Despite the tireless work of mad scientists everywhere, there are no time machines or pocket dimensions to conjure up six months of free time to get your MCAT studying done. So, based on how MCAT schedules usually land, you will likely have to weave your test prep in between the demands of an academic schedule. If you’re sitting at the start of a school year, staring down the MCAT next spring or summer, how do you start your planning?
Your ultimate choices will be customized to you, but our MCAT experts have a three-step framework that will get you rolling on your MCAT study plan.
Step 1: Pick your Test Date
Too many pre-meds leave their test date up in the air for too long. A common attitude is: “So much could change between now and then, and it’s so far off. I’ll find an exact date later.” But something as complicated and difficult as a pre-med + MCAT study schedule is going to have so many moving parts—if you don’t nail down a few big ones, like when you plan to take your MCAT, the chaos can be overwhelming.
You don’t need to circle an exact date on the calendar and hold to it no matter what. (In fact, if you’re starting a fall semester as a pre-med, the next year’s MCAT test dates probably aren’t even announced yet.) But you should look at the previous year’s test dates, which you can find on the AAMC’s website, to see when exams dates typically fall, and you should target a 3- or 4-week period you plan to hit. Perhaps you know you want a summer study block, so you target late June/early July, or maybe you know you’ll have a light spring semester and you want the opportunity to retake if needed, so you target an April date. Whatever you choose, having an end date to your prep will help clarify the rest of your MCAT study plans.
And this may go without saying, but if the unexpected happens, you can change your test date later! Tests can, and very often are, rescheduled, and it’s very normal.
Step 2: Plan your Semesters
The next step to a good MCAT study plan is to incorporate your academic schedule. Both your school year and your MCAT studies need to happen over the same time period, and your school year is the one you have less control over. Therefore, it’s best to understand what restrictions it’s putting on you, as a pre-med.
You may be on a semester system or a quarter system; either way, consider how busy each of those time periods will be, when each of them starts and ends, and what breaks you have between them. Knowing your exact class schedule is an added bonus, but you can make a good plan without it.
The goal is to decide the relative intensity of your MCAT study plan during each semester or quarter, possibly all the way through the summer, if that’s when your target test date is. Try to target a number of hours per week during each semester, including any changes to that hours-per-week plan during finals and breaks. Your goal should be to reserve at least 300 total hours before your planned test date.
The 300-hour benchmark comes from student surveys conducted by the AAMC showing students typically prep for 200-300 hours. You should plan for the high end of that range, in case that’s what you end up needing to hit your goal score.
Step 3: Weekly Routines for the Win
Once you’ve planned your hours-per-week at the semester-level, go one level deeper. At the start of each semester (or whenever you know what your weekly schedule will be), take those planned hours per week and put them into days of the week.
This is where you’ll have to customize not just your schedule, but also your personal rhythms and preferences. One major decision will be, would you rather put your MCAT prep in the mornings before class, or in the evenings after class? Another will be, will you fit in extra study hours on the weekends, or would you rather block out your weekdays further and leave weekends free? Don’t forget to consider big, day-long time blocks for your full-length exams as you near your target test date, and, if you plan to take a comprehensive prep course, when those live class sessions might be scheduled for.
This upfront MCAT study plan will allow you, as a pre-med, to put your attention where you want it to be: on executing the plan in a disciplined fashion, every week. It will take enough willpower and persistence to follow your MCAT study plan—we recommend you do yourself the favor of NOT having to make your plan in real time along the way as well.
Follow these steps and you can get your MCAT prep done while also getting the grades you need in your pre-med classes…and maybe staving off a little stress and anxiety in the process. When life asks you to pit your schoolwork versus the MCAT, now you can reply with the ancient wisdom:
“Why not both?”
This article is part of a series of collaborative posts with Blueprint Prep, who just published an article with a much deeper dive into planning your junior year, specifically. If this kind of planning guide strikes your fancy, check it out! And if you’re a schedule-minded pre-med student who wants the best suite of prep resources, take a look at the Sketchy X Blueprint Bundle, which combines the Sketchy course, Blueprint full-lengths, and an integrated study plan calendar into one great package.