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Getting Ready for the MCAT
So, you’ve committed yourself mentally to attending medical school. Congratulations on your decision! But choosing this path isn’t as simple as asking to get into your preferred medical education institution. You’ll need to work hard to get admitted, which includes submitting proof of a satisfactory score on the MCAT.
In short, the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a standardized exam that will test your academic and practical knowledge of several medically-relevant science domains.
To many, it is considered among the most challenging admissions test in the US. As such, many prospective medical students begin to question how long they should study for the MCAT before sitting for the exam.
That can be a challenging question to answer for a variety reason. Even so, this guide should help you better prepare for the MCAT by highlighting the how much time you should be studying, as well as how soon you should begin studying.
In all, this guide should start you down the path toward creating an MCAT study guide that fits your own style of learning.
How Long Does It Take to Prepare for the MCAT?
This might be one of the most pressing questions on your mind now that you know you’ll need to take the MCAT in the near future. That’s only fair because the answer may well determine when you schedule your test date as well as other commitments you take on in the leadup to test day.
But in truth, the answer here may be less satisfying than you expected. That’s because the precise amount of time needed to prepare for the MCAT will depend a lot on you.
Specifically, your preparation timeframe will depend on your mastery of the necessary content, as well as your readiness to sit for a lengthy, high-stakes examination. Even your present level of obligation to your job and schoolwork can impact your preparation timeframe.
That being said, however, previous MCAT examinees have provided some insight into how long they studied for their MCAT. On average, prospective medical students say that they spent around 300 hours preparing for the test in earnest over the course of 3 to 6 months. This is backstopped by the AAMC (the makers of the exam) who suggest 300-350 hours as well.
This includes reviewing content, taking practice tests, using prep courses, and the like. Some have even managed to do all of that in a single month, though those test takers are not typically students with present academic obligations.
How Many Hours to Study for the MCAT Total?
Now that you have a general idea of how long it may take for you to prepare for the MCAT, you should begin turning your attention to your MCAT prep on a smaller scale. In other words, you should begin considering how many hours you’ll need to study for the MCAT, both in total and on a daily basis.
Here again, your choices may vary depending on several extenuating factors. First, you may not end up spending an equal number of hours studying for every subject on the MCAT. If you feel proficient in one subject over another (based on practice exams), you may choose to prioritize your less strong subjects when it comes to allotting study hours.
Second, your life and your obligations leading up to test day may dictate how many hours you can a lot to studying on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.
While these obligations may constrain your studying schedule, it is crucial that you set aside at least some time each day for studying. That way, you can stay sharp and stay on track for a strong performance on testing day.
With that in mind, many prospective MCAT-takers find it productive to set aside 2-4 hours per day during their prep period for studying purposes. You may also find it useful to block off that study period in your schedule every day so that other obligations don’t push it out.
Once you expand that kind of schedule to a 3-6 month preparation timeframe, you’ll find that you’ll need to devote some 300 hours of time to MCAT studying. That may feel like a lot at first glance because, frankly, it is.
The MCAT is a challenging exam covering not just academic content, but also critical thinking skills. As such, those looking to succeed must also be willing to put forth a concerted effort to prepare properly.
When to Start Studying for the MCAT
As we’ve already emphasized, preparation is one of the keys to success on the MCAT. So, it only makes sense to question when such crucial preparations should commence.
Some folks might intuitively think that they should start studying as soon as possible. But studying burnout is a real concern for many prospective test-takers. So, it makes good sense to rein in the majority of your studying to a specific pre-test period.
Of course, you can’t really gauge the length of your test period until you set a test date. Once you’ve done that, you can start working backwards to determine an informal “start date” for your MCAT studying regime.
As noted previously, many test-takers who sign up for a far-off test date spend a full 6 months studying. Meanwhile, those with fewer commitments may choose to engage a condensed 3-month studying period.
Longer isn’t always better, though. Indeed, some medical students say that they were able to succeed on the MCAT with only 1-2 months of concentrated preparation. In any case, your previous academic experiences should act as a starting point when it comes to charting your MCAT studying regimen.
The Bottom Line
By now, you should have a pretty solid idea of how much time you’ll need to study for your upcoming administration of the MCAT. If you’re still trying to figure out a regime that will work for you, though, start by evaluating the number of months you think you’ll need to study. From there, you can begin to make a day-to-day study plan that keeps you focused on your goal – a satisfactory MCAT score.