For many students, the plan looks something like this
- Pick a test date ‘far enough’ in the future
- Get some resources without knowing much about them
- Study, study, study but without a strategic plan or measurable progress
There’s a myth…
That it takes just 3 months to prepare for the MCAT.
In working with thousands of premeds over the last decade I’ve seen this to be very far from the truth. The MCAT is not just about content.
With so much to learn, remember, understand, and practice,
3 months is never enough!
The exception is a student who is retaking and needs just a few more points. If that’s you, take a look at my 3-month MCAT retake plan.
Of course, if you're wondering where to begin or how to start preparing for the MCAT, read my Getting Started Guide here: How to Start Studying for the MCAT
While every student is different — and you are the only one who knows how much time you need once you get started — 6 months is typically the sweet spot for a student with ample daily study time, a reasonable science background, and a required baseline to target jump of up to 15 points.
How to use the 6-Month MCAT Study Plan
The plan below is simply an outline or a reference to be loosely followed as you customize it to fit your specific situation and unique circumstances. Customizing plans and regular evaluation is one of the things we do during the near-weekly office hours in the MCAT Study Hall.
Who this plan is for:
This 6 month MCAT study plan is specifically for students who:
- Can commit to near full-time MCAT study with limited external distractions (family, work, school). Students who are able to commit at least 25-30 hours per week towards MCAT prep. ie: Part-time job, kids who don’t need too much time, just 1-2 classes.
- Have a reasonable science foundation, who don’t need to relearn any complete subject slowly, and from scratch.
- Are looking to improve their MCAT scores by 10-15 points
If you don’t fit the above criteria that’s ok. Simply stretch your study plan out to allot more weeks with fewer weekly study hours, missing science courses, or a higher target score jump.
Remember, it’s better to postpone the MCAT on YOUR terms rather than to waste $325 by testing before you’re reading, spending a stressful 30 days awaiting your score, then undergoing the 5 stages of grief before deciding to start over and test again!
At the end of the day, it’s not about how quickly you reach your goals.
Instead, that you simply refuse to give up all the way to, and past, medical school!
MCAT Plan Overview
With a 6-month plan, we’re going to look at 26 weeks of progress following my 3-phase approach.
We’ll start with a baseline in week 0 and your MCAT at the start of week 27.
We’ll include 2 buffer weeks, 1 each in Phase 1 and Phase 2 allowing for guilt-free downtime in case of holidays, birthdays, vacation, and travel, or illness/emergencies.
If you don’t end up needing your buffer weeks, great! Use that time for review and additional practice.
Our plan will be broken down as follows:
- Week 0: Getting started
- Weeks 1-12: Phase 1
- Weeks 13-22: Phase 2
- Weeks 23-26: Phase 3
- Week 27: Test day and recovery
You can map out your progress in the downloadable 6-Month MCAT Plan PDF Companion.
Week 0 – Baseline, Finalize Your Plan, Assemble Your Resources
I’m an OCD planner. Before running my first Half Marathon in Nov 2019, I wrote out no less than 10 training plans. I planned, refined, collected data, and revised regularly to account for milestones and setbacks (thanks sprained ankle…).
I’m not asking you to be this OCD, but I do suggest taking some time to carefully create your plan and ensure you’re ready to go by day 1. Mentally, and in terms of having everything ready, including your baseline numbers.
Your Baseline Full-Length
You’re about to commit half of an entire YEAR to this plan, you can’t afford to be guessing at your goals. If you don’t already, find out EXACTLY where you stand by taking a baseline full-length.
Update your 6-Month Plan Companion PDF:
- Baseline MCAT Score ____ Section scores: C/P __ CARS __ B/B __ P/S __
- Exam Company/Number ________ Date _______
- Target MCAT Score ____
- Required Score Increase (Gap to Goal) ____
Remember, it’s not about ‘acing your baseline’ or worrying you forgot everything because you haven’t started studying yet. Instead, your baseline exam is meant to help you understand EXACTLY where you’re starting out as well as getting a true feel for the 7.5 hour MCAT experience.
Do not use an official AAMC full-length for your baseline. Those are the best, most realistic, and very limited practice test materials. Save them for the end. Instead, consider the AAMC unscored sample test (google a conversion calculator) or a free full length from companies like Next Step (recommended) or Kaplan.
Required Resources for the 6-Month MCAT Study Plan
I cover MCAT resources in detail in Step 3 of my Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide. Below are the minimal resources that you’ll require. You’ll find links to all of the resources including a 10% Next Step exam discount on my MCAT Resources Page.
- MCAT Content Books published after 2015. Any company is fine, EK or Kaplan are best.
- Videos for supplementary learning, especially if you are a visual/auditory learner. (My YouTube videos, study hall, or other videos)
- At least 6 non-AAMC full length practice tests
- Whiteboard and dry erase markers for your daily Active Writing (AW)
- Newspaper or Journal articles for Critical Reading
- Pick an MCAT date but DO NOT sign up yet! Wait until your mid/late Phase 2 evaluation.
- AAMC Official Guide to be well versed in the MCAT itself. Optional in Phase 1, required in Phase 2 for AAMC practice questions.
Don’t worry yet about practice passages and the AAMC bundle. You’ll acquire those in Phase 2.
Week’s 1-12: Phase 1 Foundation
For this plan, we’ve set aside 12 weeks for Phase 1 to ensure you get through all of the required MCAT content quickly and efficiently, but slow enough to process, absorb, and truly UNDERSTAND the information.
This will be broken up into 9 full-study weeks:
2 exam review weeks will include half-day content review and half-day exam review.
We’ll add 1 buffer week ideally dedicated to a Phase 1 wrap-up review.
Suggested Phase 1 Study Schedule
This is a sample schedule for students who have just 30 hours per week.
Aim to study 5 hours per day Monday through Friday. Then 8 hours on the weekend.
This looks like 33 hours but you’ll lose a few hours with the combined breaks for a net 30 to avoid burnout.
When to study – Your Weekly Study Plan
Review Step 4 of my Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide to create your weekly study schedule.
Carefully block out and protect your study time, leave time for the things that matter (school, work, family, and other obligations) and make sure you build in enough downtime so that you don’t burn out.
Monday through Friday
- 3.5 hours difficult science (phys, gchem, orgo, bio, bchem)
- 30 min sanity/snack break
- 1.5 hr alternate P/S or CARS critical reading
Phase 1 CARS/Passages should place a heavy focus on reading quality, comprehension, and endurance. Allot 2 weekly sessions each for CARS and Critical Reading. Allot more if this is a known issue for you or CARS is your lowest scoring section.
Choose one weekend day where you do NOT think about the MCAT. This is your ‘have fun / burnout insurance’ day. Use this day to recharge, refresh, and be ready to start next week even stronger.
The other weekend day should be broken up as follows:
- 3.5 hour for the ‘scariest’ science (physics for most students)
- 1 hour lunch/sanity break
- 3 hour ‘easier’ science
- 1 hour snack/sanity break
- 1.5hr CARS or Critical reading
Allocate the first 15 minutes to review (that subject, previous weeks) and the last 15 minutes to Active Writing.
What this looks like (this sample schedule is included in the 6-Month Plan PDF Companion):
If you are following this plan and have >30 hours, consider adding a second science block to each day for 2 – 3.5 hours.
Phase 1 Progress Goals:
Week 1 goals: average of 10% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 2 goals: average of 20% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 3 goals: average of 30% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 4 goals: average of 40% content progress in EVERY subject
Your first Phase 1 Full Length
Ideally, you’ve hit 40% average progress per subject. Not quite there yet? That’s ok so long as you’re at least at 25% average progress.
If you’re under 25%, push your full-length back until you’re at 25% progress.
The purpose of full lengths in Phase 1 is to see how you’re progressing from a content-perspective. If you are missing passages/questions due to not having covered a specific topic, SKIP IT during the review. If you miss questions on content already covered, ask yourself:
‘What’s wrong with my current approach? What do I have to do differently in terms of content for the rest of Phase 1?’
Take your full-length early in the week (Sat, Sun, or Mon).
DO NOT review your exam the same day that you take it. Complete your exam and take the rest of the day off. Watch a movie, go for a walk, RELAX!
The rest of your week should look like this:
- Start by reading: 3 Steps to Raising Your MCAT Scores With Full Length Practice Tests
- Then redo your study blocks for the week as follows:
- ½ day MCAT FL review while filling out an exam review table as you go
- ½ day content progress
Week 5 goals: FL + Review, average 45% content progress in EVERY subject
If you’re done with the exam review in 1 week, jump right back into your week 4 routine. If not, continue ½ review and ½ studying until you complete the entire exam review.
Week 6 goals: average of 55% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 7 goals: average of 65% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 8 goals: average of 75% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 9 goals: average of 85% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 10: Phase 1 second full length
Only take your second full-length if you’ve hit at least another 25% content progress since your last full length, and at least 4 weeks have passed. If your last FL was delayed, or if you’re under +25% progress, push back your timeline till you’re ready.
Week 10 should follow a Week 5 schedule of ½ FL review and ½ content progress.
Week 10 goals: FL + Review, average 90% content progress in EVERY subject
Continue this schedule until your exam review + review table are both complete, then resume your standard phase 1 content review schedule.
Week 11 goals: Average 100% content progress in EVERY subject
Week 12: Buffer or Review Week
The last week of Phase 1 is a buffer or review week, which ends in a big, ‘Am I ready for Phase 2?’ evaluation.
If you have stuck with the schedule and have nothing to make up:
Use week 12 for a quick review of Phase 1 to ensure you’re comfortable enough with content to move into Phase 2.
Follow your Phase 1 study blocks and scan through your entire book during each block.
For example: your Physics block will be a quick skim of every chapter in physics, or the chapter summaries, or your notes.
Swap the 15-minute review for active writing, and end with another 15-minute active writing session.
If you lost a few days in Phase 1 due to holidays, travel, illness or emergency, use this week as a makeup week to catch up. This assumes you’re less than one week behind.
If you’re MORE than one week behind
Reassess your goals,
Evaluate your average weekly progress and extrapolate the number of weeks required to finish Phase 1.
For example if you’re 60% through content with an average 8% weekly progress. With 40% to go you’ll need another 5 weeks to complete Phase 1.
Push your timeline by 5 weeks.
Critical Checkpoint: Am I ready to move on to Phase 2?
This checklist is included in the printable 3 Month Plan PDF Companion. Click to Download.
☐ Have I improved since my baseline exam?
☐ Do I feel that I gave content my all and now have a solid foundation in all of the sciences?
☐ Do I have at least half of my terms/pathways/equations memorized? (AW continues into Phase 2)
☐ Did I miss LESS than an average of 10 content-related questions per science section in my last FL?
☐ Do I feel confident enough with content to move into hardcore practice?
Week’s 13-22: Phase 2 Practice
With a solid content foundation in place, the ‘real’ MCAT prep begins in Phase 2. This will include practice passages, a full-length nearly every other week, and strategic in-depth exam review. You’ll work on getting familiar with MCAT style passages, test taking strategy, timing, filling in knowledge gaps and more.
In this plan we’ve allotted 10 weeks for the practice phase. This assumes you’re looking to improve < 10 points from your last FL.
If your goal is a greater improvement, you’ll require a longer Phase 2. Estimate at least 2 weeks per point at first. Once you have a solid trend of your OWN full-lengths, use your average jumps to calculate the additional number of weeks required.
Week 13 goals: Full length + in-depth review
Exam review during Phase 1 is faster because you already know you’re missing content and you’re not yet focused on intense strategy. Phase 2 is the opposite.
Start week 13 with a full-length under realistic conditions, then follow this guide on how to review your full length, and create an exam review table.
Exam review should take about a week if done correctly. Since you’re likely still missing content questions in Phase 2, break up your study blocks as follows:
- 33% passage review
- 33% work on passage related issues
- 33% general content review ending with 15 min of active writing
List out the ONE biggest issue per section – the one reason that cost you the most points on your FL so that you can focus your next 2 weeks of practice on fixing this issue.
Week 14/15 Goals: (non-AAMC) Practice Passages + Review
Use these 2 weeks to get comfortable with MCAT style passages and focus on your identified issues.
Consider passages from Khan Academy (free), or UWorld (not free but highly recommended by students), or the passages included in your EK or other practice books.
I recommend one of the following two study block methods depending on how you feel about content.
If you’re still weak in content (missed ~10+ content questions in last FL) break your study block into quarters
- 25% passages
- 25% passage review / work on issues
- 50% general content review ending in 15 minutes of active writing
If you’re missing <10 content questions per section break your blocks into thirds
- 33% passages
- 33% passage review / work on issues
- 33% general content review ending in 15 min of active writing
Many students face timing issues at this point. If that’s your concern, implement the following:
Did you focus on your ONE biggest weakness these last 2 weeks? Let’s see if it worked
Week 16 Goals: Full Length + Review
Take another full length under realistic conditions and review as you did your last full length.
Compare the 2 exam review tables. Did you improve in your one biggest issue per section?
If not consider what you can do differently to ensure you improve by your next FL.
If yes, great!
Look for the new biggest issue per section and make a plan to work on it for the next week.
(if you finish your exam review before the week is over jump into practice passages early)
Week 17 Goals: Evaluation + Practice Passages
Week 17 is an evaluation week. Are you ready to enter phase 3 in just over a month?
Are you within 3-5 points of your target MCAT score?
If yes: Transition to AAMC practice passages (purchase the complete bundle)
If not: continue with non-AAMC practice passages
Use these passages to work on your weaknesses and get even more comfortable with MCAT-style passages and timing.
Why save AAMC for the end? Despite being banned from taking the MCAT I still want to ensure I give you THE BEST possible feedback and advice. To do this, I speak to students after each and every MCAT date to better understand the exam.
One thing I focus on is identifying resources and practice material closest to the real thing.
A majority of students reported that the AAMC practice passages are EVEN CLOSER to the real thing than the AAMC full-lengths. So we save those till you’re done working out most issues, scoring near your target, and ready to refine your testing skills to the AAMC testing style.
Week 18 Goals: Full Length + Review, + timeline evaluation
Start week 18 with another full length + exam review table as you review.
How do you feel? Are you progressing or stuck in a plateau?
Were you able to fix the issues that you’ve identified in your last 2 exam reviews?
I’ve seen many students test before they’re ready. This typically happens when the student doesn't know or understand how to evaluate their timeline.
The worst time to realize, “I wasn’t ready to test” is when you get your scores!
Nearly as bad is DURING Phase 3 when you’ve already burned AAMC exams.
The best time to evaluate is when you have a few data points within Phase 2, specifically your full-length data.
If you followed this plan closely you should have completed 5 full-lengths since your baseline.
Let's evaluate the last 3 (Phase 2) exams.
A) Plot them out on a curve
B) Or run a simple calculation as follows:
- What is my average jump from one exam to the next?
- If I continue at this pace, will I OUTSCORE my target during Phase 3?
Average jump x 5 for the 5 remaining exams.
I say outscore rather than hit your target in order to allow for a test day buffer. If test day nerves cause you to lose 2 points (very common) you’ll still be ok having outscored your target in practice.
Study Hall Members: Come to office hours ready to calculate/review these numbers
If your numbers look good -> keep going.
If your calculations bring you shy of your target, you must reevaluate your timeline.
Calculate as follows:
- Required jump to hit Target+2 / average jump on last 3 exams = # full lengths + review & practice time needed.
- The final number tells you how many more ‘2 week’ periods to add onto Phase 2.
- Add these weeks into your schedule at this point, then pick up from week 19 when you score within 3 points of your target for 1-2 full-lengths.
Assuming you’re on track, let’s take another week of practice passages to work on your issues.
Week 19 Goals: AAMC Practice Passages
In addition to working to improve on your biggest issue per section, start paying close attention to AAMC passage style. What types of passages they use, how they ask questions, the depth of required knowledge in terms of memorization, pathways, equations, and more.
Week 20 Goals: AAMC Full Length + In-depth review + Pre-Phase 3 Checkpoint
As with the AAMC passages, we saved the AAMC full lengths until the end. To date, there are four official AAMC Full-Lengths and one AAMC sample test for a total of five AAMC exams. These will be your last five full-lengths.
After completing your full-length review and exam review table, it’s time for a pre-Phase 3 checkpoint.
Run the same calculations as you did after week 18 full length.
Are you on track?
Are you within 2-4 points of your target score?
Do you need to add a few more weeks to phase 2?
If yes, add them HERE before week 21.
Ready to move forward? Consider signing up for your MCAT. Worried this is too late and seats will be gone? I beg to differ as explained here
Week 21/22 Goals: AAMC Practice Passages + Review
This is it, the last 2 weeks of extensive AAMC passage review to work out your biggest issues per section as you continue to study the AAMC testing style.
Week 21 is a scheduled practice week.
Week 22 is a phase 2 buffer week if one of your full lengths got pushed back.
All set? Ready for Phase 3?
Pre-Phase 3 Hardcore Evaluation
This evaluation is like Monopoly, if you are not ready to enter Phase 3, DO NOT MOVE ON!
Do not pass Go
Do not collect $200
Find a quiet place where you can take your time to evaluate and reflect, then grab your 6-Month Plan PDF Companion (below checklist included) and evaluate.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I need more time for MCAT prep?
- How do I feel about my MCAT prep?
- Do I feel solid with my content?
- Did I complete all AAMC practice passages?
- Am I solid on my testing approach and passage strategy?
- Do I have my passage timing nailed down so that I don’t run out of time?
- Am I scoring within 2-4 points of my target MCAT score?
- Am I ready to take the MCAT in just a few weeks?
- Do I need to postpone my MCAT?
- Am I ready, like really REALLY ready for phase 3?
How do I feel?
Let your thoughts run wild as you ramble on paper working through how you feel. Write down pros and cons for moving forward, and make sure you’re confident with your results.
And remember, if you need to postpone, it’s important to make this decision NOW rather than a few weeks later when you’ve burned AAMC exams, or worse, AFTER you see your scores and realize ‘I should have waited.’
Weeks 23-26: Phase 3 Fortification
This is it, you’re in the home stretch.
You’ve already built a solid content foundation,
You’ve taken enough full lengths to get comfortable with testing style and endurance, you’ve worked out your timing, testing strategy, and attacked each of your biggest issues in every exam section.
If you don't have a test date yet, check the AAMC site every morning before studying and every evening after. Seats always open a few weeks before test day.
Phase 3 is about doing a trial run + last minute review for 4 weeks in a row. This way, by the time you take the real exam it will feel like ‘just another phase 3 full-length.’
Start Phase 3 with a gradual bedtime schedule overhaul as I teach in this Wake Up To A Better MCAT Score tutorial.
Work on your day-before and day-of meals to ensure maximum energy, and minimal crashing.
If possible, schedule at least two mornings to preview the route to your testing center. Evaluate traffic and delays, comfort with overall directions, and parking situation.
If taking public transportation (bus/train) evaluate potential wait times in case of delay.
Every week in Phase 3 is exactly the same:
- Take an AAMC full-length (as near as you can) on the same day and time as your 8am MCAT, under realistic testing conditions.
- Review your full-length very carefully and complete an exam review table.
- Identify the one biggest issue per section and work on it using AAMC practice passages (ideally going through them for the second time).
- Ask yourself weekly:
- Will I be ok with my MCAT score if it comes to the average of my last 3 full-lengths?
- If I continue to improve at this rate, will I hit my target score in time?
Phase 3 Weekly Goals
Week 23 Goals: 8 am AAMC Full Length 2-3 points from target
Week 24 Goals: 8 am AAMC Full Length 0-2 points from target
Week 25 Goals: 8 am AAMC Full Length 0-1 points ABOVE target score
Week 26 Goals: 8 am AAMC Full Length 0-2 points ABOVE target score
Do a final ‘gut check’ evaluation?
Did I stick to the plan, did I pivot as needed when life threw me for a loop?
I’ve worked so hard, am I ready for this?
Week 27 Goals: Destroy the MCAT!!
You’ve worked hard for this, go get ‘em!!
Follow along with the 6-Month Plan PDF Companion. Click To Download
What’s missing from this plan?
When I published the 3-Month MCAT Study Plan I received a lot of positive feedback and suggestions, as well as a request to create a longer plan (like this 6-month plan).
Is there anything else you’d like to see here? Leave a comment below or email me here.