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I know it seems odd to say, but the first thing you need to do is review the AAMC's syllabus for the MCAT and start doing some of their practice questions.
On the AAMC website, you will find
The Official AAMC MCAT Guide
which serves as a second source of MCAT syllabus content and additional practice questions. Unfortunately, there are some prep companies out there that may guide you in the wrong direction about what the MCAT is really like.
So, we believe it is essential that you see the MCAT for yourself from the source (the AAMC) and try a few practice questions to get a feel for what you truly need to focus on. This simple preliminary effort will save you a lot of time, frustration, and money that you could easily waste by purchasing 20 different prep materials because you do not really know who to believe.
After completing this early process, reserve the rest of the AAMC's MCAT materials (i.e. practice question packs, full-length sample test, practice exams) for during and after your content review. Saving AAMC full-length practice tests for the end of your study regimen (about one month prior to your test date) is also beneficial in that your scores on AAMC practice tests will offer you the best indication of your score on the real exam. You can find a convenient list of additional AAMC materials on our page: MCAT Preparation Advice
Design a Personal Study Schedule
In order to get through your content review most efficiently, you should design an MCAT study schedule for yourself. On average, aim to set aside approximately 3 to 6 hours of study time per day for about 3 to 6 months. You may need more or less time depending on your knowledge and activities going into the MCAT. For instance, if you read The New York Times, The Economist, or The Wall Street Journal for fun or if you earned a 4.0 GPA in your basic science courses, then you may not need as much time to study! Likewise, you are human and life happens; therefore, include "free days" in your schedule to use for catching up if you fall behind in your studying or for doing something fun that is not related to the MCAT. You are welcome to follow our GS MCAT Study Schedule or refer to our blog article, How to Make an Effective MCAT Study Schedule for a straightforward, 5-step approach to design your own personalized MCAT study schedule.
Review Daily, Test Weekly
Get a limited amount of review materials in front of you and move forward on a daily basis. Make "Gold Notes."
How often should you take practice tests? Strive to start taking practice tests at least 2 months prior to your test date at a frequency of 2 to 3 practice tests per week. You will get the most out of each MCAT practice test by:
studying for the practice test before taking it
taking practice tests in a systematic manner
scheduling time to review each completed practice test
seeing each practice test as an opportunity to learn and improve
monitoring your performance and recalibrating as necessary
pouring over explanations for your mistakes/guesses, and
making Gold Notes!
There is a basic and critical concept in medicine called "pattern recognition". It is not true that there is an infinite number of possible concepts tested by the MCAT (though you may have felt this way because of the wide breadth of your learning and practice materials). The concepts are quite limited and so are the patterns. It's OK if you have no clue on a couple of questions, that's not important. However, you should be on the right track for almost all questions, and it is very important that you remain focused to the point that you assure yourself that if you know the answer, you get it right. Before you go on, don't tell yourself: "Great, I got that one"; say the opposite: "I wonder what silly mistake I just made." That way, you will seek, find it and then move on.
Get Your Body In Tune for the Real MCAT Exam
It is normal to feel nervous about the MCAT, but with enough preparation, you will be able to hurdle the experience of MCAT day. As much as possible, take practice tests in a mode that mirrors the real exam and testing atmosphere. So, time yourself, use earplugs and scratch paper, take the allotted breaks, and take practice tests at the same time of day for which your actual exam is scheduled.
A week or two before the MCAT exam, you need to get your body clock ready.
Set a routine like it is the actual test day such as the time you go to bed the night before and wake up in the morning. Find out what healthy foods are recommended for breakfast as you have to eat a hearty, nutritious meal before leaving for the test center.
Study in the type of environment you will be testing in.
Find a quiet location with minimal distractions, study for the same number of hours and take breaks just like on test day.
Do your research on test day. You have to be at the test center 45 minutes to an hour before the test starts. Visit the center to find out how long your likely travel time will be. Check the time zone and if it adheres to daylight saving time. Familiarize yourself with the check-in procedure and security measures.
Find out if there are nearby restaurants where you can buy lunch; however, bringing your own lunch and water is advisable. Plan what clothing to wear keeping in mind that you will be spending long hours in a heated or an air-conditioned center.