MCAT® Preparation Tips from First-Year Medical Students

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The AAMC MCAT Team recently hosted a live panel with three first-year medical students to share tips, strategies, and insights to help examinees get ready to take the MCAT exam and prepare for medical school. “From Premed to Med Student: Student Tips for Successfully Preparing for the MCAT Exam and Medical School” is a great resource for current and prospective examinees looking for inspiration at any stage.

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A group of medical students wearing white coats in a laboratory.

Studying for the MCAT exam is a big undertaking that requires planning. To provide some insight on different ways to prepare for the test, we asked three first-year medical students to share their best preparation advice. Read each of their tips for preparing for the exam.   

Oliver’s top tips: 

  • Start preparation and practice early. One of the things Oliver mentioned frequently during the webinar was wishing he would have started his MCAT exam preparation earlier. In particular, he recommended starting practice exams and other materials as soon as possible. “I would take the practice exams earlier. I would start the flash cards from the beginning.” He suggested taking practice exams early to give examinees time to address any knowledge gaps and to learn how to apply their knowledge to the MCAT exam style of questions. 
  • Engage the active recall process. A lot of students use flashcards as a fast study tool. Oliver used flash cards in his study habits as well but recommended other examinees to be intentional when using them. “With Anki [cards] sometimes I’ll see the first two words and my brain will fill in the rest of the card without really stopping and doing that active recall and thinking about what is on this card and what is it trying to get me to understand. … Be careful that when you’re doing this [that] you’re actually engaging the active recall process and not just answering the card, but remembering the process and all the mechanisms underneath that you’re going to need to apply to the exam and to your future patient encounters.” 
  • Take advantage of all the resources available. “I didn’t have a pre-med advisor and I didn’t know any pre-meds in undergrad so I was very much just learning things on the fly. I really relied on a comprehensive resource.” In addition to using subject specific guides, Oliver also used Khan Academy videos and reformulated his study strategies trying new approaches like flash cards and spaced repetition to help with active recall. “I also used the AAMC practice exams on their website to make sure I was familiar with the structure and style of the MCAT.”  

Jenny’s top tips: 

  • Self-assess and give yourself deadlines. Jenny was working during her gap years while she was studying. She would review the hours she had to study each week and scheduled her study time around her work hours. She adjusted her schedule at the end of each week based on what she needed to focus on and kept her schedule flexible. She recommended that other examinees tailor study time to accommodate their schedule and monitor practice test results in order to adjust the study approach to their skills and knowledge. “When you are able to see what your weaknesses are you can invest time in areas that matter the most compared to spending time in areas that you know you’re already proficient in.” 
  • Find the methods and tools that work for YOU. “While I was preparing for the MCAT, I was so overwhelmed by all the different strategies people would want to utilize. And, I felt resource overload was a big thing. … You can only take on so much and you can only do so much so try one thing out and see if that works for you. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Jenny recommended examinees work with the resources they have available to identify what helps and to not get distracted by what might be the most “popular” approach.  
  • Be kind to yourself. “We need to remind ourselves that we need to be kind to ourselves in this entire process. We’re human. We make mistakes.” During her studying Jenny realized that she was struggling in some areas and wished that she would have given herself more kindness along the way. 

Natalia’s top tips: 

  • Have a plan. “I think it’s really important to give yourself a plan and treat it like a job or a class. Make sure that you’re keeping yourself responsible.” Natalia gave herself a daily schedule, much like a class routine, during her studying to keep herself accountable. This approach allowed her to keep her life balanced and build in time for herself while preparing for the MCAT exam. 
  • Rehearse the test day experience. “I really tried to emphasize a few final rehearsals before I actually took my MCAT test to simulate a test environment. I tried driving to a new library that was about 30 minutes away to take a practice test. I would eat the same thing I was planning to eat on the morning of my MCAT. I took the same level of breaks. And I feel like that really helped calm my anxiety on test day and was a really helpful strategy.” 
  • Answer the question first.  When it comes to preparing for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section, Natalia recommended examinees write down their answer choice first before reading any of the options. “This way, you are going off your own information from reading the passage objectively. Being able to write down information that I know from my own content knowledge and then going through the answer choices is a skill I still use in medical school.” Using this technique helped Natalia understand why she got questions right and wrong and to detect patterns. “I wished I would’ve approached my science sections this way too.”   

You can watch the entire webinar recording through the webinars section of the Premed Resources website at www.aamc.org/premedresources.

If you want to learn more about the study strategies described in this article, be sure to check our free guide to creating a study plan in the MCAT Exam Prep Hub.

Thank you to our session host and volunteer medical student panelists:

  • Erica Rutzler, MCAT director of Test Development and Science Education 
  • Oliver Chalfant, MD candidate at the University of Illinois College of Medicine
  • Jenny Ijoma, MD-PhD candidate at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Princeton University 
  • Natalia Kellam, MD candidate at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School 

The study tips have been edited for length and are excerpted from the May 12 webinar “From Premed to Medical Student: Student Tips for Successfully Preparing for the MCAT Exam and Medical School.” 


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These students’ testimonials were selected because they represent interesting stories. The views expressed herein are those of the students and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the AAMC. Any reference in these testimonials to a specific third-party product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the AAMC of the product, process, or service or its supplier.

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