How to Balance MCAT Prep with School or Work

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

In an ideal world, the months before an MCAT test date would be exclusively devoted to preparing for the exam. Prospective medical students would wake each morning without any obligations outside of studying. Unfortunately, the reality for most students is that MCAT prep does not occur in a vacuum separate from other responsibilities. Instead, MCAT review occurs in the context of the typically busy life of a pre-med—taking science courses, conducting research, volunteering, and applying to medical school. Finding time to adequately prepare for your MCAT test date can be challenging, but with careful planning and the tips listed here, you can squeeze MCAT prep into your schedule.
1. Identify and fill your spare time with MCAT prep
“I have no time” is a common complaint among future medical students whether they are concluding their undergraduate careers, completing a Master’s degree, or working full-time. But while it may be true that several large stretches of your day are consumed by other obligations, stating that you have no time is often an exaggeration. Do you take public transportation to school or work? Use your commute to tackle a small pile of flashcards. Do you press the snooze button several times each morning? Commit to rising at the first or second alarm, and apply those extra fifteen minutes to a practice MCAT passage. Many students underestimate how much they can accomplish in ten or twenty minutes. Use these free moments to your advantage.
2. Set aside specific blocks of time
While injecting more structure into your daily schedule might send shivers down your spine, committing a consistent block of time to MCAT prep each day can prevent you from over-scheduling other aspects of your life and pushing your prep books aside. Pencil your MCAT prep time into your planner, and refuse to schedule any other activity at that time. You should treat your MCAT prep as the most important class or meeting of your day and afford it proper priority.
3. Hold yourself accountable
It can be difficult to motivate yourself to study for the MCAT after a long day at work or hours of homework, so hold yourself accountable to your MCAT prep. You might have an MCAT study partner with whom you commit to reaching certain topics by specific dates, or you might work on a reward system—for example, by allowing yourself to watch your favorite television show if and only if you have put in your MCAT prep hours that day. This can prevent you from making excuses to skip your MCAT prep.
4. Adhere to your chosen exam date
Too often, students believe that adjusting their MCAT test dates will solve their inability to study amidst a busy schedule. If your schedule will remain hectic throughout your MCAT prep process into your actual application cycle, adjusting your date may do little but delay the inevitable. Instead of adjusting your exam date, adjust when and how you study. Are you using your time efficiently, or are you reviewing while also scrolling through social media? Refocusing and redrawing your study schedule may be more effective than simply moving your test date and expecting your circumstances to change.
5. Be reasonably flexible
Conflicts arise. Life happens. And sometimes you just need a break. Ensure that your schedule is not so rigid that if disaster strikes or you must step away from the books for a day or two to avoid burnout, you will be able to adjust accordingly and still cover all that you must.