Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner
Preparing for the MCAT during the summer months is a choice that many pre-medical students make – and for good reason. Summer prep provides several advantages over simultaneously juggling coursework with MCAT review during the school year. However, students should also understand that summer prep can be more difficult in certain situations. Below are four questions to consider when debating whether or not to prepare for the MCAT over the summer:
1. Are you able to effectively multitask and prioritize?
One significant difference between preparing for the MCAT during the school year versus preparing for the MCAT during the summer is that summer prep often allows you to focus solely on MCAT review. Studying for the MCAT during the academic year – while also taking courses and participating in various extracurricular activities – requires well developed time management and prioritization skills.
If you currently struggle to manage multiple commitments during the school year (as is common for many pre-medical students who are stretched quite thin), then you may benefit from preparing for the MCAT during the summer months. Free of distractions, you will be better able to truly focus on this crucial exam.
2. What summer opportunities will you need to forego?
The primary disadvantage to devoting a summer to MCAT prep is the opportunity cost if you must decline a summer experience. Whether this experience is a research fellowship, clinical shadowing opportunity, study abroad program, or another endeavor, it is often difficult to balance summer prep with a second important activity. If you have a strong desire to spend your summer exploring your passion for medicine, research, or a related field, or if you have already been accepted to a summer program, it may be better to study for the MCAT during the school year.
3. Is your coursework compatible with MCAT prep?
Another factor to consider when deciding when to study for the MCAT is the relationship between your college coursework and your prep. For example, if you will be taking advanced biology, physics, psychology, or other subjects that are related to the MCAT, it may be beneficial to review MCAT material while you are enrolled in these classes. Your college coursework and your test prep will have a synergistic effect – the content that you review for the MCAT will likely solidify your foundational knowledge and help you in your classes, while what you learn in your courses will help you apply your foundational knowledge in new ways. This strategy can help students efficiently and effectively prepare for both the MCAT and college exams during the academic year.
4. What is the four-year structure of your major?
In some instances, your college coursework will veer away from the subjects traditionally covered on the MCAT as you progress through your major. If you major in finance, for example, you may find that your classes diverge from the sciences during your latter years of college. In this scenario, it is often beneficial to prepare for the MCAT during the summer immediately after you have completed all of your pre-medical prerequisites (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.). This way, the information you learned in your courses will be fresh in your mind when you study and take the MCAT.
Ultimately, preparing for the MCAT during the summer is usually the most convenient option for pre-medical students. However, students should consider several aspects of their college career when making this decision. It is important that students understand what kind of opportunities they would be giving up when making the decision to prepare for the MCAT over summer break. Students should also think about whether preparing while taking their college coursework would help or hurt their ability to learn those topics covered on the MCAT.
Dr. Sunny Varshney is a board-certified cardiologist and an Advanced Heart Failure, Transplant, and Mechanical Circulatory Support Fellow at Stanford University. In addition to caring for patients with advanced heart disease, Sunny uses clinical insights and outcomes research to evaluate and advise start-up companies to facilitate cardiovascular device and drug development. He engages in research that identifies persistent unmet medical needs and defines benchmark outcomes that next generation therapies should improve upon, with a focus on advanced heart failure and cardiogenic shock.