5 tips for taking the MCAT in college

Health Professions MCAT premed
By Drew R.

I knew going into college that I wanted to go to medical school and that I did not want to take a gap year. It’s important to keep an open mind and be flexible about these decisions, but if you know exactly what you want, then you should make a plan and go for it. As such, I ended up taking the MCAT two weeks after the end of my junior year.

Here are 5 tips for taking the MCAT during college:

Plan Ahead

Before you take the MCAT, you'll want to have the following classes completed: biology (2 semesters), general chemistry (2 semesters), organic chemistry (2 semesters), biochemistry, physics (2 semesters), statistics, psychology, and sociology. Your classes will cover much more material than is actually tested on the MCAT, but it’s a good base to have. Since I wanted to take the MCAT during my junior spring, I made sure to have all my pre-med classes completed by the end of junior fall. I also knew that I would need plenty of time for studying in the months leading up to my test date, so I planned to take four easy classes that semester. I ended up not having any class on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which meant that I could devote those days entirely to MCAT studying and extracurriculars. If you want to take the MCAT during college, you will need to carefully plan your course schedule far in advance, and you should make sure that you have a light course load in the months leading up to your test.

Take Advantage of Summer Classes

Completing all of those pre-med classes in two and a half years is no easy task, but one way to space out the workload is to take a few classes over the summer. I took Physics 1 the summer after my freshman year and Physics 2 the summer after my sophomore year. I’m not very good at physics, so it was nice to be able to take those classes on their own and not have any other coursework to worry about. If there is a particular subject that you struggle with, it might be a good one to take over the summer when you have less distractions. Another advantage of taking summer classes for me was that I was able to continue working in my research lab at school. For research or other extracurriculars that require you to be in-person, staying at school a few extra weeks over the summer can be a great opportunity to build on progress made during the school year.

Take Advantage of Independent Studies

The big secret to taking four courses and only having class three days a week was the independent study I took during my junior spring. I had been working in the same research lab for two years at that point, so I just asked my PI if I could use the research I was already doing for my independent study. It worked out perfectly because I got an easy A with no additional work, and he got to stop paying me for a semester. I knew some kids in college who would use their research as an independent study every semester just to get the GPA boost. It was tough to give up the money I was making from lab, but it was definitely worth it for the lightened course load my junior spring. I’m not sure how independent studies work at other schools, but at least at Duke, it was a hack for students already involved in research.

Consider Your College’s Specific Academic Calendar

Every college has a slightly different academic calendar based on break lengths and when school starts in the fall. At Duke, we started relatively early and had very few days off during the year. It was pretty tough when my brothers would home on break and I would still be at school, but it also meant that I wrapped up finals about two weeks earlier than kids at most other schools. I scheduled my MCAT for mid-May knowing that I would have two full weeks off before my test that I could spend studying and resting up. I also knew that most other people taking the test that day would either be working for the two weeks before or wrapping up finals if they were still in school. That was a huge edge I had going into my test, and you should look for similar advantages that you can get based on your school’s specific academic calendar.

Leave Plenty of Time for Practice Questions/Tests

This is a pretty obvious tip, but I think it’s one that bears repeating. You can do as much content review as you want, but you will not score as well as you can unless you leave enough time for practice questions and tests. I left a full month before my test for designated practice time, which I felt was enough time to get all the practice that I wanted done. I took all of the AAMC full-length practice tests and saw my score improve every time. It’s just as important to understand what types of questions the makers of the MCAT like to ask as it is to understand the actual material on the test. You’ll also realize which topics are most high yield and can focus your last-minute studying on those subject areas.