Passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is key to getting into med school. The MCAT is designed to assess whether prospective medical students have the conceptual understanding and analytical skills needed for success in medical school. The difficulty of the MCAT requires hopeful students to spend a significant amount of time studying for it.
So how should you prepare for the MCAT? There is no simple answer. Whether you team up with a study partner, go at it alone, become part of a study group, or invest in a test preparation course, much of your approach will depend on your personal learning style and available budget.
The key is to plan a study strategy that builds confidence and competence. The MCAT is a lengthy exam covering multiple academic disciplines, so it's crucial to prepare for the length and breadth of the subject matter.
Let’s examine four ways you can effectively prepare for this important exam.
MCAT PREP TIP #1
PUT IN THE TIME
It’s hard to underestimate the value in committing a significant amount of time to preparing for your test. Medical school is highly competitive, and it starts with the entrance exam. So, keep in mind that it’s not only about achieving a passing score, your peers are seeking top results.
Consequently, the MCAT isn’t an exam you should cram for. Some advisors recommend that you dedicate about three months and about 300 hours of balanced study across all the subject areas to prepare.
MCAT PREP TIP #2
AIM FOR UNDERSTANDING, NOT MEMORIZING
The purpose of the MCAT is to assess your reasoning and critical analysis skills. So, focus your studying more on comprehension and less on memorization. This approach will not only serve you well during the exam but will help prepare you for your career as a whole.
While it will be helpful to recall memorized math concepts for part of the test, the MCAT is designed to evoke independent thought and evaluate responsive decision-making. To succeed, you’ll need to be able to:
- read a passage quickly
- extract the critical information
- apply reasoning skills to select your answer
If you can master the conceptual nature of the questions, you’ll be in a good position to perform well.
MCAT PREP TIP #3
SIMPLIFY MATH CALCULATIONS
The MCAT will test your knowledge of science, but you’ll also need a solid grasp of math fundamentals. One big challenge is you can’t use a calculator, the other is you don’t have a lot of time to solve equations (under 2 minutes per question).
So you’re going to need to do math the old-school way – by hand – but quickly. You can prep by simplifying calculation methods. For example, if you need to solve for 24.7 x 65.3, simplify the equation to 25 x 65. This will get you an approximation that can be used to select your answer. If you can get with 2% or 3% of the actual calculation within the allotted time, you’ll be better off than taking more time to match the exact result.
MCAT PREP TIP #4
USE MCAT PRACTICE EXAMS
Many students tend to use MCAT practice exams to test their capabilities. If affordable, practice tests can provide insight into subject areas you are strong in and those that will need more focus to score well.
Taking these practice runs provides multiple benefits. Completing practice exams – especially early in your preparation – can help you adjust your study schedule to account for subjects you need more work in. And you can maximize Prep Tip #2 by going through every completed question and corresponding answer to examine why your answer was right or wrong.