If you are familiar with my method on how to study for the MCAT then you are aware that I support an MCAT approach of taking the test over the summer without any distractions and focusing mostly on doing practice tests after practice tests with a thorough review in between.
But I get it. Sometimes that’s just not possible. People want to take the MCAT before applying to medical school and you can’t wait till the end of summer to apply to medical school. (Technically you can but this is not recommended! Apply early.)
This is a big dilemma in the premed community. So I decided to write about how I would approach the MCAT if I was to take it during the school year with a full-time class schedule. I have researched plenty of other students who were successful in studying for the MCAT as a full-time student and my own experience studying for the MCAT while working full-time.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
Find Connections Between Your MCAT Studies and Your Premed Courses
Chances are as a premed student you will be taking some sort of science course. Possibly even one of the premed prerequisites. Take advantage of the fact that you are studying for the MCAT while taking these courses to help you excel in both the MCAT and your class.
Here is what I mean.
Let’s say you are taking general physics. Most universities have a detailed syllabus that maps out what subjects you will be covering week to week. If you know that your next lecture will be going over circuits, read that same chapter in your Kaplan MCAT Physics review (or whichever MCAT prep book you are using) before that class. This way you can focus on understanding what’s important for the MCAT while also getting a head start in understanding the material for your class’s next exam.
This tactic will help you tremendously.
Come Up With a Routine
You should come up with a routine and stick to it as much as possible. For instance, if your classes don’t start until 9am or 10am, consider waking up a few hours early every morning.
If your classes start very early, maybe spend 2 hours of every afternoon dedicated to the MCAT.
It’s important to develop a routine to avoid being overwhelmed by the whole process. It is only possible to study for the MCAT while in school if you can chip away at it consistently over a longer period of time.
You Must Be Flexible
So we discussed that routine is important, but you have to be flexible too! The reality is, in college every week is different. Some weeks you will have nothing going on while other weeks you will have 3 exams at once.
While still maintaining your routine as much as possible, you should adjust your studying as necessary.
During the easy weeks, spend extra time studying for the MCAT. When you are bombarded with 3 exams at once… maybe take a few days off so that you can focus on that.
While the MCAT is extremely important, so are your grades. Medical schools won’t care that you were studying for the MCAT when your grades dropped one semester.
Make Your Semester as Easy as Possible
We all know that some semesters in college are much more difficult than others. Try to time your MCAT studying with an easier semester. And I’m not just talking about a decreased class load, I’m also talking about limiting your extracurriculars.
This is the time to take some of those blow-off courses. This is not the time to take 18+ credits, 3 research projects, and shadow a doctor.
Make Sure You Are Being Held Accountable
Some of us are very self-disciplined but the majority of us are not. We may think we can handle keeping ourselves on track but I’ve seen plenty of students, including myself, fall behind due to a lack of accountability.
There are many ways to make sure you are held accountable while studying for the MCAT as a full-time student.
Here are some examples:
Joining an MCAT Prep Course
- Those MCAT Prep Courses make sure you do your homework. You are required to complete certain pre-lectures and practice problems on a schedule. This might be a good solution for those who really need someone forcing them to not drag their feet.
Joining an MCAT study group
- Setting up an MCAT study group with regular meetups will provide that social pressure to stay on track. You won’t be forced to go but your friends will judge you if you don’t!
Hiring a tutor
- If you are spending money on a tutor chances are you won’t be waisting that money by not keeping up with the study schedule.
Studying with a Buddy
- Similar deal to the study group. Having a buddy doing the same thing you are could lead to a situation where you hold each other accountable forcing you to study even when you don’t want to.
Set Goals and Stick to Them
Your schedule will not be consistent due to your workload from school, however, set up checkpoints/goals throughout and work hard on keeping them.
For instance, one checkpoint could be having 3 full-length practice tests finished before the end of the first month. Yes, there is a lot of content review in between those practice tests, but knowing that you need to have finished at least 3 tests before a certain point will help you from falling behind.
Remember, when you are studying for the MCAT as a full-time student you will need to spread out the overall schedule over a longer period of time. If you let yourself fall behind because it seems like the exam far away, you will end up with too much to do in too little time.
Are you Wasting Time?
The thing I hate the most in this world is wasting time. I would rather watch a mediocre Nicolas Cage movie than spend an extra 15 minutes of my evening going back and forth between what movie to watch.
As long as I am doing something, I’m good.
Treat the MCAT the same way. Figure out how you are wasting time and fix that. This would be a good time to take a break from social media, plenty of my premed friends deactivated their accounts while studying for the MCAT.
Save all those binge worthy shows for the week after the MCAT when you will do absolutely nothing but fry your brain.
Do you commute to school or work on a bus/train? Study during your commute. Do you have a doctor’s appointment? Study flashcards in the waiting room.
Assess how much time you waste during the day. Sacrifice now will pay off big in the future.
Set Aside Time at the End For Practice Tests
This is important. Time your schedule so that you have a period of time at the end of your MCAT Prep to focus 100% on MCAT practice tests.
You should be taking practice exams throughout your MCAT prep, but the few weeks before your exam you want to take practice tests more frequently. Ideally one every other day. Just make sure you aren’t neglecting proper exam review between practice tests!
So how much time should you set aside at the end exactly? Well, that really depends on the individual but I recommend at least 1 week, ideally 2 or 3.
Further Reading: How many MCAT tests should you take in total?
Should You Have Finished All of the Premed Prerequisites Before Studying?
There is a list of premed classes I call the “MCAT Prerequisites” that should be completed before studying for the MCAT.
However, if you are planning to study for the MCAT for a longer period of time while enrolled as a full-time student, then you can get away with taking some of these “MCAT Prerequisites” at the same time.
The reason why I say that you should finish your “MCAT Prerequisites” before studying for the MCAT is that normally when you are doing a condensed MCAT prep over a period of 1, 2, or 3 months, you do not want to waste time learning content you should have learned in school.
Really you want to focus all of your efforts on practice problems.
However, if you are studying for the MCAT as a full-time student and you are spending 6+ months studying for the MCAT, this gives you more time to learn the content while prepping for the exam.
As I mentioned above, there is a benefit to studying alongside your premed courses. You can prep for your lectures with the relevant MCAT material so that you have a head start on your class and you know what to ask to make sure you understand the MCAT material.
How Should You Be Prepping For The MCAT If You Are a Full Time Student?
Generally speaking, not much different than if you were studying full time. We recommend an approach that is very practice test oriented.
The key is to do practice problems then review them. Over and over.
However, if you are taking science courses that cross over with your MCAT studying, you should take advantage of this and focus on reviewing those portions of your MCAT while you are learning it in class. This will help you get better grades in class and develop a better understanding of the subject material on the MCAT.
The other key difference is that you will end up dragging out studying much longer. Instead of studying for 2 or 3 months, you will most likely end up studying for 6 or 7 months. This means you can drag out the studying over a longer period of time so that you can spend less time per day but this also means you will end up re-learning material since it’s not as condensed and fresh in your mind.
It’s very possible to accomplish studying for the MCAT while being a full-time premed student. Just remain focused and determined for the long haul.
What About Studying for the MCAT While Working Full-time?
This is more or less the same as studying for the MCAT as a full-time student.
If you have a job that has a lot of downtimes, take your MCAT books with you and study at work. I did this while scribing. When it was busy I focused on work, but there were periods of time with no patients so I had time to review MCAT material while on the job.
I understand not every job is like this and that’s okay. Just like being a full-time student, develop a routine, find a way to hold yourself accountable, and don’t waste time!
Don’t Let Yourself Get Burnt Out
This is very important. Yes, we want to not waste any time and we want to limit distractions. However, give yourself time every week to unwind. And be consistent about it! Let unwinding be something you look forward to every week.
For me, Friday after class was my time to unwind. I knew that as soon as class was over on Friday I had no responsibilities. I would hang out with friends, go to a movie, maybe go to a party, or just vegetate. But I was not studying or thinking about the MCAT.
This is essential to maintaining your sanity. You will ultimately do worse on the MCAT, and your classes, if you let yourself get burnt out.
Studying for the MCAT as a full-time student (or while working full-time) is definitely possible. Easy? No. But studying for the MCAT never is.
The key takeaway is to develop a routine, be flexible week to week, study in conjunction with your pre-med classes, and do not waste time.
And finally, keep your sanity by giving yourself some time every week to destress and forget about studying.
Have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment or email me on the contact page! Also, please share any additional advice if you have it.