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A Pre-Med Parent’s Guide to MCAT Prep

If your child has decided to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), you’re probably wondering how you can support them through the process. The MCAT tends to incite fear in the hearts of students, and rightfully so: it is long, challenging, and plays a vital role in the medical school admissions process.

Even though you can’t take the MCAT for your child, there are definitive ways you can help them. Here, we break down what the MCAT is all about, how students study for the exam, and what you should (and should not) do during their studying period. 

Understand What the MCAT Is and Why It Is Important

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It is required for admission to medical schools in the United States and Canada. The MCAT is administered on a computer between late January and September each year and takes approximately seven hours to complete (including breaks). The exam is broken into four sections: 

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Studying for the MCAT looks very different from studying for a college exam and starts with looking at what’s on the MCAT. The MCAT requires test-takers to apply their scientific knowledge to passage-based questions, which integrates content with critical thinking skills. In preparation for the MCAT, students review testable science content, complete practice questions, and simulate test day conditions with full-length exams to build stamina. The average examinee studies for 240 hours, but students who wish to achieve an above-average score—such as a 515+ MCAT score—study even more. 

Assist in Selecting Test Prep Resources

One of the most critical studying decisions your child must make is which MCAT resources to use. They might even ask what the best MCAT prep is. A non-negotiable aspect of MCAT prep is the AAMC Official Prep Bundle, regarded as the most representative and reliable set of resources available to students. 

Outside of that tool, students need resources for science content review and additional practice questions. Each student has individual needs, and you can help them work through this decision; some students benefit from tutoring, some thrive in a live class learning environment, and some are highly self-motivated and can progress through a structured self-paced course independently.

Blueprint offers MCAT study resources for every type of MCAT student with performance analytics to optimize their studying. Your child can even make a free practice account to generate a study plan, take a sample full-length exam, and get access to free flashcards. 

Act as an Accountability Partner…but Do Not Pester!

Students are much more likely to stick to their study plan if they’re held accountable by another person, especially if they’re not prepping with a live class. It can be difficult to balance MCAT studying with the many other premed obligations (and the pressures of everyday life). Serving as a touch point for your child to check in on how each day/week of studying goes can help them stay on top of their work. 

The caveat here is that a daily check-in can quickly become overwhelming and eventually unwelcome. Frame the conversation as an open-ended question, such as: “How did studying go today? Did you accomplish what you set out to do?” instead of “Did you complete the two practice passages and two hours of content review you were set to do? No?! Why not?” Likewise, avoid checking in several times a day. This can cause extra stress and feelings of inadequacy, reactions that are already all too present in the MCAT prep process. 

Encourage Them to Focus Their Attention on the MCAT

It is extremely easy to derail MCAT studying with distractions. As a parent, you might be aware of where your child spends their free time and can help refocus their attention on studying. If you notice they are going out every weekend with friends instead of taking their planned full-length exams, remind them of their priorities and why they planned to take the MCAT in the first place. If you notice your student is falling behind on their study plan, help them evaluate why this is happening and make a plan moving forward. 

Facilitate Other Aspects of Their Life

For students who are taking classes, working, caring for children, or have other significant time commitments, it can be challenging to fit MCAT studying into their day. Parents can support by facilitating other aspects of their life, such as grocery shopping, car maintenance, or assisting with chores. Removing a few tasks from their plate can make students much more relaxed and productive in their studying, and it also shows you care about their med school aspirations.

Promote Healthy Habits and Rest Days

While content knowledge and test-day strategies are important for the MCAT, what students do to care for themselves is also critical for success. Students who exercise regularly, eat healthy, and get sufficient sleep are more successful than students who do not. You can promote these habits in your child by helping them meal prep for the week or going for a walk with them in the evening. 

Moreover, burnout is a huge risk for MCAT students, especially those studying in three months or less because they have a much larger daily time commitment. Taking a rest day every week is necessary for students to avoid burnout. Encourage your student to plan something fun on their day off, like going out for lunch or watching a movie. 

Be Positive and Encouraging

Your student is going through a lot right now and is probably under a ton of stress. Being positive about their studying and celebrating their daily successes can provide the boost they need to keep working toward their goals.

It can be difficult to see your child under so much pressure. In general, being a positive presence in their life can go a long way to improving their motivation to study. And, when all is said and done, celebrate them for having taken the MCAT—simply completing the exam is an impressive feat!

Don’t forget that Blueprint has all the tools your student needs to crush the MCAT! Check out our MCAT prep options and learn how Blueprint can increase your student’s score by up to 15 points!

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.