How to Study for the MCAT: 6-Month MCAT Study Plan
This MCAT study plan is ideal for students who will benefit from a long-term study period, or for post-baccalaureates who are working full-time and only have approximately 10-20 weeks available to study per week during evenings and weekends. However, anyone can follow this timeline. It has distinct advantages of avoiding burn-out, emphasizing spaced repetition, and allowing ample time for a large number of full-length (FL) practice exams. This plan has a few important goals, including approximately 350 hours of total accumulated study time and 8-10 completed full-length practice exams. In addition, it is meant to incorporate three primary phases, each of which builds on the prior phase: content review, active studying, and practice questions. Finally, it assumes a gradual increase in dedicated study time spent as exam day approaches. Here is an example of a 6-month MCAT study plan that is sure to maximize your preparation.
Weeks 1-12 of Our MCAT Study Plan: Content Review
Summary: First, take a baseline FL exam to see where you stand prior to beginning your studies. Typically, the longer it’s been since taking many pre-med courses, the lower your score will be. Do not be discouraged, regardless of what your score is. The point of a baseline is to discover which sections you need to focus the most on. After reviewing your baseline exam in detail (if possible), pick a prep company’s review book set (e.g., Kaplan) to read cover to cover. You should read actively; read in short bursts, avoid distractions, and highlight/take notes throughout each chapter. If you lose focus, you will effectively be wasting time, so take breaks often.
Study Time: 120 hours (10 hours/week)
Plan: There are 7 subjects: behavioral, biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and CARS. The key is to interweave the subjects such that you never study the same subject for more than two consecutive days, and each week you alter the subject for each day. This ensures integration across all the different subjects and will help you develop connections rather than learn a massive number of discrete facts. You should also aim to read one chapter per day. Chapters vary in length, so make adaptations as necessary, but try to avoid getting in the habit of reading partial chapters as they are best completed in one sitting (with breaks). In odd weeks, study bio M/T, break W, gen chem TR/F, behavioral Sat, and break Sun. In even weeks, study biochem M/T, break W, orgo TR, CARS F, physics Sat, and break Sun. Notice there are two days off per week, which is essential because studying even 10 hours per week while working full-time can induce burnout if you do not take sufficient breaks. It is not sustainable to study every night after work for weeks on end. Also notice that, where possible, the softer sections break up the hard sciences. Although everyone has a different set of sections that they find more difficult, these two types of subjects are undoubtedly different so switching between them provides some variety throughout the week.
You can find a more in-depth post about MCAT content review here.
Weeks 13-17: Active Studying
Summary: There are numerous ways to accomplish active studying as part of your MCAT study plan, but two of the best methods include studying flashcards and creating a study guide of key facts, structures, pathways, and equations. You should also take a couple of FL practice exams (e.g., one every other week) and verify that content review is resulting in score improvements, even if minor.
Study Time: 75 hours (15 hours/week)
Plan: Flashcards can either be made from scratch or adapted based on pre-existing cards. Anki decks and others can serve as helpful inspiration or guidelines for what types of information to include. Alternatively, the AAMC official flashcard set is a great pre-existing resource. Regarding the study guide, for each subject, it is most helpful to build off your content review period by creating a study guide that incorporates key points from each chapter and your notes. If you engaged in active reading optimally, your notes should consist of a combination of especially important points to remember and concepts or facts you have trouble understanding or memorizing. There is simply too much information to create a truly comprehensive study guide in just 5 weeks, so by focusing on key bits from each subject that you need to study and repeat you will maximize your improvement during this period.
Weeks 18-25: Practice Questions
Summary: Focus on MCAT question banks and interweave FL exams with increased frequency as exam day approaches.
Study Time: 160 hours (20 hours/week)
Plan: There are a number of question banks, including both paid resources from multiple test prep companies, as well as from the AAMC, and free ones such as Khan Academy. The official AAMC question bank is by far the best resource, but for those who want more questions, the third-party resources are generally excellent as well. In fact, you can sometimes even get both the AAMC question bank and a third-party resource bundled together to save a little bit of money as is the case with Sketchy MCAT’s Prep Essentials Bundle.
Keep in mind that repeating questions, especially within an 8-week period, is almost guaranteed to be wasteful. Two months is short enough such that even if you don’t think you have the best memory, you will retain some familiarity with each question you answer and so repeating questions will take the critical thinking out of the equation and lead to relying solely on memory, which is not the point of practice questions. For FL practice exams, ideally, you would take one every week up until the week of your exam. On days when you take an FL, you should not use any question banks. Additionally, you should aim to spend at least half as long as you took for the exam to review your answers. For the most efficient review, you should only spend time on questions that you either got wrong or only got correct by guessing. You should trust your memory and thought process for questions you got right and understand why; your time is best spent on areas that need improvement.
This example is meant to summarize and integrate information from many of our other articles into one discrete, actionable study plan. Six months may not be feasible or ideal for some but is an attainable and balanced timeline for many types of students and post-baccalaureates. If you like the progression of this timeline but cannot commit to six months, or need more time, this plan is highly adaptable. It should be personalized to your specific capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
If you are looking for help creating a custom MCAT study plan, personalized assistance, and more, consider enlisting the help of an EMP MCAT tutor to help you make the most of your study period! Schedule a free consultation here. Good luck and study hard!