The MCAT is a make-or-break test. If you do well on it, you’re almost certainly going to get into medical school. If you don’t, you’ve got to scramble.

The MCAT isn’t the hardest part of becoming a doctor, but it is a necessary evil. It pays to prepare for this exam professionally. That means you need to be disciplined and focused. Sometimes the amount of material you have to know seems overwhelming. In fact, it’s a finite, and relatively small amount of information – well, small compared to what you’ll learn in your first two years of medical school, anyway.

Having taught MCAT prep for several years, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of understanding the role MCAT scores play in the admissions process. Here’s my take on the best way to prepare for the MCATs:

1. Make a study plan. You don’t want to spend your whole life studying every synthesis reaction or every variant on Kirkhoff’s Laws, so you need to make a general outline of your long-term (2-month) study plan. Set specific study goals for each week.

2. Continually test yourself with MCAT type practice questions. The MCAT has specific ways of asking about certain topics – do as many MCAT practice questions as you possibly can. Kaplan has an excellent MCAT Question Bank – use it. A friend of mine spent a whole summer doing question banks and Kaplan review materials, he truly aced the MCAT. When I interviewed at Harvard, I was slightly pissed off to be asked about him and his phenomenal MCAT scores. He got in, I went somewhere else. It pays to do well on the MCAT!

We’ve also put together a brief analysis of practice MCAT score results. We were surprised by which practice tests best predicted the real MCAT scores.

3. Learn test-taking skills. When your stuck on a question, it’s important to have techniques to quess intelligently. When I taught MCAT prep I used to give a demonstration: I had half the class read the text, read the questions, then answer the questions. The other half skipped the text entirely and answered the questions. The second half of the class did almost as well as the first half – in much less time. An even more surprising demonstration was to have half the class read just the answers (not the questions or the text) and try to guess the correct answer. These students didn’t do as well as the first two groups – but they did much better than chance. As any test-taking pro will tell you, a lot of information can be found in how the answers are phrased. Try it while you take a practice test – guess the answers without reading the question first, then answer again after having read the question.

Continued: MCAT preparation

Other Medical licensing test preparation programs include NCLEX review and USMLE test prep.

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