I haven't personally studied for the MCAT, but I worked for a test-prep company and am the daughter of doctors so I have some relevant information for you. The common practice is to start prepping casually in the Fall of your junior year of college, but you can start as soon as you want. My father and a lot of my students/clients spent the entire summer between their junior/senior year studying for MCAT like it was a full time job. The most important piece of information you need in order to determine how/what to prep for is the results of your first full-length, sit down for all 7 hours in a quiet room, practice test. You must take the practice test all in one shot to get an accurate measure. How you perform on a section after you've done 4 before it and know you have another behind it is different than if you were to sit down and do one section each day over the course of days. That's practice, not an assessment. Many test-prep companies offer a free test on their website. Those can be trusted, not the random ones you google. Also, test prep companies offer free practice test and score-back events in partnership with schools. At some colleges, student groups like the pre-med club have a relationship/partnership with a local test-prep company and offer classes at a discounted rate. Once you have the results of your practice test, this is what I would suggest: If you're pretty "even" across all your subjects and feel you need 7+ point increase, make an investment to take a prep course, they cover both content and strategy. A lot of times companies will offer them online if they're not available locally. Don't discredit that. For my company, some of my best test prep tutor/teachers would have life events like kids, or relocate for a job, that would put them 3-4 hours away from a local office, and they would certify to do online teaching/tutoring in order to stay active with the company because they are passionate about what they do. You can ask about their years with the company/qualifications. Online offers a ton of flexibility if you're a busy student. Moving back to the score: If you were weighted, strong in a couple areas but significantly lower in another one or two, I would suggest private tutoring, especially if you're only a 1-5 points away from your goal score. If you're price-conscious and incredibly motivated, a lot of test-prep companies offer self-prep courses with thousands of practice questions, 5 or more full-length practice tests, personalized score reports and results-based suggestions, etc. By the way, I no longer work for a test prep company, but I do believe in the materials/strategies and have seen increases when the student is invested in "the process" and puts in the work. What I would consider to be the "ideal/best" plan of action is in the suggested next steps for you.
Danielle recommends the following next steps:
- At the end of your Sophomore year in college, once you've been able to get some of the pre-med curriculum in, take a full length practice test, and use those results to help inform your course selection and prep strategy for the Fall of your Junior year.
- If you opt to take a prep course in the Fall, plan for it to take up the time equivalent of a 3-credit class and register for classes for school in a way that you can balance both. Don't over-commit, you will be wasting your time if you're spread too thin, it won't "digest".
- Take full-length practice tests to measure your progress. A class will have a set schedule for practice tests. Self-prep will have a suggested schedule, if you're tutoring, your tutor will set the schedule based on how you're doing.
- Take the official test in the March/April of your Junior year. If you're happy with your score, great, if not, still great! You know how you performed on the real test, and what the course of action is going to be for the summer. A significant amount of students improve their score by taking the test more than once. If you're prepping in the summer, do it like a full time job. I had a friend spend an entire year post-college prepping for the MCAT, she's now an ENT surgeon. My father spent exactly 8 hours every day, 9-5 in a room with no windows or other people/sound, studying for the test for 12 weeks. He scored the equivalent of a 524 and has been practicing medicine for 35 years.
- At the end of July take the official test. If you're still not happy, it's time for tutoring to have someone sit down and help you polish. Take the last test mid-late August. If you didn't hit the goal score that is OK, you'd be surprised how many fantastic medical schools are not world-famous. It's about the "best fit" program. You'll become a great doctor in a program where you respond to the faculty and get plenty of experience in rotation working with the type of patients you're think might be your area of interest. Remember this is a SUGGESTED strategy, it's ok to customize based on your timeline, resources, goals, learning style, etc.