One of my most important jobs as an MCAT tutor is helping my students develop a good MCAT study plan. Some of my students have used my study plan process to achieve scores in the 100th percentile. Before I share my guides for 3 month, 6 month, and 8 month MCAT study schedules, it is important to consider 3 key factors that matter the most when building your own personal MCAT Study Schedule.
1. How many points do you want to improve by?
This is the biggest determinant of how many study hours you need before you can reach your goal MCAT score. But without a good understanding of your starting point, this is impossible to answer. If you haven’t taken the MCAT or done an AAMC full-length or half-length exam (we recommend the AAMC Official Guide Questions as a great diagnostic tool) in the last 3 months, take one before going any further. Otherwise, you may not be planning enough study hours to achieve your dream.
2. Have you taken the MCAT before?
Knowing your baseline is important. Having studied for the MCAT previously can complicate your baseline in a few ways. If you took the MCAT over 3 months ago, you’ve probably experienced “knowledge leak”. (I’ve had significant knowledge leak since taking the boards a month ago). Furthermore, you shouldn’t take a test you’ve taken before. You could have some subconscious memory of the passages making the test feel easier, thus inflating your baseline. Lastly, if you have studied for hundreds of hours before and still not reached your goal score, you will want to add extra study hours to make sure you can overcome whatever challenges held you back previously.
3. How far removed are you from the material?
While this could deflate your diagnostic test score, it also will take more time to re-learn material that you are further removed from. Generally, these non-traditional students need to spend more hours studying to really make sure they have a good foundation of content knowledge before moving on to the next lesson or module. The general rule of thumb is 50 hours of studying equates to one point improvement on the MCAT. This number of hours needed will be larger for the CARS section (closer to 100 hours per point of improvement). People re-taking the MCAT (75 hours PPI) and people further removed from taking the prerequisite courses (60 hours PPI) will also need more study hours. While there are exceptions, it’s best to plan based on these numbers from the beginning.
Customizing Your MCAT Study Schedule
Below are study templates I’ve built and customized specifically for MCAT Self Prep’s Free eCourse. If you are working while studying for the MCAT, I strongly recommend adjusting your schedule to consistently have at least 15-20 hours studied per week, so you can make significant progress each month. It’s also important to study less than 40 hours per week on average before the final month of studying. Studying for more than 40 hours can greatly increase your chances of suffering burnout.
The schedules that follow simply provide an overview of a general study schedule. To dive into the specifics of a study plan customized to your specific needs, I’d highly recommend our Create-your-own Study Plan Course. It’ll give you full access to our Customizable Study Plan Spreadsheet:
The 3.5 Month Summer MCAT Study Schedule
For people looking to improve by 12 points or less on their first attempt, studying 40 hours per week. Students often start studying after finals week mid-May and take the test the first week of September.
Because the goal is only 12 or less points away, a student could finish each module in about 50 hours of studying, or just over 1 week of studying. They only have to watch the video playlists, write their own notecards, and do the MCAT Self Prep notecards for each lesson before moving on. Content review books (Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.) only should be referenced if a student is still struggling with a topic after watching the videos.
The 6 Month Intensive MCAT Study Schedule
For people looking to improve their score by 13-25 points or are trying to improve by 10+ points on an MCAT retake, another very common study schedule for students looking for serious improvements.
Because such a large improvement is needed, these students should spend about 100 hours per module. This allows additional time to work through extra CARS practice, fully read content review books, and repeat flashcards. I recommend repeating flashcards the day after finishing a lesson to better facilitate learning. Because this study timeline is longer, there’s more of an emphasis on practice problems and full length exams early. This is to make sure the appropriate improvement was made
The 8 Month Part-Time MCAT Study Schedule
For students who have other significant time commitments, and can study 20 hours per week. Best for students looking for less than a 15 point improvement on their first test, or less than a 10 point improvement on a retake. If you’re looking for a larger improvement than this, I highly recommend adjusting your schedule so at least the final 2-3 months can have 30+ hours of study per week, with the final month reaching 40+ hours of study per week.
This schedule still builds in 1,050 study hours. Because the studying is so spread out, extra time is spent reviewing flashcards to retain knowledge. Although the hours per month are significantly lower, the CARS practice is similar to previous study plans. This is because CARS requires consistent practice to see improvement. If you aren’t able to increase your study hours those final 4 months, then you may want to consider adding an extra month to this plan.
Making Your MCAT Study Schedule Work
When you break study planning down to weekly or monthly goals and hours studied, there are proven schedules that work. As long as you put in enough hours, use the right resources, and plan for unexpected challenges, you will see huge improvements.
If you are looking for a personalized study schedule, help with any aspect of the MCAT or the application process, or are wondering how tutoring could help you reach your goal MCAT score, I’m always happy to schedule a free 10 minute consultation with me or any of our great tutors. Good luck studying!
Timothy is a medical student who has helped over 100 students succeed on the MCAT. He scored in the 99th percentile on the MCAT and has extensive understanding of MCAT questioning. Timothy has also written hundreds of practice questions!
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