The Ultimate MCAT Study Plan: A Guide For Beginners

So, you’ve decided to take the MCAT, the big, scary gatekeeper to your dream of becoming a doctor. First of all, kudos to you for taking this monumental step! The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is a critical component of your medical school application. It’s designed to assess your problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts. But don’t let that intimidate you. With the right strategies and preparation, you can ace this exam and move one step closer to that white coat.

Understanding the MCAT

Before diving into preparation, it’s essential to understand the structure and purpose of the MCAT. Knowing what to expect can help you plan your study approach more effectively.

What is the MCAT?

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It’s required for admission to most medical schools in the United States and Canada. The test is divided into four sections, each designed to evaluate different skills and knowledge areas.

Sections of the MCAT

To effectively prepare, you need to be familiar with each section of the exam. Let’s break them down:

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
    • This section tests your understanding of the physical and chemical principles that underpin biological systems. It includes topics like general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry.
  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
    • CARS is all about reading comprehension and critical thinking. You’ll be given passages to read and then asked to answer questions that test your ability to analyze and interpret the information.
  3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
    • This section focuses on biological processes and biochemical concepts. It covers topics like biology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry.
  4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
    • Here, you’ll be tested on concepts from psychology and sociology, as well as biological bases of behavior.

Preparing for the MCAT

Preparation is the cornerstone of success on the MCAT. A well-structured plan can make all the difference.

Setting a Study Schedule

Creating a study schedule is crucial. Start by determining how much time you have before your test date and then divide that time into manageable chunks. Aim to study consistently, dedicating specific hours each day to MCAT preparation. Consistency is key, so try to stick to your schedule as closely as possible.

Choosing the Right Study Materials

There are countless online resources available for MCAT prep, from YouTube channels to online courses. Websites like Khan Academy offer free, high-quality educational content that’s tailored to the MCAT. Not all study materials are created equal. Look for resources that are well-reviewed by other students and that cover all sections of the MCAT comprehensively. Popular choices include the AAMC’s official materials, Kaplan, and Princeton Review. Don’t be afraid to mix and match resources to find what works best for you.

Importance of Practice Exams

Practice exams are your best friend when preparing for the MCAT. They help you get used to the format of the test and identify areas where you need improvement. Aim to take at least one full-length practice exam per week in the lead-up to your test date.

Active Learning Techniques

Passive reading won’t cut it when preparing for the MCAT. Instead, use active learning techniques like summarizing information in your own words, teaching concepts to someone else, or creating flashcards. These methods help reinforce the material and improve retention.

Mnemonics and Memory Aids

Mnemonics can be incredibly helpful for memorizing complex concepts. For example, to remember the order of taxonomic classification, you might use the mnemonic “Dear King Philip Came Over For Good Soup” (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).

Group Study vs. Solo Study

Decide whether you study better alone or with others. Group study can be beneficial for discussing difficult concepts and keeping each other motivated. However, if you find it distracting, solo study might be the way to go.

In-Depth Section Reviews

A detailed understanding of each section can enhance your preparation strategy.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section can be daunting, but breaking it down into smaller topics can make it more manageable. Focus on understanding the fundamental principles of chemistry and physics and how they apply to biological systems.

Key topics and concepts:

  • Atomic structure
  • Chemical bonds
  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics

Study tips and tricks:

  • Use visual aids like charts and diagrams to understand complex processes.
  • Practice with problem sets to reinforce your understanding.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

CARS is unique in that it doesn’t test specific content knowledge but rather your ability to comprehend and analyze written passages.

How to approach passages:

  • Read actively, summarizing each paragraph in your own words.
  • Practice skimming techniques to improve your reading speed without sacrificing comprehension.

Improving reading comprehension:

  • Regularly read articles from diverse sources like scientific journals, newspapers, and literature.
  • Engage in discussions about what you read to deepen your understanding.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

This section covers a wide range of topics, so it’s important to stay organized.

Essential subjects to focus on:

  • Cell biology
  • Metabolism
  • Genetics
  • Molecular biology

Effective study methods:

  • Create detailed study guides for each topic.
  • Use flashcards to memorize key terms and concepts.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Understanding the interplay between psychological, social, and biological factors is crucial for this section.

Important areas of study:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Social behavior
  • Mental health disorders
  • Biological bases of behavior

Best practices for preparation:

  • Study real-world examples to see how theoretical concepts apply in practice.
  • Take practice questions to test your understanding.

Test Day Preparation

Being prepared for test day can help alleviate anxiety and improve your performance. Make sure you have all the essentials: a valid ID, your test confirmation, snacks, and water. Dress in comfortable layers to account for varying room temperatures. Anxiety is normal, but it can be managed. Practice deep breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive self-talk to stay calm and focused. Take breaks during the exam to stretch and clear your mind. Stay hydrated and eat a light snack if needed to keep your energy levels up.

Post-Test Considerations

After the test, it’s important to understand your results and plan your next steps. MCAT scores range from 472 to 528, with the median score being around 500. Understand how your score compares to the average scores of the schools you’re applying to. If you’re not satisfied with your score, you can retake the MCAT. However, consider whether additional study time will significantly improve your score before deciding to retake the test. Use your score to refine your list of potential medical schools. If you did well, start focusing on other aspects of your application like letters of recommendation and personal statements. If not, consider your options for improvement and next steps.


Acing the MCAT is no small feat, but with diligent preparation and the right strategies, you can achieve a score that reflects your potential. Remember to stay organized, use a variety of study methods, and take care of your physical and mental health throughout the process. Good luck!


How long should I study for the MCAT?

Most experts recommend studying for the MCAT for at least three to six months. This timeframe allows you to thoroughly review all sections and take multiple practice exams.

What are the best study materials for the MCAT?

The best study materials vary by student, but popular choices include the AAMC’s official guides, Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Examkrackers. It’s often helpful to use a combination of these resources.

How many practice tests should I take?

Aim to take at least one full-length practice test per week in the final month leading up to your test date. This helps you build stamina and get comfortable with the test format.

Can I retake the MCAT if I’m not satisfied with my score?

Yes, you can retake the MCAT. Most medical schools look at your highest score, but it’s important to check the policies of the schools you’re interested in.

How important is the MCAT compared to other aspects of my medical school application?

While the MCAT is a critical component, medical schools also consider other factors like GPA, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and extracurricular activities. A balanced application is key.