How to Spend Your Final Week Before the MCAT

When I started studying for USMLE Step 1 (“the boards”), I wondered which aspects of MCAT studying would come up again. Some biochemistry topics felt comfortable (amino acids and protein structure), and some topics required more learning (urea cycle and nucleotide metabolism). Yet, at the end of the day, building a quality study schedule really reminded me of my own MCAT studying and my years of tutoring. Of course the material is different, but building a study plan will always have the same key elements:

    1. Resources to use and checklists for using them
    2. Tracking my practice problem performance
    3. Weekly study timeline

Weekly study timelines never change. You know how much time you have in a week, your upcoming commitments, and plan your studying around those activities. Whether it’s preparing for the MCAT, finals, block exams in medical school, or the board exams, doing this type of planning helps you create realistic goals and sets you up for success. I even modified the MCAT Self Prep weekly study timeline to track my early progress.

MCAT Self Prep Study Schedule

Once you’ve put in 98% of the hard work, scored well on practice exams, and have reached the final week of preparing, your weekly study timeline serves a very different purpose. Before that week, it’s all about maximizing effective study hours, making sure there are no significant holes in your content knowledge, and honing your strategy. But with just days before your actual test, a new priority emerges: being at full strength on test day.

Most advisors and people who’ve taken the MCAT before will tell you to take a break the day before your exam. What’s the point of solidifying 10-15 new pieces of information (of which, maybe none or one will be tested) if it means you’ll be fatigued on test day and only working at 80% or 90% of your full potential? The MCAT is a marathon, with 39 passages and over 6 hours of actual reading and answering questions. Starting the day at 100% energy and focus is the top priority since it can profoundly affect how many questions you get right.

A big part of being 100% on test day is avoiding burnout. To learn more about this, check out our previous blog on 7 Tips to Avoid Burnout. Now, what is the best way to plan that final week of study? I’d recommend working backward in the following order:

    1. One day before the test, plan on studying for 0-2 hours. No practice problems, only reviewing high yield topics, and the minute you feel fatigued or tired, stop immediately. Am I feeling tired when you wake up? Don’t study at all. Don’t risk being fatigued on test day.
    2. Two days before the test is the last real day of studying, and you should heavily focus on notecard review here. Practice problems are for building a strategy and showing you what areas you still need to study; as your last real day of learning, this is too late. Focus on topics you have seen before but don’t have fully memorized.
    3. 3-5 days before the test is far enough out that new practice problems can be done. If you haven’t exhausted the AAMC question packs and section bank, use those now (and convert those questions into predicted AAMC scores using our Study Plan). The focus should be on memorizing high-yield details and understanding the foundational concepts. 
    4. ~6 days before the test is the last day, I would recommend doing full-length exam. You need time to recover from these long tests and enough time to actually review those answers and learn the material you missed.

With all of this free time built into the final week and stress about the exam, how can you effectively spend your time? My top tip would be finding a form of physical activity and socialization that works well for you, and planning it ahead of time. If you enjoy hiking, text your friends and tell them to plan a trip a day or two before your test. Even jogging or walking the day before your exam can help you burn that excess energy, reduce your stress levels, and sleep better the night before the exam, which is a big part of being 100% on test day. 

If you’re reading this and freaking out about only having a week left before your exam, take a breath and write down those bulleted points. Everyone feels stressed before big exams, even test experts. It’s all about finding the right balance between studying enough to feel prepared and resting enough not to have regrets walking out of that testing center. Those tips above will work for almost any student. Still, if you have extenuating circumstances or want more personalized help building a study plan, we can have a free 10-minute consultation on how a tutoring session could help you make that final push. Good luck studying!

Warm Regards,


MCAT self prep tutor Timothy NolanMCAT Self Prep Elite Tutor Timothy Nolan

Timothy is a medical student who has helped over 100 students succeed on the MCAT. Not only did he score in the 99th percentile, he also has extensive understanding of MCAT questioning and has written hundreds of practice questions!

For more MCAT Tips:

Sign up for our free weekly MCAT newsletter.

Sign up for our affordable elite MCAT tutoring.

Sign up for our FREE MCAT Prep Course.

Follow us on:


MCAT Prep Course - MCAT Tutor
MCAT Prep Course - MCAT Questions
MCAT Prep Course - MCAT CARS
MCAT Prep Course - MCAT Behavioral Science

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.

Are you sure you want to skip today's special offer?

You will forfeit your 30% off coupon by continuing with Free Forever.

Save 20% off select tutors for this month only!  Save on Tutoring