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Studying for the MCAT With Full-Time School or a Job: Seven Steps for Success

By Nikhil Jaganathan

Studying for the MCAT by itself is a daunting task for many. Studying for the MCAT while having a job simultaneously may seem unfeasible. But in reality, many students are able to ace the MCAT while balancing multiple extracurricular activities, including jobs. 

I’m currently a Blueprint MCAT tutor. I took the MCAT as a full-time student with 15 credit hours while balancing some of the most difficult classes I have taken in my academic career, including Microbiology, Organic Chemistry 2, and Cell Biology while managing leadership positions in multiple student organizations. 

Preparing for and taking the MCAT test entirely during the school year was no easy feat, but neither was it impossible. While you’ve probably realized the importance of pacing and avoiding procrastination in your studies thus far, preparing for the MCAT while balancing a job requires dedication, focus, and organization. So, read on for some tips on how to prepare for the MCAT while working full-time.

1. Full Lengths 

Plan out all your full-length and half-length exams (including which Blueprint MCAT practice exam and which AAMC exams are being completed) for specific days, and try to adjust your work schedule accordingly. Take at least 6-8 full-length exams to maximize your potential before deciding when to take the  MCAT. I personally refused to be discouraged by my scores until I had taken 5 exams, since each one is a stepping stone for the next. 

At the same time, I planned out 9 full-length exams from various sources at the beginning of my semester to take on weekends to ensure that I would be able to maximize my potential. Full-length exams are one of the most underestimated factors in determining your score, and  planning out several mock exams in realistic testing conditions is crucial. 

2. Keeping Tabs 

Keep a close record of your scores on full-length exams, frequently missed practice question types or topics, and weaker sections to help track your progress. This allows for better directed studying and thus better use of your time and more motivation based on tangible results. 

Personally, I found that creating an excel spreadsheet with the questions missed for each full-length exam with question type, difficulty, topic, and incorrect tendencies was extremely useful in quickly reviewing the exam and saving time at a later date in planning my studying. 

3. Analyzing Productivity 

MCAT prep isn’t working? Consider whether you study best during the morning or night, and plan your working hours around that, even if it means studying for just a couple of hours before work and the rest after work. I typically study most efficiently in the morning, so I would ensure that I completed at least 2-3 CARS passages, my weakest subject, each morning while I was alert; I would then save my strongest subject, psychology, for after a long day of school. 

Additionally, it is important to consider which days you cannot take the day off for work (such as important meetings) and which days you can’t take off for the MCAT exam (full-length exams, week before MCAT exam, etc.) based on your needs and orient your schedule around these considerations. Make sure to alert your employer or professors beforehand so that you are given opportunities to make up the work and to avoid scrutiny. 

4. Planning Ahead

Ensure that you begin content review well ahead of time. The MCAT study schedule for someone without any other commitments may be 2-3 months, but studying for the MCAT with a job or school likely prolongs your study plan to 4-6 months and likely includes studying during weekends or holidays. 

While some of my friends managed to finish the MCAT in 5-10 weeks during summer or winter break, I knew that based on my intense school schedule, I would need a 5-month schedule to adequately cover all the content and sufficient practice, which should be approximately 3,000 questions. 

Avoid reading through content books too late to prevent last-minute cramming and to ensure building strong fundamentals early on. At the same time, flashcards should be used in the last few months to ensure that the information learned months earlier is not forgotten. 

5. Bite-Sized Studying

Split your studying sessions into small chunks, especially when working at a job for a long amount of time. Breaking up study sessions may allow for better focus rather than fatigue after several-hour sessions. Consistency is always better than intense cramming, which can include a daily CARS passage before bed, flashcards during meals or walks, or practicing your hardest session when you wakes up. 

In the evenings, I would typically take walks to clear my mind and get fresh air after a long day at school, and I would often practice flashcards on my phone to build automatic recognition skills for important vocabulary while refreshing forgotten topics. This can also involve quickly reviewing concepts or difficult vocabulary, pathways, or formulas on the way to work, during lunch break at work, or if you finish your immediate work on the job.

6. Goal Setting

Especially with limited time, it is vital to set clear goals at the beginning of each study session. Establish which chapters you are planning on studying, how many passages you are planning on completing of a given difficulty or topic, or how many flashcards you are trying to complete in a given amount of time. Your goals should be geared around improvement and focused on weaknesses, rather than simply “studying for the sake of studying.” 

In my situation, I would avoid setting unrealistic goals, but, at the same time, I would establish a certain number of passages I would complete for each subject before taking a break, with greater emphasis on my weaker subjects. In addition, I would set goal scores for each MCAT practice exam I took, which allowed me to strive toward a standard and better understand the level of focus and the number of questions correct that must be answered to earn a particular score. 

Fewer hours of higher-quality MCAT prep with engaging sessions like Blueprint Prep’s package is more effective than long periods of time filled with distractions or without clearly defined goals. To achieve these goals in limited study session lengths, you should also avoid working in close proximity to your phone or with other tabs open on your computer.

7. Avoiding Burnout

With a job on top of the MCAT, it can definitely feel overwhelming at times. Be sure to exercise frequently, eat healthy, and spend time with family and friends, or pursue hobbies to keep up your energy, but set clear limits for yourself. Balancing priorities can be challenging, but your mental and physical health is crucial to allow for maximum productivity. 

Ready to get started? Try our free MCAT practice test and see your beginning point.

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