How to Decide When to Take the MCAT

It’s tough finding the best time to study for the MCAT.  A premed’s schedule is packed with classes, extracurriculars, and plenty of homework. Trying to decide when to take the MCAT? Hopefully, this post will help you come to a decision.

First, ask yourself these four questions.

  1. When do you plan on applying to Medical School? This is important because before a medical school can consider you for an interview, they need to have your MCAT score. If you take your exam in July, make sure you understand that your MCAT scores won’t process for 1 month.
  2. When do you plan on being finished with your MCAT prerequisites? Also very important. From day 1 as a premed student, you should already be taking the MCAT prerequisites. However, there are a lot of premed courses and sometimes we have to leave a specific class for senior year. Plan on taking the most important MCAT prerequisites before taking the MCAT.
  3. Can you balance MCAT studying and being a full-time student? I know I couldn’t. Be honest with yourself. If you are the kind of person that needs to focus on one task until it is finished, then you should consider taking the MCAT outside of school.
  4. Will you need to retake the MCAT? Very important to think about. If you decide to take the MCAT September 14th and you are not happy with your performance, you won’t have the option to take another exam until next year. Check out this years test dates here.

You should plan ahead when studying for the MCAT. Even as early as freshman year. As a premed, your schedule is busy. When junior year comes around, you will be juggling all kinds of extracurriculars and courses. Have a plan to block out a chunk of time for the MCAT.

Taking the MCAT During Your Spring Semester

One option is that you could take the MCAT at the end of spring your junior year.  The benefit of this is that you are able to get your prerequisites done and you can provide an MCAT score when you turn that application in.  The con… you have to study during a semester of school, which is not the best idea.  

MCAT studying should be treated like a full-time job. 

School on its own is a full-time job, and probably even more than a full-time job for the average pre-med student.  So if you study for the MCAT while taking classes, you are essentially working two or more jobs. 

This is doable yes, but it’s definitely not the most effective route.

Working 80 plus hours will tire you out.  The MCAT requires plenty of sleep, exercise, and a low-stress environment. Having a healthy, steady schedule optimizes your knowledge intake and prevents you from slowing down due to mental exhaustion.  

However, I understand that for some people this might be the only convenient time to study and take the exam. If this is the case, refer back to question # 3: Are you the kind of person that can balance a two very time intensive tasks?

Studying or the MCAT during winter break

In my opinion, studying for the MCAT during winter break is better than during the school year but still not ideal.

The reason why it is better than studying during school is because of the freedom to focus solely on the MCAT. However, this is still not ideal because of 2 reasons:

  1. Most winter breaks are only 1 month long putting a time constraint on how much you can study.
  2. There are lots of distractions. It’s christmas time. Don’t kid yourself, you will have family things to do and it will be very difficult to motivate yourself to study intensly.

If you are the kind of person who can deal with the distractions of Christmas and the time constraint on study time, then check out my 1 month MCAT study guide! I made this guide specifically for those looking to improve their MCAT scores in a condensed, intensive MCAT schedule.

Alternatively, you can extend your study time by dipping into your Fall semester. You will have to deal with balancing your course load and studying, but you will have that extra month to focus solely on the MCAT.

My Recommendation for the Best Time to Take the MCAT

So when exactly is the best time to study for the MCAT?

In my opinion, the best time is during the summer.  You have three months, which is plenty of time, and most importantly no school.  The only thing that could get in the way is a summer job.  If you can, I would recommend not working another job and devoting 40-50 hrs per week of studying.  Working that many hours will be plenty for the test, and it will also give you time to hang out, go on vacation, and for your hobbies. 

If you can move in with mom and dad to reduce living expenses.

I know this can cause some complications.  If you take the MCAT the summer of junior year, you will be forced to either submit the grades to your medical school late or you will have to apply the next summer and take a gap year.  If you were to take the MCAT the summer of your sophomore year, you run the risk of not having all the prerequisites, which makes studying more challenging. 

There is never going to be an ideal time to study for the MCAT. However, the Pros outweigh the Cons of studying during the summer.

Leave a Comment