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How to Prepare For Mcat Complete Guide

Many prospective medical students find the MCAT a daunting task. However, it is not something impossible to accomplish.  With careful planning and consistent effort, the MCAT can become easier than you ever imagined. Since, it is a high stakes exam and can shape your medical career, it is advised that you acquire relevant information and carefully read the guidelines on how to prepare for the test.

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is a standardized examination that has been used in the medical examination process for more than 85 years now. Almost all medical schools in United States require applicants to submit their recent MCAT scores, along with other documents.  More than 85,000 examinees appear for the test each year. The MCAT exam assesses examinees on the knowledge and skills, which are considered crucial for medical school and to practice medicine. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) develops and administers the MCAT exam many times each year at hundreds of test sites in the United States, Canada, and selected locations throughout the world.

Test Format

Over the years, the MCAT has evolved into a standardized examination with multiple choice questions and a writing section. The test assesses you on your scientific knowledge, writing skills, and problem solving abilities. It is a four and a half hour exam consisting of four sections: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, biological science, and a trial section. The following table shows the breakdown of the type of questions you will have in each section.

Physical Sciences

  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 70 minute section
  • Tests math skills, physics, and general chemistry


Verbal Reasoning

  • 40 multiple choice questions
  • 60 minute section
  • Similar to reading comprehension sections on other standardized tests, such as the SAT or the ACT


Biological Science

  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 70 minute section
  • Tests basic biology and organic chemistry


Trial Section

  • Voluntary Section
  • 45 minutes
  • 32 questions
  • Helps AAMC find the value of future test questions
  • Volunteers receive a $30 Amazon gift card
  • Volunteers receive feedback on their answers

When to take the MCAT exam?

You should take the MCAT exam when you are fully prepared. It is good to appear for the exam once you have completed the basic level courses in biology, physics, organic and inorganic chemistry. You also need to read the MCAT exam content outlines to make sure that you have covered all the topics and skills that are assessed in the exam. Normally, you should take the exam one year before you plan to enter medical school. Testing early is preferable, as it allows you to retake the exam in order to improve your score. However, it is extremely important that you take the exam only when you are ready.

How to prepare for MCAT?

After looking at all the content to cover and the skills to learn, you may find yourself confused about how to begin your MCAT prep. You may even have doubts related to your preparation strategy. So, to start off your MCAT prep with confidence, you can make use of the following guidelines.

1. Create a Plan

You cannot ace the MCAT exam by cramming all night. It needs around three to six months of preparation and you will have to use this time wisely. It is good to take the following initial steps for the exam prep. It is better to not get too late in your test preparation. As soon as you get a chance, you should draw a step-by-step study plan. The plan should be achievable and the course burden needs to be divided equally among different prep sessions. You should promise yourself to follow this plan consistently, as you cannot learn properly in haphazard study sessions. It is preferable that you make a list of items you need to review beforehand and start looking for resources you will need. If you think a study group will help you do better, carefully select the people who you wish to be in your study group. Also, find the practice tests you will need to take and make sure you have allotted some time for them. A useful way of staying organized during MCAT prep is to get hold of a calendar and clearly mark your prep sessions on it.

2. Know the Test

You cannot ace a test unless you know what it is going to be like. So, it is best to start off by taking a practice MCAT test. Sometimes, taking a practice MCAT under real conditions without prep can be a great way to jumpstart the preparation. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers a free practice MCAT online. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know about the content and format of the test. You need to practice under real test conditions so that you do not feel the time pressure when you eventually take the exam.

3. Use Your Old Textbooks and Notes

Students spend large sums on prep courses offered by private tutoring schools, but they are not always effective, as they focus more on the methodology than the subject material of the exam. So, it is better that you go through the material you already have in your notes and textbooks. The critical material is the one that you learned in your undergraduate pre-med program. You must avoid cramming unfamiliar information and rely on what you have already learned. It will be good for you to systematically revise the content of your undergraduate science and biology courses.

4. Focus on Your Weaknesses

It is not a wise strategy to ignore your weaknesses and just rely on your strengths in the MCAT. Whether you select a preparatory course or study on your own, you will need the practice tests to identify your weaknesses. Once you have identified your weaknesses, you can work on your study plan accordingly. The most effective plan would be the one that further develops your strengths and improves your weak areas at the same time. There is an abundance of MCAT information and resources to overcome your weaknesses.

5. Don’t Memorize Everything

By the time you appear for the MCAT, you have already demonstrated your ability to learn new information and use formulas. So, the creators of the test are not interested in your ability to memorize formulas. Instead, they wish to assess you on your understanding of the physical, biological, and chemical processes described by those formulas. While revising the MCAT science material, you can test yourself by explaining these concepts to a fifth grader. If you are able to describe the science concepts in the simplest possible way, you are probably prepared for the test.

6. Don’t Forget Your Health

Some students become so absorbed in preparing for the MCAT that they start neglecting their health. They may skip proper meals, stay up for long hours, or give up on exercise or any other healthy activity. However, test-taking authorities warn that it can lead students to fail on the big day. Proper diet, sleep, and exercise enhance your learning ability and physical stamina. The MCAT is  physically demanding and therefore requires examinees to be in good health.

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