When Should You Take the MCAT? An Ideal Timeline for Taking the Test

Are you planning to take the MCAT but unsure of when to start? Our article provides an ideal timeline for taking the test, including factors to consider and tips for preparation.

Posted June 9, 2023

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If you're planning to apply to medical school, one of the most important steps in your preparation process will be taking the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. As this exam is a significant factor for your application, it’s critical that you plan ahead to ensure you have the best possible chance of success. In this article, we'll dive into the details of when to take the MCAT, how to prepare, and several other crucial factors you need to consider.

Preparing for the MCAT: Steps to Take Before Setting a Test Date

Before deciding on the best time to take the MCAT, there are a few crucial steps you need to take in order to prepare for the test effectively. First and foremost, it's essential to understand the content and format of the test, as well as the expectations that medical schools have in terms of what score they're looking for in applicants. You'll also want to assess your current level of knowledge in each of the test's subject areas, to best identify any gaps that you need to fill before taking the test.

Once you've developed a solid understanding of the basics, you can start setting your study schedule. When doing so, one of the most critical factors to keep in mind is how much time you can devote to studying each day, week, and month. Everyone has different schedules, and you need to find a study strategy that works for you. It’s also important to choose the best resources and strategies for your preparation, such as online courses, textbooks, flashcards, or practice exams. Rather than blindly selecting materials, research alternatives and find the ones that will be most effective in addressing your weak areas.

Understanding the Format and Content of the MCAT Exam

The MCAT is a computer-based exam that takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete. It consists of four sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behaviour. Each of these areas is divided up into multiple subsections that test your knowledge of topics ranging from algebra and biochemistry to psychology and sociology. Understanding the structure of the exam is essential to ensure that you have an informed preparation strategy in place.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an MCAT Test Date

When deciding on the best time to take the MCAT, there are several factors that you need to take into consideration. Firstly, you should be aiming to take it at least a year before you plan to enroll in medical school. This timeline will give you sufficient time to study, apply to schools and go through the admissions process. Secondly, it’s important to consider your preparation time and your availability to take the test, it is recommended that you devote at least three months to studying before taking the test. Lastly, it is important to recognize that you can only take the MCAT up to three times in one year, and only seven times over your lifetime. Therefore, it makes sense to pick a test date as far in advance as possible to ensure that you will have the time and opportunity to retest if needed.

How to Create a Study Schedule That Works for You

Studying for the MCAT is a long process that involves consistent effort and discipline. To maximize your chances of success, you need to create a study schedule that works for you. This means taking into account your other responsibilities, including work, school, and family. Allocate specific days and times for studying in your schedule and be sure to stick to it, as consistency is key when it comes to preparing for such a significant exam.

When developing your study schedule, one of the most effective strategies to use is "chunking." This technique involves breaking down your study sessions into smaller, more manageable chunks of time. By grouping topics and activities, you improve retention and understanding, you will be more motivated and less stressed during your preparation process.

Tips for Managing Stress and Anxiety During MCAT Preparation

Preparing for the MCAT can be a stressful and challenging endeavor. Taking care of your mental and physical health, therefore, is particularly important leading up to the test. Practice self-care strategies such as regular exercise, getting sufficient sleep, eating a healthy diet, and finding ways to manage anxiety and stress and remember to take breaks throughout the day. And remember that you’re not alone in this process, seeking out support from peers, professors, family and friends can provide valuable motivation and encouragement along the way.

Evaluating Your Readiness: Self-Assessment and Practice Tests

One critical element of preparing for the MCAT is assessing your readiness for the test itself. By doing self-assessments and practice exams, you can identify where you need to focus your study in order to improve your performance. Diagnostic tests can also provide you information in which area or sections you are struggling with, therefore, allowing you to optimize your last few weeks of preparation.

Making the Most of Your Study Time: Best Resources and Strategies

Study resources abound when it comes to the MCAT, and it's important to choose the ones that will work best for you. Depending on your learning style, some materials may be more fruitful or engaging than others. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has an official slew of materials such as question banks and full-length practice exams which simulate the real thing and provide ample opportunities to practice your test-taking skills. Alternatively, there are courses and tutoring programs that cater to individual needs and levels of rigor when it comes to studying for the MCAT.

What to Expect on Test Day: Tips for Staying Calm, Focused, and Confident

Test day can be intense, and the more you can do to prepare yourself, the better off you'll be. Arriving to your testing centre early, bringing all necessary items (ID, snacks, water, etc.), and wearing comfortable clothing are just a few of the ways you can make the test day as smooth and stress-free as possible. Relying on the strategy you developed after weeks of studying, staying focused and calm in the face of difficulties, and trusting the process will undoubtedly increase your confidence and be beneficial for your outcome.

How Long Should You Wait Between Taking the MCAT? Factors to Consider

If you don't receive the test score you were hoping for, there's always the option to retake the test, however, the question then becomes - how long do you need to wait between taking the MCAT? While rescheduling for test dates too soon after your last attempt may not allow you enough time to address your weak points properly, waiting a prolonged period can also be detrimental to your knowledge retention. It's best to set a target for your next test date once you feel like you've addressed your weaknesses and used the skills you’ve practiced in your previous attempt. Therefore, time between test dates often depends on the effort you put into your preparation and how dynamic your study strategy allows you to be in changing gear, pacing, and approach that wasn’t as successful for your first attempt.

Retaking the MCAT: Strategies for Improving Your Score

If your initial test doesn't produce the score you were hoping for, taking some time to evaluate your approach to MCAT preparation can be highly effective. Focusing on the areas where you struggled and working through previous practice tests, using new resources, and getting additional tutoring or coaching can help address prior mistakes and produce a more competitive score. Be aware that retaking the test places increased emphasis on achieving a more competitive score and getting higher than the previous one.

Balancing MCAT Prep with Other Responsibilities: Work, School, and Family

If you're balancing your MCAT preparation with other responsibilities like work, school, and family, it's important to find a balance that works for you. Carve out a specific amount of study time each day and stick to it, even if it means getting up earlier or staying up later than you're used to. It may also be helpful to enlist the help of your family and friends to support your studying by running errands, helping with chores, or providing a quiet space for you to study without interruption.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing for the MCAT Exam

While everyone has their unique approach to test preparation, inexperience or lack of adequate guidance can lead to some common yet critical mistakes. One is starting too late in your preparation, leaving insufficient time to cover all subject and topic areas. Another critical mistake is overlooking the importance of practice and practice tests, which are instrumental in improving one’s timing, calibrating a study strategy and practice test-taking skills. Lastly, being overconfident or underprepared with question types may not only lead to poor time management, but also a low score on the exam itself.

How to Interpret Your Score: Understanding Percentiles, AAMC Scores, and More

When you receive your MCAT scores, it's essential to understand what they mean in terms of percentile rankings and how they compare to other students who took the test. Your score gives a sense of what percentile of individuals tested you are in for each of the test sections. The AAMC also provides score reports that contain more in-depth analysis of your strengths and weaknesses on the test materials. It may be helpful to take advantage of these resources and use them as a tool to develop a strategy that will develop your weak areas better.

Applying to Medical Schools: How Your MCAT Score Impacts Your Application

When selecting from many qualified candidates, medical schools assess not only the academic and extracurricular history of the applicant but also the MCAT score. Your MCAT score provides insight for the medical school admission committees into how well you may perform in coursework as well as how you approach problem-solving and critical thinking processes. A high MCAT score can also open doors for scholarship and grant opportunities that can be helpful in funding part of the medical school education. Therefore, to attain a competitive edge in your application process, a well-thought-out MCAT study strategy is crucial for eventual success.


If you're planning to pursue a career in medicine, then the MCAT should be on your radar. Starting early, planning your preparation, and selecting the right resources and strategies can make all the difference in your preparation process. By keeping in mind the information outlined in this article, preparing for the test will become a more straightforward and manageable process that leads to a better score and a successful application.

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