Tips for Effective MCAT Home Studying

Derek WuDerek Wu graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009 with a double major in Biochemistry and Psychology. He’s reached elite MCAT instructor status at Kaplan and is planning on attending med school this summer. Check him out on Twitter: @imcanadaian.

I get a lot of questions from students about how to best go about home-studying. My first piece of advice to them is always: “know yourself.” As much as the MCAT is a test of science, facts, and formulas, it’s important to know that it’s also a measure of student’s ability to analyze and understand the test and maximize their scores. This starts with being able to evaluate your abilities and performance objectively. To start, I always tell students to seek out one of those free MCAT practice tests. Major test prep companies will host tons of these throughout the year – you can check out any of the big name prep companies: Kaplan, TPR. And, it’s totally okay to take this test cold – remember, the goal is to establish a reliable baseline.

The second question I get a lot is “how long should I study for?” I love to workout, and I think of MCAT studying like an extended training session over weeks and weeks. While it doesn’t make sense to squeeze all your studying in 2 weeks, it can be equally counter-productive to build your study plan around a 6+ month timeline. I suggest around 3-4 months, reserving the last month purely for taking official practice tests. In my experience tutoring and teaching the MCAT for a few years, this sort of timeline gives students the best chance to succeed, and limits burn-out and frankly, prevents you from forgetting topics you hit at the very beginning of your studying.


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Finally, my final tip: “how long per day should I study? Is x number of hours enough?” This brings me back full circle to the “knowing yourself”. After taking a full-length cold, you’ll know exactly where your strengths and weaknesses are. I never tell my students to stick to a fixed hour count when it comes to studying. The key is identifying your weaknesses, establishing a 3-4 month study plan, and then STICKING TO THE PLAN. Depending on the topics that you’re uniquely strong in, some days your studying might only take 30 minutes. On other days, if it’s a topic you struggle with, it may take 4, 5 hours! Don’t be a slave to the clock. As long as you stick to the plan you create at the beginning of your studies, it’s OK to enjoy a light study day once in awhile. This will keep you sane, and it’s easier to stay disciplined and stick to your schedule because you aren’t force feeding study hours onto yourself.

Know yourself. Plan for 3-4 months. Set a schedule. STICK to that schedule.


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