How To Study for the MCAT

Studying for the MCAT is daunting, but it’s something that nearly everyone who aspires to go to medical school has to do. The act of studying itself is grueling but, for me, figuring out where to start was another hurdle to overcome. What books should I use? How much time each day should I dedicate to studying? What practice questions should I use?

I’m here to help you answer these questions. Because, once you figure out how you should study for the MCAT, everything else becomes pretty straightforward.

Books: There are tons of companies out there that provide great material. When I studied for the MCAT in 2015, I primarily used Kaplan. At the time, I found them to be the most comprehensive and the easiest to read. The Princeton Review (PR) books, for instance, were also great for certain subjects (particularly biology), but the series lacked a lot of the necessary biochemistry material that Kaplan had an abundance of.

While studying, I followed the study guide provided by AAMC. After studying an item on the list, I checked it off. I did this for every item on the list, which made the whole process of studying much easier. The good thing about the Kaplan books is that a lot of their sections and headings match up very well with the headings in the study guide.

Ultimately, it could be nice to use PR, Examkrackers, Khan Academy or another company to supplement the main book company you use, in case you get confused by the main book’s explanation of certain concepts. But, bottom line, I had the best experience with Kaplan because I felt they had all the material necessary for the MCAT.

Another quick note: I would avoid using notes or textbook from classes because they have more material than what’s needed on the MCAT. Use them only to clarify information if you have to—that’s all.

Planning your study schedule: I basically allotted 3 months to studying for the MCAT (Mid May – Mid August). Before I started studying, I planned out what material I would cover each day. For example, for the first day of studying, I said I would go over Chapters 1-2 in the Kaplan Physics book and Ch 1-2 in Gen Chem….something like that. I planned it out so that I would cover ALL the material within the first 1.5 months or so. The schedule was pretty strict. I created most of my study schedule before I actually started studying, and I made adjustments as I discovered what worked best for me during studying.

For example, sometimes, I would move around what chapters I would review on a certain day based on my mood. But, the schedule is good because it provides a general structure and you’re able to make goals.

The next 1.5 months were dedicated to practicing. I mean, it’s good to practice while you’re reviewing the material and you should do that, but I wanted a lot of time devoted to just practice. And, based on the questions I had trouble with during practice, I would go back and review material. It’s also helpful to use flashcards to do some quick review throughout the 3 months of studying.

Practice questions: I used Kaplan to review material, but I do not recommend their practice questions. At the time, they were not very representative of the actual exam at all. However, now that the ‘new’ MCAT’s been out for two years, Kaplan may have modified the questions so that they’re more accurate.

Nonetheless, I primarily used the AAMC q-bank and old AAMC practice exams (even the pre-2015 MCAT tests) to practice. Also, Princeton Review and Examkrackers have better questions than Kaplan—they’re usually more challenging than actual MCAT questions, but they’re worth doing.

Also, since the exam is around 7 hrs long, I would avoid doing multiple full-length exams. I just don’t think it’s necessary to do so many, considering how long the exam is. Practice questions themselves will go a long way. In the last few weeks of your studying, you should definitely take an AAMC practice test.

Taking a course: I took a Kaplan course and, for me, it was a waste of time and money. I did much better when studying on my own. MCAT courses don’t typically review material. Instead, they go over strategy, but I feel like you learn a lot of that on your own as you do practice questions.

However, classes may work for some. They can help you stick to a study schedule, as classes typically meet once or twice a week.

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Imaz Athar

Imaz Athar is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, double majoring in Neuroscience and Sociology. He aspires to become a physician and plans on attending medical school in Fall 2017. Imaz fell in love with the art of writing at a young age and is currently the Publisher of Pitt's undergraduate-run science magazine The Pitt Pulse. When he's not writing or keeping up with classes, Imaz enjoys running, playing basketball, watching Empire, singing (in the shower), and listening to all kinds of music.