MCAT test study schedule

The two weeks before the MCAT can be most daunting of all. Never has the expression “work smarter, not harder” been more applicable.

This key period is when you need to shift your focus from individual subjects to the whole test, refining your test-taking strategies and reviewing only broad science content—because you’ll have finished all of your specific topic studying by now! You’re in the homestretch, and you can do this. Let’s break down how to make the most of this time.

Two Weeks Before the MCAT

Set up a schedule ahead of time so that once you hit those last two weeks, you know exactly what you want to accomplish and what you will be doing each day. It is easy to get overwhelmed—especially if you have work, school, or family commitments. Having a solid schedule will ensure that you accomplish your goals.

Plan on taking at least one, and no more than three, full-length practice MCAT exams during this time period. You should not take a full-length test in the three days leading up to your real MCAT. (That would be like running a practice marathon three days before running the real race.) Plan your practice test schedule to allow yourself a full day to take the practice test, and then at least a few days afterward to look at your results, do a little content review, and complete practice passages.

By this time, you should already be used to a cycle of testing, reviewing, and drilling; the change you’ll want to make at this point is to omit most content-centered studying—such as reading your textbook, watching videos, or drilling freestanding questions. Your test-and-review schedule during the two weeks prior to the MCAT might look like three repetitions of this:

Day 1: Take a full-length practice test starting at 8 a.m.

Day 2: Review the test in detail, filling out your CARS Test Assessment Logs and Science Question Review Worksheets. Identify science areas for which you could use some review (e.g., definitions, lists, and equations for high-yield topics only)—but focus mainly on the passage types that gave you the most trouble (e.g., long conceptual passages, or passages with complicated tables and graphs). Additionally, go over your Do Now/Do Later strategies: Did you correctly predict which passages would be the most difficult? In other words, did you perform best on the passages you completed on your first pass? If not, revise your Do Now/Do Later strategies for the next practice test.

Day 3: Review the science topics you have targeted, and do practice passages of your most difficult types to fine-tune your strategy. Review your practice passages just as carefully as you reviewed the practice test, continuing to target areas where you can make the biggest improvements.

Day 4: Continue working on practice passages and test sections (you can use the CARS practice tests in the CARS workbook as well as individual sections of any full-length practice test from The Princeton Review). Review these drills just as carefully as you reviewed the full-length test, assessing your improvement in your targeted areas and setting new goals as needed.

CARS-Specific MCAT Tips

As noted above, you should plan to review the CARS section of your full-length tests and fill out your self-evaluation logs as soon as possible, no later than the day after you complete the practice test. When doing practice passages (which at this point should be done at least three at a time) or standalone CARS practice test sections, fill out your logs immediately afterward.

Refining your MCAT CARS strategy requires remembering how you read a passage, what you understood a question to be asking, and exactly why you picked a wrong answer over the right answer. To improve your pacing, you’ll also need to remember where you spent too much or too little time. Once you get more than a day past the test, your memory will fade, and you won’t get as much out of your test review.

When reviewing your CARS passages, ask and answer the following for each question that you missed or struggled with:

  1. What about the wrong answer attracted you to it?
  2. What led you to eliminate or just not pick the right answer?
  3. What is at least one difference between those two answer choices you could have recognized?
  4. What will you do differently in the future?

Make a list of three practical things—based on your most recent self-evaluation—that you will focus on during your next CARS passage or test section. Those might look like the following:

First, don’t try to memorize the passage the first time through.
Second, read each question and answer choice word-for-word—don’t skim!
Third, go back to the passage for information rather than relying on memory.

After each test or set of drills, revisit your list and assess your progress, revising the list as needed for your next drill or practice test.

One Week Before the MCAT

Start tapering now. Remember our marathon analogy—you’ll need to save your energy for test day! It is fine to take one last practice test during this week, but—as we said earlier—not in the three days before the exam.

Keep targeting strategies that you can refine (e.g., POE for different question types, techniques for dealing with data, and so forth). At this point, however, don’t make major strategy changes. Instead, write down your plan for each test section and review it. For example, your Chem/Phys Section plan might include: “Do Later passages—anything on circuits or equilibria; passages with difficult-to-read graphs. Skip/Do Last questions within passages—conceptual answer choices or ugly numbers.”

In addition, you’ll want to take three more proactive steps to ease your path toward the MCAT. Adjust your sleep schedule to match the night before and day of the MCAT. (Keep in mind that you’ll need to arrive at the test center by 7:30 a.m.) Go to the test center before test day. Not only will you know exactly how to get there the morning of your MCAT, but you may also find that being familiar with the site reduces your anxiety. Finally, visualize success. At least once a day, envision yourself walking into the test center, sitting down at the computer, and beginning each test section feeling confident and in control. Anxiety is normal and expected; plan what you will do during the test (for example, taking three deep breaths and reminding yourself of how totally prepared you are) if you feel that your stress is getting out of control.

Day Before the MCAT

Relax! This is not the kind of test you can cram for. Do something enjoyable that will relax your mind and body. Try to get outdoors; you’re going to be cooped up all day taking the MCAT tomorrow. If not studying at all will freak you out, then work for only an hour or so, in the morning if possible. Do basic science content review, and take a CARS and/or science passage you have already done—and walk yourself through it, step by step, as a final solidification of the strategies you want to use on test day.

Have everything you plan to bring to the test center laid out the night before, including your ID, keys, snacks, lunch, something to drink, and a jacket or sweater in case you get cold. The test center will provide you with a storage key, noteboard and marker, and wireless foam earplugs.

Day of the MCAT

Get up early, and have a good breakfast. Don’t study. When you leave for the test, don’t bring books or notes. You aren’t allowed to study during the test, and you wouldn’t want or need to anyway! You’ve done all the hard work already, and your preparation these past two weeks means you will not be surprised or confused. Go get the great score you’ve earned!