Pre-Med/Pre-Health: MCAT Information
The Pre-Med/Pre-Health Office provides informational meetings during the spring semester to help students prepare for the MCAT . These meetings will be held in February and March at various times. Sign up for our newsletter to receive notifications.
Top Ten Things to Know About the MCAT
Top ten things to know about the MCAT before you begin to study—plus quotes, links, and resources from UMass Amherst students who have taken the test.
1. This process is a marathon not a sprint!
“Organize yourself. If you’re not the kind of person who makes schedules and calendars, you might want to start. Everyone is a little different in how many months they devote to the process. . . some students need seven to eight months, but others are okay with three to four months.”
“Don’t panic if you are spending hours a day studying for weeks on end and don't see improvements to your practice exam scores for a while. Half the battle of taking the MCAT is having the stamina to be able to stay focused for that long, so try not to get discouraged and just know that it takes a while to build that skill. Even if you’re solid on content, you’re probably not used to taking a seven-hour test, so you may start to get tired towards the end and miss questions you’d normally get right. The whole thing takes practice, not just the individual sections.” —Gina Castellano (BDIC, human biology and health science ’22)
2. Don’t assume that the most expensive MCAT prep resources are the most helpful.
“Reddit was one of the most effective resources I used while studying on the MCAT. It is a free source where you can connect with a bunch of other pre-med students who are also trying to figure out ways to tackle the MCAT. There are so many forums filled with study guides, helpful tips, and encouraging stories that can lift you up when you’re feeling down. It reminds you that you are not the only one who thinks the MCAT is tough.”
AAMC, Khan Academy, Reddit, and ANKI flash cards (MilesDown) offer free resources that are highly recommended by students who do well on the exam. See links below.
3. Having a well thought out, healthy routine is essential.
“Cramming, sleep deprivation, and stress will work against your progress.”
”There is such a thing as over-studying. The fact of the matter is that there is so much information on the test that you will never know every single thing that might show up on the test. Do not stress every single day that you need to learn everything—your time is better invested sleeping, working out, or enjoying time off than using every minute to cram minute details.” —Hannah Garth (psychology, ’22)
4. Know what works for you regarding hours per day.
“You might have heard of other pre-meds who studied four to six hours or more a day for the MCAT. You might have heard of other pre-meds who studied for only two to four hours a day. The best thing that you can do is to learn the study strategies that work best for you, not others. It is easy to get burned out early with MCAT studying; you want to organize your schedule in a way that is best for you to avoid that.” —Obi Okereke (public health ’22)
5. Know what works for you regarding working alone or with others.
“Personally, I spent nearly an entire summer alone at my off-campus house at school studying and working part time. When I began to feel particularly isolated, I took short breaks to travel home and spend time with family and friends. I was able to do this because I created my study plan such that I had extra days built in for myself, which I think was extremely important. MCAT burnout can definitely happen, so you want to make sure you’re budgeting your time properly so that you can have days off to spend doing things you like to do.” —Alex Hamel (BMB ’22)
6. Don’t spend too much time on content review.
“One of the worst things you can do while studying for the MCAT is getting stuck in the books.” —Obi Okereke
“The main thing that will help you in studying for the MCAT isn’t re-reading the content books over and over again; it is the practice questions that will help you master the content. . . The MCAT is about interpretation and ability to identify the correct information that you need from a passage to answer a question. That is why it is extremely important that you practice, practice, practice. You’ll learn more from making mistakes and learning content based on those mistakes rather than thinking that you know it from reading it once. Another big point is do not waste time studying what you already know. That seems intuitive but trust me, it is really tempting to review what you already know to make yourself feel confident than to spend a whole day figuring out a physics chapter.” —Hannah Garth
7. Find ways to battle the overwhelm.
“You have to start slow and pace yourself. Before you start, realize that Rome was not built in a day. You will not be able to cram for the MCAT or study a bunch of topics efficiently in one day. You are going to have to take it step by step each and every day. In the beginning, it is going to seem overwhelming. It is going to seem impossible. You are going to forget what you read. You are going to get a bunch of questions wrong. This is normal, and this is the process. Trust the process.” —Obi Okereke
“Things will start to click eventually. You’ll start remembering those intricate pathways that once seemed impossible to learn. You will start getting more and more questions right as you learn how the AAMC likes to ask questions. Bottom line is don’t be discouraged in the beginning, and know that everyone else thinks that the test is hard too.”
“Whenever we would do construction projects, my dad would always say, ‘You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.’ Meaning, it seems impossible to eat an elephant all by yourself but if you take it one bite at a time you will eventually get there. Weird analogy, but that is what I would keep reminding myself whenever I thought it would be impossible to learn all the information in time for the test. If you have a well-planned-out schedule and stick to it, know that you will get there. Some concepts will take one hour, others will take a whole day. You will be surprised what you still remember from your courses and when you are able to breeze through those, that is when you can use your extra time to learn some of those other complex topics or to spend more time on practice problems and reviewing incorrect answers. You can’t psych yourself out by always thinking about the magnitude of information. . . take it one day at a time.” —Hannah Garth
8. Know what resources are the highest rated by students who have actually done well on the test (and don’t believe everything you read on the internet about this!).
“AAMC Question bank and Practice test(s) — this is gold. These practice exams are the best ones out there because they come directly from the creators of the MCAT. . . Utilize the AAMC practice exams for the end of your prep.”
“UWorld is probably the best practice question bank out there, and although it is expensive, I believe it is well worth its price. UWorld gives you some really challenging passages in every topic covered on the MCAT. I would say that the questions are, overall, more challenging than the material on the AAMC exams, but they’re not unrealistically difficult like some of the Kaplan exam questions.” —Alex Hamel
9. Maintain a balance in your life.
“I personally found it challenging to study full time for school (and do well) and study for the MCAT, especially with many extracurricular activities (clubs, work, and volunteering) and also trying to balance some Netflix and time with friends. But that was my experience. You know your schedule best. If you can make it work that’s fantastic, but be real because maxing yourself out will just waste time in the end. I highly recommend using something like Google calendar to allocate your time!”
“If you are someone who regularly engages in some sort of mindfulness activity, like yoga or meditation, that will help you tremendously through this process. If you’ve never done anything like that, but have always wanted to, this is a great opportunity to start! I found yoga to be incredibly beneficial, not only for improving my focus and concentration while studying, but I noticed that it had a huge impact on my ability to control my mindset going into the actual exam, too. It was also a great way to release physical tension from long days of sitting in front of the computer while studying. Cranking out long study sessions can only get you so far—it is so important to maintain a balance between work and relaxation, and I think that when you have that balance, you end up working more efficiently anyway, so you then have more time to dedicate to the other things that are important to you.” —Gina Castellano
10. Do lots of practice exams.
“Practice exams are a must, and although the AAMC full-length exams are most representative of the real exam, taking more practice exams and building endurance is vital. I used Blueprint for extra practice exams and they appear to be the best ‘third party’ exams according to many test takers on forums. Blueprint offers a free half-length diagnostic and one full-length exam. There is a pack of five exams for about $150. I think they are harder than the AAMC, but they are still worth it for the endurance.”
“A practice exam day should start at the time that you will take your actual exam, and take it in ‘real testing conditions,’ which means do not pause the exam, do not look anything up, and take only the allowed breaks.”
“The day following a practice exam, I would take a rest day. After the rest day, I would take a day to review the entire exam. Or, sometimes, I reviewed the exam over four days (one section per day) for two to three hours and then spent other time doing practice questions.” —Brenton Travers (microbiology ’20)
Full MCAT study plan: read a detailed account by Brenton Travers on his experience with the MCAT exam which includes his full STUDY PLAN
MCAT information and resources from the AAMC
Free and low cost resources for MCAT Prep
Kahn Academy MCAT resources
Tools for managing stress during your MCAT prep process
Many current medical students strongly recommend the use of mindfulness practices to handle the stress of MCAT prep, medical school interviews, and the day-to-day demands of medical school itself. One UMass Amherst alum, who is now at UMass Med, said this about mindfulness:
“One additional piece of advice (a bit abstract) I highly recommend is to try to practice mindfulness during the interviews. On such an important day like an interview, I tend to get so nervous that I don’t remember anything that happened, or anything I said once the interview ends. I realized during my prep that if I made an honest effort of just taking it moment by moment and question by question, that I would have an easier time confidently answering the question and that I would actually remember what I said. Taking a moment to focus on my breath, calm my mind, and then begin to organize my thoughts between MMI stations was extremely helpful. This piece of advice was maybe the biggest game-changer for me, and is especially helpful for MMIs, when one station can throw off the rest of the interview. There’s so much information on mindfulness in medicine nowadays and easy to find resources/tips. Some doctors will even do a ‘mindfulness check-in’ right before they enter an exam room in order to shift their focus entirely on their patients, so there’s definitely something to it.” —Jan Sjoquist (biology ’15)
The links below will help you easily start a stress reduction practice of your own.
For help with MCAT test anxiety, even 10 minutes of mindful breathing in the morning before beginning your MCAT prep process will help you stay calm and focused and (with practice over time) better able to handle the heightened stress on your test date.
Short, guided mindfulness meditations:
Short, mindful movement routines:
When your anxiety is higher than typical: