Loyola University Chicago

Pre-Health Professions

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MCAT Tips

TIPS FOR TAKING THE MCAT

  • REVIEW THE AAMC WEBSITE
  • FIND TIME TO STUDY: Assume you will need at least 300 hours to review material, study, and take practice exams.  It has been said that it is often better to plan for 3 months of intense study rather than 6 months or longer of protracted study, as you might forget what you learned at the beginning.  Plan to take the exam only once and prepare well.
  • CHOOSE A DATE
    • Register early so you can take the exam at your desired location. Registration usually opens in February and in October for dates 3 to 6 months in advance.
    • January dates: Study through the fall, over winter break, and the first weeks of the spring semester.  You might choose to set an easier load of courses in the fall semester. Apply June 1
    • March/April dates: Study over winter break and then during the spring.  You might choose to set an easier load of courses in the spring semester.  Think about your commitments during Spring Break and/or the end of the academic year (especially graduation if you are a senior).  Apply June 1.
    • May dates: If you are a senior and choose a May date, you may be studying at the time you graduate and celebrate with friends and family.   Consider moving the date up to April, but also balance this decision with how much time you will need to prepare.
    • May dates and late MCAT scores: If you take the MCAT in May and your scores won't be released before you send in your application on June 1, you may submit your application on June 1 and list one school to apply to.  This will trigger AMCAS to verify your courses and grades.  When your MCAT scores come in mid-June, you can finalize your school selection and update your application with your full school list.   AMCAS will begin to release applications to medical schools around the end of June, and your application should be complete at that time.
    • August/September dates: You'll have May, June, July, and August for an extended period to study and you won't be distracted by spring and fall classes.  However, consider the amount of time you will have available if you are planning an internship, research experience, or other full-time commitment.  Apply June 1 the following year.  
  • DECIDE HOW TO STUDY
    • Look at how the MCAT is set up, the type of questions being asked, and how much reviewing you will need.
    • Commercial companies like Princeton Review, Kaplan, Examkrackers, and NextStep can be useful if you tend to procrastinate, want someone else to set up a study plan, or if you like the accountability and structure of a class.  These companies offer a variety of options, including classes, review materials, and sample exams (sometimes they offer free exams).   
    • Set up your own study plan. Buy/borrow review books, study on your own, and take practice exams independently.  Khan Academy is a free online nonprofit review site for the MCAT.  The AAMC also has free resources.
    • We don't recommend any specific method or commercial company. Students in the past have studied successfully in many different ways.   Reflect how you learn best and then choose a preparation strategy that works for you.
    • Talk to peers who have already taken the MCAT about their experience and preparation.
    • Check out some examples of MCAT preparation plans from successful applicants: https://students-residents.aamc.org/how-i-prepared-mcat-exam/how-i-prepared-mcat-exam
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
    • Plan to take multiple sample tests so you are comfortable with the layout, length of passages, and kinds of questions they ask so you know how to evaluate and attack each question. Take at least one full-length exam so you can judge your stamina and ability to concentrate over 8 hours.
    • Be sure your scores are showing proficiency and knowledge. Scores are sometimes lower on real exams than on practice exams.
    • Understanding the MCAT is a variable you can control. Also consider other variables such as a new/strange location, traffic, difficulty parking, check-in delays, distractions during the exam, etc. that can also create stress and anxiety and prepare for them in advance, if you can.
  • GAP YEARS? MCAT scores are acceptable for about 3 years before they expire.  Check the information for schools you will apply to because some schools accept MCAT scores up to 3 years before matriculation; others accept MCAT scores up to 3 years before application.  Take the exam when you are most able to study, have completed the courses covered on the MCAT, and are within an appropriate time of applying.   If you are thinking of two gap years for research programs, teaching, Peace Corps, or a fellowship, taking the MCAT the calendar year you graduate might give you enough time to apply.