Essential MCAT Prep Strategies

MCAT Strategy

1. Concepts are key

Firstly, it is absolutely essential to understand that the MCAT is about concepts. In many instances, you will need to simply memorize material, but there tend to be very few MCAT questions that require memorization alone for the correct answer. Actual MCAT exam questions are pretty creative when it comes to finding novel ways to test understanding. Memorizing the format of exam questions is unlikely to be helpful, because it is always possible to create new unforeseen approaches to test conceptual understanding. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to truly grasp the concepts. One great way to test your understanding is by seeing how well you can explain a concept to another student.


2. There's only so much to know

Secondly, there is a finite amount of scientific knowledge tested by the MCAT. Therein lies the beauty of preparing for the science sections of the MCAT – there is only so much to know. Once you have studied sufficiently and learned all the concepts, you will find yourself reviewing material that you already know, which is a comfortable place to be. At that point, it may be worth changing the primary focus of your preparation efforts.

3. They will try to trick you

Thirdly, you will encounter all sorts of elaborate MCAT questions that seem to be unbelievably complex. In reality, all MCAT questions that test scientific concepts will always be reducible down to basic scientific principles. If you remember that the really confusing questions must in some way fit in with a basic science concept you have studied, then at the moment that you identify that concept the answer will become clear. For example, an MCAT question may reference all sorts of complex details about an airplane in flight, such as the plane’s altitude, air speed, trajectory, vertical speed and elevator trim setting. This may appear overwhelming and confusing. In reality, however, the key part of the question stem will only be asking about the potential energy of the airplane (which is a basic science MCAT concept). On your practice exams, you may find these questions alarming at first, but you will quickly realize that the answers always relate back to some simpler principle.

4. Improve your soft spots

Fourthly, one key principle to follow when preparing for the MCAT is to focus on the areas where you are the weakest. As you progress in your preparation and you have covered all the material, you should go back and make a list of areas where you are consistently getting practice questions wrong or where you feel like your understanding isn’t very good. Then review all of these concepts and do more practice questions until you feel that you have conquered that material. In essence, make your weaknesses your strengths.

5. Know the exam format

Finally, understanding the format and timing of the exam is essential to do well on the actual MCAT. In your final couple of weeks before writing the actual exam (but not the day before the exam), it is important to do full-length practice tests within the time constraints set out. This is paramount, because if you run out of time on a section of the exam and you have to guess on questions, it will drastically affect your score. By writing practice exams within the time constraints set out, you will become used to the format of the test and won’t have to worry as much about time.

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