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Health Sciences Program

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

MCAT Preparation Strategy

Timing your preparation for the MCAT

Determining the timing of your test depends on these factors:

  • Mastery of the content covered on the test: review the list of topics at the AAMC's website, selecting "What's on the Exam" for each section. Print the list, and using multi-colored highlighters, do an inventory of the topics, choosing one color for the areas you have mastered; a second for the material you have studied before, but which will require review; and a third for the topics you have never seen before.
  • Your current testing level: take a timed, full-length practice test to get a sense of how you would perform if you took the test today. The MCAT is administered on computer and you can take a full-length electronic practice test through the AAMC.
  • How much time you have to study: between now and your deadline, how much discretionary time do you have? How busy will your summer and fall be relative to each other?
  • The ultimate score you are shooting for: current trends indicate that applicants will need a combined score of 510 or higher to be in the top 50% of most schools' averages.
  • How efficient you are at studying when you have time;
  • Completing your application early: due to the timing of the whole application process, it is urgent that your AMCAS application, including the MCAT, be complete by early July of the year prior to the one in which you want to enroll. Once submitted, the AMCAS will take 4-6 weeks or longer to verify everything in your application, and will then forward it to designated schools, who may follow up by sending you a "secondary application." Other than the verification process at peak times, the real bottleneck for medical school applicants is being granted interviews, which typically occur one day per week, and which are granted only to eligible applicants once the secondary applications, if any, have been received. Most medical schools only review completed applications to make admissions decisions once or twice a month, so getting an early interview can be important in the applicants' ultimate success. All this boils down to the point that it is important to have completed the MCAT portion of your application as early as possible (allowing 30 days for scoring).

How to Prepare

  • Review the material. A full year of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics are the most common pre-requisites for medical school, and these, along with a semester of genetics and biochemistry, serve as a good basis for MCAT preparation as well. Even so, overlap between a course syllabus and the MCAT list is unlikely to be exact, so a wise student will keep the MCAT topic list at hand as they take each course, making note of the content that will appear on the MCAT and learning that material in a way that allows them to retrieve it later.
  • Get ready to practice:
    • Purchase the online test through the AAMC; you can take it up to 20 times;
    • Buy a commercial test prep book for its strategies on how to approach each style of question in each section (an online or in person commercial course can substitute for this, but will be expensive);
  • Focus on improving your accuracy. Analyze your right and wrong answers, and plan to study areas of weakness. Between practice tests, develop a strategy for the questions you find harder, and do a lot of related practice questions to become more efficient.
  • Free resources for MCAT Prep:
  • Khan Academy
  • MCAT Question of the Day
  • MCAT Question of the Day