How to Study for the MCATs

By Janet Siroto · March 08, 2023 · 8 minute read

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How to Study for the MCATs

So you want to go to medical school and become a doctor? Then you know that the MCAT, a rigorous test, is likely in your future. Since it’s an important qualifying test for medical school and can be challenging, you likely want to arm yourself with info and prepare well for it.

Here, you’ll learn some of the most important information, such as:

•   What are the MCATs

•   How to start studying for the MCATs

•   How to pay for the MCATs and medical school.

Read on, and hey: You’ve got this!

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. Some important facts:

•   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:

◦   Critical analysis and reasoning skills

◦   Biological and biochemical functions of living systems

◦   Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems

◦   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 511 or above, which would place a student in the 81st percentile.

The average MCAT score for all medical school applicants is currently 501.3. 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.

Because of this array of inputs, 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 this test.

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Studying for the MCAT

One of the first things a student can do when determining how to prepare 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.

That said, there’s no one best way to prep for the MCAT. Consider these options; you might use one or a variety of techniques.

The AAMC Website

One great place to get started is the AAMC website, which provides an in-depth outline of the test 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. Students may find helpful tutorials and other content as well.

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 1,000 videos as well as thousands of questions that students can use to review.

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

Books, Textbooks, and Class Resources

How else to prep for the MCATs? It may also help to buy or borrow books from the library that go into detail on the MCAT. One word of advice: Students should just make sure that the books they’re reading are up to date. Information (and the MCAT) get refreshed often; you don’t want to be studying yesterday’s medical data.

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. You might luck out with some great ways to learn more.

Practice Tests

AAMC offers official sample MCAT practice exams online. You can access two for free, and others for a cost of $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

Here are other ideas for how to start studying for the MCAT:

•   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. Plus, they will likely have hands-on experience with effective methods and tips for studying.

If you decide that how to prep for the MCAT should involve a tutor, ask friends and fellow students 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. Do check reviews and references.

•   Study groups can also be a tool to help students who are preparing for the MCATs. Students can find others who are on the same path and work together to build proficiency. If possible, find a group where each student has a different strength and weakness. This can maximize students learning 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.

•   Want to find a study group as part of how to prepare for the MCATs? Search engines, professors’ recommendations, school bulletin boards/online groups, and fellow students are good bets.

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Important Dates to Keep in Mind

Now that you know the ins and outs of preparing for the MCAT, what about taking the test itself? 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.

Recommended: Refinancing Student Loans During Medical School

Paying for the MCATs and Medical School

As you explore the best way to prepare for the MCAT and plan your medical school journey, you’ll likely be keeping costs in mind. Here are details to note.

Paying for the MCATs

The registration fee for the MCAT exam is $330, 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.

•   Meet specific income guidelines 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 medical schools, students will generally pay a first-time application fee of $170, as well as $40 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.

Recommended: Cash Course: A Student Guide to Money

Medical School Costs

The application process is just one portion of the expense of med school. After being accepted, there’s the cost of tuition, books, and more, and these medical school costs have been rising steeply lately.

•   The average cost of the first year of medical school at a public school with in-state tuition is $67,641, which includes tuition, fees, and living expenses.

•   The average cost for the first-year at a private medical school is $93,186. The average debt for medical school graduates is currently $202,453. Debt after medical school can go even higher when you add in undergraduate loans.

Obviously, that’s a significant number and can make you wonder how to pay for medical school. First, do remember that medical school is a path to a rewarding and challenging career, as well as potentially a lucrative one. The average medical school graduate earns more than $150,000, with high earners enjoying salaries above the $400K mark, according to ZipRecruiter data.

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 private student loans and the opportunity to refinance their current student loans.

Keep in mind, however, that if you refinance with an extended term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan. Also note that refinancing federal student loans means forfeiting their benefits and protections, so it may not be the right choice for everyone.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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