I took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) on June 19, 2020 — yes, I still remember the exact date. I was actually supposed to take it on May 16, 2020, but that date was cancelled due to … you guessed it! COVID-19. During the spring semester, I took a lighter load of coursework to free up time to study for the MCAT. I took three classes and directed research for a total of 15 units. Directed research is course credit for doing research in a laboratory at USC.
Studying for the MCAT was time-consuming and stressful, and it’s arguably the hardest hurdle to overcome to get to medical school. I started studying on January 1, 2020, so the MCAT was on my mind for nearly six months. The test is around seven hours, and there are four sections: chemistry/physics, biology, critical analysis and reasoning, and psychology/sociology. Before I give some tips on how to study for the test, I’ll share the courses that I took at USC to prepare for the MCAT. Here they are: General Chemistry (CHEM 105b), Organic Chemistry (CHEM 322a & 322b), General Physics (PHYS 151 & 152), General Biology (BISC 220), and Sociology (SOCI 169). I had not taken a psychology class prior to studying and the sociology class that I took was not specific for the MCAT, but I thought it was easy to learn psychology and sociology from an MCAT prep course.
Here’s some general tips for studying for the MCAT:
- Purchase a self-guided MCAT prep course (i.e. Princeton Review or Kaplan). I used Princeton Review, but I’ve heard that most prep courses are comparable. I recommend a self-guided course rather than a course that requires you to attend in-person classes. Everybody has their own strengths, and you want to spend more time on the material that you’re weaker in. For example, as an engineering major, I was really strong in chemistry/physics but not as strong in biology as biology majors.
- Take practice exams evenly spaced throughout the time that you study. This is likely different from what you’re used to. You cannot wait until you cover all of the material to take practice exams because there is just too much material. You have to start getting accustomed to the test format and timing early on. Taking practice tests will also reveal your strengths and weaknesses and help you to target your studying.
- Your progress will not be linear. Do not expect to increment your score by a certain number every time that you take a test. I found that my scores were stagnant in the first month, increased rapidly in the next three months, and then plateaued until the day of the test. Right before I took the actual exam, I identified a narrow range of scores that I achieved in the month and a half leading up to it. I ended up scoring in that range on the exam.
- Don’t spend ALL your time studying. You need to pace yourself; it’s a long five to six months. In the beginning, I got so stressed because I wasn’t studying every day. In fact, I was only studying five to six hours per week during school. I studied a lot more as the exam got closer, and in hindsight, I was glad that I didn’t study as much in the beginning because I might have burned out. The final two months are the most critical for studying anyway.
To anyone taking the MCAT soon, take a deep breath. Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do in order to get to the things that you like. Please remember to have a social life, even if it’s limited due to your studying. My friends and roommate’s dog, Cocoa, got me through my MCAT studying. Find your people/animals.