9 tips to prepare and conquer the MCAT exam

By Amelia Carruthers• Last updated: Nov 8, 2023
9 tips to prepare and conquer the MCAT exam
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So – you want to be a doctor? If so, you’ll know the MCAT exam is one of the first milestones in your path to medical school and beyond.

Standing for the Medical College Admissions Test, the MCAT has existed in various forms since the 1920s.

Taken by thousands of students every year, it’s administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and consists of multiple-choice questions as well as a written section testing your scientific knowledge, problem-solving abilities and writing skills. 

Medicine is a famously competitive specialism, which means that MCAT test preparation is crucial. The average MCAT score for US medical matriculants in 2020-21 was an impressive 511 out of 528

So if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need a high score… and this is where a great MCAT exam preparation strategy comes in.

For anyone starting to prepare for MCAT exam, here are our tried-and-tested tips. From planning your time to revision strategies and getting ready for test-day itself, here’s nine ways to guarantee MCAT success.

1. Prioritise MCAT test preparation

Now this doesn’t mean spending every waking-second cramming – but you should make time in your daily routine for MCAT exam preparation.

If you’re studying alongside a full-time job or school and extracurricular activities, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time for rest and revision.

Consider making temporary arrangements in the months leading up to the test. You could free-up certain afternoons and mornings or schedule the exam for a quieter time in the academic year.

No one studies well when they’re tired, so set yourself up for success from the start!

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2. Give yourself enough time

There’s no minimum requirement for the study time you need to do well on the MCAT exam. Having said this, it certainly isn’t a test that last-minute cramming is advisable. 

As a rule of thumb, dedicate four to six months for MCAT exam preparation. Invest in a great MCAT prep books, create a daily schedule (and stick to it!) and make sure you’re constantly recapping and assessing your skills.

3. Create a detailed schedule

If you’re prioritising MCAT test preparation, planning your study time is essential. This is useful for a number of reasons – helping you keep on track with application deadlines, reducing procrastination and giving a sense of progress when you can joyfully tick-off tasks.

Ensure your study-blocks are specific and attainable. For instance, rather than just “revision” – specify what topic you’re studying each day and how.

Break this down into hour-long chunks with time for content review, memorisation, practice questions and measurable success criteria.

4. Focus on quality not quantity

To prepare for MCAT exam, one of the most important things to understand is that it’s designed to assess your analysis and reasoning as well as knowledge.

To succeed in the MCAT, it’s all about quality of analysis rather than just quantity of knowledge.

With this in mind, use an MCAT study guide and practice questions for a solid foundation – but focus on comprehension rather than just memorisation.

Spend time reviewing explanations, thinking about why you got questions wrong or right, as well as ways to link content with questions.

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5. Analyse your learning style

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to revision, so try to understand your own learning style. It’s important to devise a study strategy that feels right, so really be honest with yourself.

Even if it’s a little boring – do simple written lists work well for you? What about flashcards or colourful spider-diagrams?

Some learners thrive on video and audio content, whereas others succeed with note-taking or a simple MCAT study guide. Be open to experimenting and changing your study technique to get that mix just right.

6. Find a study buddy

It’s been well documented that people learn best when they’re having fun. Just ask any teacher out there! If you have friends also facing MCAT test preparation – why not link up?

Start a small study group to prepare for MCAT exam or just meet-up with a close friend in a coffee shop every now and again.

As well as the moral support, you’ll pick-up new study tips, compare notes and clarify tricky problems. Do make sure you really are studying however, and not spending too much time on distracting topics!

7. Use practice questions and exams

To conquer the MCAT exam, make sure that you’ve invested in a good MCAT study guide.

We’ve already listed our picks for the six best MCAT study books – but what links each guide is a wealth of realistic practice questions and exams. The more familiar you are with the test format, the less chance of surprises on the day.

Practice tests don’t just help with assessing your current level, but can help identify patterns and understand why you’re getting certain questions right or wrong.

Like all MCAT exam preparation, think little and often, building up to the full 7+ hour test over time. Yes, that’s right – seven hours!

8. Research MCAT score requirements

Whilst the average score for medical matriculants sits at around 511, each school will have their own requirements. AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements allows you to compare information on medical schools and set your own personal goals.

With a firm grasp of the score you need, make sure to only select an MCAT test-date once you know you’re within range of this score.

9. Plan ahead for test day

After having dedicated weeks and months to prepare for MCAT exam – don’t forget test-day itself.

Make sure you know all the necessary details such as when the test starts, how you’re getting to the exam centre and the materials you need.

You should even plan the breakfast you’re eating, healthy snacks and the outfit you’re wearing. The less distractions there are on the day, the more you can focus on acing the test.

With a sound revision strategy, you can prepare for the MCAT exam with confidence. If you’re currently working on MCAT test preparation, we wish you the very best of luck.

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Related tags:
medical school
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studying for the MCAT
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With a background in academic publishing, education and digital marketing, Amelia Carruthers is a freelance writer with a love of history, philosophy and the written word.