MCAT Test Taking Strategies

10 Tips For The MCAT From a 99th Percentile Scorer

mcat test taking strategies
Prepare for the MCAT with these techniques

Slow Down

Yes, you read that right. The MCAT is a long test, and many people think they have to read every passage as fast as possible to keep up. But let me present a scenario: let’s say you read at 250 words per minute. It would then take you 2 minutes to read a 500 word passage. If you were to double (double!) your reading speed, it would only save you a single minute, and also increase the need for you to have to reread the passage multiple times. Instead, use that time to read the passage and fully understand it.


After every passage, I want you to pause. Close your eyes, take your mind off the exam, take a deep breath. Be still for a few seconds, then move on to the next section. The human brain can only focus for set amounts of time, and your focus will start to wane after many passages in a row. Take time to pause in between and reset your focus.

Graphs are Key, but They’re Also Confusing

A good chunk of time should be spent reading and understanding the charts, graphs, tables, etc. that are included in each passage. They often contain key information that will be directly tested on. However, every researcher out there will create graphs that make sense to them, but may not always immediately make sense to the reader. It is best to spend time fully understanding what you’re looking at: what is on the x and y axis, what values are being depicted, what does it mean for each value as you move to different portions of the graph. It is worth slowing down to understand each graph, and it will help you answer many of the questions.

Make Your Calculations Estimates, Not Exact

There is a great deal of math on the MCAT but you will not have a calculator on the exam. It is better to frame difficult calculations into simpler terms. For example, let’s say you need to do the square root of 18. Nobody can do the square root of 18 off the top of their head (and if you can, I suppose you don’t need this guide). But it is easier to do the square root of 16, and the square root of 25, which are 4 and 5 respectively. So we know that the square root of 18 will have to fall somewhere in between 4 and 5 (the correct answer is 4.24264068712, which is between 4 and 5). The answer choices will have numbers distinct enough that you will be able to successfully use an estimate like this.

Highlight Buzzwords, Not Entire Passages

It’s difficult to remember every single word you’ve read in a passage. Therefore many people like to spend time highlighting important points in a passage. Try not to waste time highlighting. Choose a few words to highlight that help you identify the topic of each section of the passage. The goal is for you to be able to quickly jump back to the passage if needed to answer a question.

Process of Elimination

I know, I know. You’ve learned about process of elimination a thousand times. But this skill is key for the MCAT. You will 100% reach a question that you do not know the correct answer to. So the only way to answer the question will be to rule out the things you know are incorrect. Whittle the choices down as much as you can, and choose the answer that seems the least incorrect.

Just Because an Answer is True, Doesn’t Mean it’s Correct 

They will often throw true statements into the answer choices to trip you up. This is not an exam of identifying true statements, it’s an exam of answering the question asked. Make sure that all of your answer choices directly answer the question that is being asked.

You May Not Know It, But the Passage Taught it

Sometimes a question is asked not because they expected you to have studied the material ahead of time, but because they expected you to learn the answer after reading the passage. So if you get to the answer choices and you don’t know the correct answer, don’t freak out. There is a chance the answer is somewhere in the passage and the question writer wants you to find it. Take a second look through the passage, find your highlights, and try to first answer based on information from the passage.

If You Don’t Know It, Move On!

The mark of a pre-med student is the desire for perfection. A lot of students will get very fixated on a difficult question or passage that they simply have no clue how to answer properly. Do your best on it and move on. Don’t let a bad question or passage impede you from getting easier questions and passages correct. You can always work on easier passages first and come back to the more difficult passage later.

Answer Every Question

There is no penalty for guessing! Answer every question and check before you submit that every question has been answered.

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