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How to Self Study For the MCAT

Last updated November 2013. Check out my MCAT page for more articles.


Can you study for the MCAT by yourself?

Do you think MCAT preps course offered by Kaplan, Princeton Review (TPR), Prep101 are expensive and time consuming? If you’ve ever had doubts about them, prep courses may not be the best option for you. Surely, there MUST be a better way to study for the MCAT. In the next few minutes, I hope I can convince you that self studying for the MCAT is a viable way and successfully way to prepare for this test.

My MCAT story

When I first started preparing for the MCAT, I had no clue what I was doing.

I didn’t take a prep course. I missing important courses such as including organic chemistry and biochemistry. I had not yet taken many classes that would have been helpful such as genetics, cell biology, anatomy, and physiology. In fact, I wrote the MCAT after only one year of university classes.

However, in the two and a half months I used to prepare for this test, I was able to work full time in a research lab (40 hours/ week). I studied mainly on evenings and weekends.

I spent a minimal amount of money. The only real cost was the mandatory registration fee.

Despite these unusual circumstances, I was able to successfully prepare for the MCAT on my own. I scored a balanced 36Q (97th percentile) on my first writing and was admitted into medical school the year after.

The point of this article is not to boast about my accomplishments or make others feel bad. Instead, I want to show you how you can replicate my success and do well on the MCAT

Reasons not to take a prep course

I want you to realize that prep courses are not intrinsically bad – many students have found them helpful. When I took the MCAT there were no courses available in my city so I had to study on my own.

However, the benefits of studying on your own include a flexible schedule. You don’t have to show up to lectures that might not help you. You control the pace of your learning – skipping familiar content and slowing down on difficult concepts. You can study wherever, whenever and however you like. Best of all, you’ll save a lot of money – the average price of a prep course is $1500. With this  in mind, I will outline the steps you need to study for the MCAT on your own.

For more reasons, check out Why studying for the MCAT on your own is better than taking a course.

The approach to self studying for the MCAT

  1. Learn about the MCAT and Register
  2. Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
  3. Get the Right Materials to Study From
  4. Get Practice Tests
  5. Set and Stick to a Schedule
  6. Track your Progress
  7. Simulate Test Day
  8. Time Management
  9. Find Discipline and Motivation
  10. Write the MCAT

 


1. Learn about the MCAT and Register

What is the MCAT? – Before you start studying for the MCAT, you have to know what the MCAT is. You should read about how the test is administered and what subjects will be tested. You should get an idea of what’s a good a MCAT score. Learn all you can about the test before you prepare for it.

Read the official AAMC website and ask people who have already taken what their experience was like, how they prepared for it and any pitfalls to avoid. A simple search will provide with you with more than enough resources for the basics of the MCAT including this one by the AAMC essential information for the MCAT (free pdf).

Commit to Writing the MCAT – After you get a sense of what the MCAT is like, finish reading the rest of this post and register for the test.  Pick a good test date that gives you plenty of time to prepare. Choose a test-center that is nearby. Register early as spots fill up quickly due to the limited spaces at each test center. Once you have registered and have committed to writing the test, your MCAT self-study regiment begins.


2. Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Know Your Study Habits – Every person has a different learning style. Each person starts at a different point in their knowledge and preparation. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses – find out what you know and what you don’t know. Are you a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner? If you have never taken a science course before, it might not be in your best interest to study for the MCAT by yourself, let alone attempt to write it just yet. If you are strong in sciences and weak in critical reading, do you have enough time to improve your verbal reasoning? Do you have the discipline to create your own schedule and stick to it or do you need a teacher to motivate you and keep you on track.

Do a Diagnostic Test- The best way to assess your strengths and weaknesses and how much studying is needed to be done is to take a free MCAT Practice Test. The test takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete but the diagnostic results will provide you with invaluable information for creating your study plan. Other free diagnostic tests are available at Princeton Review. After you have done a diagnostic test, you should start to get the right materials to study from and formulate a schedule.


3. Getting Resources to Study From

What do you study from? The next step is to get the right materials to study from. The MCAT’s content requires you to know four science subjects of Gen Chem, Organic Chem, Biology and Physics. As well, you need to be able to critically read verbal passages and write MCAT styled essays. Using your undergrad textbooks and course notes is NOT a good idea. They will most likely have unnecessary details or complex concepts that won’t be tested.

Test Prep Companies aren’t all bad – The best materials to get are books specifically designed for preparing to write the MCAT. Every year, test prep companies spend thousands of dollars analyzing the content and format of the MCAT. They have proven information of what is needed to getting a good score. They know exactly which subjects will be covered and what  information can be omitted. They have developed test-taking tips and neat tricks for memorizing facts. The best materials to study for the MCAT are the materials that were designed for the MCAT in mind. No science textbook or professor’s notes will be able to outdo MCAT prep materials.

Obtaining the materials – The easiest and cheapest way to get prep books is from someone who has taken a prep course before. You can also find the books at any bookstore and online from Amazon.com. Before the CBT (Computer-based Test) MCAT, all prep companies would give all their students books to study from, one for each subject (PS, BS, VR) along with books filled with practice passages and questions. But since the switch to CBT, most prep companies now provide the bulk of their content online with only a few books used in the classroom. Regardless of whatever version or year you find, prep books that were made within the last 3 years will still be relevant and helpful.

What I used – I personally used The Princeton Review for the biological sciences because I borrowed it from someone who had taken the course before. Any of the test prep companies will suffice for the BS portion because it mainly consists of rote memorization. I found books with diagrams easier to learn from. Be sure to check out several different books. For biology the concepts covered will not go into much depth for each topic making this section a test of breadth more than of depth.

On top of the test prep books, I also used an Introductory Organic Chemistry textbook to learn the basics from. I used this resource as a reference because I had yet to take Orgo and my understanding was limited. I found it hard to get a good grasp of O-chem concepts through the prep books alone, since they were mainly review notes,  so I turned to a traditional textbook for extra help.

When to Use Textbooks – I believe this exception applies mainly to Physics and Organic Chemistry, the two more conceptual subjects. Since many of the concepts and mechanisms are more difficult and complex, if you have not yet learned them, a prep book may not be sufficient. However, if you have previously taken these courses , a good prep book should be good enough. Similarly for Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Anatomy, Physiology and other memory-intensive subjects, you don’t need to use a textbook. I did not take a any of these courses before writing the MCAT but found the prep books more than sufficient for the biology section.

Similarly, for VR section I borrowed a Kaplan book from the library and found their strategy much better than TPR, though it pretty much comes down to a personal preference. Their explanation of the writing section was clear and the examples they provided were helpful.

ExamKrackers (A Better Choice) – The last prep company you should definitely consider is ExamKrackers. Although I have not used their products personally, many other MCAT takers have said many good things about it. They come out with a whole series called 1001 Questions for each subject and I have many friends who found their physics material excellent.

I also borrowed and tried from the library Barron‘s and the Gold Standard MCAT prep books but both were not helpful. Stick with TPR, Kaplan and ExamKrackers (EK).

Audio Tapes – Some people also use an audio series called Audio Osmosis which comes in a set of CDS. They are quite convenient if you are an audio learner, as you can then listen to them while commuting, exercising or even showering.

Websites – Another neat site I stumbled upon was WikiPremed which is a an open access website that has most MCAT topics free! It includes all the major topics covered on the MCAT and I often used it as a quick review session after I had finished a section. I’m sure if you look around, there will be tons of sites out there offering free information, feel free to share your favorite. But be careful to avoid bad websites with wrong information, always get your facts from a reliable source.


4. Get Practice Tests

A different sort of test – The MCAT is unlike any other test you’ve taken. It’s not a math exam and it’s not like first year biology finals. It is a MCQ styled test with no “show your steps” questions and contains few straight recall type questions. If you do not do a MCAT-styled practice test before writing, you will do poorly on the real thing.

Format, Stamina, Pacing – That’s because the MCAT has a unique format you have to become familiar with. You have to be comfortable with the critical reading and application of concepts to passages format. Furthermore, you have to train both your physical stamina for the exhausting 4-5 hour test and your pace in order to finish all the questions on time. It is of utmost important that you get your hands on practice tests, without them, it is unlikely you will get a good score.

Where to get Practice Tests – The easiest way to find practice tests is to from people who have prepared for the MCAT before; most people who did well on the MCAT will have practice tests. The official AAMC published practice tests #3-#10 and they are the most realistic practice tests available because they include actual administered questions. However, you will have noticed that it’s quite pricey to purchase each one separately. Most prep courses include access to all AAMC practice tests in their packages. Ask your friends if they have copies of these tests, hard copies were often given out in the courses. Some people may also have these tests on their computers and may be willing to share, so be sure to ask around. If you do decide to buy from AAMC, all of the $35 tests added together it is still cheaper than a course.

Simulate Practice Tests – There are also other practice tests out there, including custom tests created by TPR and Kaplan. These practice tests were designed by the prep companies separately from AAMC, so their questions may not necessarily reflect the true difficulty of a real MCAT. Some people have found them easier than the real thing, some have found them harder. However, with all the research spent by both companies, these tests will provide realistic enough questions so you will not be disadvantaged if you do use them. The upside to these practice tests are that they are fairly easy to find and there are many of them, so you can practice as much you want.


5. Set and Stick to a Schedule

Have an Aim – Setting a following a schedule is where most students who decide to self study fail. They have no clue where to begin. After hoarding study materials and practice tests, they have no plan of action for success. They waste their time reading over material that isn’t helpful to them. They do the passages and questions without retaining anything. And this is the main reason why still the majority of students choose to follow a prep company. These companies are paid to do the strategy planning and all that’s left is to simply follow instructions.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Setting up an efficient and effective schedule to suit your needs is very simple. In fact, everyone can create a study plan that is as good if not better than the ones that are being marketed. All they need is a 2-3 hours of dedicated time and genuine commitment to create a structured MCAT timetable that works for them.

Measure your time – The first step is to see how much time is available. When is your test date, how many weeks of study does that leave you with, What other commitments do you have? [My personal opinion is that most people will need at least a minimum of 4 weeks but not more than 6 months] Do you have a full-time or part-time job? Do you have any other classes? Extracurricular involvement? Vacation? Time to spend with family, friends and significant others?

Take out a piece of paper and Write it down!

Begin with the End in Mind – Create a MCAT calendar to plan your study time. First fill in all the days you won’t study on (holidays, trips, prior commitments). Starting from the test-date and counting in reverse, write down for each date how many days left before the MCAT. This helps you constantly know how much time is left and creates a sense of urgency that will motivate you to study.

Theory and Practice – You also want to split your time between reviewing material and doing practice tests. However, don’t waste time doing practice tests before you’ve gone through all the material. Choosing which days you do your practice tests on is crucial. You want to do them regularly enough to build up your endurance and pace, but not so frequently that you exhaust yourself.

What I did – Find the halfway mark of your study period and set that as your first practice test. I went by a schedule of at least a practice test each week after my first one. The last two weeks before the exam, I did 2-3 practice tests a week. Aim to do a minimum of four to five practice tests before the real one; doing more is always better. However, don’t set the practice tests too close to each other because you want adequate time to review each practice test. Doing too much too soon also increases the likelihood of burnout. Additionally, leave time in between your practice tests so you can study the subjects you did poorly in on the practice test. Focus on the areas where you can have the most improvement.

Prioritize your time – For the first half of your study schedule, refer back to your strengths and weaknesses. An important aspect of doing well on the MCAT is to ensure the entire breadth of content is covered. Covering all the content will increase your chances of doing well on more passages. Being a jack of all trades is much better than being a master of one in this case.

Work on your weaknesses first. Don’t spend time reviewing the physics of chemistry you already know but have gotten rusty in. You can brush up on those skills later. Tackle the subjects you have never studied before or the ones you are receiving low scores in. If you don’t know any physiology, do that first. If your physics is weak, start on it early. This will again, maximize the areas you are competent in. You don’t have to be the best at it, but you have to be at least comfortable with it. If you’re really bad at verbal, go through verbal passages everyday. Create objectives to finish, focus your studies and be productive.

An Sample Schedule (Week 1) : For a physical science background student weak in bio and verbal, who has no day time commitments

  • Monday – Cover Genetics/Biochemistry from prep book, Do 3 VR Passages
  • Tuesday– Do Chemistry Practice Problems, Cover Renal System, Do 3 VR Passages
  • Wednesday– Cover Nervous System, Orgo naming, 3 VR passages
  • Thursday– Organic Rxns, Refresh on Physics Equations, 3 VR Passages
  • Friday– Organic Rxns, GI system, 3 VR passages, Practice Writing
  • Sat – Look over previous week’s notes
  • Sun – day off

Explanation: This schedule has a strong emphasis on bio and verbal. It sets specific and achievable targets everyday. Each person will have a different schedule. The beauty of self-studying is you can come up with something that works for you! If you don’t have a job, you can study more. If you have something to do in the day, you can lessen the load. Many of the test-prep books will also come with schedules of how to study and you can take what you like from their schedules and incorporate it into your own. If you find out what you’re doing isn’t working out, change up your objectives. There is no perfect way to study for the MCAT, each person will approach it in their own way.

ExamKrackers has a sample study schedule you can get some ideas from. I don’t like allotting myself time slots to study like 4-5pm biochemistry. I much prefer studying by objectives and going at a pace that ensures I understand all the material well, though use what works for you. I am also much more likely to complete my study schedule if I go by objectives rather than time constraints.

Rest – Furthermore, remember to take some off-days just to get your mind off the MCAT. Hang out with friends and have dinner with family. The time off restores your mental function and keeps you in a better mood.


6. Track Your Progress

Monitor your Progress – A disadvantage of studying on your own is tracking  your progress is your job. In a class, the teacher gives you feedback and helps you cater your plan according to your results. When you study by yourself, it’s your job to look over your exercises, practice problems, quizzes and practice tests and assess how you did. Tracking your progress also gives you a realistic idea of how you’re doing so far and how prepared you are for the test.

Keep track of Right and Wrong Answers – Whenever you do practice passages, record down how many questions you answered correct/wrong. On your subsequent practice questions, see if you have an improvement. The activity where you will learn and benefit the most is from reviewing your answers. See where you went wrong. Ask, why did I get this question wrong? Is it because I did not know the material or is it a test taking mistake. Did I interpret the question incorrectly, did I not understand the passage or did I just have a calculation error.

Find all your mistakes – Every mistake you make now is one you won’t be making on test day. It is a time consuming process to go over each of your answers but it will save you tons of time in the long run. A fool does not learn from his mistakes. A smart MCAT taker does.

The Value of Tracking – You’ll find tracking your progress very useful when you do your practice tests. What I did was create an excel chart where I just listed my scores on each section and how I did as time went by. I had different sheets for different subjects and would jot down any test taking mistakes I would make. I also made notes on which subjects I had a hard time with and what type of mistakes I would do most frequently. By constantly keeping track of these errors, when I did more practice tests I made less and less errors and my scores kept improving. It also helped me identify weak areas and subjects I needed to spend more time with.


7. Simulate the Test Day

Perfect Practice makes Perfect – Whenever you do your practice tests / passages, always work under test-day conditions. That means eliminate all distractions, turn off the music, and make sure you’re in a quiet place where nobody can disturb you. If possible, do the practice on a computer but a paper copy is  fine too. Always time yourself with the same test-day timing and never let yourself go over the time limit. Always stop once time runs around. You want it to be as close to test day conditions as possible.

Always answer all the questions – Timing your practice tests helps in several ways. The first is to ensure you are answering the questions at a good pace. You want to set a pace that will allow you to answer all the questions with enough cushion space at the end to go over those few tricky and uncertain questions. You want to find a balance between reading the passage and answering the questions that will work for you. You will also learn to skip hard questions for later and maximize the number of easy questions answered. The second aspect is that your endurance for the test will get stronger. You will be able to focus for longer periods of time and not grow tired with fatigue. Your concentration will be more acute and your performance will be better. Lastly, simulating a test day scenario will give you confidence for the real test. By the time you write the real MCAT, you would have done so many practice tests that the real one won’t seem any different and you will be confident in your answers.


8. Time Management

Your most valuable resource when you study is your time. During each study session, you want your time to be productive. Every person can always improve how they manage their time. Here are a few things I found that helped me get the most out of my study time.

Find a good place to study – It should be away from distractions (like the TV, computer, internet) If you have to go on the computer to study, turn off all instant messengers, music players, browsers. Unplug the Ethernet cable or turn off your wireless if you must. Don’t get distracted. Get all the necessary materials (books, paper, pencils) before you begin so can glue yourself down to the seat once you have started. When you study, really study. Don’t chat with friends (that’s why I like to study alone) and don’t go to the library just to end up sleeping.

Set specific breaks – My optimum study period lasts roughly 45 to 90 minutes (1.5 hours).  Any less and I found I could not grasp and synthesize the material. Any more and nothing would stick. Even if I haven’t finished a section, I usually take a break at the 1.5 hour mark and resume afterwards. I found that the content stuck a lot better when I was refreshed. Find what works for you. At the end of every cycle, I set a 10-20 minute break to check my email, chat with friends, watch tv, stretch, eat, relax, before I began again. Be strict with your breaks. Treat them like test day breaks, don’t let your mind or body wander too far.

Studying can be done anywhere and anytime – After about a month or so of studying, the MCAT will seem to consume your life. You will always feel like there is not enough time. During the last month, when I really felt the crunch, I studied everywhere and anywhere. I squeezed in an extra 10-15 minutes on my commute to work each day. While I was at the bus stop waiting, I would pull out flash cards I had created and would start memorizing certain terms and concepts I knew I had to know. At work, whenever there was a wait-time for the experiments (Gel, PCR) I would pull out a book and read. Or if I had set time, I would do a practice passage here and there. In the evenings, I would schedule it so that I would eat dinner, make phone calls, check email, read news, do laundry and any other household chores all at once; this would than leave me with a large dedicated chunks of studying time.


9. Find Discipline and Motivation

This is inevitably one of the hardest parts of studying for the MCAT, regardless of whether you take a course or not. Finding the will and motivation to continue studying after you have studied for 5+ hours will be hard. Being consistent with your schedule and sticking to it is hard. I failed countless times. There were days where I would just sit at a desk and get nothing done. I would feel like crap afterwards knowing I had to do twice the amount of work to catch up. Each person will have to face the problem of discipline and motivation, there’s no escaping it. There were a few things that I discovered that helped with motivation and discipline.

Have Support – A support group can be your family, friends or fellow MCAT takers. Find someone who can be your cheerleader and will encourage you when things get bad. Have someone you can complain about the MCAT with. Even having them cook you a meal or do your laundry once in a while really does make a big difference. These people will ground you in reality and will stop you from stepping off into insanity. They will be your morale booster, a source of inspiration.

Read – Read something totally non-MCAT/ science related. Let your brain do some thinking outside the boundaries of this test. Whether it be the newspaper or a novel, reading will remind you that not all people write ambiguous and vague passages that are meant to test your critical thinking. People will write to tell funny stories or offer advice. Reading might even help you alleviate some stress and make you more disciplined. Besides, it won’t be a complete waste of time. At the very least it will help out with the VR and WS.

You don’t have to read books either. It can be an online blog (like this one) or motivational quotes. A few fantastic posts for motivation can be found at the Student Doctor Network. I have listed two threads that I drew a lot of inspiration and ideas from.

Remember why you’re writing the MCAT – You want to be a doctor (or vet) and a good one too! The MCAT is just another test you have to pass on your way there. It’s not impossible, many others have gone before you and many will after you. It’s just something you have to do. You won’t be any less of a person if you don’t do well on the test. You may just have to rewrite the test and show your perseverance. If you can answer deep-down why you want to be a doctor and why it is the right profession for you, that will be your greatest motivation for studying.


10. Write the MCAT

Prepare yourself for test day – Find out how to get your test center, set your alarms, set another one just in case. Pack your snack/lunch items. Make sure you have all your identification. The day before the test, don’t spend too much time learning new stuff, by then it’s already too late. Spend that time reviewing some key concepts, common mistakes you might make, etc. Relax and make sure you get enough sleep!

Write the test – with enough preparation and practice, the real test will seem like any other practice test. If you did your homework, you’ll do great.

Celebrate and wait – Waiting for your results can be even more nerve wracking than the test itself. After you’re done, try to forget about it and have some fun! You deserve it. When you get your test results back, check to see if your score is good enough to apply to medical school. If you need to rewrite your MCAT check out my guide to Retaking the MCAT.


Good luck with your studying. I will be periodically updating this article, making it more precise and relevant. If you found this guide helpful or have some tips to add, please leave a comment. I appreciate the feedback

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165 Comments

  1. Devy
    Devy October 11, 2008

    Thank you for this. I’m doing self-study to study for the MCATs for next year and getting affirmation that one can do it is really helpful.

  2. Melinda
    Melinda April 5, 2009

    Hey, thank you soo much for this. I just made the decision to not take the kaplan course (no money)and I was feeling horrible…this made me feel a lot better. But I have to ask are you one of those super smart kids who say s something is easy and when it’s really hhard. WHat was your gpa? How did you do in classes? (please tell the truth, bcuz I know some people like to lie about that stuff…)

    I am a Biology major with a 3.6 GPA…I don’t consider myself to be naturally “smart” and I’m okay with that. I took the SAT in 2005 and got an 1170 (not a great score but it got me where I wanted to go…couldn’t afford a prep class..only had one practice book). I don’t plan on going to Hrvard Med or anything close to that…I’d be content with any state med school program.

    Do you think I stand a chance without a prep course?

  3. medaholic
    medaholic April 5, 2009

    In my opinion, whether you decide to take a MCAT course or not does not predict what your final score will be. Factors such as dedication, hard work and persistence go a lot farther than you expect. For the most part, the MCAT can be studied for, that is a fact.

    There will be people who will find it easier than others, but they too would have put in their homework time. I won’t share with you my personal grades, but I can give you a story. When I decided to study for the MCAT, I had no clue what I was doing. At the time, I did not even take Organic Chemistry yet. My first practice test was a~ 21J. And for the next month or so, my practice scores only improved marginally, always under 30.

    However, after about 2 months of studying, my scores suddenly began to increase. My natural abilities did not improve drastically in this time. It was my diligence and daily studying that started to show.

    Good luck with your studying and congrats for having the courage to study for the MCAT by yourself.

  4. Zappel
    Zappel April 10, 2009

    Hello, I’m also studying on my own for my MCAT (5 weeks away) and im lost in organic chem since I have not taken that class. Can I find out what orgainc chem textbook you used? And how long you think it will take to master that subject? I’m about done with the rest of the content review.

  5. Zappel
    Zappel April 14, 2009

    Hi, after reading your reply and discussing with other MCAT test takers, I have decided to postpone my exam, to have sufficient time to master organic chemistry. I want to do the MCAT once and well:) Could I find out what textbook you used to start learning from scratch? And the duration of study to master this daunting subject? Thank you!

  6. zappel
    zappel April 19, 2009

    hello, unfortunately I don’t have any access to organic chemistry courses. Which text did you use to teach yourself organic chemistry? Please include any other resources you used! thanks:) I looked through one or two but they seem to be catered to more advanced students.

  7. medaholic
    medaholic April 20, 2009

    I just picked up any intro textbook to Orgo (I think I used Fox, but looking back any one would do), ask your friends who have taken orgo which one they used. The Prep companies are adequate enough if you have some background in orgo.

  8. Dream
    Dream June 24, 2009

    Great!!!! Thx soooooo much!!! I just started to learn MCAT by my own using Kaplan books and wasn’t sure if they are the best ones (got the books for free from a freind who pased exam last year with 36Q). The tips written very simple and easy to understand. And the links to different website u give throughout the text are so heplful!!!!!! Thx again!!!

  9. musa
    musa June 29, 2009

    thanks a lot for that really good advise.

  10. Angelina
    Angelina July 8, 2009

    Ah you are awesome! Thanks so much for all the information.
    I have a few questions for you:
    1) How many times can a person take the MCATS? Is there a limit?
    2) Can you pick the scores that med schools see, or do they have access to all of them?
    Thanks, please reply!

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 14, 2011

      1) There is no limit to how many times a person can take the MCAT
      2) Most med schools will choose either your best MCAT (all sections combined, you can’t pick verbal from one test and PS from another), or the most recent.

  11. DD
    DD July 9, 2009

    You can take the MCAT as many times as you want although the more times you take the test the less favorable. Medical schools WILL see all of your scores and some even average them. Again, the best thing to do is to take it once and do well. Twice can be acceptable. Anything beyond that will not bode so well.

    • medaholic
      medaholic July 10, 2009

      Thanks DD for replying to Angelina’s questions. Your advice is spot on.

  12. A
    A August 6, 2009

    Hi,

    I found your article inspirational, but I was wondering if you could give me some advice.

    I took a Kaplan prep course so I have the material. The course ended on August 1st. I made a nice schedule, and stuck to it at first. Then, I went on vacation to visit family. We were going for the weekend originally, but we decided to stay longer. In fact, I’m still here. My test date is in two weeks and I’m really worried. While I was taking the course, I studied the content in the order they recommended and did all of their practice quizzes and workshops. I have a bunch of section tests and full length MCATs left to go. Content wise, I started skipping some sections because I was busy. I thought that I can come back to those after so it wasn’t a big deal. I haven’t studied in over a week because of family time commitment here. We are going back home tomorrow and I plan on studying for at least 8 hours a day till my test date (two weeks from today). I am afraid that I won’t have time to cover all of my weak areas since I only completed first year of university. So, I took cell bio, organismal bio, physics, and organic 1. During university, I didn’t spend much time on my physics course so I don’t know everything well in that area as well. Also, my prof skipped the electricity unit, so I have to do that by myself, but it’s not too hard apparently.

    I’m just really worried about whether or not I will have enough time to learn everything. I have a lot of orgo to learn by myself beacuse I didn’t take the second one yet, and this covers a lot more reactions and such than the first one. Luckily, orgo is only 25% of the biological sciences section apparently. Kaplan told me to work on weak areas till a week before the test date, then focus on areas we’re good at in the last week.

    My friend gave me a link to download the ExamKrackers Audio Osmosis, so I have that too. I have been listening to that, and reading my Kaplan review notes. I am kinda in between those two now. I’m just all over the place I guess. Maybe I shouls just make a new study plan now and stick to it after I get back home…I don’t know..I’m just really worried at the moment..I really want to do well and it would suck if I had to retake the MCAT. My score on the practice MCAT was 25 and my target score is about 38. When I did that test, Verbal was my lowest section because…I didn’t even read the passages completly..for some reason, I was out of focus..so I guessed on almost every question..for some passages, I didn’t even kno what they were abt..and I just picked random answers..If that didn’t happen, I guess my score would have been higher/closer to a 30 maybe.

    Hmm…I don’t really know why I’m posting this here anymore..I guess I’m venting..any help is greatly appreciated. You can email me if you want..it says that my email will not be published, but I’m thinking that you can see it..

    Thanks,
    A…

    • jason
      jason August 8, 2011

      I know this reply is late in response but my intentions are to trouble shoot this issue for anyone else who takes a long break or is concerned about their performance in the nearing weeks of the exam ESPECIALLY if they have not been consistent with their study schedule.

      The best thing to do is to take an AAMC test before resuming your studying. This will serve as a diagnostic. Pending on your performance you should make the decision to keep studying because your scores haven’t suffered and you have enough time to learn what is left. If you score drops more than a couple points in more than 1 of the sections, have a double take at your schedule. For those who think they will study 8 hours a day for many days straight to catch up, my answer is to stop the lies and be honest with yourself. If have no track record of consistency for a normal day, don’t hedge your bets on consistency for even heavier work loads. Also, you capacity to learn drops off precipitously after 5 hours. So if you want to maximize your gains, you’re better off tackling topics for just 3 hours of your time each day for many months and carrying out research or working at the same time, rather than cutting all activities and cramming in 5+ hour study sessions.

    • Kesta
      Kesta July 22, 2012

      I just want to give you some advice not sure if you believe in Jesus but he said “to cast your cares on him and to me it means let go and not worry. We as people are not perfect but ask him for guidance and direction, he will come to your rescue. Jesus has not given us the spirit of fear but of power,and of love, and a sound mind. Stay encourage, know that you can do all things through christ that strengthens me.

  13. Sue
    Sue January 24, 2010

    Hi:

    I need advice. I have been studying for the mcats for the past 2 years now. I have taken the real test twice and scored low. I have taken the Kaplan course and have even had a private tutor.

    I am scheduled to take the test again in march but i fear that i will once again do horrible.

    i have all the kaplan books and the ek books. i am now losing motivation that i am not smart enough for med school.

    please give me all advice possible.

  14. Victoria
    Victoria February 10, 2010

    Thank you so much for your advice:) I feel way more confident about taking the MCAT now with self study. What do you think would help with anxiety? That is sometimes hard for me……….

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 14, 2011

      The best thing for anxiety is preparation and practice.
      Feel confident for the test. Do simulated practice exams. That way it will feel like you have already written the test before when the real test date comes.

  15. Jess
    Jess February 16, 2010

    Hi,

    I recently finished a Kaplan course and my score only went up one point. I’m at the point where I’ve lost nearly all of my motivation because I am beyond frusterated with the MCAT and feel like there is nothing that I can do to get better. Do you have any advice to get myself “remotivated?”

    • medaholic
      medaholic February 16, 2010

      When is your test date? If you can take a break from studying the MCAT and try to focus in on the bigger picture again. Just remember, the MCAT is just another part of the admissions process, it won’t make or break you. Figure out what you’re doing wrong. Keep working at it, sooner or later, you’ll hit a breakthrough and your score will jump up.

  16. Ijendu Korie
    Ijendu Korie February 25, 2010

    Thanks, I am really encouraged and inspired by this.

  17. Aijay
    Aijay February 25, 2010

    Great inspiration!!

  18. Margaret
    Margaret April 19, 2010

    Thanks for the information. I can not afford the Kaplan/other courses. I will be doing self study and plan to take the MCAT in June 2010.
    Are there certain practice test that are better than others. What other advise do you have. I really need to score as high as possible

    • medaholic
      medaholic April 19, 2010

      The AAMC Practice Tests are probably the best as they are actual past MCAT questions/samples. Do as many practice tests as possible, build stamina, endurance and confidence!

  19. John Ferguson
    John Ferguson May 8, 2010

    Well done!

    I work for the MCAT Store and we pretty much sell all the books you mentioned (Examk/Kap/PR/GS) except Barron’s (not worth it). Just this year the IBPA announced that the 2010 Gold Standard is one of 3 finalists for Most Improved Redesign (Ben Franklin Award to be announced later this month in NYC; the official list is on the IBPA website). It is one of the books we suggest to students. If you are interested in a “Re-Review” (!!!) then we would be happy to send you a complimentary reviewers copy. Good luck with your studies!

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 14, 2011

      You’re crazy. I never want to see another MCAT book again! haha

  20. student
    student June 10, 2010

    Thank you so much for this. I am taking the MCAT this August and I am not able to take a course due to expenses. I am working a full-time job and this advice has really helped me figure out how I can achieve a good score despite the circumstances.

  21. Ariela
    Ariela July 10, 2010

    This has helped a lot to read, I am going to print it out and look at it every time I feel I loose my place or when I feel that the road ahead is too overwhelming. THe fact that you had little knowledge in some areas motivates me to study for the Mcat even though I didnt take physics yet. I am still scared and feel like in the 2 months I have to study I will need to dedicate all my time to physics but I will make objectives each day and work on those rather than setting block times for different subjects. HOpefully doing that will allow me to study physics and do passages in all the areas. Thanks lot..

  22. Belle
    Belle August 8, 2010

    Hey Medaholic, just wanted to thank you so much for this article. I didn’t have the money to take a prep course like all my friends are, and felt really horrible, like I was doomed to fail. But then I read your article a few months prior and can’t thank you enough for re-motivating me. You’re awesome!! (and your blog is awesome too =) )

  23. Karolina
    Karolina August 18, 2010

    Thanks for putting this up. The info is awesome and easy to follow. Just wanted to make sure you knew that you’re awesome.

  24. Shermel
    Shermel February 16, 2011

    This was fantastic information. Do you mind if I feature you on my website? I am currently working on it, but you have amazing advice! This was so great that I printed it out. Thank you so much!

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 14, 2011

      You’re more than welcome to feature this post on your website. Please feel free to make suggestions on how to make this better.

  25. GET BACK TO WORK! Self-Studying for the MCAT. — shermelium.com
    GET BACK TO WORK! Self-Studying for the MCAT. — shermelium.com February 16, 2011

    […] reading, “How to Self Study For the MCAT” at medaholic.com I feel very strongly about maintaining this motivation to study “by […]

  26. […] My Google Analytics shows that around 15% of my traffic comes to one post I wrote 2.5 years ago. How to Self Study for the MCAT […]

  27. mcat
    mcat April 26, 2011

    A common question is: how much studying should I do for the MCAT? I think that the Gold Standard rule of thumb is 3-6 hours per day for 3-6 months. Modify that according to how well or how poorly you may have performed in the 4 basic sciences.

    • medaholic
      medaholic April 27, 2011

      I agree that consistency is what matters most. Due to the broad scope of the exam, you will have to study at least 1-3 hours daily for a good 2-3 months minimum, unless of course you have just finished all the science courses just before the mcat

  28. Sandra M
    Sandra M May 3, 2011

    Great info! I was not sure about going to university
    because I did not want to do MCAT test. I just did it and the best way to improve the score on the MCAT is to take as many practice exams as possible. Ideally, we should take one exam per week for 12 weeks prior to that actual MCAT.

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 14, 2011

      Probably a bit excessive with the exams. Especially if you don’t know the material. I would suggest doing most of your exams about 1 month away from the test date. With a practice exam once every 1-2 weeks before then.

  29. […] Whether you’re taking the MCAT again or planning to write the MCAT for the first time, I hope I can convince you that studying the MCAT on your own, without the help of a review course or tutors, is a viable and excellent option. If you want to learn HOW to SELF STUDY for the MCAT, check out my post on the steps needed to do it here. (How to Self Study for the MCAT) […]

  30. Jennifer
    Jennifer May 22, 2011

    I found this information to be truly life saving lol I have just finished my freshman year and am beginning to study with my friend for the MCAT. While recently completing our study schedule for the next 2 years the usual worries came up: Did we choose the right study materials? Are we competent enough for this? Do we really know what we are getting ourselves into? Well at least the 1st question was answered by you lol I do not completely understand why but I have fallen in love with the ExamKrackers series of review books while my friend bought Kaplan and since those are 2 of the top 3 study materials apparently, I feel we will do fine. Thank you for this post, it truly helped to ease a few frown wrinkles = )

    • medaholic
      medaholic May 26, 2011

      Best of luck. Some elbow grease and a bit of luck, and it looks like you guys will do fine!

  31. Eve
    Eve June 13, 2011

    I am currently studying for the mcat, but there are so many materials out there all claiming to be the best. Which would you say is the best. I want something straight to the point that wouldn’t bog me down with unnecessary information. I have been hearing the exam krackers is the best.What do you think

    • medaholic
      medaholic June 13, 2011

      Examkrackers, princeton review, kaplan – all are pretty good. Different people will find different things work for them.
      Your best bet, go to a bookstore and just take a look at different MCAT books. Find something that is comprehensive and understandable to you, and just go for it!

  32. AdamWho?
    AdamWho? June 21, 2011

    I read this post. Took a real AAMC practice test. Scored it. Registered for Sep. 2 2011. 72 days (~1720hrs). I’ve assembled my gear, most of which is also free, because I searched up “MCAT books and tests” on my torrent search engines. Downloaded books and tests and used my university honors computer lab, print is free here for me and printed my MCAT books and assembled binders. Bought all EK 1001 questions books. Ready to attack this test head on solo mission trying to come out on top. Can yoou digg it…?

    • medaholic
      medaholic June 22, 2011

      Deleted your repeat post. Good luck on your mcat, talk about studying for free lol.

  33. Jennifer
    Jennifer July 6, 2011

    Let me start off first by saying I love this blog you created. lol I feel like my life has been saved and I will not have to feel too much like a crazy person for saying I loved studying for the MCAT using a basic approach like this. Thanks, man = ) (sorry if that is too informal for a random conversation between strangers). 2nd: I have bought the complete study kit from ExamKrackers which covers every subject (orgo, chem, bio, physics, & of course verbal) along with a complementary practice MCAT. I’ve read your praise on the Physics prep but I just wanted to hear your take on the preparation materials for the rest of the sections. Personally, I loved what I had heard about ExamKrackers before I bought it. I’m also an odd person in that I didn’t want to study with Kaplan or TPR but rather find another preparation company that seemed more personal and offered more interest in the learning process (which I feel EK offers completely). I can pretty confidently say that with hard and diligent practice with EK I will make the score I want. I have just come to pretty much respect your opinion after looking through your blog and any feedback on my question about EK is appreciated! = )

    • medaholic
      medaholic July 6, 2011

      Hi Jennifer,
      The truth is, I mainly studied off TPR and Kaplan Materials… haha, when I studied for the MCAT, no one told me about ExamKrackers. However, I have looked through their stuff and I do like it. I’ve heard many good things from others who have used it. So in a way, I promote ExamKrackers because it’s good material for self studying, though I myself have never used it to study for the MCAT.

      Having said that, I believe your determination, hardwork and a bit of luck, will be a bigger factor in what score you get than the materials you studied from. Thanks for the feedback

  34. Jennifer
    Jennifer July 6, 2011

    Oh crap sorry for making 2 posts btw. I completely forgot about the other one, but thanks for the feedback on that one.

  35. pjao13
    pjao13 July 13, 2011

    Where did you get the study material?

    • jason
      jason August 8, 2011

      you can download a lot of the books via torrents. Also check out online classifieds and ask students at your school if an online used book site exists for your school or one of the nearby ones.

  36. pjao13
    pjao13 July 13, 2011

    I was just wondering since you said the only you paid for was the registration fee.

    • medaholic
      medaholic July 13, 2011

      Borrowed books from friends (MCAT Prep books), borrowed from library, free online resources,

  37. Study Smart
    Study Smart August 24, 2011

    How to get a 4.0 GPA…

    How to Self Study For the MCAT « medaholic…

  38. Study Smart
    Study Smart August 25, 2011

    Perfect GPA…

    How to Self Study For the MCAT « medaholic…

  39. frida
    frida August 28, 2011

    Thanks for the tips on preparing to write the MCAT, will come in very hady for me.

  40. Barriers « Define "Mature"
    Barriers « Define "Mature" August 29, 2011

    […] I came across this self-study guide last night. I’m making excel sheets to track my progress, going to register […]

  41. shasha
    shasha September 18, 2011

    Thanx for your loving advice. I was in med school in Africa but deceided to complete schooling in US. One of my requirements to continue medicine here is the Mcat.
    Looking through the practice test I was greatly disappointed in taking the exams. These are stuffs I did bout 4 yrs ago and they look really new.
    I know ur advice will be valuable to me as to when am to take the exams, the addittional materials i’ll need to help me grasp the concepts again and a lot more.
    I am a determined person and know I can surely acheive what I set my eyes to do. Presently am doing nothing waiting to get my immigration status settled so I believe this will be the best time to prepare 4 the exams.
    I believe ur help and constant support will help me go through as I am new in the country and has no one to guide me. God bless

  42. Dave
    Dave November 12, 2011

    Thanks so much for writing this! It definitely helped to put me at ease about my exam.

  43. Preston
    Preston January 24, 2012

    Thank you so much for this. I’m actually excited to make my schedule and start studying.

  44. Shaun
    Shaun March 22, 2012

    Thanks for this post it was very helpful. I took my mcat twice, and now I need to retake it I took Kaplan and PR going to used both those as well as exam krackers. My only concern is finding practice exams I haven’t taken already. Should I just retake those from before.

    • medaholic
      medaholic March 26, 2012

      Hmm, have you tried all the official MCAT tests by AAMC? You can try other non mainstream companies like Gold Standard or Barron’s, but I don’t know how well they correlate to the real test.

  45. Kevin
    Kevin March 27, 2012

    I am a sophomore chemistry major, with the classes for my major I have to take in the following year I won’t be able to take anatomy and physiology, my question is do I absolutely need it before taking the MCAT.

    • medaholic
      medaholic March 28, 2012

      Absolutely not. If you have time, you can study those topics by yourself and be ready for the MCAT.

  46. Kappa
    Kappa April 2, 2012

    Hi…I was wondering when (date) you took your MCAT and if you were a junior or senior when you applied to med school? It is just that I am trying to take my on May 31…and I only have about 2months to prepare…so yea…thanks a lot!

    • medaholic
      medaholic April 2, 2012

      Hi Kappa,

      I took the MCAT after my first year of university (a bit unconventional), but my story is right there at the top of this post. I had about 2 months to prepare for the MCAT. I was working a full-time research job during that time. Hope that helps.

  47. Andrew
    Andrew May 11, 2012

    I have all the MCAT Kaplan (c)2007 material that I got from a friend who had previously taken the course. I only have about 2 months to prepare before I start bioorganic in July but I am a very conscientious person. I work at the hospital on the weekends but other than that I have all day during the week. I need to go ahead and get started and was wondering if this material is too outdated? Also it seems like purchasing a few tests from the AAMC along with this material might be my most effective and financially responsible decision. I would really appreciate your insight thanks.

  48. Erica
    Erica May 23, 2012

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your very insightful wisdom.

  49. askhan
    askhan July 24, 2012

    WOW. Thanks for the motivation and properly instructed schedule. This is my second career move late in life. I only have 1 chance at it. i spend too much time perfecting plan b, that I lost hope on plan A (med school). Now that plan B is in full swing,I am finally taking a chance on plan A. thanks for showing me the way to self-study. I doubt that my 2 year old would be happy with mommy leaving to attend class and even less time with him. He helps me go over the note cards, believe it or not before bedtime.

  50. fiza fatima
    fiza fatima August 13, 2012

    hello i study ur essay and i like it. aj sy ma self study krunge

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