How to Study for the MCATs

December 04, 2020 · 8 minute read

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How to Study for the MCATs

It’s no secret, the MCAT is notoriously difficult. Thankfully, by learning how to study for the MCATs, medical school hopefuls may be able to improve their scores come testing day, which could bring them one step closer to fulfilling their dreams.

Here are a few ways in which prospective medical school students can study for the MCATs and go the distance with their goals.

What Are the MCATs?

MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) . The test, which the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) creates and administers every year, is multiple-choice and standardized. Medical schools have been utilizing it for more than 90 years to determine which students should gain admission.

Most medical schools in the United States and some in Canada will require that students take the MCATs. Every year, more than 85,000 prospective medical school students take it.

There are four sections to the MCATs, including critical analysis and reasoning skills, biological and biochemical functions of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, and psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior.

Students will receive five scores: one for each section, and then one total score. In each section, they can get a score ranging from 118 to 132, and the total score ranges from 472 to 528. Generally, a competitive MCAT score is a total of 509 or above, which would place a student in the 80th percentile.

The average MCAT score for all medical school applicants is between a 500 and 508. Usually, students will receive scores 30 to 35 days after they take the exam.

Keep in mind that MCAT scores, while important, are just one part of a medical school application. Medical schools often review other factors, including things like a student’s:

•  GPA
•  Undergraduate coursework
•  Experience related to the medical field, including research and volunteer work
•  Letters of recommendation
•  Extracurricular activities
•  Personal statement

If a student has a high GPA from a competitive undergraduate school, for instance, and they don’t score very high on the MCATs, they may still have a chance of getting into a medical school.

Getting a competitive score on the MCAT can give applicants an edge, especially when applying to ultra-competitive medical schools. One way students can help improve their chances of getting a desirable score on the MCAT is to learn how to study for the unique demands of the test.

Studying for the MCAT

One of the first things a student can do when determining how to study for the MCAT is to create a study plan. A well-crafted study plan will review what materials the student should review in order to prepare for the exam.

The AAMC Website

One jumping off point – review the material covered on the MCAT. The AAMC provides an in-depth outline on their website . Obviously, the same questions students will see on the actual exam won’t be listed, but sample questions that are similar to the real questions are.

The website allows students to download the entire exam content in a PDF and watch tutorial videos. For instance, according to the AAMC’s guide , the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT “tests processes that are unique to living organisms, such as growing and reproducing, maintaining a constant internal environment, acquiring materials and energy, sensing and responding to environmental changes, and adapting.”

The section has 59 questions, and students get 95 minutes to complete them.

Online Resources

There are a variety of other online resources students can explore to help them review. For example, the AAMC currently recommends students take a look at Khan Academy’s MCAT Video Collection , where there are more than 900 videos and 3,000 questions that students can use to review. This content will be available for students to access until September 2021.

There are also MCAT study apps like MCAT Prep from Varsity Tutors LLC and MCAT Prep by Magoosh that students can download and use to study.

Books, Textbooks, and Class Resources

It may also help to buy or borrow books from the library that go into detail on the MCAT. Students should just make sure that the books they’re reading are up to date.

It can also be helpful to review class notes and study guides from courses you’ve taken that are related to MCAT materials. Some schools have study groups and other academic support resources for students who are studying for the MCAT. If you’re currently enrolled in classes, take a look to see what might be offered at your campus.

Practice Tests

AAMC offers official sample MCAT practice exams online , and they cost $35 each. Taking practice tests can help students familiarize themselves with the exam. Taking practice tests can also be important in helping students understand the timing of each section.

Study Groups and Tutors

Getting an MCAT tutor who has taken the test could also be helpful. A tutor will generally be able to provide guidance on what kind of questions a student can expect and effective methods and tips for studying. Additionally, a tutor could help a student stay motivated and hold them accountable.

Students can find tutors by asking friends and family members who have taken the MCATs recently for recommendations. There are also test preparation companies that provide resources for students to find tutors online or in person.

A search on an independent website like Google or Yelp can help students be sure that the test prep company they are looking into is legitimate.

Study groups can also be a tool to help students who are preparing for the MCAT. Students can find others who are on the same trajectory and plan to take the test and go to medical school around the same time as them. If possible, find a group where each student has a different strength and weakness, this way each student can learn from one another.

It may help to use a shared calendar or another tool to make sure everyone is on the same page for dates, times, and locations for when the study group will meet. Students can find MCAT study groups by looking on Google and/or signing up for virtual groups on Facebook.

Important Dates to Keep in Mind

Students can take the MCATs several times throughout the year, from late January through September. There are hundreds of test locations around the U.S. and Canada as well as select locations around the globe.

If a student’s preferred MCAT test date or location is not available, they can sign up for email notifications to see if it becomes available down the line.

If students are ready to take the test in 2021, they can see the full schedule of testing dates on the AAMC’s website. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAMC has released protocols for in-person testing in the coming year. While they currently plan to offer in-person testing, they acknowledge that this may change. Learn more about the AAMC’s approach here .

Paying for the MCATs and Medical School

The registration fee for the MCAT exam is $320, and that includes distribution of scores. There may be additional fees for changes to a registration, a late registration, and for taking the test at international sites.

The AAMC does offer a Fee Assistance Program to students who are struggling to pay for the test and/or medical school applications. To be eligible for the Fee Assistance Program, students must meet the following eligibility requirements:

•   Be a US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident of the US.
•   Must have a total family income that is 400% or less than the 2019 national poverty level for their family size.

Note that the Fee Assistance Program will review financial information of the student and the student’s parents, even if the student is considered independent.

Keep in mind that along with the MCAT fee, applying to medical school can be quite expensive. Most medical schools in the US utilize the AAMC’s American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®). To apply to schools in 2021, students will generally pay a first-time application fee of $170, as well as $41 for each additional school.

Some medical schools may require a secondary application, and those fees range depending on the school. Students may also need additional money to travel to and tour schools.

The application process is just one portion of the cost of med school. After being accepted, there’s the cost of tuition, books, and more. The average cost of the first year of medical school at a public school with in-state tuition is $37,556, which includes tuition, fees, and health insurance.

The average cost for the first-year at a private medical school is $60,665. According to the AAMC, the median debt for medical school graduates is $200,000.

Paying for School with the Help of SoFi

Paying for the MCATs and medical school can be a challenge. SoFi understands this, which is why they offer students no-fee private student loans and the opportunity to refinance their current student loans.

Note that refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from any borrower protections like Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment, and deferment options, so it may not be the right choice for everyone.

Applications for a private student loan or refinancing loan with SoFi can be completed entirely online. SoFi members gain access to career coaching, special events, and more.

Worried about the cost of medical school? Learn more about options available with SoFi, like private student loans to help pay for medical school or refinancing existing student loans—either of which could help you make your med school dreams a reality.

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