How to Self Study For the MCAT

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 planning and strategizing and all that’s left for the student is to simply study and 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 all 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.

Continue to Page 3

Related posts:

  1. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the MCAT
  2. Should I Retake the MCAT? (A Guide to your MCAT Score)
  3. Stressed and Worried about the MCAT
  4. The Value and Importance of Writing
  5. What are my Chances for getting into Medical School?

Pages: 1 2 3

57 Responses to How to Self Study For the MCAT

  1. Devy says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    thanks a lot for that really good advise.

  10. Angelina says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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.

  12. A says:


    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 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 says that my email will not be published, but I’m thinking that you can see it..


    • jason says:

      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.

  13. Sue says:


    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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:


    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 says:

      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 says:

    Thanks, I am really encouraged and inspired by this.

  17. Aijay says:

    Great inspiration!!

  18. Margaret says:

    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 says:

      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. 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!

  20. student says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

      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. [...] reading, “How to Self Study For the MCAT” at 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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 = )

  31. Eve says:

    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 says:

      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? says:

    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…?

  33. Jennifer says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

    Where did you get the study material?

    • jason says:

      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 says:

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

  37. Study Smart says:

    How to get a 4.0 GPA…

    How to Self Study For the MCAT « medaholic…

  38. Study Smart says:

    Perfect GPA…

    How to Self Study For the MCAT « medaholic…

  39. frida says:

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

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

  41. shasha says:

    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

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