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How to Ace the MCAT

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
If you're planning on going to medical school, you will want to perform well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Read on to learn about the best prep strategies to help you ace this exam.

Four Steps to Acing the MCAT

To ace the MCAT, you'll need to plan well, understand the structure of the exam, master the subject knowledge and the skills that the exam measures, and know what to expect when you take the test.

Step One: Plan Ahead

Whether you have mapped out three months or, as some experts recommend, six months to prepare for your MCAT, it is helpful to make a study plan before you begin, so you maximize the time you have between now and test day. It is also a good idea to take a full-length practice exam, with test-day timing simulation, as your first step in your MCAT prep. This will give you an understanding of the test before you begin studying. Full-length prep tests may be purchased on the official MCAT website (students-residents.aamc.org).

Step Two: Master the Skills and Knowledge Required

The MCAT has four sections. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section measures reading comprehension abilities. The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior sections focus on content knowledge as demonstrated through the application of four key interdisciplinary scientific reasoning and inquiry skills:

  • Reasoning about the design and execution of research
  • Knowledge of scientific concepts and principles
  • Data-based and statistical reasoning
  • Scientific reasoning and problem solving

To master the content knowledge and critical skills required to ace the MCAT, you may utilize a variety of resources. First, you should download the detailed exam content description from the MCAT website. To brush up on the content described there, you may utilize textbooks from your college courses or those available at your school's library.

To make MCAT prep easier and spend less time gathering different study aids, you may want to utilize Study.com's MCAT Practice and Study Guide course. This comprehensive resource consolidates study materials into one course that's conveniently available online whenever and wherever you have time to study. This course has 88 chapters, each focusing on the skills and knowledge you'll need to demonstrate to ace the MCAT. Each chapter is taught via short, engaging video lessons and includes practice exams so you may measure your understanding of concepts.

Step 3: Understand the MCAT Structure

The MCAT is a 6.25-hour exam (excluding breaks):

SectionTime AllottedNumber of Questions
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 95 minutes 59
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills 90 minutes 53
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems 95 minutes 59
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior 95 minutes 59

All questions on the MCAT are multiple choice. To review best practices for multiple-choice exams, check out this short lesson on Strategy for answering multiple-choice questions. You can download a free e-book available on the MCAT website, which offers 12 sample questions, to get a glimpse of typical questions you'll encounter on the MCAT.

Step 4: Ready Yourself for Test Day

Having spent months studying for the MCAT, you will want to make sure you don't distract yourself by not arriving completely prepared. So, keep these important things in mind about your test day:

  • Don't spend the night before trying to get a last minute study session in. If you get a good night's sleep, you'll be at the top of your game on your test-day morning.
  • Make sure you know exactly where your testing location is, and how long it takes to get there.
  • Arrive half an hour before the designated time of your test. If you arrive late, you won't be able to take the exam.
  • Bring a current government-issued photo ID that bears your signature and includes the same information as the one you used for your MCAT registration.
  • Leave your personal items, including watches and phones, behind. Foam earplugs and your identification are the only permissible items that can be brought into the testing room.
  • Three optional breaks are provided during the test.

Still feeling anxious about taking the test? Check out this short lesson to help you overcome your test anxiety.

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