I Keep Running Out of Time on the MCAT

Session 6

Session 6

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about how to manage your time on the MCAT considering that running out of time is one of the most common problems, if not the most common problem, students have when taking the MCAT.

Is the MCAT designed for you to not finish it? Why do students run out of time on the MCAT? Is there actually a way for you to finish on time? All these and more on today’s session.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Is MCAT written so you can't finish in time?

  • No. The goal of MCAT is to reward students who use good time management and have good strategic ways of thinking about things
  • AAMC is not trying to trick or punish you but reward the savvy test takers and those who know what they're doing.

Running out of time: A symptom, not a disease

  • If you're using the right approach, you won't be running out of time anymore.
  • Running out of time is the symptom, how do you now diagnose this so you can stop running out of time?

Reading speed: Is this the issue?

  • The average reading speed for a college educated adult is 200-400 words a minute.
  • It's almost never the raw reading speed that's the issue, but the technique.
  • Speed reading courses do not teach you how to take the MCAT
  • You only need to read 200-300 words a minute to succeed on the MCAT (within the range of a college educated adult)

Time, money, and speed reading course are not what you need. The real problem is the analysis. However, if you're really struggling with this, a reading technique course might be helpful.

Speed reading apps on iPhone:


Flash Reader

Links and Other Resources:


Next Step Test Prep

Use the Coupon Code: MCATPOD to get discounts on any of their courses offered.


Flash Reader



Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com.

This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 6.

A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles as a premed, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a physician.

Running Out of Time on the MCAT

Welcome back to The MCAT Podcast where we have been covering a lot of different topics that you as a premed need to know. As always, I'm joined by an awesome member of the Next Step Test Prep team, this week I am again joined by Bryan Schnedeker, Vice President for MCAT content and tutoring. So Bryan, this week we're going to talk about time, and time management, and the length of the test. I always get messages from students say, ‘Oh my gosh I ran out of time.' Is that a common problem?

Bryan Schnedeker: Oh easily one of the most common problems. Absolutely. It's got to be number one really, or a close number two of students- my own students, students that I hear about that come to me and say, “You know Bryan, if I had just time and a half I'd get every single question right. Especially in the reading section on the CARS.” And the amount of frustration that builds up over running out of time is just- it's enormous, it's a huge issue in the world of standardized tests.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Is the MCAT- I've heard theories that the MCAT is written so that you can't finish it in time.

Bryan Schnedeker: And that's false. The goal with the timing is to make sure that you're moving along at a good clip, that they reward the students who use good time management and have good strategic ways of thinking about things, and then- so that's the goal, right? Is to reward the students who are doing it right. Now as a knock-on effect of that they're going to end up kind of as a necessary corollary, punishing the students who aren't doing things right, who are getting lost in details, who aren't focusing on being strategic with the passage. So you know I really like to get away from this idea that somehow the AAMC is out to get you. You know they're not trying to trick you, they're not trying to punish you. Instead what they're trying to do is reward the savvy test taker, reward the person who really knows what they're doing.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So it's interesting the way that you put that, and I'll re-word it and see if you agree with me. If a student is taking practice tests and not finishing passages, or not finishing the sections in time, they need to figure out or maybe get help in figuring out where they're going wrong because they should be finishing in time.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah, absolutely. I always say running out of time is the symptom, not the disease. Right? The analogy I like to use is going to the doctor when you have a fever. Right? You say to the doctor, “Well cure my fever, the problem is the fever.” And the doctor would rightly say, “No it's not, the fever is the symptom. We need to figure out what the actual problem is and treat the problem, and then by virtue of making you healthy again, the fever will go away,” and it's the same with the MCAT. If you're using the right approach then you won't be running out of time anymore. And so running out of time is simply the signal to you, ‘Okay I'm clearly sick, I have a fever, I'm running out of time on the test. How do I now diagnose this so that I can then stop running out of time?'

Speed Reading

Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it. When I took the MCAT way back in the day when it was still a paper test, I didn't finish the verbal reasoning section, and I always attributed that to the fact that I was a very slow reader, and still am for the most part. Is that a common problem? And if so are speed reading courses or anything- are there those shortcuts to help me with that?

Bryan Schnedeker: Well there's no shortcuts, let's kind of nip that word in the bud. I always say the test can be tricky but there's no tricks, right? Test prep is not a magic trick. So Ryan, you say that you were a slow reader, and that's certainly a very common thing with us science folks, is we get used to reading very slowly and carefully, and absorbing every single detail because it's going to be on the midterm. Whereas the MCAT is much more about the big picture, the overall main idea, the overall opinion being presented. And so if you learn to read looking for that, then you won't run out of time. And I'll put some numbers on this. The average reading speed for a college educated adult is somewhere in the range of 200 to 400 words a minute. Even on the lowest end, let's say you read about 200 words a minute, that would still mean reading the MCAT passage in something like three, three and a half minutes, and in fact most MCAT strategies call for you to read the passage in about four and a half minutes. So it's never or almost never the raw reading speed, that's not the underlying issue. And I will put an asterisk on that of course, if you do have a serious issue, something like dyslexia or some other reading difficulty, of course you need to go see an educational psychologist. You need to go see a reading specialist, somebody who can do a real thorough analysis and help you. But the reality for 95% of test takers is that it's not just the speed that's the issue, it's the technique that's the issue. And then finally Ryan, you brought up speed reading courses. You know there's nothing inherently wrong with them, but they're not teaching you how to take the MCAT. Speed reading courses like to kind of make these grandiose claims, ‘Oh you can read 2,000 words a minute,' or something really ludicrous like that. The reality is you only need to read 200 to 300 words a minute to succeed on the MCAT, and that's already in the average range of a college educated adult. So typically what I tell my own students is that the time and money in a speed reading course is not what you need. All these little tricks they try to teach you about sub-vocalization, and chunking and all that, aren't really going to solve the problem. The problem is the analysis.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I think I figured out at one point that my reading speed was about 150, so slower than your average, and I found actually pretty recently- I have an iPhone so an iOS device, I found two awesome apps. One called Flash Reader and one called Accelerator, and what those apps do is they let me copy a website or any text and paste it into the app. So if I go to CNN, or better yet if I'm preparing for the MCAT I go to the New Yorker or the Atlantic, these big article websites, and I post that link into Accelerator for example, it'll pull all the text out of that article and then I can set the reading speed. So I can tell it 400 words a minute and it only shows one word at a time on the screen, and it forces me to get out of what I've always done is read each word, word by word, and it has taught me that I can move my eyes faster and my brain will figure out what's going on.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah there's a Chrome plugin called Spreeder that does exactly the same thing. Yeah, and that- Ryan you make a really good point that I'm kind of throwing an average out there of 200 to 400 words a minute roughly, but if you're really struggling with this it's always worth diagnosing. Like I said the running out of time is the symptom. Part of the diagnosis, and the way I do it with my own students, is I give them an MCAT verbal passage and I say, “Don't take notes, don't highlight, don't worry about answering any of the questions. I literally just want you to read this. Just read it however- like how you would read Harry Potter.” And I sit there with a stopwatch and I see how long it takes them, and typically even a slow reader would be able to get through it in something like three to four minutes at the slowest, but I have on occasion had a student who would finish it in six minutes with no pressure at all, and that's a student for whom- yes, a kind of reading technique course might be helpful.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, running out of time. I know it's a big deal, I know I struggled with it, I know that so many of you struggle with it, so hopefully this podcast will give you some insight into why you're running out of time, and what to do to help you so you stop running out of time.

If you found this podcast useful, I would love a rating and review. You can do that at www.TheMCATPodcast.com/iTunes where it will open up in iTunes and leave you the opportunity to leave a rating and review.

We have a couple here that I want to take a second to read. We have LanyeBush who says, ‘A must. I am so excited about this podcast. With the amazing Ryan Gray at the helm I'm sure The MCAT Podcast will be just as helpful as The Premed Years. If you're taking the MCAT you should be waiting with bated breath for every episode.' Thank you Lanye for that.

We have Sarxws says, ‘Gonna be amazing. I give it five stars and haven't even listened yet. The Premed Years and the Old Premeds Podcast are fantastic, so I know this one will be too.' Man I hope I'm living up to these expectations. ‘Dr. Gray always delivers high quality podcasts on an amazingly dedicated weekly schedule.'

We have zick8072 that says, ‘Full of great info. I always imagine Dr. Gray's podcasts to be like a personal weekly phone call from a very knowledgeable mentor. All of his podcasts are very high yield and beneficial to the aspiring med student. The hardest part about listening to these is resisting the urge to write things down while driving down the highway.' Yes, please do that and thank you for that.

And one more here from Burhan22 that says, ‘First of all I really appreciate all the hard work Dr. Gray and his fellow partners have put on this podcast. I started listening to this podcast about two months ago and it really helped me out a lot; not only about the MCAT but also what to really expect in med school and et cetera.' Thank you for that, Burhan22.

So again www.TheMCATPodcast.com/iTunes. I host so many podcasts now I'm going to get confused as which one I'm talking about. But this one is The MCAT Podcast so I'm good there. I hope you got a lot of great information out of the podcast today. If you haven't yet checked out our other podcasts, go do that at www.MedEdMedia.com. Again that's www.MedEdMedia.com. And if you're interested in MCAT tutoring or Next Step Test Prep's new MCAT course, go check them out, www.NextStepTestPrep.com and use the coupon code that is super secret to this podcast only, that's MCATPOD. All capital letters. Again, that promo code MCATPOD in all capital letters.

We'll catch you next week here at The MCAT Podcast.

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