Are You Ready to Take the MCAT?
November 19, 2020
Are You Ready to Take the MCAT?
If you are planning on applying to medical school, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a hurdle that many pre-med students dread. This standardized, multiple choice test has been a part of medical school admissions in both the United States and Canada for over eighty years. Because the exam is so important, it can be hard to know when you're ready to take the MCAT.
The MCAT has the following four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. To get ready to take the MCAT, students should have a strong understanding of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. To determine if you’re ready to take the MCAT, read our complete guide below:
When should you take the MCAT?
As a rule of thumb, pre-med students should consider taking the MCAT at least twelve to eighteen months before they plan to enter medical school. This gives them ample time to receive their MCAT scores for their application cycle. Even though MCAT sessions were disrupted earlier this year due to COVID-19, the AAMC has been able to offer the test in person since June. Take the test around winter break to give yourself enough preparation time.
Strategizing Your Study Sessions
How do you get ready to take the MCAT? Should you study on your own or take a review course? The answers to these questions depend on your specific study habits and time management skills, as well as any competing activities that will consume your time and attention. Be sure to take the AAMC practice test to get a sense of your knowledge gaps and test taking skills.
You need to learn how to perform on the test, which is usually done best by taking practice tests and doing a targeted review of areas where you get stuck or underperform. The MCAT is a 7 hour test. You need to be sure you know how to pace yourself and stay focused. Do not waste your time studying things you already know!
Strategizing Your MCAT Prep
Take the following steps to make sure you’re ready to take the MCAT:
- Understand the MCAT: Do you have a good grip of each section and what it entails? Make sure you’re not just blindly memorizing answers. Knowing how the sections are broken down can help you go a long way. Once you’ve got a good section of the different parts, sit down with your flashcards (or a flashcard app!) and start your preparation process.
- Prepare a Long Term Study Plan - Alongside being difficult, the MCAT is also expensive. You don’t want to retake it unless you absolutely have to. Plan for at least 3 months of studying before you’re ready to test. Use your favorite calendar app to track your progress and which topics you need to cover each week. Making a routine and keeping yourself on schedule can help you stay organized.
- Create a Daily - and Weekly Schedule - Set aside 2-3 hours per day, 6 days per week to dedicate towards your MCAT prep books and notes. Your speed may vary depending on your personal study and test taking habits, but for most people, this is the right allotment; it’s enough time to do meaningful work and get ready to take the MCAT, but not so much as to make you hate the MCAT.
- Review - Every three weeks, schedule one or two study sessions for pure review. On these days, you’re not looking at any new material; you’re just going back over material that you’ve already covered.
- Choose the Test Date that Works Best for You - Finally, carefully look at upcoming MCAT test dates and choose a date that works best for you.
Multiple MCAT Scores
You can take the MCAT up to 3 times in one calendar year. You can even sit for the exam and decide not to submit your score (although we would discourage this practice). If you do this, it still counts as one attempt at the exam.
How do admissions committees deal with multiple MCAT scores? Admissions committees have different policies regarding multiple MCAT scores. There are 4 options:
- They take the best score
- They take the best score from each section
- They take the most recent score
- They average all scores.
The only way to know the specific school’s policy is to check its website. Many students now take the MCAT multiple times and most schools have a policy for handling multiple scores. The majority either take the most recent score or the best score.
Questions to Ask Yourself
So, let’s say you feel ready to go ahead and register for the exam. Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you’re truly ready to take the MCAT:
- Do you fully understand the breakdown of the test?
- Are you confident about your knowledge in each separate section?
- Have you taken multiple practice tests?
- Have you done well in your practice tests?
- Have you developed a steady routine for studying and stuck to it?
- Is there a particular section you feel you need to work harder on?
- Will you have time to review everything before the test date?
- Is your practice test score reflective of your ability?
- What is the median score for the medical schools on your list? Do you feel like you can achieve that score?
- If your score doesn’t make you happy would you have time to retake the test?
If you feel positive about your answers to the above questions — there you have it! You’re ready to take the MCAT. Make sure you’ve kept up your practice until a couple of days before the test. Ask a friend to quiz you or download a study guide app if needed!
The MCAT is meant to be a summary of your sciences knowledge and problem solving skills. Focus on doing well on your undergraduate prerequisites and then find the right time to study hard and prepare as well as you can. As you get ready to take the MCAT, remember that once you’re done, you’ll have this important step out of the way and be able to focus on other elements. Best of luck!