The Perfect MCAT Study Schedule – 2023 Edition

May 11, 2023

mcat study schedule

If you’ve ever taken a standardized test like the SAT or GRE, you may be dreading the tedious task of making a study plan as you prep for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Preparing for this exam is a large part of the medical school application timeline and procrastination is not recommended. In fact, the earlier you start the more prepared you’ll feel! The beauty of putting together an MCAT study plan is that the level of detail and format of the organization are totally up to you. To help you get started, we’ve put together a guide that overviews the importance of an MCAT study schedule and what an example would look like.

What’s on the MCAT?

Before you begin sketching out an MCAT study schedule, it’s probably a good idea to understand what the eight-hour-long exam entails. The MCAT, administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), is a multiple-choice test that you’ll take on a computer at a testing center of your choice. It’s required by almost all U.S. medical schools as part of your application. Generally, the purpose of the MCAT is to assess your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities as a future medical student.

First, you should note the exam is divided into four distinct categories. Specifically, there are a total of 230 multiple-choice questions, both passage-based and discrete. The number of questions and amount of time you’ll have to answer them is the same for all sections except Critical Reading and Reasoning Skills. The final score of each section equals the number of correct answers added together, which is then scaled to a score between 118 and 132.

Second, the distribution of topics varies per section depending on the overall focus. For instance, the biology-focused section heavily tests your knowledge of introductory biology concepts, while the chemistry-focused section assesses your retention of general chemistry and biochemistry. Knowing the rough percentage distribution of topics can help you determine how much time and effort you should dedicate to studying different subjects.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

(59 questions, 95 minutes)

This section tests your knowledge of processes unique to living organisms, like growing and reproducing, maintaining a constant internal environment, acquiring materials and energy, sensing and responding to environmental changes, and adapting.

Discipline Percentage of Section
Introductory biology 65%
First-semester biochemistry 25%
General chemistry 5%
Organic chemistry 5%

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

(59 questions, 95 minutes)

This section tests your retention of human body functions, including the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of tissues, organs, and organ systems.

Discipline Percentage of Section
General chemistry 30%
First-semester biochemistry 25%
Introductory physics 25%
Organic chemistry 15%
Introductory biology 5%

 Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

(59 questions, 95 minutes)

This section tests your understanding of the psychological, social, and biological factors that influence perceptions of and reactions to the world; behavior and behavior change; what people think about themselves and others; the cultural and social differences that impact well-being; and other topics.

Discipline Percentage of Section
Introductory psychology 65%
Introductory sociology 30%
General biology 5%

 Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

(53 questions, 90 minutes)

This section tests your comprehension, analysis, and reasoning skills by presenting passages from a diverse range of topics including ethics, philosophy, studies of diverse cultures, population health, social sciences, and humanities disciplines. All the information needed to answer the questions can be found in the passages and the questions themselves.

Skill Percentage of Section
Reasoning beyond the text 40%
Reasoning within the text 30%
Foundations of comprehension 30%

**The percentage of topic/skill coverage within each section does vary from year to year, as question difficulty and passage type are different between tests.

 Why Is it Important to Study for the MCAT?

Based on AAMC data, the average total MCAT score in the 2022-23 testing cycle of students who took the MCAT was 506.5 (on a percentile score range of 472 to 528). This translates to the 65th percentile. However, the average total MCAT score of students who enrolled in medical school was 511.9, which is between the 80th and 83rd percentiles.

If you’re hoping to get into a top medical school, average applicant scores usually reach at least the 80th percentile. While many schools don’t have a minimum MCAT, those that do typically range from 490 to 507.  For more information, you can find a thorough list of average MCAT scores for top U.S. medical schools here.

MCAT Study Schedule (Continued)

Now, if you’ve already taken a practice test “just to see,” you’re probably realizing that an intensive MCAT study schedule may be needed. Your initial score may be far off from the average applicant who enrolls in your dream medical school. But how much is the MCAT score weighed in the overall medical school application?

Don’t get us wrong; it’s definitely important and should be taken as seriously as personal statements, recommendation letters, or interviews. It helps show medical school admissions that you’re capable of applying the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in your undergraduate studies. Conversely, it’s not the only part of your application. Like applying for college, applying for medical school is a holistic process and you’re evaluated as a whole student, not just a score.

How Hard Is It to Study for the MCAT?

That depends on your definition of hard. If you’re an organized person who takes pride in their ability to study weeks in advance for an exam, studying shouldn’t be too difficult. But if you’re a student who procrastinates exam preparation, this process is going to take more dedication. The MCAT is not for the faint of heart – it’s eight hours of reading, thinking, and staring at a screen. Consistent studying is the best practice for your endurance and attention span.

In addition, the complexity and sheer amount of material tested on the MCAT is unparalleled. The information is presented in long, wordy passages and misleading questions. The test isn’t a walk in the park; it’s designed to weed out students who aren’t a strong fit for medical school. You must be able to recall the smallest, trickiest details from a whole range of topics from biochemistry to psychology. Truthfully, you’re not going to remember everything you’ve learned from four years of classes or months of careful studying. Having realistic expectations for yourself will help you study for the MCAT most effectively by focusing on what you know the least.

What Does an MCAT Study Schedule Look Like?

Creating an MCAT study plan is not a task you can do in 15 minutes. After taking a diagnostic MCAT test, you should sit down and figure out what you do and don’t know. This could take a couple of hours depending on the diagnostic score. Once you have a complete and prioritized list of concepts to study, you need to get a calendar to begin planning out when and what you’ll study. It’s important not to overdo it – rest days are super important for not getting burned out leading up to your exam date. You know when you’re most productive during the day (or night), so be strategic in using that time to your advantage.

An important thing to remember when you’re studying is to take notes every time you complete a practice exam, both full-length and sectional. Jot down what concepts you’re forgetting or what types of questions you’re missing. You’ll thank yourself as the day gets closer and you know what you’re still having trouble with just weeks before the exam.

Here’s a high-level sample study schedule for six months of preparation:

Months From Test Date Tasks to Complete

6 months

  • Take a full-length MCAT diagnostic exam.
  • Create a detailed list of topics you need to study based on how you scored on the diagnostic, prioritizing the concepts you know least.
  • Create a running list of challenging texts to begin improving your critical thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Gather your study materials in one spot – exam practice books, flashcards, textbooks, etc.

5 months

  • Take practice exams for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section and Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section.
  • Review content from one section each week, focusing most on what you don’t know well.
  • Continue reading challenging texts to prep for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section.

4 months

  • Take practice tests for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section and the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section.
  • Review content from one section each week, focusing most on what you don’t know well.
  • Continue reading challenging texts to prep for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section.

3 months

  • Take one full-length practice test and one practice test for the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section.
  • Review content from one section each week, focusing most on what you don’t know well.
  • Continue reading challenging texts to prep for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section.

2 months

  • Take a full-length practice exam every week in a similar environment to the actual test.
  • Focus on practice questions and content review for one test section per week.
  • Continue reading challenging texts to prep for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section.

1 month

  • Take 3-4 full-length practice exams.
  • In the week leading up to the test date, focus specifically on reviewing content that has given you the most trouble. Don’t spend more than 1-2 hours per day studying.
  • Sleep and eat well the night before the exam. No last-minute cramming!

What If I Don’t Have Time to Study for the MCAT?

 There’s always time to study for the MCAT. This is because the exam is offered 30 times every year – a full testing calendar for 2023 can be found here. (Note that exams are not offered in February or after September.) Typically, the MCAT should be taken between your junior and senior years of undergrad, with the latest exam date being April or May of the year you’re submitting medical school applications.

We suggest registering for an exam between three and six months in advance if possible. This will give you enough time to create and follow through with a dedicated MCAT study plan. But if you’re taking the MCAT later than recommended, an organized study schedule is crucial. You should be spending any amount of time before your exam date studying the topics you know the least. Going over what you’re most confident about won’t help you in the long run.

Remember, planning is the first step to preparing for the MCAT well. You need to know both what and how to study for the MCAT. An organized, consistent, and realistic schedule is key to achieving your target score!