How to Prep for the MCAT on Your Own

January 14, 2014

For any number of reasons, you may be unable to or uninterested in taking a formal prep class to get ready for your MCAT test.  But you know the importance of this medical school exam, and you need a plan to self-assess your current knowledge and prepare for the big day.  Here is a quick do-it-yourself guide to preparing for the MCAT, especially for those college students living on a budget:

1. Pick your test date.  The MCAT is given on a number of dates throughout the year.  Once you’ve set this first deadline for yourself, you can begin to plan backwards from this date.  It is recommended you allow between at least a month (minimum) to six months (maximum) to prepare. Too little time to get ready, and you’ll find yourself scrambling and cramming information at the last minute; too much time has the potential to induce anxiety, and you are more likely to forget those concepts that you studied in your early prep months.

Video cover2. Establish your baseline knowledge.  If you have already taken any of the required science courses (biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, or physics), you’ll be ahead of the study game.  If you haven’t, you’ll need to know what you know what areas will require a more intensive study.  You can access a free, online, full-length MCAT test form the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Once you receive your results, you can establish a clear study plan

3. Borrow books. MCAT test prep books are available at most libraries, and your friends are likely to have a few of their own.  For topics that require more in-depth study, for example, if biochemistry is not your strong suit or a class you’ve taken before, obtaining a college level textbook on the subject is the way to go. Once you’ve identified your knowledge strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to use these materials to study new concepts and information as well as reinforce your stronger areas.

The delivery room in Tanzania4. Practice, practice, but not too much.  In this case, too much practice can be a bad thing.  Taking practice test after practice test can waste time better spent reading and studying the science content covered on the MCAT.  However, periodic practice tests to self-assess your progress are recommended.  Are you improving your score after several weeks of study? You need to know, and full-length practice tests are available to help you determine your likely performance on the big day.

5. Pretend it’s the big day.  Once you’ve reached a pinnacle in your studies, there’s little left to do besides take the test.  Simulate an actual MCAT testing environment for yourself.  The MCAT is taken in an online, highly structured and monitored setting.  Set that up for yourself and take one final practice test.

Know that, if all else fails, you can always try again. After months of preparation, the last thing you’ll want to do is take the MCAT again if your score does not meet your expectations.  Sometimes, however, all the practice in the world flies out the window once you are in the official test setting.  Don’t be hard on yourself, but be honest about why you didn’t achieve the score you wanted.  Then dust yourself off and plan your next steps.  The MCAT will always be ready and waiting for you to take up its challenge another day. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.