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MCAT Timing Strategies

If you ask a group of premeds what makes the MCAT challenging, I would bet good money 90% would mention MCAT timing constraints as part of the difficulty. It is perfectly normal to feel some nerves about test day timing. The good news is that being well-prepared with pacing strategies can make all the difference in effectively managing your time.

MCAT Timing Strategies

MCAT Time Breakdown

The first step is to know the duration and breakdown of the MCAT. Then you can understand how to allocate your time wisely in each section of the test.

The MCAT is obviously a lengthy test. You will sit in a chair for about 7.5 hours. [Insert my monologue for why it is SO important to mimic test day conditions when taking full-length MCAT practice exams to build stamina.]

Further Reading

🤔 What’s on the MCAT?

⭐️ The Best Free MCAT Practice Tests

💪 MCAT Test Day Survival Guide

The exam is broken up into 4 sections, each with its own time allocation, plus some breaks and other test day housekeeping items as detailed below. 

    1. Arrive at the Testing Center EARLY: You have to check in, store your belongings, and get ready to take the test! You don’t want to be running behind or rushed, so plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam is scheduled. 
    2. Test Day Certification: You have to certify that you have read the MCAT Examinee Agreement. You are allowed 4 minutes to complete this. 
    3. Optional Tutorial: You’ll get a 10-minute tutorial where you can play around with the testing interface, understand how to navigate all of the tools at your disposal, and get comfy with the test center’s computers the test is being administered on. You are allowed to brain dump on your notepad during this tutorial time. So if you have any equations you are afraid of forgetting, scribble them down during this time!
    4. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: This section lasts 95 minutes and includes 59 questions. This breaks down into 44 passage-based questions and 15 discrete questions. For the most ideal time management, you have about 5 minutes to read each of the passages and 90 seconds for each question.
    5. Optional 10-minute break! Get up. Stretch your legs. Clear your mind before heading into the CARS section. 
    6. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS): CARS is a 90-minute section with 53 questions. There are 9 passages and each passage is approximately 500-600 words in length, associated with 5-7 questions. Ideal timing for the CARS section is 5 minutes per passage and 5 minutes per question set, which gives you about 90-100 seconds per question.
    7. Optional 30-minute lunch break! Please take this chance to refuel and reset before diving into the second half of the exam. Act like an athlete who needs to hydrate and fuel to perform optimally.
    8. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: This section lasts 95 minutes and contains 59 questions. The timing is identical to C/P as well. 
    9. Optional 10-minute break! You’re in the home stretch! You might be feeling burnt out at this point. So it is important to put your best effort into this last part of the MCAT. 
    10. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: The final section lasts 95 minutes and comprises 59 questions. Again, you will have about 5 minutes per passage and 90 seconds per question.  
    11. Void Question: You will be asked if you want to void your score at the end of your exam and have 3 minutes to ponder.
    12. End of Day Survey: The AAMC gives you about 5 minutes to take a survey about your test day experience. 

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General MCAT Timing Tips for Success

In addition to managing your time effectively by knowing the minute-by-minute breakdown, we’ve outlined some additional tips to enhance your MCAT timing and performance.

Practice Under Timed Conditions:

Familiarize yourself with the timing of each section by taking full-length practice exams under simulated test conditions! Your full-length practice exams should mimic test day conditions as accurately as possible. You should know what 5 minutes of reading a passage feels like and what 90 seconds per question feels like by the end of your MCAT journey. 

Prioritize Accuracy

While speed is important, accuracy is paramount. Focus on understanding each question thoroughly and choosing the best answer rather than rushing through. This also means spending time reading the passage to maximize your efficiency in answering passage-based questions. 

Use Strategic Guessing

If you’re unsure about a question, eliminate obviously incorrect answer choices and make an educated guess. Don’t waste too much time on one question at the expense of others. If you feel like you are spending too much time on a question, but you might get it right with a little more time, then you should make an educated guess. Flag the question to come back to at the end of the section. Remember, you do not want to sacrifice answering multiple questions at the end of a section for getting one question earlier. 

Stay Calm and Focused

Test day can be stressful. However, maintaining a calm and focused mindset can help you perform at your best. Remember to take deep breaths and stay positive throughout the exam!

Final Thoughts

Mastering pacing on the MCAT requires a combination of strategic planning, practice, and mental resilience. To sum up, the best ways to improve your MCAT timing are:

  • Understanding the unique demands of each section
  • Allocating time wisely
  • Practicing under test-like conditions
  • Employing skip and return strategies
  • Utilizing time management tools
  • Maintaining focus and composure

These skills will help you not only on MCAT test day, but also later as a medical student and a physician! And the best way to forge these skills is through consistent practice. That’s where Blueprint MCAT comes in!

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