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How to ACE the MCAT

Updated on April 16, 2015

MCAT Scores are an Important Part of Your Application

While most medical schools claim they do not have numeric cut-offs for admissions, the truth is a low MCAT score can really hurt your application. The MCAT is a standardized exam taken by all applicants, and is therefore a better numerical means of comparing applicants than GPA which can be very particular to each institution. MCAT scores are taken as a sign of your critical thinking and ability to succeed in the medical field. Having a high score will greatly increase your chances of gaining admission to a medical school.


Some applicants wait until the last minute to take their exams because they want to maximize their study time. This is a mistake. Medical schools will not evaluate your application without an MCAT score. At schools with rolling admissions this can be a real disadvantage as schools will all ready be admitting candidates by the time you are going on your interview. At schools without rolling admissions getting your scores in late can still be disadvantageous. Most of these schools read applications as they come to decide if they would like to interview applicants. Readers tend to be a lot less critical about applications they read earlier in the cycle since they do not have as many applications to compare them to. By taking your MCAT no later than May of the year you want to apply you can guarantee your scores will be ready in time to make your application one of the first on the pile.

Study Schedule

It is very important to work your MCAT studying into your regular coursework and activities. Medical school is demanding and full of high pressure situations. If you need to take a semester off from your usual studies and extra curricular activities to study solely for the MCAT you probably aren't cut out for medical school and it will be a red flag on your application. Instead try to take the MCAT during one of your lighter semesters and keep an organized schedule detailing when you will study. By setting aside 1-2 hour time blocks during your day to study you can get a lot of material covered in the month before you take the exam. As test day gets closer, increase your study time as necessary.

It helps to have taken courses in the subjects tested by the MCAT. While the MCAT is a critical thinking exam, it does require background knowledge. It is very difficult to learn this knowledge for the first time while cramming from a review book. Despite the advice of many premed advisers you do not need to have taken two semester of organic chemistry before taking the MCAT. In fact since organic chemistry is such a small percentage of the MCAT it is actually better to have taken two semesters of physicis and one semester of organic chemistry than to have taken two semesters of organic chemistry and one semester of physics. This is a common mistake made by premeds who take organic chemistry as sophomores and wait until junior year to take physics.

Best Study Materials - Whether or not you are taking a course

When I ask current medical students and high MCAT scorers what materials they used these invariably come up. While no one set of materials is right for each person the general consensus seem to be that these are the most likely to work for you. Forget about reading your class notes or lengthy books - your retention will not be good, you will tire out and most of the stuff you learn will be useless. Instead focus on high yield materials that are concise but cover frequently tested topics. Remember, no amount of reading will make up for a lack of practice questions!


Many students opt to take an MCAT prep course given by a large review company. These courses come in classroom and online forms. The choice to take a course is very individual. Are you a good classroom learner or would you rather study on your own? Most courses come with a set of review books, access to a large amount of practice material and several proctored full length exams. These practice question bank and proctored exams are one of the best reasons to sign up for a course. Make sure you take advantage of all these opportunities!

If you do sign up for a course, remember that they are not all created equal. Variation between review company philosophy really has less to do with course satisfaction than variability between instructors. Ask around and find out what instructors senior students liked. Then call the company selling the courses and ask when that instructor is giving a class, and sign up for it. Do not use this course as a crutch to replace self study and practice questions.

Studying for the MCAT? Already took the test? Please share your tips and feedback here!

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    • MiriamS profile image

      MiriamS 7 years ago

      Every person is different. Most students do not have the luxury of a free summer to study, and many schools frown upon someone who takes an extended period of time off to study and does nothing else during this time. However, the student needs to gauge his or her own abilities and make this decision. Thanks for visiting the page and commenting!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hmm it seems that SDN has a different take on this. One of the stickied post is a 3 month study schedule for the MCAT that basically tells you its easier if you only focus on that in the summer before you apply...but maybe i am just naïve..i'm still trying to figure out when the best time for me would be to take it...