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*Studying for the MCAT* Tips & Guides to a better score*

Updated on November 30, 2015
mahsa setareh profile image

Mahsa graduated with a degree in molecular biology and is studying for the MCAT to pursue further studies in pathology and immunology.


Ok so it might sound like a scary thing to some people. You know when you were younger you were confidently putting bandages on your kids, or your brother's boo-boos at age 10. As an undergraduate, you aced all the science courses. And you look smashing in scrubs and a stethoscope. But there's at least one more tiny detail in your path to a career in medicine: MCAT & Medical School.

The MCAT which started in the year 1928 is widely considered to be one of the most difficult academic tests in existence. It is the official test a person must pass in order to be admitted to a school of medicine in the United States maybe other countries too, but I wouldn't know, but I do know that some medical colleges in Canada also use the exam. Developed and overseen by the Association of American Medical Colleges, it is given approximately 14 times per year at Prometric Testing Centers, which are located in cities all across America. The MCAT has been in use for over 75 years, and every year over 70,000 people take the exam, even though there are only about 20,000 openings for new medical students each year in America.

The MCAT has recently undergone some significant changes over the past years. For one thing, it now takes about six hours and fifteen minutes to finish it ( 2015 MCAT) the old one before the 2015 took about 3 -4 hours to complete and now it's pretty much doubled. Ok, so let's talk about the sections on the MCAT , there are 4 sections Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, and the new section, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. YES there are 3 new sections to the exam!

Here's the deal of course competition is fierce, and it gets tougher year by year. There may be some relief in sight, as there is talk of several more medical schools opening in the not too distant future, but of course we don't know that yet. So we shall see what happens.

How to study?

So today we are going to talk about how to study for the MCAT.

There are a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences between the new one and the old one. There are certain courses or books you can get either from KAPLAN, PRINCETON REVIEW or other marks that you like. Although I like mine from the PRINCETON REVIEW because it is so detailed and well put together. There are great classes, although they are expensive, I mean that they run from 2,000 USD to about 3,000 USD so it really depends where and how you take it. If you are planning to buy the books, though it would be harder because you don't have a teacher to ask the questions you need help with, yet at the same time you can go on your own experience and knowledge and take it easy. You don't have a structured schedule that you have to follow. So there are many suggestions that I make and the things that you should be doing before and after the exam.

Alright so let's get into it. So...#1 . DO NOT STUDY THE LAST MINUTE OR A MONTH BEFORE! I'm serious there's a lot of stuff that you have to know and if you get the Princeton Review book which is absolutely my favorite, there's a lot of detailed stuff to know. I'm serious this is not something like your undergraduate life where you can pull a all-nighter. NO! This is something that you at least have to put in 6 months to 1 year for just getting prepared. TRUST ME it's OK TO TAKE OFF 1 YEAR or 6 months, majority of medical students do that.

Second tip is make a schedule for yourself. Ok so that means that you have to change what you do on daily basis and how much time you put in to study and the breaks that you put in between to get your mindset straight again. From what I like to do is study 1 chapter at a time, and then take about a 1 hour or even 45min of break and that could work too..And then go back and study more. Use a calendar (Google Calendar is quite helpful) to map out chunks of time that you can leave available for studying.

Third tip on studying is making sure that the place you are studying is a relaxing and quiet place. You don't want to be studying in a place where it's noisy or the TV is on and there's distraction around you. I would suggest a relaxing and also "no lyrics" song because then it helps with the focusing and you are not thinking about the lyrics of the song but rather on the material.

Next one, which kind of relates a little bit to #1 is to get plenty of practice with problems done before moving onto the full-length exams. Depending on how fast you can understand new material and how much time you need for review before it stays in your head, you could be looking at a month or two of work or even more!

Just a side tip: *While it is important to do your best to memorize fundamental aspects of biology, chemistry, physics, psych and sociology , remember that the exam is often more about the application of these details. Possessing a sound conceptual understanding of these topics is critically important*

The next tip is to make sure that you get the time to eat. It's so important to eat, it doesn't matter if you are taking the test today or tomorrow or within 1 year from now. Make sure that you get all your vitamins and nutrients. Foods such as whole grain, fresh fruits, veggies and fluids such as water or green tea will provide you with the nutrients your body needs in order to go about your day. Also taking your vitamins, Fish Oil, Calcium Magnesium and Zinc, Vitamin D3, Vitamin B-12 will help you to focus and get the vitamins that your body lacks. Snacking on fruits such as: Cucumber, oranges, tangerines, grapes and even apples can help with providing antioxidant, vitamin C and Vitamins A. I find that if I take these fruits it also helps to relax my body and that way I can focus more on what I have to study.

What should you do??


Overall I would say for all those future medical students that it's important to make sure you get enough sleep (6-7 hours max. 8 hours) and try to set a good schedule for yourself so that you know when your study time is and how much of your time goes into studying for the MCAT. Be sure to relax on the day of the exam and not be nervous. It is important to keep a positive attitude and be prepared. Like I said it's not a good thing to study 1 week or 1 month before the exam.

Remember that it's ok if you didn't pass the first time, you are allowed to take it again. But be sure to go bak and fix a few things in your schedule. Like always remember not to give up!!

Hope you all have a great time studying! Congrats if you passed and good luck to those who are taking the test!

Best of luck! Thanks, M

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© 2015 Mahsa S


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    • mahsa setareh profile image

      Mahsa S 24 months ago

      I hope that this article help you with your decision.. Good luck with your school!

    • profile image

      Natalie 24 months ago

      Im a new student to universtiy and deciding if I want to do medicine or not, I think this a good article and helped me a lot to decide.

    • mahsa setareh profile image

      Mahsa S 2 years ago

      Thank you very much, I'm looking forward to posting more articles

    • profile image

      Michael 2 years ago

      Thanks , Mahsa.I'm not a medical student but i am really looking forward to read your new article's (great informations ).