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How to Prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Updated on November 9, 2012

The MCAT is considered a very frightening and stressful exam for many pre-medical students. The main reason is that this test does not focus on testing medical school applicants on their content knowledge in the basic sciences, rather their ability to apply their knowledge in new circumstances and sometimes complex scenarios. Those who can apply their knowledge in different ways and can reason well from evidence presented in passages will often do well on this test. This guide will present strategies to best prepare for the type of evaluation found in the MCAT.

MCAT Sections

As current, there are four sections: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. From January 2013 onwards, the AAMC will be eliminating the Writing Sample, and introducing a new unscored section dealing with Social Sciences, Political Sciences, and Biochemistry. This section will not be scored and will not be reported to admission committees until the 2015 administration of the MCAT.

Prep Courses

One common question that often recurs with premeds is whether to take a course or not. Courses can be beneficial with live instruction and a firm schedule that places pressure on students to keep up with their readings. However, they can be quite expensive, and are often much more expensive than the cost of course materials alone. The aim of this guide is to help those who wish to study on their own. There is more freedom in self-study as a student can create their own schedule and focus on reinforcing their weak areas.

Recipe for MCAT Success

Aside from hard work and dedication, the best way to do well on the MCAT is through self-evaluation and targeted practice. This will involve finding your weak areas and focusing your energy on improving in those areas. You can do so buy purchasing MCAT packages from various companies and going over their material. After completing their material, you can then try out their practice questions to see where your weak areas are. Then, put energy into going over your weak areas over and over again until you are adept at those chapters and sections.

How to Study the Subjects

When studying the various sections for the MCAT, a good idea may be to group Physics and Chemistry together when studying and Biology and Organic Chemistry. Study these subjects in pairs and cycle through the subjects regularly so that you won't be studying Physics early the first month and not touch the subject again until the actual exam. You would begin by studying a few hours of each subject a day and continue cycling through all the subjects. During your studying, you should be reading over the material fairly swiftly just to get an idea of the main themes and concepts. Then you should be re-reading the material again and again, then take some notes on paper.

After you have completed your content review in this fashion, you should go on to practice questions. The test prep companies have lots of sample questions to try out. They are worth purchasing because they give you practice that will help you answer questions quickly on the actual MCAT. Timing is a very important part of success on the MCAT. When you go to complete questions, be sure to mark your answers and try and figure out why you got questions wrong. Think about the logic behind the passage and the reasoning that the question author uses to yield the correct answer.

Notes on Verbal Reasoning

When it comes to the Verbal Reasoning section, it is a good idea to read a plethora of literature from various subjects. There are passages from various experts in many fields and they each have a different style of writing and presenting their arguments. Some good sources include philosophy books, as well as periodicals like The Economist and The New York Times. You should be reading articles several times a week so that you can improve your reading comprehension with dry and complex works. Try to do some lighter reading as well, reading works of fiction in order to keep yourself from getting too bored from reading.

One last note: it is important not to take the exam if you feel that you are unprepared. You should set aside around 3 months to prepare for the MCAT. Although 3 months is a good amount of time to set aside for the MCAT and to do well, sometimes a few extra weeks before the 3 months is needed for administrative tasks. This may include time to gather up study materials, create a general study plan and schedule, and to do some light reading to get warmed up. Life happens, and interruptions do occur. At times, it may be best to postpone your exam until you are fully ready, instead of getting a low score on your record and having to retake the exam. Multiple attempts aren't such a big deal with Canadian medical schools, however, red flags begin to be raised after 2-3 attempts with American medical schools. Some premeds want more tailored discussions and often the best solution is to look for a premed forum. For more information, visit the premed forum with mcat prep information and discussions on other premed issues.


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