How to Start Studying for the MCAT

The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is without a doubt one of the greatest struggles that premeds face. It’s unlike any test you’ve ever taken before. It’s most-likely harder, longer, and more important than the SAT, ACT, midterms, or any finals that you’ve faced. For a lot of us, this intimidation prevents us from performing to the best of our abilities because we never took the time at the start to truly understand the MCAT. The first phase of our MCAT Self Prep eCourse will help. But before you get there, think about the following three essential questions to ask yourself before beginning your MCAT studies. 


When Should I Take the MCAT?

For most students, I recommend taking the MCAT between April and the end of May for the cycle that apply for medical school OR between July and August the year before you apply. Taking the test over the summer with minimal or no classes allows you to compress your study timeline, however you may be taking the test without some prerequisites for the MCAT. I personally would recommend taking the MCAT after you have completed the core classes necessary for the MCAT (biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics etc). I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than 6 months because let’s be real, you won’t remember what you studied 8 months before. I can barely remember what I did last weekend, let alone my courses from last semester. 

Whenever you take the MCAT, make sure you give yourself enough time to study to get the score you want. After taking a free diagnostic test, decide on a goal score and calculate the difference. A good rule of thumb is that studying 10 hours a week for a month will average about a 1.5 point increase. So if you study 20hrs/week for 3 months you should expect to jump up by 9 points. If you are studying during a semester (as I did) plan that semester out a year in advance to deliberately make that semester as light as possible. I personally only took 12 credits but most of them were easy anyway.

The MCAT study timeline should be largely broken into two phases. The first phase’s goal is to get through all the content. The second phase’s goal is to improve your test-taking abilities. The content phase should last until you are one month away from the test date (if you’re studying for 6 months then this would be the first 5), and then the final month should be primarily devoted to taking full-lengths. Whatever you do, I would highly recommend devoting at least 2-3 weeks before the test to do nothing but MCAT study. The 8-hour test should feel like a 2-hour test by test day. Not a breeze, but it shouldn’t leave you mentally drained. That’s your goal.

Should I Use a Prep Program to Learn MCAT Content?

The better question you should ask yourself is: do I want to pay thousands of dollars to learn content when I could learn it for free by myself? The secret that the prep companies will never tell you is that the AAMC (the MCAT administration) actually paid Khan Academy to create thousands of hours of videos that teach you the content directly. For free. It’s actually as close as you can get to the source itself. All the other prep companies, on the other hand, essentially try to parrot those same videos but charge you thousands of dollars for you to get it from a more-distant source. If you don’t have hundreds of hours to comb through Khan Academy, buying prep books also delivers the content in a more succinct way (but again these books were not written by the AAMC so some information gets muddied). 

  • Most Expensive: Kaplan, PrincetonReview, NextStep etc. ($2000+)
  • Middle Option: Buying review books ($~200)
  • Cheapest Option: MCAT Self Prep (Free)

Do I Need an MCAT Tutor?

The final essential question that you need to ask yourself is this: can I do this alone? To answer this, you need to dig deep. Does working with a TA or going to office hours help you? Do you hold yourself accountable? Are you a naturally gifted test-taker? The question isn’t am I driven?, but how do I learn best? Most people will say… If you are self-motivated then you should self-study, but this, in my opinion, isn’t true. I, for one, am self-motivated but I needed structure too. So I chose a hybrid method of studying–MCAT Self prep gave me structure but let me customize through self-study. 

If you decide that you need accountability/test-taking advice, I would consider hiring a tutor. The last thing you want to do is take this test twice, so it is totally worth spending the money to succeed the first time. I won’t vouch for a specific program, obviously I trust MCAT Self Prep because I tutor for them, but you NEED a tutor who scored within the range of your goal score (and if they did better than your goal score that is obviously a huge plus). If a big company that you are looking at forces you to choose from 1, 2, 5, 20 sessions at the start stick with lower options. This isn’t for everyone, but I would choose between 10 and 20 hours to maximize the value of those hours. If you’re cheap like me, just use those sessions to ask for their overall strategy tips. Have them teach you to fish, not give you fish metaphorically speaking. If you have specific problems that you are stuck on, just go on reddit and get answers for free. Bottom line: if you are going to get tutoring help, make sure the company/friend that you choose has tutors who scored higher than your goal score at the minimum.

  • Most Expensive: Kaplan, PrincetonReview, NextStep etc. ($5000+)
  • Middle Option: MCAT Self Prep (rates start at $150/hr)
  • Cheapest Option: Study Groups/Friends/Reddit (Free)

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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