In this episode, I talk with Alec Lee, a former premed and co-founder of M Prep. We discuss the most common MCAT questions they receive, including how many months and hours to study for the MCAT.
Alec has taught 1,500 hours of coursework with students, having been the head instructor of M Prep’s comprehensive course as well as the one who developed most of the course strategy content for their MCAT course.
M Prep is popular for their MCAT Question of the Day service, which sends an MCAT question right to your email inbox. Today, Alex answers the three most common questions that he receives about the MCAT.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
How long should I spend studying for the MCAT?
This is probably the most common MCAT prep question of all: How long should I study for the MCAT? But of course, the answer is going to be different for everyone. Let’s look at a baseline recommendation for how long to study for the MCAT and then some factors that change the answer from there.
The rule of thumb is to study for the MCAT for at least 8 weeks:
- Take the MCAT prereqs first.
- Students need fewer prereqs than they’re led to believe.
- No need for calculus, statistics, or the second semester of organic chemistry.
- The exam is about critical thinking and application.
- The MCAT is written to be the great equalizer of GPA, academic, and non-academic factors.
- The difficulty is in critical thinking rather than content knowledge.
- Check out The MCAT CARS Podcast for practice working through MCAT passages.
How long to study for the MCAT depends on how you did in the prereqs:
- You don’t have to excel in the course to be ready for the MCAT, but have a solid understanding of the concepts discussed.
- Having a strong background in biology will especially help you on the MCAT.
- Take advanced courses in biology such as genetics, cell biology, and microbiology.
[Related episode: Are There Hidden MCAT Prereqs I Should Take?]
How many months and hours to study for the MCAT?
- If you’re doing your MCAT prep for about 8 weeks (about 2 months), you should devote a good 15-30 hours per week to studying.
- If you work full-time or you’re really busy and you only get to study 10-15 hours a week, then it will likely take a longer period of time.
- Start with an MCAT diagnostic exam, and get a sense for yourself where you’re sitting at this time.
- If you’re already close to the score you want, then obviously you don’t need to study as long for the MCAT.
Reasons students underprepare for the MCAT:
- Starting their MCAT prep too late
- Starting their MCAT prep on time or early but procrastinating
- Not understanding what the MCAT is like (#RespectTheMCAT)
Studying for too long vs. studying the wrong way:
- Is it possible to study too long for the MCAT?
- There is no issue if you’re studying for too long, but did you study the wrong way?
- “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
- If you’re preparing correctly, you can’t spend too much time doing it.
- It’s all about how you think about information, and that skill won’t decline with time—it will only grow.
- You might forget content, but you can’t forget the way you think.
- A great pitfall of MCAT prep courses is giving the impression that because everything made sense when you reviewed it the first time, you know it and there’s no need to review it again.
- By 3 weeks out, you have to go back and review the information to make sure it’s fresh in your mind.
How the MCAT changed in 2015:
If you’re listening along to this podcast, you’ll notice a section where we talk all about the changes to the MCAT in 2015. Updating this article in 2019, a lot of this content is no longer news.
- The old MCAT only took 5 hours, but since 2015, the MCAT takes 7 hours. This requires a lot more of mental stamina.
- The new MCAT has more content. There is less of a focus on physics and chemistry, but more content was added than removed overall.
- Check out a full episode about how the MCAT changed in 2015.
When should I take the MCAT?
- Take it when you’re ready.
- How do you know when you’re ready?
- Take the MCAT later in your undergrad career when you’ve got a strong background in the prereq content.
- The exam can be taken as early as at the end of your sophomore year.
- Most students will be ready to take the MCAT after taking your prerequisites and putting in a solid 2-3 months of studying at a minimum.
- The “traditional” timing is to take the MCAT near the end of your junior year, then apply to medical school at the end of junior year/beginning of senior year.
Consequences of taking a late MCAT:
- Taking the MCAT too late will delay your application.
- Make sure to have your MCAT score, if possible, by the time you submit your application or very soon after that.
- It takes about a month to get your MCAT score back, so the latest you can take it is March or April if you want to submit at the beginning of the cycle in June.
- Get far from the habit of delaying the MCAT because it’s just one portion of the application. The more time you spend studying for the MCAT, the less time you’ll have for shadowing, volunteering, and the rest of your application during that month.
- If you’ve submitted your application and marked on there that you’re scheduled to take the MCAT later, the medical school will sit on your application until all information is in.
Late summer/fall test dates are geared towards people who are planning to applying next year and just want to have an extra year to not have to worry about the MCAT and do the other things involved in preparing for the application.Rolling admissions at medical schools is a game of musical chairs. The longer the game goes, the fewer chairs there are, and the music keeps playing.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: What Does the Med School Application Timeline Look Like?]
Some pieces of advice for premed students:
- Have conversations with test prep companies to see what options they have to help you along.
- An MCAT prep course isn’t for everyone, but at least give it some serious consideration. See if it’s going to be right for you or not.
- Related episode: Do I Need an MCAT Prep Course? Or Can I Self-Study?
What M Prep offers:
- Practice content
- Database of practice passages
- MCAT Question of the Day (2,000+ free practice questions)
- Online course
- Practice exams
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related episode: Common MCAT Prep Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.
- Related episode: Which MCAT Prep Materials Are Best for Me?
- For more MCAT tips, listen to The MCAT Podcast.