How To Study For The MCAT in 30 Days | Tests: Pre-Health
I’d like to preface this guide with a massive disclaimer: cramming for the MCAT in a short period of time is definitely not the optimal study method. It requires huge time dedication and stressful days/nights. It is important to understand your personal abilities and what is best for you. There are just as effective study plans that can spread out studying over a 3-month span that make the material easier to consume, and give you a lot less anguish. But, if you had an emergency, could not devote time before, or are a master procrastinator, and you’re worried sick wondering if this is even possible: Here’s how to study for the MCAT in 30 days.
Pre-MCAT Studying (Fall 2018 - Dec 10, 2018)
My dedicated MCAT studying began December 10 and I took the MCAT on January 18 (a bit over a month), but technically I was preparing for the MCAT for months before that. The fall semester before I began my dedicated studying, I was taking Organic Chemistry 2, Biochemistry 1, Physics 2, and a few other major-related classes. I purposely planned it that way so that I would be studying relevant MCAT material in my college classes throughout the semester. Additionally, I spent the majority of the semester brushing up on Organic Chemistry 1, Physics 1, and Chemistry 1 and 2, so that when dedicated MCAT studying time came, I was familiar with the material again.
In order to prepare yourself for efficient studying during your dedicated MCAT studying time, it’s important that you have learned and reviewed all the relevant courses beforehand. The MCAT covers a wide scope of material but doesn’t go into the detail and depth that many of your college courses will go into. So, after taking the relevant college courses, use MCAT review books from Kaplan, Inc. or Princeton Review to review material that will be on the MCAT. At this point you don’t need every detail memorized because the point is to have a solid understanding of the components.
Dedicated MCAT Studying (Dec 10. 2018 – Jan 18, 2019)
Allow me to set the stage before I get into the details of how I studied for the MCAT. Prior to Dec 10, I had reviewed all the Kaplan MCAT books and had a good understanding of the material covered. Additionally, I had just taken my Biochemistry, Physics 2, and Organic Chemistry 2 finals for university, so I had a solid understanding of that material. Now, dedicated study time commences.
Here’s a timeline of how the normal MCAT study day was:
6AM: Wake up, get ready, drive to my dedicated study area (which at the time was masjid)
7AM-12PM: Review chapters from Kaplan book
12PM-1:30PM: Lunch/Namaaz/R&R Break
1:30PM-5PM: AAMC Practice Questions and Review Correct/Incorrect questions
5PM-7PM: Generally brain dead by this time, so watched Khan Academy videos
If this sounds insane...it’s because it was. This was by far the most stressful, exhausting time of my life (so far).
From December 10 to December 28, I followed that schedule every day, using the morning to review 4-5 chapters of 1 subject and 4-5 chapters of another subject, then doing practice questions in those subjects in the afternoon. I took Full Length Practice Exams on the following dates: (3 Full length AAMC exams, 1 sample practice exam)
December 28th (18 days after dedicated studying began)
Jan 13th (5 days before my official exam)
On practice exam days, the goal is to try to simulate real testing situations. So that meant putting my phone away, going to a private area, and taking the test in one shot. No pausing the clock because of a minor breakdown in between. Immediately after the practice test, and the few days after were spent going question by question and reviewing the pertinent concepts. It is important to go over every question (not just the wrong ones) and figure out how you came to the answer you chose, and if incorrect, what the correct answer is and why. I know, that’s a complicated and long process to do for every question considering there’s 230 questions on the MCAT. But that’s why it took me 2-3 days to just review the test, and then the next couple days were back to the normal schedule reviewing and relearning the topics missed on the practice exam. As you saw, I was taking an exam about every 4-5 days, and I'd cover material for 2-3 days, meaning after the initial 18 days of pure studying, I was only working on what I missed. Practice exams are the only real way of understanding what your potential is, and what you need to fix.
Don’t worry if you score poorly on the first full length exam, it’s called a diagnostic exam for that very reason. You're meant to understand what you excel on and what needs work. It’s difficult and the majority of the learning happens after reviewing the first test!
One of my saviors throughout this whole process was my study partner. Luckily, a friend of mine had decided to take the test on the same day as me, and we made the incredibly helpful decision to study together for the month. We'd both drive to this same place and keep each other in check, explain things that we didn't understand to each other, motivate each other when we just couldn't pick the book back up, and generally be calming influences. When your devoting an entire month to a singular endeavor, be it a test or something else, sometimes you feel claustrophobic. This is only compounded if it's something your not particularly good at or enjoy doing, and all that weight and pressure of a coming date, gets to you mentally. I'm so glad I had my friend Taher to help me through this process, and if you don't happen to know someone testing with you, I'd definitely make sure you take some time for yourself and get fresh air more often than not.
After that last exam on January 13th, I felt pretty confident. Although I only studied for 30 days, I had made a solid plan, carried through on my commitments to it, and rigorously tested myself prior to entering that testing room. I wasn't going in blind and hoping for the best, because I knew what was waiting for me in there. In my pocket I had a picture of Moula (TUS), in my heart I knew I was doing what He wanted me to do, and that confidence carried me all the way through the test. I'm happy to say all the work I put in, and most importantly Moula's dua mubarak, resulted in me receiving a 517 on the MCAT.
The next post in this series will tell you about the actual test day, what to expect, how to handle your nerves, and pull out the victory.
Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2021-2022
AAMC Test Prep Question and Full Length Practice Exam
Khan Academy MCAT videos
Authored by: Hamza Raja (UTMB First-Year Medical Student)
Edited for clarity and purpose by Taher Lokhandwala