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When to start studying for the MCAT?

How long does it take to realistically prepare for the MCAT?


Mar 19, 2024

Navigating your path to medical school can feel like traversing a maze, with one of the most significant hurdles being the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Understanding how and when to study for this challenging examination is crucial and can significantly impact your performance.

When Should You Start Studying?

The optimal time to start your MCAT preparation is 3-4 months before the exam date.

This time frame provides enough room to cover all the necessary material without rushing, while also minimising the risk of forgetting previously learned information. 

However, it is essential to understand that this recommendation is not one-size-fits-all. 

Some students successfully achieve outstanding scores after studying for just six weeks, while others may require a longer period. Your optimal study start time hinges on your familiarity with the MCAT subject matter, your daily study availability, and your unique learning style.

What sections are there in the MCAT?

Before you start studying, it's advisable to understand what the MCAT entails. The official MCAT content list provides a comprehensive overview of the topics you'll encounter on the exam. Be aware that some prep companies might not cover every item on this list, so it’s crucial to cross-reference to ensure you have covered all necessary topics.

Should you self-study or attend a prep course? 

Choosing between self-studying or attending a prep course is another key component of your MCAT preparation. Several factors should guide your decision, such as:

  • Your comfort level with the sciences covered in the exam
  • The amount of study time you have
  • Your proficiency with standardised exams
  • Your budget
  • If you need external motivation or discipline
  • Your performance when studying independently in the past, like when preparing for the SAT or previous admissions exams

For example, if you have a solid background in the necessary sciences, ample time to study, and can stay motivated on your own, self-studying could be a suitable option. Alternatively, if you value structure, extra practice materials, and having an external source of discipline, a prep course could be the best fit.

Here at Icon, we offer self-guided study options on our online platform but we also offer highly customisable courses for all types of students. Learn more about your options here.

By understanding when and how to study, and selecting the right study approach for your needs, you can take purposeful strides towards achieving a top score and securing your spot in medical school. Good luck!


Founded in 1999 to provide comprehensive standardised test preparation and admissions coaching for students embarking on their university education.


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