As a pre-medical student completing your undergraduate degree, you probably have a lot on your plate. You might feel like researching information about the MCAT exam is just one more thing! To help make your workload more manageable, we have compiled some general information regarding the exam and how to prepare for it!
Get Familiar with the Test
If you have been considering attending medical school for a while, you are probably well aware of what the MCAT entails. If you are new to medicine, we’ll help you out. MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test. The exam scores are used by Medical College Admissions to narrow down applicant pools. The highest score you can get on the MCAT is 528. Schools generally accept students who, along with strong grades and impressive resumes, have scores upwards of 515. It’s important to note that more competitive educational institutions will require scores higher than this.
The exam is to be completed with a computer over the course of seven and a half hours. The exam is broken into four sections, each of which is meant to test you on a foundational science skill relating mainly to biology. Each section has around 60 questions and should be completed during the allotted 1.5 hours.
Due to COVID-19, some details of the MCAT have been temporarily adjusted, which you can learn more about here.
Schedule Your Test
Before you even crack open a book or sign up for an online practice test, you’ll want to look into scheduling your test. The exam is offered annually from January to September. Unlike the USMLE, which you will have to take while in medical school, the MCAT has testing sites in the U.S. and other countries around the globe. Testing schedules are available on the AAMC’s site, with most testing dates taking place on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
In order to register for an exam, you’ll need to create an account with the AAMC. While creating an account is free, the exam is not. Fees for the exam vary based on how early you schedule your exam. To get the lowest rate, you’ll want to schedule your exam at least one month prior to taking it. Additional information on MCAT costs and how payments work can be found here.
Make a Study Plan
Once you schedule your exam, you will want to create a plan of action. This plan should cover how often you will study, the length you’ll study, and the information you will focus on during each study session. Most individuals begin preparing for the exam 12 weeks prior to the date they will take it. If you are not pursuing an undergraduate degree in the sciences, you may decide to add additional time to your planning schedule.
Because your MCAT test is so important, you may want to consider a lighter course load at your university during the semester you are preparing for the exam. With this free time, you should be able to create hour or two long study chunks multiple days a week. Consistent studying can help you retain knowledge and avoid burnout.
For study suggestions from medical students who have taken the test, click here!
Focus on the Unfamiliar
While you may feel more confident reviewing content you already know, you will want to focus your attention on areas that seem more foreign. For these topics, you may consider creating flashcards, doing a thorough content review, and then capping it off with one or more practice tests (which you can read about below).
Take A Practice Test
To really see what test day will be like, it is a good idea to take a preview of it. You can do this by taking one, or perhaps a few, practice exams. Practice exams are essential tools for success. They allow you to understand the structure of the test, get a feel for the content, and find your footing when it comes to completing the exam in the time allotted.
Although you can purchase practice MCAT exams from several companies, Kaplan offers a free one on their site. To get the test all you have to do is create a free Kaplan account.
Prioritize Test Day/Month
To get into medical school, you will need to have an impressive MCAT score. You’ll want to do everything in your power to get that score, which includes getting enough sleep and eating well, not just the day of the exam but in the weeks and months prior.
In one recent study, scientists found that a consistent 7 hours of sleep each night the month prior to an exam gave students their best test results. For students who sleep different hours each night and those who attempted to “catch up” on the weekends, lower test scores were reported. Studies regarding the composition of a test-takers diet yielded similar results. Those who ate nutrient-rich foods and limited processed goods received better tests on standardized exams than those consuming heavily processed goods.
While maintaining a solid sleep schedule and consuming a balanced diet can have an impact on your test scores, the largest factor of your performance lies in your preparation!
Have you taken all of the steps above? Are you still unsure if you will stand out to medical schools?
A pre-med clinical experience could give you just the edge you are looking for—real-world experience!