If you’re aiming for a great MCAT score, cramming a couple of weeks before the test isn’t going to cut it. Unlike preparing for finals in your undergraduate classes, preparing for the MCAT not only means reviewing the material from your premedical courses, but also honing your ability to apply that information to novel passages and questions. Before you choose a test date, map out a study plan that considers your other obligations while allowing for plenty of dedicated study time. Start building your MCAT study plan with these five tips:
- Define—and limit—the length of your review period
While giving yourself a full year to prepare for the MCAT may sound like a great idea, the reality is that a prolonged study period can leave you feeling burned out. You may also be more likely to forget topics you reviewed early on in your preparation. If you’re planning to study for the MCAT while also working or going to school full-time, allowing four to six months for test prep is reasonable. Alternatively, if you plan to have a dedicated study period with few outside obligations, six to 10 weeks of intense study may yield positive results while minimizing the chance of burnout.
- Take a practice test at the outset, and broadly identify your weak subjects
Planning to intensively review every single topic that may be covered on the MCAT will likely waste precious study time. Instead, take a diagnostic practice test at the beginning of your review period to identify broad subject areas that you will need to review. If you’re zipping through the MCAT psychology questions, spending a lot of time reviewing those topics isn’t likely to boost your score. Conversely, knowing that you need to review biochemistry topics like DNA synthesis and the Krebs cycle can help you appropriately allot time to addressing areas in which you are losing the most points.
- Determine how you will balance reviewing material with completing practice questions
MCAT prep is sometimes divided into two general categories: topic review in the form of book study and time spent doing practice questions. Some students opt to get through their review books before focusing on questions. Others split the day between books and practice. Think about what approach might be best for your learning style. Would you rather do a comprehensive review and then reinforce difficult topics later as you do questions, or do you think you’re less likely to forget material with a more integrated approach? Knowing how you will balance review and practice questions can help you make a detailed day-to-day study plan.
- Decide how many practice tests you will take, and plan to take them at regular intervals
Completing regular practice tests is the best way to gauge whether your study plan is effective. Because practice tests take a full day to finish, determining how many you will complete ahead of time can help you structure the rest of your study plan. Plan to space your practice tests far enough apart that you will have made significant study progress between evaluations. For example, taking a practice test every Saturday may not be a good idea, as you will be sacrificing an entire study day every week and may not see much progress with only six days of studying between tests. On the other hand, taking a test every two or three weeks gives you more room to study, is less likely to lead to discouragement and burnout, and will likely show greater progress.
- Leave room for error
Even the best-laid study schedules may fall off track. You might find that you overestimated the amount of material you could get through in a day, or that your practice test scores have stagnated and you have to revise your approach. Plan for unexpected challenges by leaving wiggle room in your schedule. Having a planned “catch up” day each week may help you finish tasks you were unable to complete in the preceding days, and you can even use these days as motivation by promising yourself a day off from studying if you’re able to stay on track the rest of the week. You can also schedule “light days” of studying where you plan out your morning and have the afternoon to revise your schedule or revisit challenging topics. Allowing for flexibility may seem like you’re planning to lose valuable time, but may ultimately keep you moving toward your goal score.
For more help creating a study plan make sure to visit StudySchedule.org, a free resource that builds you a schedule based on study materials you choose.