MCAT Study Guide: Chapter 3

Ready to dive into your MCAT prep?  Learn the top ten MCAT study habits that will actually boost your score.

MCAT beakers
    • 1. Find Your Baseline

      Your baseline score is the score you would receive if you showed up at the exam site today. Before you start studying for the MCAT in earnest, take a full-length practice test and mimic the actual testing environment to the best of your ability. The results of this first practice test will help guide your prep by showing you which areas you need to focus on the most.

    • 2. Don't Sacrifice Practice for Content Review

      Here's what the MCAT really tests:

      1. your ability to apply basic knowledge to different, possibly new, situations
      2. your ability to reason out and evaluate arguments

      Do you still need to know your science content? Absolutely. But not at the level that most test-takers think. For example, your science knowledge won’t help you on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section.

    • 3. Focus on Accuracy

      Is speed your number one concern? You should still start with untimed practice. Whenever you’re acquiring a new skill, you need to learn to do it well before learning to do it quickly.

      As you begin working practice problems, do the section or the passage untimed and focus on improving your accuracy. Later, start recording how long it takes you to do a passage or section. Even after you have been studying for some time, it is still useful to do some untimed practice problems, focusing on avoiding the types of mistakes you tend to make.

    • 4. Build Stamina

      It is difficult to maintain concentration over several hours under normal circumstances, let alone under stressful conditions. Prepare for test day by working passages over longer and longer periods with shorter and shorter breaks, until you can comfortably concentrate for a few hours at a time.

    • 5. Take as Many Full-length Practice Tests as Possible

      Experience builds confidence. Once you have practiced doing several passages at a stretch, take on doing more and more practice tests.

    • 6. Simulate REAL MCAT Conditions

      Complete full tests in one sitting, taking breaks between sections. Don’t have any food or water during the test except during the breaks. If you get cold or hot, don’t put on or take off clothing unless you’re on a break.

    • 7. Practice Dealing With Distractions

      Do passages or practice tests under less-than-ideal conditions. Go to a reasonably quiet coffee house, or an area of the library where people are moving around (but not talking loudly). Practice tuning out your surroundings while you work.

    • 8. Manage Your Stress

      Managing your psychological and physical condition is just as important as studying and practicing. It doesn’t do you any good to work all day every day if you are so burned out that your brain doesn’t function any more. Build times for relaxation, including working out, into your schedule.

  • 9. Evaluate Your Work...

    Constant self-evaluation is the key to continued improvement. Don’t just answer the questions and tally your score at the end. Use the results to teach yourself how to improve. What kinds of questions do you consistently miss? What kinds of passages slow you down? What kinds of answer traps do you tend to fall for? What caused you to pick the wrong answer to each question that you missed?

  • 10. ...Even the Answers You Got Right!

    Don’t just think about the questions you got wrong—also analyze how you arrived at the right answers. Did you avoid a common trap? Are there question types on which you are particularly strong? Did you successfully apply an  MCAT pacing strategy ?


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