Test Prep Pal is reader-supported. If you click a link on this page and make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

MCAT Test Taking Strategies For First Timers

Last updated on

Now, that you’ve spent most of your time in the last couple of weeks or months to prepare for the MCAT exam you sure must be feeling confident, right?

Well, while you have every right to, you shouldn’t celebrate too early.

Knowing the MCAT as the beast it is, you’ve to take a little bit caution and be ahead of the game.

And the best way to do that is to equip yourself with essential question-answering strategies that will come in handy on examination day.

That said, here are some of the best 7 MCAT test-taking strategies that have worked for others and can also work for you if applied correctly;


Get up to $900 OFF

No code needed

blueprint trustpilot reviews

Awesome Deal: Get up to $900 OFF today and start your MCAT prep the right way!


Best video lessons for MCAT in the industry.

Offers all prep options: online, live classes and private tutoring

Score increase guarantee


Higher price tag but we think it’s well justified.

MCAT Test Taking Strategies

  1. Understand the Viewpoint

As you sit there reading the passage, remember the most important aspect is the viewpoint. So, your focus should be to wholly identify that viewpoint.

And the best way to do this is to place yourself in the author’s shoes. Ask yourself what were they thinking at that time? How was he/she feeling at that particular instant?

That way, you can place the right emotions into every sentence in the passage. And as you do so, you gain a deeper understanding of other surrounding aspects.

The more involved you get, the better and easier it will be for you to remember and you will answer the questions with ease.

For instance, when you read, ensure you mouth the words.  Use hand gestures if you must and play those theatrical voices in your head. Mimic, get totally observed.

Remember, most experts have nothing but passion for their work. And that ought to be what you feel to be on the same side.

Interpreting emotions will help you not only discover the author’s intention, but also the various tone shifts. If it makes a lot of sense, then you’re on the right track.

  1. Highlight or Underline the Key Transition Words

Always work on drawing a road map or an outline of the passage.

And by this, I mean jotting down a sentence with all details on what stood out for you or what you understood concerning a specific paragraph.

You see, as already mentioned above, viewpoints are important. And one of the ways to express them is by coming up with a highlight of the key transition words.

Begin by thoroughly making a break down of each passage.  This will help you understand the words better.

Afterward, jot down a sentence outlining the idea(s) or opinion(s) that stood out for you.

Most individuals confess that when they read through a passage once, it helps them get a major idea. And this helps them to compose one sentence that summarizes everything.

It’s easier this way, given that the MCAT passages are a ton detailed.

And given the short time on your side, you would want to get the concepts as faster as possible and move to the next questions.

  1. Question Reading

Sometimes it’s good to read questions first.

Yes, you heard it right. It has worked for others and I see no reason as to why it shouldn’t for you.

Are you asking yourself why someone should even consider this strategy?

Well, you see when you go through the questions first, you gain first-hand experience of what the main objective of the target is.

That way, you will be more aware of the type of concepts, opinions, and generally, things you should be on the lookout for, memorize and jot down notes on as you go through the entire passage.

And the best part is that this will save you a lot of time. Thus very useful especially for individuals experiencing time-management issues.

Remember to read the questions carefully and then underlining the keywords, so that you can use them as your point of reference when reading the passage.

It will be easy for your mind to be triggered by the mention of a specific word if you have already given it the importance it deserves, from the questions section

  1. Don’t Force Memorize

For most, if not all MCAT passages, it’s actually impossible to go through the entire material and grasp everything in let’s say 3 minutes or even less.

So, the best thing you can for yourself is to be confident enough to know that you don’t have to.

In fact, it will be helpful to convince yourself that most of the content you see in the passage, won’t even make it to the questions section.

Hence, you will be wasting a lot of time if you decide to focus on digesting everything as you read. It won’t be that productive.

But, that also doesn’t mean that you don’t read. If anything read, and ensure you don’t rush through it.

That said, even as you do so, don’t try to cram or memorize every word.  You should be able to maneuver through the passage in 3 minutes or less, and then quickly proceed to the questions section.

And that’s where the real deal is. For example, if you read a question and its references on a given keyword that you can’t seem to remember, at least not clearly, then you can quickly go back to the passage, and at the specific paragraph, you saw it mentioned.

This will be good for you. Why?

Because it’s always better to go back to the passage for reference and be sure of what answer you give than go straight to answering the question from what you had memorized/ or even think you remember.  What if you’re confusing things and miss out on an important distinction aspect?

Also, as you ponder on which area of the passage you should go back to concerning a given question, you should always apply the question stem as the major lead.

Also, ensure you remain as specific as possible. Don’t just give a general answer for the sake of it. And if by any chance you aren’t certain about the answer, then it’s best to go back to where the keyword was 1st introduced in the passage and go through it once more.

You focus should be to source out for useful information that will eventually lead you into concluding that the answer you give is the best answer that there is.

And if it gets complicated, then you can use the elimination method. For this, simply work on identifying three wrong choices and you will be good to go.

  1. Don’t Overthink

I know it can be pretty difficult to settle in especially when you want to join the medical school so badly. Well, it won’t even help you think that thousands of others are also undertaking the same exams, with as many high hopes as you (or probably more.)

Having interacted with several students who have undergone through the MCAT test, one of the things they wished they could do differently is not .to overthink.

Here’s the best-case scenario;

You have taken enough time to go through the passage using some of the strategies we have mentioned above.

And finally, your efforts seem to bear results and you find or think you know the perfect answer to a specific question. You confidently select it and then sit back.

But, what happens next will determine whether you pass the question or not. If you start going through the answer, chances are that you might start doubting yourself.

This is because most of the time there are similar other choices, with only a slight difference. So, you might even start feeling that the other answers are better than the one you first chose and this could lead to plunder.

The last thing you want is to change the right answer for the wrong one and then realize your mistake when you step out of the test or when it’s too late to even change, again.

Therefore, the best thing to do after being sure of the answer you select is to simply move on to the next question and give it the importance it deserves. You will be thankful you didn’t overthink it later on!

Sometimes it’s more of trusting your gut.

  1. Take Frequent Breaks

Yes, I know you have been preparing for this for a couple of months or even weeks and you’re charged to finish all the tests within the shortest time possible.

But you need a breather to just relax, reflect and let your mind loosen up.

And it doesn’t matter how good you already feel about the last section you took.  A few minutes off everything after each section is a great way to get ready for the next one.

MCAT will even give you so much time to thoroughly go through the necessary instructions at the start of each section.

So, unless you’re overly excited to begin the next section, you should at least take advantage of the time to clear your mind. This will be so helpful especially if you had it rough with the last section.

Remember, your break time begins as soon as you submit, so don’t sit there waiting for some to shout “hey there! Time for a break!”.Once your 10 minutes break time runs out, the next section begins automatically. And it’s upon you to keep track.

There’s nothing that mixes you up like reading a passage in haste because you’re running out of time and there’s nothing you can do than simply resort into handling what you can.

  1. Don’t Panic!

Remember, the reason as to why you’re being subjected for a test is because the passage should be a new encounter to you. It isn’t going to be something you’re familiar with.

After all, it’s reading you to your next new chapter in life.

And no, it isn’t only you feeling the unfamiliarity, hundreds of other students are in the same predicament as you.

So, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay calm. This will help you grasp as much useful information as you can from the passage.

And once you do, combine that with your previous experience to give the best answers to the questions.

Remember, the passage isn’t any different from what you’ve been using in your practice. Therefore, don’t let its different outlook intimidate you.

Once you freak out, you stand to mess-up everything and that will not give you a pass to medical school.

How can I improve my MCAT score in a week?

If you haven’t been able to prepare for your MCAT, at least until the last week, you can still catch up by following the following plan, strictly;

Day 1; Begin by taking a full-length exam and then revising through the questions and answers, with your weakest points getting much attention.

Day 2; Answer practical questions with the help of AAMC and review the answers. More time should be allocated to answer reviews.

Day 3-5; Concentrate on doing new sections of exams each day. Refer to day 2.

Day 6; Here, spend time taking a full-length exam, again and have a thorough answer review session

Day 7:  Spend 4-5 hours on MCAT preparation. And this includes concentrating on reviewing all the areas you feel rusty.  After this, spending the rest of the time relaxing and refreshing your mind. It will be a great idea to catch some sleep.

FAQs About MCAT test taking strategies

How many MCAT practice tests should I take?

Generally, you should take around 5-6 tests to get you well-prepared for the MCAT.

But you can always take more than that depending on how much time you have by your side.

And if you review them well, then you won’t have to go past 10 tests.

How many questions can you miss MCAT?

If you want to attain an MCAT score of 510, you should focus on passing as many answers as possible (this is assuming the test is easier than difficult)

So, in this case, let no one lie to you that you can skip even 6 questions. If you go ahead and do so, then you might land a general score of around 125-131, of course depending on the difficulty.

Hence, there’s no right precise answer to this question. But if you must skip, then the fewer they’re the better for you.

What is a good MCAT score?

A good MCAT score would be 508 out of 528 or 127 out of 132, for the involved 4 sections.

Wrap Up

A lot has been said about the MCAT test. It’s largely considered tough, the reason as to why most students take a few months to concentrate on their preparations.

But even with adequate preparation, if you lack adequate test-taking strategies for the big day, then you might end up messing up everything.

The above tips are meant to help you gain a glimpse of what rights you should be concentrating on during the test.

Remember, you’re already a winner by reading this. What’s now left is for you to apply the same when faced that life-changing “beast”.

You can do it. Best of luck!

John Reed
The chief editor of TestPrepPal.com. I am an alumni of the university of Pennsylvania and my goal with the website is to help future graduates with their tests.

Leave a Comment