When you’re just beginning to prep for the MCAT and creating an MCAT study plan, a lot of feelings show up...
On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting to get the only remaining barrier to med-school out of the way. It’s just one exam – and you’ve written many exams before!
On the other hand, it's also kind of scary! There’s a lot riding on this one exam. It holds A LOT of power in whether or not you get called for an interview.
Plus, it’s extremely comprehensive of the sciences, with subjects like CARS and Psych/Soc thrown in there. Not to mention it’s a whopping 7 ½ hours long…
So we can understand why so many students come to us feeling stressed, worried, frustrated, confused and lacking in confidence, when it comes to preparing for the MCAT.
If you’re feeling any of these things, don’t worry, it’s normal and you’re in the right place...
By the time you’ve reached the end of this article, you'll know how to create the most optimal MCAT study plan, plus you’ll have everything you need to approach this beast of an exam from a place of calm, confidence, and clarity 🙂
Don't worry, we gotchu!
Our goal at MCAT Mastery to make sure you prep for the MCAT in the smartest, smoothest and most strategic way possible, so you can stay on track to achieve your target score goal without any roadblocks or stress.
The basis for all the guidance we provide is from our research of the MCAT prep strategies and approaches used only by top MCAT scorers.
Most top scorers are strategic in their approach to MCAT prep, which is why they get high scores. That strategic mindset also translates to med-school admission strategy, for which the foundation lies in creating the most optimal MCAT study plan...
Which is exactly what this post is designed to help you create. However, before we discuss how top scorers create their optimal MCAT study plan, it’s important for you to be aware of the following three steps that are absolutely necessary to achieve your target MCAT score…
Pre-MCAT Study Planning: Know The 3 Steps to Achieving Your Target MCAT Score
First, realize that the MCAT is not like any other exam. It’s 10x more brutal than most undergrad exams, and the study methods you’re used to for those exams, won’t cut it here. You need a different, better, more efficient approach.
The sooner you realize this, the better. If you’ve already started studying, you know exactly what we’re talking about. If you haven’t started yet, you’ll see what we mean after your first practice exam...
Second, realize the only truly reliable and efficient approach you can ever get is from those who have already mastered the MCAT with scores in the 90+ percentiles. An exam like this can’t be mastered with just being ‘smart’ or ‘luck’…
If someone achieved a high score, they figured out an approach consisting of strategies. That is the approach and those are the strategies you want to copy to near-guarantee your chance of MCAT success and med-school admission. Which is where we come in...
Over the years, we’ve researched and interviewed dozens of top MCAT scorers and formulated a system and a roadmap to strategically mastering the MCAT, all based on the most leveraged, most efficient, study and testing strategies of high MCAT scorers.
When you implement this system, you’ll be going through MCAT prep with clarity, confidence, and a knowing you’re prepping in a way that’s designed to get you a 510+ MCAT score.
Consider this article a small piece, or a sample of the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy roadmap that we have for you.
With that said, let’s begin to go over the most optimal way to create your MCAT study plan, the way top scorers do it.
Pay attention, make notes, and read all the way through. There are going to be a lot of action steps for you to take...
If executed correctly, you’ll be much closer to capturing med-school attention with a competitive MCAT score...
By the way, if you want to save the stress and time of figuring out how to create your own MCAT study plan and schedule, we can work with you one-on-one to create a customized one for you! So you can use your time doing the most important stuff... like studying!
Creating A Top Scorer MCAT Study Plan
PART 1: When To Write The MCAT
When it comes to your MCAT study plan, we need to consider both the US and the Canadian application cycles. They’re different. This year, they changed up the dates so they’re no longer the same for both countries. You can see the dates below.
Canadian schools generally have set deadlines; by which you must get your application in by that particular date. Applications close after that date and that’s when they start reviewing and sending secondaries and inviting interviews. Make sure to know the exact deadlines if you plan to apply to those schools, and get your MCAT exam done much sooner.
US schools have rolling admissions (first come, first serve), which creates room for a little strategy in terms of when you get your application in. Generally, the earlier you apply, the earlier they’ll look at your application, and the earlier they’ll send you secondaries, interview requests, etc. The key thing to note is that the earlier they interview you, the greater the amount of seats available to fill, the more chances of you being accepted.
May – Applications Open
June – Application Submission
Early June – MD Schools
Mid June – DO Schools
Keep in mind, you need to get your scores back before the deadlines. Plus it takes approximately a month to get test scores back. So you can see where this is going…
Ideally, you want to take your MCAT more than a month before the school’s application deadline.
Again, this is general advice for most medical schools. Be sure to check the details for your own schools.
So we know what you’re thinking…
If you want to submit applications in June, do you need to be writing your MCAT in early May? During FINALS? If your GPA is going to suffer, we’d advise against it.
It’s OK if you write in June – lots of people get in, even though they write in the summer. BUT the key idea to keep in mind is that the earlier you write, the better your chances. Make that insight work for you, however it works for you best.
Also whatever you do, don't make this mistake we see way too often...
SIDE NOTE: A Common Low MCAT Scorer Mindset to Avoid When Creating Your MCAT Study Plan
A lot of students actually plan to take the more than once! The logic is that they’ll test early in the year like in January, and if their score isn’t good enough, then at least they can test again in the summer. This is far from how a top scorer thinks!
Top scorers who get into med-school are aiming to write the MCAT once and ONLY once...
If you’re telling yourself ‘I’m going to write again’, or ‘I can write again’, on some level you’re telling yourself there’s a ‘backup’ plan. On some level, you’re telling yourself it’s okay to not get your best score. If you have that mentality, you need to drop it right away.
Those who succeed, in every area of life, do so when they burn the bridge behind them. There’s no ‘plan B’.
Creating A Top Scorer MCAT Study Plan
PART 2: Establishing & Tracking Milestones
First things first, when creating their MCAT study plan, top scorers create a progress chart for themselves by figuring out the answers to these questions...
Lots of students don’t have target scores surprisingly. You need to know what your MCAT score goal is. Your goal should be dependant on which school you’re aiming to get into. You need a general idea.
Make sure the goal is a tangible number. If your goal is to “score as high as I can”. Great, but how will you know when you’re 75% of the way there? You can’t measure that. Your goal needs to be measurable.
After you’ve chosen your date and score goal, to determine where you stand, you’ll complete a diagnostic practice test. A diagnostic practice test is a full-length exam you take to find out where you stand. Most people do this. Top scorers however, do this but under REAL testing conditions. Meaning you do it within 7.5 hours, no calculators, no phones, nothing to do on breaks, etc.
If you’ve already established where you stand currently, make sure it’s not too old and is relatively recent. You need to be sure it represents where you currently are. So if you’re basing your ‘current score position’ on a test you took more than 4 months ago, it’s probably a good idea to test again.
So let’s create a sample scenario…
I have exactly 14 weeks before my MCAT test date (a little more than 3 months).
My goal score is a 510.
I am currently at a 499.
I need an 11 point score increase.
So here’s what I’d be aiming to accomplish in terms of my progress (in an ideal scenario)…
The reason we didn’t keep Week 13 and 14 at a goal of 510 and made it 512, is because a lot of top scorers aim higher and create an ‘ideal’ scenario.
On Week 14, you’re going to have to make a decision. You’re going to have to ask yourself if you’re okay with writing the MCAT and scoring 1 or 2 points lower than what you’re getting on practice tests. That’s an important question to ask because you need to be a little ‘realistic’ in the sense that there might be a chance that the real MCAT is harder than the practices.
Also, usually the jump from the diagnostic and the first few FL’s in general, are pretty high, so you can space those score goals and score increases closer to each other. Why is this the case? Because you’ve learned this stuff before! So once you start studying and doing the questions, you start digging out the stuff that’s been buried in your mind. It’ll all start coming back to you.
After 505ish, the score increases tend to take a little longer. Top MCAT scorers ENSURE they’re hitting their target score goals before their test date. This must not be compromised if you want to maximize your chances of achieving a top score and achieving med-school admission.
We’ve seen a lot of students, who are not scoring where they want on the MCAT, but for some reason still take the test ‘hoping’ they’ll get that few (or more) point score increase on the day itself.
Of course, they don’t hit it and not only are they emotionally distraught, but now they have a low score on their record. You don’t want to be in that scenario.
So back to this example we gave, if by Week 10, you’re at or near a 510, you’re looking good. In fact, by Week 4, you’ll know if you’re on track or if you aren’t. If you’re not near a 505 by Week 4 or 5, something needs to change.
Keep in mind, the earlier you recognize you’re off track, the easier it is to fix what you’re doing wrong. This is why making a progress schedule is so important and why so many top scorers do it. The later it gets, the harder it gets to make adjustments.
Most students “realize” they’re not on track to achieve their goal MCAT score a few weeks before their test date! By that time, it’s gotten really late to make changes. Still possible, but it’s harder. Imagine they had figured out that they’re not on track just two weeks in… How much more likely would they have been to have made the appropriate adjustments to hit the necessary milestones?
So what do you do if on Week 7, you get a 501, when in Week 4 you were on track with a 505? Consider it an outlier! Maybe it was a weird day. Don’t make any conclusions with outliers.
You have to consider your own personal situation in all this. If you’re not a traditional student, who has perhaps been away from school for a long time, or who hasn’t taken BioChem, or Physics, or some other expected classes, it’s probably a good idea to give yourself more time.
Of course, it would be wiser to make conclusions like this after you’ve written the first few exams. Who knows – maybe you’re on track. But if you’re not, don’t worry! You just know that you might need a little more time.
In our experience, the average student needs somewhere between 4-6 months. Again, if you’re not average, that’s fine. Everyone is different. Some need an entire year to get there score goal – and that’s fine. No matter what your situation, we’re here to help you speed this up.
A lot of the MCAT prep strategies we have are from those who achieved high MCAT scores within 3 months. Using those will probably save you A LOT more time than if you tried to figure it out on your own.
Phew - that was a lot! But we're not done. It's time to cover exactly how you're going to go about scheduling your MCAT prep...
The Top Scorer MCAT Study Schedule: Mastering The 3 Stages to a Top MCAT Score
Now that you have an overall idea of how top scorers go about creating their MCAT study plan, the next step is to look at how top scorers create their MCAT study schedules.
With everything we've covered, creating an efficient MCAT study schedule that can result in getting your target score, now becomes a little easier.
Just to clarify…
Your MCAT study plan is all about your test date, getting your current standing and your baseline, deciding on your goal score, and progress planning. It’s more-so the HOW of your approach to MCAT prep.
The MCAT study schedule is all about WHAT you’re going to be studying and WHEN. This is where we get to the 'meat' of things.
The key here is creating an MCAT study schedule that is optimized for YOU, which includes your lifestyle, your goals, and your work ethic. That is what will lead to your maximum MCAT score...
A lot of students want to just copy a top MCAT scorer's studying schedule and are out looking for templates. We have those too, however the smartest thing you can do is create your own first, and THEN compare yours to the study schedule templates of top scorers.
Here’s how top scorers break down the creation of their MCAT study schedule…
There are three stages to a top MCAT score:
1) Knowledge Acquisition
Let's start with the first stage...
Creating An MCAT Study Schedule
Stage One: Knowledge Acquisition
Here is where you’re going to study and go over content. This is where top scorers create a foundation for what’s to come in the next two stages.
Your foundation needs to be solid – so depending on where you are, the amount of time that you devote to this stage can vary from person to person. This is generally what takes up most of the time during MCAT prep.
As an example (these are made-up numbers) of how top scorers strategically calculate how much time is needed to devote to this stage…
Note that this example is assuming you’re going through books, but if you’re going through a video set, use the same strategy.
When you have tangible weekly targets of content that you know you need to cover, now you’re prepping like a top scorer. NOW you know if you’re hitting your targets or not. You can use this to make decisions about how ready you are to take the MCAT, whether you have a chosen date or not.
(These are the two main ways top scorers know if they’re on track – this way which is based on how much content you’re covering every week, and the way we discussed before which was based on if your scores were increasing at the right pace)
When you have tracking and measuring systems in place like this, you are able to stay clear and calm. Top scorers know that tracking progress leads to completely eliminating panic attacks and episodes of nervousness and worry. A system like this gives you clarity.
Again, these are hypothetical numbers. Make your targets realistic for you. If you aim to complete several chapters a week for a subject, that’s probably way too much, even though you’d love to be able to do that. If you don’t keep them realistic, you’ll end each week feeling ‘failure’, even IF you had a great week and learned a lot.
Note that you will be doing full-length practices during this stage as well, but knowing when to do them is the key. A lot of students do way too many practice exams during this stage (and essentially WASTE those exams), and others do way too little.
Ideally, during this stage, you want to do somewhere around 3-4 full-length exams, evenly spaced. It’s your job to space them out evenly. This is NOT counting the diagnostic exam. That’s separate.
As for how much you devote to this stage, it varies like we said, but there are two possibilities… Either you’re going to know when your test date is, and you’ll be able to make a judgement as to how long you’ll give yourself. Or you won’t have a set test date and you’ll start studying and make judgements along the way. Both ways are fine.
So let’s say you did your diagnostic, and now you want to give yourself 8 weeks for Stage One. You chose 8 weeks because you know that’s how much time you need to give this stage, to be ready for your chosen test date. That means at the end of every other week of this stage, you’ll want to do a FL (so you end up doing 4 total).
Or let’s say you don’t know how long Stage One will last when you begin and you don’t have a set test date. That’s fine too. You can gage your progress as you go along (i.e. could be based on page numbers). As you get through the material, you’ll know if you’re 20% of the way through or 30%. When you hit 25-30%, it’s a good idea to do a FL at that time.
Doing FLs at this stage are vital because remember, you want to measure your progress. Also, we’ve mentioned this before but remember to do them under realistic test-day conditions.
Keep in mind at this stage, top scorers are not satisfied until they have mastered MINIMUM 90% of the material. That should be your goal too.
For the confident student, if you think you don’t need Stage One, if you think you already have a great foundation on content and want to skip over to Stage Two, that’s fine BUT confirm your confidence. Spend a week or two in Stage One regardless. Do some review. If you’re skimming and reviewing what you already say you know, you can probably zoom through the content at a rate of 25-50% a week, for example. This might make sense for someone who just took the MCAT and is retaking it soon after.
Creating An MCAT Study Schedule
Stage Two: Comprehension
Once top scorers feel like they have completed Stage One and established a strong foundation for the content, this is where their real MCAT-specific prep begins. If Stage One was about Knowledge Acquisition, Stage Two is about Comprehension. You can know a lot of information, but if you can’t apply it, you don’t REALLY know it. You haven’t completely ‘comprehended’ it.
Which is why in Stage Two, top scorers are really beginning to put their knowledge to the test. This Stage is all about practice passages and more FLs.
As you practice, you discover how much you really know. With that knowledge, you start to understand what are the topics you need to review. In this stage, ever other week, you’ll do a FL. If you have a test date set, do it on the day of the week of your test date. For example, if your test date is on a Saturday, only do FL’s on Saturdays. Always do it under realistic conditions.
Generally, top scorers spend AT LEAST two months in this stage. That’s 8 weeks and 4 FL exams. When top scorers aren’t doing FL’s at this stage, they’re doing practice passages. When they’re not doing practice passages or FL’s, they’re reviewing all their weaknesses from the FL’s and practice passages, and relearning that content.
Stage three is only one month, always. The last 30 days before the MCAT.
At the end of Stage Two, with whatever score the last FL showed them, is where top scorers ask themselves if they’re on track. This is where decisions need to be made. If your goal is a 515 and with one month before the exam, you’re scoring a 508, what can you expect in the coming weeks?
Creating An MCAT Study Schedule
Stage Three: Mastery
The last 30 days of MCAT prep. This is the stage where top scorers become top scorers. This is the stage where you’ll be doing non-stop full length exams. Content review should mainly be completed by this point.
By this stage, like all top scorers, you need to be ‘brushing up’ on your ability to:
These are just SOME of the skills that you need to have developed by the time you’re just a few weeks away for the MCAT…
For example, another huge skill is being able to take AND review practice tests efficiently and strategically. There are proven methods top scorers have used to make maximum use of practice exams.
You’ve heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” At MCAT Mastery, we know that a more accurate statement is “perfect practice makes perfect.”
Knowing the perfect methods to take and review all your MCAT practice exams, is what will lead you to seeing a score improve with every key date on your MCAT study plan.
If you believe and know for a 100% fact that you have what it takes to develop these key skills by the time you have a month or less left before your MCAT, then you have everything you need…
We’ve covered a lot here about how top scorers start planning and scheduling their MCAT prep. You can copy their strategies and you’re good to go! If you’re correct about knowing exactly what you need to do to reach the Mastery Stage, we have no doubt you’ll achieve an awesome 510+ MCAT score that will make you competitive for your med-school future 🙂
However, if you don’t want to take any chances, if you want to be sure you’re studying for the MCAT in the exact same way that many 90+ percentile MCAT scorers did, so by the time you get to the Mastery Stage you’re naturally thinking like a top scorer, then you can do that too…
By following the guidance in the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy roadmap.
If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking. - Buckminster Fuller
We’ve created this roadmap in the form of a PDF guide, that you can download instantly and fully absorb in less than a day.
If you’re feeling worried, confused, stressed, or anxious about the MCAT, by the time you’re done going through this, you’ll feel a huge surge of confidence in your MCAT prep. How?
This confidence comes from the clarity you feel when you know there can’t be a better way of preparing for the MCAT, because you’ll be doing exactly what many top scorers before you have done.
It feels good to have a reliable GPS, to guide you when you’re travelling on a long, confusing journey. Especially when you need to get somewhere on time. Unlike those without a map or guide who are in panic mode, you know you’re not going to get lost because you’re following a proven path!
One test shouldn’t be able to determine if everything you’ve worked so hard for, is going to pay off. But if that’s the reality you have to face, then the only thing you can do is make certain that you’re going to give this your ALL, with no regrets later…
Your med-school and doctor dreams are counting on you.
With this guide as your resource, we have no doubt you can make it happen.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors