When Should I Start Studying for the MCAT?
As the MCAT is one of the most important metrics of evaluation when applying to medical school, it is imperative to give yourself enough time for studying for the MCAT, taking the MCAT, and getting your score back before submitting your medical school applications. This timeline can look different for each applicant, depending on their familiarity with the content on the MCAT and time per day they can dedicate to studying, thus there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
A good place to start when thinking about when you should start studying for the MCAT is figuring out when you want to take the exam. Figuring out an exact date and getting your test scheduled is an incredibly important first step and may help with motivation to plan out your studies.
When Should I Take the MCAT?
Although the answer to this question may vary slightly based on individual goals, a good rule of thumb is to take your MCAT a few months preceding the opening of the AMCAS application the year you plan to apply to medical school. AMCAS is the official centralized application for U.S. MD programs. The medical school application process takes almost a whole year, so let’s lay out an example scenario to make it clearer.
Say, Victoria is graduating from college in June of 2023 and wants to try to go directly to medical school after graduation without taking a gap year. To matriculate to a medical school class in the Fall of 2023, she would need to apply to medical school via the AMCAS application opening in 2022. Typically, the AMCAS applications open in May of every year. So, for Victoria, the AMCAS application would open in May of 2022, and she would be able to start inserting her information into the application. Then, her AMCAS application would be officially due by November 1st of 2022. However, since medical school applications are rolling, she would NOT want to wait until November 1st to submit her application (this is really, really, important!). The AMCAS application takes time to verify and make take up to 1-2 months in the peak of the application cycle. While you CAN submit your AMCAS application and have it verified before you get your MCAT score, most medical schools will not consider an application complete without an MCAT score. So, you should aim to have your MCAT score back before your AMCAS application is verified.
According to the AAMC, the AMCAS application will open on May 4th, 2022, and the first day you can submit the application will be May 28th, 2022. So, for Victoria, for her application to be deemed complete by medical schools, she needs to have her MCAT score back around the time her application is verified. The time it takes to verify applications changes a little each year, but let’s estimate conservatively that it will take up to a month for her application to be verified. So, she’ll need to have her MCAT score back by June 28th, at the latest. MCAT scores are released 30-35 days after the test date. The absolute latest Victoria would want to take her MCAT is in the end of May 2022 to matriculate to medical school in the fall of 2023.
However, it is important to mention the caveat that writing and submitting the medical school application takes a lot of time and effort. It can be a lot at once to be working on your application and simultaneously studying for the MCAT. Thus, I typically recommend students take the MCAT sometime before mid-April, which gives them plenty of time to focus on their AMCAS application and writing their personal statement before the application due date.
But When Should I Start Studying for the MCAT?
After you have chosen your test date, things to consider when deciding when to start studying for the MCAT include your familiarity with the content and the amount of time per day you can study. To get an idea of your familiarity with the content and the types of questions tested on the MCAT, I often recommend students take a practice exam or one of the shorter length diagnostic exams before they start studying. These will give you an estimated score and list out areas of strength and places for improvement.
If you are in a gap year and not working full-time, the amount of time you’ll be able to spend studying for the MCAT will differ significantly from someone who is still in undergrad or working a full-time job. To figure out when you should start studying for the MCAT, you should decide which MCAT resources you are going to use (check out some of our other blogposts on best resources for the MCAT) and how many hours you can devote to studying per day. You should give yourself plenty of time to make a full pass through your resource(s) of choice, and factor in days off and practice exams. For someone who is still in school or someone working full time, I may recommend they start studying 4-5 months before they take the MCAT. For someone who can study 8-10 hours a day, 2-3 months may be enough time. As I mentioned before, this is highly dependent on an individual student, their learning style, and how comfortable they are with the material. It is very much worth the effort to study exceptionally hard and not have to do an MCAT retake, which we discuss in another blog post.
Stick to Your MCAT Study Plan!
Once you’ve decided on your MCAT test date and your study plan, be sure to stick to it! I recommend students have a daily or weekly log of tasks to be completed to help them stay motivated and on track.
In summary, the best way to figure out when to start studying for the MCAT is to choose a test date that will allow you to have your MCAT score back before your AMCAS application is verified. If you’re unsure how much study time you’ll need, start early! It is always better to have more time for practice and review than to be scrambling to finish a first pass-through the material.
If you have trouble designing your schedule or keeping yourself accountable, consider consulting an MCAT tutor for help. EMP is your one-stop-shop for all of your MCAT study needs! Our tutors can help you create a customized study plan, choose the best resources for you, help you adopt efficient study habits and test-taking strategies, and reach your MCAT score goal!