biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry)
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Writing

The Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections consist of 52 multiple-choice questions — commonly known as MCQs — each, and you must complete each section within 70 minutes. The Verbal Reasoning section contains 40 MCQs, and the Writing section consists of two essays. Both the Verbal Reasoning and Writing sections must be completed in 60 minutes each.

Your total MCAT score depends on how many answers you get correctly: there is no penalty for wrong answers. The scores are then converted to a 15-point scale and combined to create an aggregate score for all three MCQ sections. The Writing section includes two essays, each of which receives two grades — given by two different graders — to create four total scores. Each score is graded on a 6-point scale. The four scores are then combined to create a composite score for the Writing section. 

Tips for Studying for the MCAT

Acing your MCAT takes planning and adequate preparation. The MCAT is a very challenging test, and you need to prepare a clear and effective study strategy for it. The following tips can help guide you as you study for the test.

Begin Early

This goes without saying, but we will say it anyway: you will need plenty of time to study for the MCAT if you want to do well. Rather than rushing through your MCAT materials or cramming a few weeks or days before the test, space out your preparation over a few months. This will allow you to grasp each subject matter and still have enough time to revise and practice. 

Your best bet is to begin your preparation 3 to 6 months before the test. Start by taking an initial practice test, which tells you how prepared you are and what areas you may need to concentrate on. It will help narrow your study focus, as it allows you to identify your weaker and stronger areas. This initial diagnostic test can also determine how much time you will need to prepare for the test. There are several free MCAT practice tests available online. 

As part of your preparations, you also need to register early for the exam. The earlier you apply to take the test, the greater your chances of being admitted to medical school.

Take Practice Tests

This is a vital part of your preparation for the MCAT. Reading study materials is also necessary, but practicing test questions is a better way of consolidating and reinforcing knowledge into your memory. 

What’s more, studying practice test questions will help you have a firmer understanding of the subject matters as it enhances your critical thinking skills — one of the areas being tested in the MCAT — while you solve each complex question. 

There are various practice question resources you can use for the MCAT test, including:

  • Peterson’s
  • Kaplan Test Prep
  • AAMC Full-Length Tests
  • Khan Academy

Take Mock MCAT Tests

While solving practice test questions helps consolidate the knowledge you’ve acquired from your notes and materials, taking full-length practice tests simulates the actual test and gives you a feel for the real exam. 

The mock tests take the same amount of time as the MCAT, which is 6 hours and 15 minutes. Taking these practice tests allows you to become familiar with the exam’s conditions, thus enhancing your time-management skills for the test. Additionally, full-length practice tests also provide an overview of the subject matter, helping you identify areas where you may still need more practice and studying. 

Use the Right Materials

There are many different materials that you can use to prepare for the MCAT. In fact, there are so many options that choosing the right ones may seem overwhelming. We highly recommend that you study using materials published by the creators of MCAT: the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

You can add other materials if you wish to do so, but you shouldn’t create a study plan that doesn’t include AAMC materials such as:

  • AAMC’s MCAT Essential Guide
  • AAMC Sample Questions & Sections
  • AAMC Full-Length Tests.

The practice questions in AAMC materials are obtained from past MCAT tests, and the questions and tests they provide are the closest you can get to the real exam. 

Study from your Notes

The MCAT tests your ability to apply knowledge of the basic sciences. That means that without sufficient knowledge of these subjects, you may struggle to ace the test. Make sure to allocate some time in your preparation to study from your notes and materials, which will improve your grasp of the core courses. Read them as often as you can and schedule time to revise what you’ve read.

It can also be helpful to focus your college studies on scientific concepts and their application; devote your full attention to the classes and courses that will help prepare you for the exam. These include classes focused on the physical sciences (physics and chemistry), biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry), verbal reasoning, and writing. 

Don’t Stress Out

Like we mentioned above, a well-thought-out study plan that is spread out over months is one way to avoid unnecessary stress during your MCAT preparation. If you don’t have a good strategy for studying and practicing questions, you may end up rushing through the content and trying to cram the courses over a short period of time right before taking the test. 

You can also minimize pre-MCAT stress if you avoid adding unnecessary courses to your academic load. Maintain a light academic load by focusing largely on courses that will prepare you for the MCAT. The heavier your academic workload during your college years, the less time you will have to adequately prepare for the MCAT.

Follow these tips, start studying now, and you will ace the MCAT!

About the Author

Akshay Goel, MD is a body trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at the Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel is also the lead educator at Medlearnity and is committed to working with medical students and physician trainees at all levels to excel on their MCAT, USMLE, COMLEX, Shelf/NBME, and Residency Board Exams. He has guided several doctors into successful careers over the past eight years.

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