MCAT Prep Study Hours to Months Breakdown

MCAT Prep Hours to months breakdown by Leah4sciAs an MCAT tutor I hear this question often. Students looking ahead to their exam date want to know how many months they should set aside in preparation for the MCAT.

I realize that with so much to cover on the MCAT it’s overwhelming, and having a definite ‘number’ potential makes the task less daunting.

If you google this question you’ll come across some ‘very helpful’ articles suggesting you should plan to invest just 3 months or 300 hours.

This was great advice, for the OLD MCAT!

However, given that the new MCAT is both longer and covers more topics than the old exam,  you’ll find that preparing for the new test will require a larger investment of time.

Of course every student is unique, and so the length and method of studying must also be unique.

In fact, I’ve outlined the different types of students I frequently encounter as an MCAT tutor and assigned each a different length of study.  

MCAT Prep: How Much Time Do You REALLY Need?

In the above article I suggested the average length of time needed is 500 hours.

Why 500?

If the old 3.5 hour 5-topic MCAT required 300 hours of study, then the new 7.5 hour 8-topic MCAT should be nearly double.

I have worked with hundreds of students since the new exam’s introduction in 2015, analyzing their study habits, schedules, and progress from Baseline Full Length to final MCAT score. For the average student, the 500 hour number appears to be a solid target number for achieving a successful score.

Got it, I need to dedicate 500 hours.  But the common question I still get is, IN HOW MANY MONTHS?

This is different for every single student.  For example, Nayna scored a 518 with just 3 months of insane MCAT prep, while THIS STUDENT is putting in 8 months of solid prep.

This is assuming you’ve taken college level courses on nearly every subject, even if you’ve forgotten it all.

The first step to figuring out how many months is to determine how many hours you can devote to MCAT prep on a daily and weekly basis.

Let’s keep in mind that emergencies don’t check the calendar.

You can’t plan for illness, car trouble, or other urgent demands that delay your schedule. So let’s plan ahead and allow for the unexpected.

In coming up with the 500 hour estimate I took these unexpected study interruptions into account by assigning each month exactly 4 weeks or 28 days. Those remaining 2-3 days will allow you to handle emergencies and any catching up without freaking out. And hey, it simplifies our math despite for longer/shorter months.

I realize that many students preparing for the MCAT have not taken AT LEAST one of the required topics and will be self-studying.

The most common courses NOT taken by my MCAT Study Hall members are biochemistry, ONE organic or physics course, or psychology/sociology.

The more courses you have to self-study, the more time you’ll want to add on for learning this material from scratch.

Also keep in mind that every student learns at a different pace. How much time do YOU need for phase 1?

So where do you fit those 500 hours?

Figure out how many hours you can devote per week then find your category accordingly.

40 Hours per Week: MCAT Study As A Full Time Job

If you’re a student who is out of school and quit your job so that you can focus 100% of your time on MCAT prep, you’ll have to view MCAT prep as a full time job.

This DOESN’T mean you should be cramming for 12 hours per day at 84 hours per week.  You’ll burn out in just a few days.

Instead, make your full time MCAT schedule a well-rounded and healthy routine.

Allow time for working out in the mornings, hanging out with friends or relaxing by yourself 1-2 nights a week, and most definitely getting a full night’s rest.

I also recommend getting a volunteering or shadowing position for a few hours a day once a week. This serves 2 purposes:

  1. Gets you out of that ‘MCAT study’ mode and forces you to ‘see the world’
  2. Puts you into a medical/healthcare setting, which will remind you  WHY you’re sacrificing so much for the MCAT.

One of my students volunteers at an emergency clinic in an underserved community. She is reminded on a weekly basis exactly what happens to people’s health when preventative health education and affordable medical care are lacking in communities.

Every time she leaves that clinic she is determined to work hard and reach her goal so that one day, SHE can be a leader in her community teaching people HOW to take care of themselves before a minor illness turns into an emergency.

40 hours per week at 7 study hours per day for 6 days, or 8 study hours per day for 5 days a week, that’s a full time job.

At 40 hours per week it will take you approximately 12.5 weeks or just over 3 months to prepare for the MCAT.

This is more intense than it sounds and should be accepted with caution!

MCAT sample 3 month study schedule

Sometimes taking a study break is MORE IMPORTANT than cramming in a few more hours of information.   This schedule is highly unlikely for students taking classes, working, or taking care of a family, especially those with young children.

30 Hours Per Week: Balancing MCAT With Average Responsibilities

If you feel that 3 months studying 40 hours per week is too intense, but still desire to treat MCAT prep as a full-time occupation, I recommend devoting 30 hours per week.

This can be broken down anywhere from 4.5 daily hours for 7 days, 5 daily hours over 6 days, or even 6 daily hours for just 5 days.

This type of schedule leaves you time for taking care of a family, working a part-time job, or taking a couple college courses.  This puts your MCAT prep at borderline cramming so I don’t recommend this schedule if you have more than 1 responsibility outside of MCAT prep.

At 30 hours per week you’ll need approximately 17 weeks or just over 4 months to prepare.

This of course assumes that you are making regular progress and improving on your full length exams as needed. Sometimes the extra time between practice exams is critical for allowing your brain to ‘catch up’ and keep up.

MCAT Sample 4 month study schedule

20 Hours per Week: Part Time MCAT Study

I recommend devoting 20 MCAT study hours per week if you’re juggling a full-time but non-strenuous job, a regular semester schedule, or a family that requires lots of time and attention, especially those with little kids.

20 hours per week gives you great flexibility. You can devote anywhere from 3 hours per day every day, to 6.5 hours per day just 3 times a week

At 20 hours per day you’ll need approximately 25 weeks or just over 6 months to prepare.

MCAT sample 6 month study schedule

Many 30-hour per week students wind up falling into this category as work and life sometimes gets the better of their schedule. This is why I recommend starting out with a 6-month study plan.

15 Hours Per Week: MCAT Study On A Packed Schedule

Many students prepare for the MCAT while juggling at least 2 full-time demands including negotiating school work and family.

15 hours per week is the bare minimum I recommend students spend preparing for the MCAT.  At a minimum, this comes to just over 2 hours per day every single day.

You can also manage this at 7.5 hours twice a week although not recommended. Try for a healthy balance of at least 4 days a week (4 hours) or 5 days per week (3 hours)

500 hours at 15 hours per week comes to 30+ weeks or just over 8 months of prep.

MCAT sample 8 month study schedule

This gets tricky during the final weeks of your prep when you’re required to take a weekly 7.5 hour exam AND review.

This is the absolute MINIMUM amount of studying I’d recommend!

If you currently find you can devote LESS THAN 15 hours per week I challenge you to evaluate your schedule and decide what you can cut to free up some more time. Perhaps you can cut back on your work hours, take fewer classes during the upcoming semester, or find a babysitter to look after the kids while you sneak away for a few hours of solid study time.

A student recently told me that she can only devote 5 hours on a Sunday to MCAT prep.

There’s no way that’s enough. By the time she finishes chapter 1 in each of the 7 sciences, it’ll be a month later with dozens of chapters still to go. This is not a strategy that will work if you hope to retain what you’ve studied.  

How Many Months Hours of MCAT PrepI realize that what I’m asking may sound unreasonable, but let’s be realistic for a moment.  

The MCAT is likely your biggest hurdle for getting into medical school. The discipline you learn while preparing for the MCAT will only help you to prepare for your demanding medical school curriculum.

If you can’t consistently carve out 15 hours per week for MCAT prep, how will you figure out how to devote that amount of time (and more!) as a medical student?

So when you think about your MCAT study timeline, consider how much time you’ll need in terms of the number of months you’ll need to prepare, AND  also the number of hours you’re able to commit AND STICK TO on a weekly basis.  

How many hours do you currently devote to your MCAT prep? Do you feel that it’s enough? let me know in the comments below

Comments

  1. Hello,

    I am beginning to study for the MCAT on December 19th, and my exam is May 19th. I have five months exactly, and have allotted a possible 50 hours a week to study for it. Now, I know that I probably should not devote that much time to avoid a burnout, but the time is there if I need it. How many hours do you think I should study a week for the exam to maintain a healthy balance of having a life and studying in a more than satisfactory manner? Also, how do I start? I have the Kaplan 7 Book Series with online practice exams, so should I just pick a book and start going through it, taking notes and doing problems or should I take an online practice exam to establish a base score first?

  2. Hi Leah,

    I just got my scores back for the MCAT and got a 507, which is an average score but I think I could take it again and improve my score to hopefully around 512-ish. In terms of retaking and planning out a study schedule, would you recommend starting from scratch and picking whatever study plan works bets for me? I have already studied but I don’t know if to start from the beginning and pick a 6 month plan (considering that this is what fits my current schedule) to be able to put in 500 or should I am for a lower amount of hours.

    Thanks!

  3. Hi Leah,

    My name is Snow and I scored a 492 on the new mcat. I really need to improve. I am a current full time student while studying for the mcat. I wanted to ask if you can give me some advice on how to improve my score. Please help me. My email is sln150030@utdallas.edu. I want to do the 20 hours a week to study for 6months.

  4. Hey Leah, I like this program being broken down into chunks but was wondering what you thought would be best…I have been trying to do the 40 hours a week schedule.
    1. staying on a particular subtopic/chapter during each chunk
    2. Stay on the same subjects all day (ie. only B/B, C/P etc)
    3. Continue to move on to cover a wider range of topics within a day.
    My problem is sometimes I begin to hop around when I study and feel completely disorganized (which I feel could be affecting my performance).

    Thanks for all the resources!

  5. With 3.5 months to study (40 hours per week schedule), how long should Phase 1, 2 and 3 be ideally?

    • Leah4sci says:

      This depends on what you’ve done so far. For example, if you’ve already finished 50% of content my answer would be very different compared to just starting out.
      An ideal breakdown is 1 month for phase 3, ~2 months for phase 2

  6. Hey Leah!
    So I am set on taking my MCAT Aug 25th, and am starting to study May 16th after finals in which I will ONLY be studying. Do you think 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, with 1 day off will suffice? My score standing right now is 43rd percentile.

  7. please email me when you get a moment.. I was thinking of devoting 25hrs/week for mcat prep since I work a full time job and have family commitment. Could I possibly take the exam within 5 months?

    • Leah4sci says:

      I’d have to see your exam scores and target score to help you determine if your plans are realistic

  8. I never thought about it like this. I always feel like it’s so overwhelming to start because I don’t know where to start….. Now I sort of do.

  9. Jasmine Calhoun says:

    This was exactly what I needed today. I have been stressed to the max with work, home and wedding planning and I seem to always put the MCAT on the back burner….despite the fact that being a physician is my passion. Saying no to family and friends has been such a struggle as well and although I know that they understand, I feel like I’m letting them down. Again, thank you for all that you do. Have a great day!

  10. Good morning Leah,
    Right now, I’m doing about 15-16 hrs a week because of classes,volunteering, and work. I’m in Phase I for Biochem and Orgo ( and a little Physics). I start Phase II next month and I’m taking my MCAT June 2. I don’t think it’s quite enough time, but it’s what I have to work with…

    Should I quit volunteering?

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