Nov 11, 2019
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Hi all!

I have a question about when it would be best for me to take the MCAT. I just finished my junior year and all pre med reqs and I’ll be applying to medical schools next summer. My MCAT goal is 517-520!

originally I was gonna take the test this September after studying this whole summer, but I just realized it might be better for me to take it in January, 2021. While I have a lot of time this summer to spend on MCAT self-studying (I’m basically free besides a part time job), I worry that I am not going to be able to get to the 520 checkpoint in just 3 months. I just took a next step diagnostic and got a 495 so I’m pretty nervous. This is why I feel like if I slowly prepped and did enough content review too for 2 months and then practiced using questions for 2-3 months, I’d do a lot better (So it might be smarter for me to take it in January?). But, is the extra time worth having to study for a month or two while I’m in school? or how would it affect my scores if I took a pause between content review (over the summer) and then doing practice tests November, December and January?

Basically, is it better for me to study June, July, August and half of September? Or should I study for the next 6 months and take the test in January? Is it possible to forget what you study earlier on? I’m just scared that I won’t be able to focus for more than 10 hours a day on studying because I’m really bad with time management and that by the time September rolls around, I won’t be prepared. Should I prepare as if I am going to take the test in September and if I’m not close to a 520, I keep practicing (a little) during the fall semester and just take it January? Would I lose some of my skills/burn out?
I think September just sounds so close and considering I took physics and gen chem and gen bio freshmen year, I need a decent amount of content review before I can start doing question banks. Plus, I wear glasses so I don’t know if i want to wear a mask for 6 hours :(
What seems like the better decision to people who have taken the test?
 

GreenDuck12

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Hi all!

I have a question about when it would be best for me to take the MCAT. I just finished my junior year and all pre med reqs and I’ll be applying to medical schools next summer. My MCAT goal is 517-520!

originally I was gonna take the test this September after studying this whole summer, but I just realized it might be better for me to take it in January, 2021. While I have a lot of time this summer to spend on MCAT self-studying (I’m basically free besides a part time job), I worry that I am not going to be able to get to the 520 checkpoint in just 3 months. I just took a next step diagnostic and got a 495 so I’m pretty nervous. This is why I feel like if I slowly prepped and did enough content review too for 2 months and then practiced using questions for 2-3 months, I’d do a lot better (So it might be smarter for me to take it in January?). But, is the extra time worth having to study for a month or two while I’m in school? or how would it affect my scores if I took a pause between content review (over the summer) and then doing practice tests November, December and January?

Basically, is it better for me to study June, July, August and half of September? Or should I study for the next 6 months and take the test in January? Is it possible to forget what you study earlier on? I’m just scared that I won’t be able to focus for more than 10 hours a day on studying because I’m really bad with time management and that by the time September rolls around, I won’t be prepared. Should I prepare as if I am going to take the test in September and if I’m not close to a 520, I keep practicing (a little) during the fall semester and just take it January? Would I lose some of my skills/burn out?
I think September just sounds so close and considering I took physics and gen chem and gen bio freshmen year, I need a decent amount of content review before I can start doing question banks. Plus, I wear glasses so I don’t know if i want to wear a mask for 6 hours :(
What seems like the better decision to people who have taken the test?

1. Studying for more than 10 hours is ill advised. Like all things, you get a diminishing return as time goes on. You will be most productive early on in your study day with the later hours being less productive. The MCAT is a 7 hour test, I recommend no more than 8 hours of studying unless additional time is spent on flash cards. You simply won’t be able to take in new information as well after many hours of studying. The MCAT is a test you really can’t cram for so you need to adjust your strategy.

2. The amount of time you need to study depends on you and your content knowledge. A 495 diagnostic isn’t bad by any means. That being said, you’re aiming for the top 2% of all test takers, that is going to take a lot of work. Plenty of folks never read this level. To do that you need to have a fair amount of content knowledge and develop excellent MCAT reasoning skills, and master time management. You also need to do well on all 4 sections of the MCAT.

3. In terms of 3 months vs 6 months, it really depends on you. I have known folks who have studied for 3+ months and scored poorly and others who studied for 5 weeks and scored extremely well and vice versa. If you can be fully devoted to the MCAT for 3 months, that isn’t a bad position to be in. If your fall semester looks to be particularly heavy or you will be unable to prioritize studying for the MCAT, take it in the summer. If your fall semester is light and you can devote hours to prep, then January is a fine option. The challenge is doing well on the MCAT has less to do with complete content mastery and more to do with learning to reason within a multiple choice test and to do so with very limited time. That MCAT, under untimed conditions, is a fairly *easy* test. The challenge is doing well when you have an average of 1.5 minutes per question with many passages to read.
 
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1. Studying for more than 10 hours is ill advised. Like all things, you get a diminishing return as time goes on. You will be most productive early on in your study day with the later hours being less productive. The MCAT is a 7 hour test, I recommend no more than 8 hours of studying unless additional time is spent on flash cards. You simply won’t be able to take in new information as well after many hours of studying. The MCAT is a test you really can’t cram for so you need to adjust your strategy.

2. The amount of time you need to study depends on you and your content knowledge. A 495 diagnostic isn’t bad by any means. That being said, you’re aiming for the top 2% of all test takers, that is going to take a lot of work. Plenty of folks never read this level. To do that you need to have a fair amount of content knowledge and develop excellent MCAT reasoning skills, and master time management. You also need to do well on all 4 sections of the MCAT.

3. In terms of 3 months vs 6 months, it really depends on you. I have known folks who have studied for 3+ months and scored poorly and others who studied for 5 weeks and scored extremely well and vice versa. If you can be fully devoted to the MCAT for 3 months, that isn’t a bad position to be in. If your fall semester looks to be particularly heavy or you will be unable to prioritize studying for the MCAT, take it in the summer. If your fall semester is light and you can devote hours to prep, then January is a fine option. The challenge is doing well on the MCAT has less to do with complete content mastery and more to do with learning to reason within a multiple choice test and to do so with very limited time. That MCAT, under untimed conditions, is a fairly *easy* test. The challenge is doing well when you have an average of 1.5 minutes per question with many passages to read.

Agree with everything here. 10 hours a day is instant burnout formula. 7 or 8 hours a day 6 days a week is about as much as one wants to do before they begin to stretch themselves thin.

495 puts you in a decent starting point. There are some people whose final scores struggle to scrape that high. What was that 495? If it is either balanced or only cars needs work then it sounds like you have a good foundation.

3 months can totally be enough. One just needs to know what their baseline fund of knowledge is. If you have just taken all these classes recently, it's not like you need this huge reconstruction of all the material. It could be that you need practice with the way they asked their questions and write their passages. Just a few thoughts.

David D MD - USMLE and MCAT Tutor
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Agree with everything here. 10 hours a day is instant burnout formula. 7 or 8 hours a day 6 days a week is about as much as one wants to do before they begin to stretch themselves thin.

495 puts you in a decent starting point. There are some people whose final scores struggle to scrape that high. What was that 495? If it is either balanced or only cars needs work then it sounds like you have a good foundation.

3 months can totally be enough. One just needs to know what their baseline fund of knowledge is. If you have just taken all these classes recently, it's not like you need this huge reconstruction of all the material. It could be that you need practice with the way they asked their questions and write their passages. Just a few thoughts.

David D MD - USMLE and MCAT Tutor
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Thanks! 495 breaks down to 119 in C/P (took chemistry and physics both 3 years ago), 125 in CARS, 123 in BB, 125 in psych/soc!
 
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Nov 11, 2019
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1. Studying for more than 10 hours is ill advised. Like all things, you get a diminishing return as time goes on. You will be most productive early on in your study day with the later hours being less productive. The MCAT is a 7 hour test, I recommend no more than 8 hours of studying unless additional time is spent on flash cards. You simply won’t be able to take in new information as well after many hours of studying. The MCAT is a test you really can’t cram for so you need to adjust your strategy.

2. The amount of time you need to study depends on you and your content knowledge. A 495 diagnostic isn’t bad by any means. That being said, you’re aiming for the top 2% of all test takers, that is going to take a lot of work. Plenty of folks never read this level. To do that you need to have a fair amount of content knowledge and develop excellent MCAT reasoning skills, and master time management. You also need to do well on all 4 sections of the MCAT.

3. In terms of 3 months vs 6 months, it really depends on you. I have known folks who have studied for 3+ months and scored poorly and others who studied for 5 weeks and scored extremely well and vice versa. If you can be fully devoted to the MCAT for 3 months, that isn’t a bad position to be in. If your fall semester looks to be particularly heavy or you will be unable to prioritize studying for the MCAT, take it in the summer. If your fall semester is light and you can devote hours to prep, then January is a fine option. The challenge is doing well on the MCAT has less to do with complete content mastery and more to do with learning to reason within a multiple choice test and to do so with very limited time. That MCAT, under untimed conditions, is a fairly *easy* test. The challenge is doing well when you have an average of 1.5 minutes per question with many passages to read.

I really don't think I will be able to devote time every week for 6 months, but I could probably do like 3 months over the summer full time and then keep up with like extra practice during the next 3 months. Is this advisable or do people usually lose their skills? I was thinking if by mid August, I am not near a 520, then I won't take in September and take it in January instead. Would this be a bad idea?
 

GreenDuck12

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I think you’ll be in a better position to do well while studying full-time. The challenge with studying hard for 3 months and then doing intermittent practice for three months is that you may forget a lot of the details that you need to remember to earn a top score. There is simply a lot of material on the mcat and while I believe the test is more of a reasoning test, there are still discreet questions that you have to know.

If you aren’t close to your target score with two weeks to go then yes I would push the test back. Make sure you are using AAMC exams to gauge your preparation in the final month before test day. Before then use third party exams to practice timing and identify content gaps.
 
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PlsLetMeIn21

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Starting at 119 in C/P is a big red flag. A 520 requires averaging 130 in each section, meaning you need to go from bottom 5% to upper 10%. That's a crazy big climb. I think you should start with a more realistic target score. Decide how many hours you can effectively study every day.

I highly recommend no more than 7.5 hours per day with half-hour breaks spaced between 1.5 hour study blocks. If you want to study for 90 days at 7.5 hours per day, that 675 hours, which should be plenty. Just be sure to study the right stuff, and it looks like chem and physics is where you need to start. I posted a study plan a while back that might be what you need. Good luck.
 
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