How To Master Timing for the MCAT

You’ve worked your way through all the content required for the MCAT. You’ve started learning how the AAMC wants you to think on test day. Maybe you’ve even gone through our FREE MCAT prep course! But despite all of these accomplishments, you still can’t get a handle on the timing for some or all of the sections on the MCAT. We are here to help! While we can’t fix timing issues overnight, here are 4 tricks to help with time management for the MCAT.


For the CARS section, you will be given 90 minutes to complete 53 questions and 95 minutes to complete 59 questions for the other three science sections (this is changed if you are taking the COVID-length MCAT). On test-day, a timer will be counting down in the upper right-hand corner to show you how much time you have remaining. This can be both a blessing and a curse. For some of us, it aids in adjusting our test-taking speed in real-time. But for most of us, the timer just adds unnecessary stress. Stress can even slow us down by paralyzing some students in fear! Therefore, it becomes critical to use the timer as a valuable resource, without it becoming a distraction. 

A good sweet spot is to look at the timer at three critical points during the test and forget it for the rest. For the science sections, optimal pacing can be broken down to completing 20 questions every 30 minutes. This can be translated to test day by glancing at the clock after you have completed 20, 40, and 59 questions. After 20 questions, you should see that you have 1 hour and 5 minutes left. After 40 you should see 35 minutes left. For CARS, there are 9 passages and so you should complete 3 passages every 30 minutes. If you have more or less time at these waypoints, this will dictate your pacing for the rest of the section. 

COVID adjustments: Just practice with the same pace! Try to complete 20 science questions or 3 CARS passages in 30 minutes.

Too little time?

If you find yourself falling behind the ideal testing pace, there are a few things that you can do. The bottom line is that you ultimately need to find a strategy that works best for you. Will you read the passages faster? Answer questions relying more on your gut instincts? Skip an entire passage to focus on the others instead (not recommended if trying to score 510+)? Try all of these methods out in practice sessions and choose the one that feels the most natural for you. No matter how far behind you are… still take the time to read the question stems slowly. The questions themselves are the most important piece of each passage and understanding them properly will yield the most points possible in a time crunch.

Too much time?

Less than 5 minutes of extra time? Spend these extra seconds focusing on 1 or 2 problems that you needed extra time on. Don’t try to skim through all of your flagged questions.

5 minutes of extra time? Try to skim through all of your flagged questions and focus on the few hardest questions for you. In general, it makes much more sense to spend an extra 30 seconds in the initial read of the question while your brain has been synthesizing the information at hand. Don’t just flag every hard question to come back to later. Splitting up the time will force you to restart your thought processes and it limits your effectiveness (although occasionally your brain will gain new insights subconsciously in the while working through other problems).

10-15 minutes of extra time? Use this time to double-check every. single. question. Don’t take the time to redo every problem, just check to make sure each choice answered the right question. Your primary job is to catch dumb mistakes like missing negative modifiers in the question stems (NOT/LEAST/WEAKENS etc). 

20-25 minutes of extra time? Run through every question again while also pausing to re-solve difficult and flagged questions. Perhaps you would benefit from reading passages and questions more carefully when working through them for the first time.

30+ minutes of extra time? This usually only applies to quick test-takers on the Behavioral Sciences section. If you usually finish with TONS of time to spare, you need to slooooooow yourself down. We know that you’re tired. We know that you’ve been sitting for 7 hours and just want to see your MCAT score. But practice test-taking conditions. Take the extra time to double-check every answer the first time. Read slowly and read every word of the passage. Try to finish with only 20 minutes to spare. This will bump your score up by at least a point or two.

Practicing Timing

To practice timing, consider doing blocks of 20 science questions in 30 minutes. Do 40 questions in an hour. Practice your pacing with practice questions. Most students read the passage too quickly in order to get to the questions, but then spend too much time on the questions because they didn’t understand the passage! Break that cycle by reading slowly and then gradually speed up. Practice the controlled rush. Practice endurance as well by doing 12 CARS passages in 2 hours. Do 80 science questions in 2 hours. From there, a normal MCAT section should feel familiar. 

If you are still struggling with timing, don’t be hesitant to reach out to us for private tutoring options. All of our tutors went through the same struggles that you are experiencing. We would be happy to share our expertise! If you have any questions about timing, shoot me a message using the link at the bottom of my tutoring page! I scored a perfect 528 and I would be happy to share any knowledge that I have!

Warm regards,

Theo Bennett


Theo Bennett scored a perfect score (528) on the MCAT and has been accepted at Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, UCLA, and other top 10 medical schools across the country. You can learn more and sign up to work with him one-on-one here.

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How we Matched up the Khan Academy Passages with the eCourse Lessons

Each lesson of the eCourse contains links to 1 to 5 Khan Academy science passages for the purpose of providing you with non-AAMC material to practice your science passage reading skills on. By completing all the linked passages within every lesson, you will have finished all the freely available Khan Academy science passages.

To match up the Khan Academy Science Passages with the eCourse lessons, we carefully examined the passage and question content of each one. Then we decided which lesson of the eCourse best correlated with that content. You may notice that some passages don’t match up perfectly with the current lesson. If they don’t match up with the current lesson, they should match up with one of the previous lessons in the module. We did this carefully so that you could practice your science passage reading skills on passages that contain the content you’ve already learned.

Why we don’t recommend non-AAMC CARS practice questions

We recommend practicing CARS by reading non-AAMC CARS passages but not doing the associated practice problems. The reason we don’t recommend doing the practice problems is because the MCAT is written by the AAMC. They have a very unique style in which they write CARS practice questions that third-party companies (try as they might) are unable to replicate. When students spend time on non-AAMC CARS practice problems, they get familiar with the wrong style of questioning, leading them to overthink and incorrectly respond to the questions written by the AAMC. Thus, it is in your best interest to solely practice on AAMC CARS practice questions.

That said, we highly recommend practicing your reading skills on non-AAMC CARS passages. In our Ultimate CARS Strategy Course, we provide you with 1,000 free CARS passages and 100+ homework assignments, giving you ample material to practice on. Reading countless passages while practicing the proper reading habits and strategies will prepare you well to conquer the CARS section as it was written by the AAMC.

Which books do the lessons match up with?

The books we use in each lesson are linked below. We plan to stick with these older editions of the books since very little has changed and the older editions are much more affordable:

First Edition of the Kaplan 7-book Series
First Edition of the Princeton 7-book Series

Do the chapters match up perfectly?

The Kaplan Books, Princeton Books, and Khan Academy Videos were all produced by different authors. For this reason, there are some chapters in the Kaplan Book or Princeton Book that are not even found in the Khan Academy Videos and vice versa. For instance, the Kaplan and Princeton Books have chapters that cover certain experimental procedures that the Khan Academy Videos do not cover.

Our goal in matching up the books with the videos was to correlate the content as best as possible while also covering ALL the content from every resource. For this reason, when nothing in the Kaplan Books matched up with one of the video playlists, instead of leaving the reading assignment for Kaplan blank, we inserted material that did not fit in anywhere else (i.e. one of those chapters on an experimental procedure that was not covered by Khan Academy). So, when the assignment doesn’t appear to match up right, please know that this was intentional.

*If you follow the reading assignments outlined, you will finish the entire Kaplan 7-book series and/or Princeton 7-book series by the time you finish all 10 content modules.

Do the sections match up perfectly?

If the sections assigned in our eCourse do not match up with the sections contained in your content review book, you may have a different edition. The sections should still match up the large majority of the time, but in the rare instance that they don’t, I’d recommend simply reading sections that do match up and saving the ones that do not for a future lesson.

MCAT Launchpad Required!

Before jumping into our free eCourse, you’ll need to complete orientation by watching MCAT Launchpad. During this free 35-minute intro session with Head Tutor Andrew, you’ll learn 6 Keys to Earning a Top MCAT Score, the 5 Essential Elements of an Effective Study Plan, 12 Tips for Taking the Best MCAT Study Notes, and more! Andrew will also provide you with a detailed overview of the Free MCAT Prep Course, teaching you how to get started.

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