The 2015 MCAT tests more topics, requires more preparation, and is scored out of 528 instead of 45. Many of our readers have asked a number of insightful questions about the MCAT and its changes. To offer the best answers regarding MCAT prep advice, we interviewed Kaplan Test Prep’s Eric Chiu, executive director of Kaplan’s pre-med programs.

From your experience, what are the few keys in preparing for the MCAT?

Prepping for the MCAT can be an incredibly daunting prospect — we recommend at least 300 hours of study time (which can be about three months) before taking the MCAT. So one of the very first things you’re going to want to do is map out an MCAT study schedule. Not only will it help make the prep time feel more manageable, but this is a vital component to achieving success on test day. Start early and you’ll be spreading your study time out over 2 – 4 months — or even more depending on your prerequisite classes, extracurricular activities and other commitments — which means that you’ll be studying about 10-30 hours each week. Procrastinate, and just like cramming for finals, you risk burning out before you reach test day.

Secondly, remember that MCAT prep should not be one-size-fits-all. You’ll be coming to MCAT preparation with your own personal set of strengths and weaknesses in both content areas and test-taking skills. You’ll want to make sure that you use your limited study time as efficiently as possible to focus on your greatest areas of opportunity for content review and skills development.

And practice, practice, practice! You’ve probably heard that practice makes perfect. Actually, on the MCAT, only realistic and targeted practice makes perfect. Whatever practice you do, make sure you’re working with realistic practice items, including the official practice exam released by the AAMC for MCAT 2015. However, since the AAMC won’t be recycling those sample items, you will also want to supplement your practice with both full-length practice and targeted practice. As before, the more targeted you are with your practice, especially early in your preparation, the more efficiently you’ll be able to focus your limited practice time. Of course, the MCAT is a computer-based exam, so you’ll also want to make sure you prepare with computer-based practice.

||Read: Path to Medical School Part 5: The MCAT||

Finally, remember that the medical school admissions is very competitive. Just 43% of students are accepted to any program and the average acceptance rate at top 10 med schools is less than 8% Small gains on the MCAT = massive leapfrogging of other med school applicants. A gain of just one point can mean leapfrogging as many as 5,000 candidates. One last point: by junior year, your GPA is mostly set, but your MCAT score is still completely within your control. This is your chance to do something about it.

When do you think is the best time to take the MCAT?

Choosing an MCAT test date comes with some uncertainty so we want to remind you of some of the things to consider.

  1. Time of Year: There are 4 different “windows” to take the exam, the Winter (January), the Spring (March through May), the summer (June and July), and the Fall (August and September). The “ideal” time to take it, is when you feel fully prepared. It isn’t worth it to rush your MCAT if you don’t feel ready.
  2. Test Date: The MCAT is now an all day affair, you will most likely want to treat the day as full day of work, since the exam is now over 7 hours long. That said, you will want to pick a day during which you are not only free, but have had a chance to rest the day before. For example, if you plan to take the test on a Saturday, be sure you can get all of Friday to yourself.
  3. Important Personal Obligations: Remember that you have a life outside of the MCAT. Things can come up at different times of the year: vacation, weddings, finals, and graduation. We recommend picking a time that you are going to be able to focus properly on the exam.
  4. Testing Center Locations: This is often something students forget about. You want to pick an exam location that is going to be convenient for you. Just like all things in medical school applications, early is always better to ensure that you will be able to take the test at your preferred location. It is in your best interest to register for your MCAT exam date ASAP. We have already seen reports about test centers filling up for the upcoming April, May, and June exams. The last thing you want to have happen to you is have to take the exam in a location that’s far from home. So sign up ASAP.

There are many things to think about in one’s own ideal MCAT test date. The bottom line is taking the test when you are comfortable and FULLY prepared.

What are your thoughts about the 2015 MCAT?

The MCAT changes are needed and beneficial. Keep in mind that today’s medicine includes scientific advances that didn’t exist a generation ago, and doctors are increasingly serving a more diverse population.

Medicine really is among the most dynamic of fields. It’s never static, so the education to become a doctor shouldn’t be static either. That said, the new MCAT content will be more difficult than the old one not only because of the additional content needed to be learned, but also because the new MCAT will be twice as long as the current one. This sounds potentially daunting, but it’s achievable hurdle for this highly motivated group – many pre-meds have wanted to become doctors since they were very young. One of the most important things students can do to stay informed about the changes is to start or maintain a strong relationship with your pre-health advisor at your college or university.

What is the average and/or median MCAT score of students after taking your course?/What is the average and/or median increase in MCAT score after taking your course?/What is the standard deviation of MCAT scores of your students?

Every student has individual goals for improvement. Some students are looking to raise their MCAT scores significantly, while others come to us with already strong scores and are only looking for that little extra boost. Students also put in varying levels of effort, so there really is no average degree of improvement – much like in a weight loss program, there’s no average pounds lost because there’s such wide variation in body type, genetic makeup and commitment to a program. What Kaplan focuses on is a pre-med student’s individual goals and providing a higher score money-back guarantee.

||Read: Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Retake the MCAT||

||Read: Should I Use Medical School Admissions Consulting?||

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Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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