Do-it-yourself guide to online MCAT prep

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a requirement for all students who want to attend medical school. The test is divided into four parts: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, biological sciences and a writing sample. The first three sections are multiple-choice questions, while the fourth and final section is composed of essays. The MCAT focuses on critical thinking, problem solving, writing skills, and science concepts and principles that relate to the field of medicine.


The MCAT focuses on your ability to extract pertinent information from a great deal of unrelated information, as well as the ability to make inferences when given incomplete data in order to find the right answer. These abilities are crucial for physicians who deal with patients.

Though the MCAT does require a depth of specific knowledge, the verbal reasoning portion of the test can be a challenge because there is no specific content to study. Test-takers would be advised to hone reading comprehension skills by devouring every book, magazine and newspaper you can find to get ready for this complex exam.

How to prepare for the MCAT

Your studies for the MCAT should start several months before the test and consist of consistent, daily test preparation. Many students begin getting ready for the MCAT six months in advance.

  1. Start with the AAMC. The gold standard of MCAT prep comes from the very organization that owns it, the Association of American Medical Colleges. One practice test is free of charge, along with optional feedback; additional tests can be purchased for a reasonable fee.
  2. Make a study plan. Write out a schedule that incorporates two or three hours of study per day minimum for two months or more. Ramp up the study time near the test, so that you are studying full-time during the last few weeks.
  3. Invest in a few good books. Many books offer practice tests, strategies for test day and more. In addition to "The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam" from the AAMC, other test-prep books include "Barron's MCAT," "The Gold Standard MCAT with Online Practice MCAT Tests" and "Kaplan MCAT Review: Complete 5-Book Series."
  4. Go the legal route. There is more than one way to skin an MCAT. The book "10 Actual, Official LSAT Prep Tests" by the Law School Admission Council offers tests on verbal reasoning, which can help greatly on the MCAT.
  5. Review all notes. Go back to your class notes and textbooks, specifically those from biology, physics, chemistry and organic chemistry. If you find something in the MCAT prep books that you haven't studied, now is the time to remedy that situation.
  6. Take practice tests. The more you practice, the more comfortable you should become with the MCAT. Practice questions are a good study aid that could help to increase your score over time and gain confidence in your test-taking ability.
  7. Time yourself. The full MCAT lasts for five hours and 25 minutes, including breaks. Physical sciences and biological sciences are given 70 minutes each, and 60 minutes each is allotted for the verbal reasoning and writing sample sections. Time your practice tests so that you can complete the questions in the proper amount of time.

Prep for MCAT online

Plenty of courses are designed to help you study for the MCAT, but they can be expensive. Online MCAT prep options may offer a lower price--and in some cases, free resources--as well as the ability to study at a time that is most convenient for you.

Online options include Princeton Review, Kaplan, Examkrackers, MCAT Wizard and Kabir Academy. Some of these options offer free prep services such as practice tests and even videos, along with advanced services for a fee. Other web-based resources include flash cards, audio CDs and DVDs. Some students pay for one online service and also take advantage of free options offered by other prep services.

In addition, online community resources can help boost your confidence. Message boards geared toward students and the medical community provide an avenue for you to discuss MCAT preparation techniques. For example, the Student Doctor Network, a nonprofit educational website, hosts forums on MCAT prep. Online study groups offer a way to pick up pointers and be held accountable for study time.

Whether you use books, online tests or other resources, understanding how to prepare for the MCAT is a key to your scoring success. Start early and stick with your study plan to see the best results possible.