Structuring and Strategizing your MCAT Studying: Phase 1

Posted by Cole on 6/20/18 5:49 PM


Phase 1 - Introduction & Scheduling the MCAT; Tips for Timing


Right now, you might feel that even hearing the word “MCAT” may induce a full-blown panic attack. I get it, not too long ago that word (acronym, technically speaking I guess?) was the bane of my existence. It’s an exam that requires painstaking diligence, long hours, sacrifices, relentless studying and enduring patience. In many ways, having completed that journey, I found that it also requires much more. You might be thinking right now, “Okay, enough with this article it’s stressing me out.” If you feel that way, you’re not alone. To give you some numbers (albeit, slightly dated numbers), in 2015 and 2016 over 125,000 people took the MCAT {1} (yikes). What’s even sadder than the culminative stress generated by all those anxious pre-med students is this one tragic fact – the vast majority of them were structuring their study habits entirely wrong, likely causing them to receive a lower score than what they were capable of attaining. My goal, in this series of 6 articles, is to try and help you avoid that same fate.

At this point, you may also be thinking, “Who the heck does this guy think he is claiming to have MCAT tips for me???” Fair question! So, for the sake of transparency, I will tell you now that I scored a 521 and will be attending Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons this August. (The rest of my background can be found at

As I mentioned, while studying for and taking the MCAT, I developed (aka stumbled upon) a number of strategies that helped me structure my habits for success. In addition, I was advised by a current MD Admissions Officer at a prominent medical school in the northeast and was kindly given a number of incredible tips to assist my efforts. In attempts to share the information I learned with you, I have broken up all my ‘knowledge’ about MCAT studying into 6 separate categories or ‘phases’. Thus, the purpose of this 6-part article series is to share my tips with you. Below is the title for each phase I will be including in this series. Using the tips from these phases, you will have learned a great foundation for building your own MCAT study habits and will be on a path to dominating the MCAT. (woo!)

Series Title - Structuring and Strategizing your MCAT Studying

Phase 1- Introduction & Scheduling the MCAT; Tips for Timing

Phase 2 - Reviewing Content While Staying Sane

Phase 3 - Processing Content for Internalization

Phase 4 - Balancing Content Review and Practice Passages

Phase 5 - Transitioning into Pure AAMC Material

Phase 6 - Additional VERY Helpful Tips for the MCAT Process

Without any further ado, let us begin with phase 1! 

Phase 1 - Scheduling the MCAT; Tips for Timing

Phase 1 Overview – We will learn when to schedule our MCAT date, and how much time we will need to leave beforehand as our study time.

I must admit that this first tip was discovered entirely by accident. No one told me when to schedule my MCAT date and exactly how much time would be necessary for successful studying. Different periods during MCAT studying (i.e. three months out vs. one month out) vary with respect to the amount of time you need to devote to studying. Who knew! It seems intuitive now, but it simply wasn’t something I considered when selecting my MCAT date on the AMCAS site. I’ve broken up the entirety of MCAT studying into two periods; Period A and Period B. Combined, these periods span about three months. So, when it comes to scheduling your MCAT date, keep in mind you will need ideally three months of studying runway before your exam. As I mentioned, the studying commitment in these three months is not uniform. I will describe the daily time commitments during each period, but if you feel you can’t accommodate the time commitment, simply expand the number of days in the period!  

Period A – 3 Months Out to 1 Month Out from MCAT Date           

Ideal Daily Time Commitment - ~4 hours

Period A is almost entirely used for content review. During this period, it is common for students to take an MCAT prep class. Regardless whether you choose a course or not, equip yourself with the materials necessary for a wholistic review of all content covered on the MCAT. This period doesn’t require heavy memorization because two months out is still a lot of time. However, beginning to commit some concepts to memory during Period A that you feel will be difficult in the future can help. During Period A, the vast majority of your focus should be on reviewing content. For ways to accomplish this feat with grace, see the Phase 2 article of this series.

Phase B – 1 Month Out to MCAT Date    

Ideal Daily Time Commitment - ~8 Hours 

Period B is when studying becomes personalized. While memorizing content is important during this period, we transition our focus onto practice passages and sections we find challenging. At this point, if we elected to use an MCAT prep course, we want it to have concluded. During Period B, the class is over, and we have designed our own curriculum depending on our individual needs which we will be working off. For ways to design this curriculum and squeeze Period B for all it’s worth, see the Phase 3 article on this series.

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Concluding Notes

It is important that you have roughly 3 months of study time prior to your MCAT date – 2 months for Period A and 1 month for Period B based off the 4- and 8-hour daily commitments, respectively. If you’re schedule is hectic, and those daily commitments don’t seem feasible, don’t stress! Simply expand the period to include more days.

Finally, let me close with this; the MCAT is designed to challenge you. There are a number of obstacles presented before and during the exam that are challenging. I am here to tell you when those obstacles are coming and how to navigate them. If the idea of scheduling your MCAT seems difficult, it’s because it is indeed obstacle number one. Don’t put off planning how you will study for the MCAT and when you will take it. Thinking ahead and scheduling your MCAT date now, while also considering the lengths of Period A and Period B, will allow you to conquer obstacle one – time management.

Next, join us in Phase 2 where we will have some fun with strategizing content review!!! Yay content review!


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Tags: MCAT