We have hundreds of videos and tips on studying in general and for specific things. We’ve covered the MCATs at least several times in the last few weeks or so, but I wanted to look at something very specific today. When to start studying for the MCATs.

And, no, the night before is not the right answer I’m afraid.

If you’re new here then you won’t have heard me rant on the idea of judging study sessions by time before. It’s a dumb idea and entirely why I wanted to give out the Unlimited Memory audiobook for free. Studying should be about working smart – not hard.

However, the MCATs are still going to take some time and proper planning is going to increase your chance of passing and reduce your chance of freaking the hell out the day beforehand.

Well, it’ll increase your chance of passing anyway.

when to study for mcatThe Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized, multiple-choice and computer-based examination administered by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). MCATs are crucial for admissions to medical colleges in the United States, Canada and Caribbean Islands. They aim to examine the students’ critical thinking, problem-solving skills and knowledge in physical, biological, social and natural sciences prerequisite to the study of medicine and health sciences. This requires quality and serious prepping.

Knowing when to start studying is the first step.

The Administration and Stats

Finding out all the information about the exam will help determine when to start studying for your MCATs.

For starters, you should know the administration timelines The tests are offered at least 25 times each, however, administrations may vary. Pearson VUE serves as examination centers. They can be taken only a maximum of three times in a year, four times within a two year period and only seven times in a lifetime.

Statistically, about 43% of students sit for the examination within an year of graduation. 44% take the test within one to four years of graduation while the remaining 13% may take five or more years to take the MCATs after graduation. The majority of the medical schools do not consider candidacy until they have a copy of the MCAT scores even if all the other application requirements have been completed.

For example, taking the test in the spring of your junior year will give you an opportunity to retake the test in summer of the following fall. It is always beneficial to be among the first applicants given the competition. To begin, two crucial questions come into play.

1. When do you want to apply for medical school?

2. What is the appropriate date for you to take the MCAT exam?

The answer to both of these questions is usually ‘as soon as possible’.

The Time Taken to Study

As I’m already mentioned once here (and hundreds of times elsewhere) I don’t believe in studying by a clock. It makes little sense. So these are mass generalizations but they serve as a ‘rough guide’ at best.

Normally, it takes 12 weeks (23 hours invested every week) for the average student to prepare for the examination. Most of the content covered in the test may not have been covered in class work, therefore most students take time to prepare intensely. Majority of those who do well take between 200 to 300 hours to study. This translates to 3-6 months of preparation before the exam date. The Association of American Medical Colleges recommends 300-500 hours of preparation. Take note that different students require different time periods to prepare. Some could be ready within a month or less. Others require more time. Its all about drinking a crapload of coffee analyzing your strengths and weaknesses.

Generally, there three stages in studying for the Medical College Admission Test.

The content phase is the first. This involves a review of the content you should possess before the test date. There should be enough time set aside to learn and understand the content in each subject set to be tested such as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology etc…

The next phase is the practice and review stage. It should take at least four to eight weeks.

The third stage is the wrapping up phase. This is when content has been mastered, questions practiced and reviews thoroughly made..


Study Planning

I know I talk about planning your studies a lot. In fact, we even have a specific guide on preparing your MCAT studying schedule. That’s how much we talk about it – but for good reason. Planning to sit at a desk for x amount of time is not a plan. Setting the goal of ‘passing the exam’ is not useful.

Proper planning will make your life a lot easier and that means both long and short-term planning.

We already have plenty of videos, guides and me ranting about how more people should use effective planning but as a rough idea:

The Long-Term Planning

This involves an year or more time of preparation. One or two days a week of studying over a couple of months would be ideal. As you approach the exam date, studying for a couple of hours daily for at least four days within a week would be necessary. A long term plan requires discipline to adhere to the study schedule since there may be difficulty in maintaining your study momentum. Also, one may be prone to procrastination. A long term plan could be best suited for a sophomore looking to get ready early or for a person trying to juggle a full-time job and study.

The Short-Term Planning

This is a study schedule best suited for those allocating six months or less for studying. This requires three to five days of study every week in which you employ several hours of revision each day. A junior student with a light class load looking to take the test towards the end of the semester may employ this plan.

The Limited Plan

This is a study period limited to three months or less. It would require the candidate caught up in this timeline to employ multiple hours of MCAT study for at least six hours every week.

The No-Time to Plan Plan

No matter the time lapse you can still start studying as long the examination hasn’t been done. However, this timeline is a last minute pressure zone where there isn’t much preparation you can do if any. It is a timeline set for a week or less before the exam. A stitch in time can save nine? Maybe, maybe not.

If you reach this point and start to panic you need to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. You probably don’t have time to tackle the topics you really don’t know or haven’t put much time into so aim for topics in the middle where a little more time might actually help during the exam.

Your Ability

No matter the timeline available, the student’s academic abilities are a key determinant in deciding when to start studying for mcats.

The talented student would require less term to master the necessary material. For example, this the kind of student that would only require little studying to master MCAT content compared to a student who would require intense studying. For such a student, the limited timeline might be all they require.

The average student needs to really work for good scores. This requires more time set aside for study compared to the talented student.

The below-average student would in turn require the most time to prepare. Thus, this student may consider the longer study plan.

Understanding your study skills and abilities will help you determine the best time to start studying for in respect to the timelines available.

Note, despite the various misconceptions about the appropriate time required for preparation, there is really no PERFECT study schedule that works for everyone. What’s important is to make a realistic schedule where you commit to its implementation. All one can do is adapt to the recommended study timelines to meet one’s unique needs. It is best to sit for the test when you are READY.