Should I Time Myself While Doing MCAT Practice Problems?

Written and edited by the MCAT Self Prep Tutoring Team

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How often should I be doing practice problems? 

Our analysis of top MCAT scorers has revealed that those who succeed on the MCAT make doing practice problems the central aspect of their study plan. For this reason, you should start doing practice problems from the beginning of your studies by following along with the FREE Ecourse. After finishing each of the 10 content modules, two lessons of practice problems will integrate the AAMC material seamlessly. Doing so will give you an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to craft your study time around improving where it matters most.

Should I time myself when doing practice problems? 

Some top scorers highly recommend timing yourself while doing practice problems while some do not. This is largely dependent on you as a test taker. Are you the kind of student that always needs more time to finish a test? If so, you may want to start timing your practice sessions from day one. If not, you may want to wait to start timing yourself until the final month of your MCAT preparation. When timing yourself, give yourself about one-and-a-half minutes per question.

However, for most students (even if you struggle with timing) it is better to establish good habits and then apply them faster and faster over time. For this reason, start by working through questions methodically and then gradually increasing the speed at which you work. If you’re really frustrated, understand that your pace will naturally increase once you have reviewed the content. Understanding content makes a BIG difference.

On the day of the test, you will be given 90 minutes to complete 53 questions for the CARS section 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. 

How can I get more help with practice problems? 

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out why you answered a practice problem wrong. You may want to start by working on the specific areas that you struggle with. You may feel like two answer choices are equally correct. This is why it helps to study with someone who has already done well on the MCAT. Our Elite tutors can walk you through even the most difficult practice problems. They will help you understand why the correct answers are correct and why the incorrect options are incorrect. They will also give you the guidance needed to solve a similar problem in the future. Schedule your first session today to get started!

Warm regards,

Andrew George

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