MCAT Time Management: The 20 Biggest MCAT Time Wasters, and How to Handle Them
Poor MCAT time management is the largest foil to a perfect score.
Everything about the MCAT – test prep companies, content review, the Pre Med experience, and the exam itself – seems to shout from the rooftops, “You don’t have enough time!”
The truth is the opposite.
You do have enough time.
Plenty, in fact.
Think of the MCAT as a time-sensitive space voyage to a new galaxy. 20 hidden black holes are in your way.
Your starship is your MCAT time management system.
You can either take your starship blindly at full speed and get sucked into each one. Or, you can identify these time wasters and plot a course circumventing disaster.
First – you just need to eliminate the biggest foils to the MCAT time management starship.
We did the work for you: having carefully identified the 20 biggest MCAT time wasters ever. Some may come as a surprise. This article is long, but may it be the only thing eating up study time this point onward…
MCAT Time Management Warning: The 20 Biggest Time Wasters
- Content Review
- Organic Chemistry Mechanisms
- Social Media
- Abandoning High-Yield Content
- Fixating on Low-Yield Content
- Poor Communication
- Psychology or Sociology Courses
- Other Company Practice Exams
- Failing to Review “Learnings”
- Ignoring Physics Formulas
- Postponing Full-Length AAMC Practice Exams
- “I’m not ready”
- Ignoring Incorrect Answers
- Losing Sleep
- Rote Memorization
- “I have to know everything”
MCAT Time Waster #1:
Time wasted: 3-12 months
Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Content review typically destroys MCAT time management. Why? Because it tends to be unfocused: overwhelming a candidate with the enormity of information rather than focusing on high-yield material. Most people get side tracked; or – worse – push through 7 Kaplan books only to forget the useful bits of everything they learned.
Look at it this way. In college, you’ve doubtlessly taken exams. If your professor barely used your overpriced textbook, is your strategy to memorize said textbook?
The best strategy is to focus on what the professor emphasizes during lecture – unless he says or has a history of acting otherwise.
You don’t have the time to learn everything there is to learn about Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Genetics, Pathology, Physiology, Neurology, Psychology, nor Sociology! No MCAT Time Management can cram this into your brain for quick, long-term recall.
Start with what the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) emphasizes with their 10 Foundational Concepts (FCs).
Simplify, and build from there.
Move onto topics and subtopics – taking care to emphasize precisely what the AAMC wants you to know. Why? The AAMC is a committee. They are even more predictable than your professor, because committees run off of standards. Thus, MCAT questions have to be justified by these specific standards – which the AAMC publishes on their site.
We’ve simplified them for you – download our version below.
The irony about this tactic is you will end up with more actionable knowledge than cramming books will ever get you.
Just as people who overeat tend to taste less, content review is an MCAT time waster because it desensitizes people to learning. While we don’t condemn purchasing Kaplan’s comprehensive 7-book guide (a terrific life reference), we do condemn its prioritization.
AAMC practice questions should reign supreme.
Not doing this will understandably lead to the next biggest time waster….
MCAT Time Waster #2:
Time wasted: 0-70% of Entire Study Time
People fear the unknown, which includes failure.
What MCAT score will you get?
Will you get into medical school?
Why aren’t you studying?
All these questions are foils to the cogs of MCAT time management.
Because not only do they place your focus on the unknown, they wager your human value on the unseen.
Yet – this anxiety proliferates society like a virus. Face it: with more certainty than the period at the end of this sentence, you are going to die.
“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you”
Time has been given to you. This is the secret to MCAT time management: time is precious, and a Gift, bought in blood. Live by these words, and all anxiety will cease to exist. Nothing will be able to harm you.
Someone who truly understands this ought to be able to walk out of the testing center with the lowest possible MCAT score, obtain a rejection from every Medical School, become estranged by family and still have the hope to make things right and continue living. As bad as situations are they could always get worse.
You may not be a Christian, but everyone should be able to find comfort with these words:
Everything this side of hell is Grace.
It truly is. Take joy and delight in your study material! It’s a privilege. That being said….
MCAT Time Waster #3:
Organic Chemistry Mechanisms
Time Wasted: 3-5 Weeks
Avoid Organic Chemistry Mechanisms! Are they covered? Yes. Are they high-yield. Absolutely not!
AAMC’s FC5D is a black hole. With about as equal weight as Separations (a far easier, equal-yield topic), it seems the AAMC decided to cram in every Organic Chemistry functional unit into this subtopic.
What should you do instead? Swiftly cover the fundamentals of Organic Chemistry: stereochemistry, nucleophiles and electrophiles, and counting carbons.
I recommend spending – at most – a few days working through every problem in this amazing, short book (affiliate link).
At the end of your studying and at the bottom of your MCAT time management – once you’ve nailed every physics formula, psychology and sociology vocab word, and can decipher passages and graphs like a pro – then consider looking at the most common mechanisms.
Until then, don’t sweat it!
MCAT Time Waster #4:
Time Wasted: 3-5 Weeks
Given this is a website, this may seem hypocritical – but there is a reason we made our forums isolated from social media.
Yes – Reddit and Facebook can be terrific resources for study material. However, both are designed for you to swipe through.
By the way: don’t let them use neuroscience against you! You’re the one who should be studying it.
Your hippocampus – as studied with HM – is seemingly required for long-term memory. There’s an issue however – it is addicted to novelty. There is a reason “news” is the plural of “new”. The underlying issue here is you don’t take away compounded novelty from social media – you take away what it compounds on.
The repeated factor in almost every social media post is an anxious MCAT test taker either venting or asking for information. This anxiety, sadly, becomes the addictive, subliminal takeaway – while the knowledge is something you have to make an effort to keep.
Face it: social media is not only the bane to MCAT time management, but a black hole in all of time management.
The MCAT is an immersive experience, meaning – you better be able to pay attention to hours of passages, questions, and data. Without said focus, all knowledge – those hours and months studying material – flush down the toilet.
Social media chips away at this. This is why – we recommend to block all social media apps on your phone with an app timer. Give yourself one day in the week, if anything, to browse content to screenshot or keep.
Migrate to a quieter platform.
On said platform there should be a little less….
MCAT Time Waster #5:
Time Wasted: 1 Hour Daily, “Slumping” for 6 Months
If there were millions of micro black holes on a space voyage to a 528, I would name them “complaints”.
Complaining wrecks MCAT time management – be it an internal sigh and slump or an external tantrum. What may seem like an innocent means to let off steams is actually deadly to your time.
Because, a complaint is time wasted on expanding a problem rather than rectifying or avoiding it.
We live in a fallen, imperfect world.
Ergo, we can have two choices: be satisfied and mend the broken, or be dissatisfied and break the mended. Writing the last statement strikes up guilt in my heart – because I, too, am prone to dwelling on imperfections.
This not only destroys MCAT time management, it is the opposite of your calling to become a physician.
Catch yourself sighing, complaining, or slumping – and create a recharge environment.
Ask yourself…if I find this boring – is there any way I can simply this concept to make it more exciting?
How would I teach a 5-year-old?
MCAT Time Waster #6:
Abandoning High-Yield Content
Time Wasted: 3 Weeks to 1 Month
We’ve all been there.
Staring at Michaelis-Mentin charts with all those variables dizzies you and just appears to scream, “You don’t know me! I have so many variables! You’re going to fail!!”
There is a strong temptation to reply, “Enough!”, and move onto other subjects.
If the topic fits within the hierarchy discussed above:
Because by avoiding this concept you will be tested on, you are habituating your mind for avoidance and dread every time you see this concept tested.
Avoidance is actually obedience to the fears seeking your ignorance of this high-yield topic.
You end up destroying MCAT time management by wasting time on subjects you likely know well already.
Abandonment doesn’t necessarily mean you cease to study content. It could also mean you leave content at your desk. MCAT time management also necessitates breaks – but most articles fail to clarify what these breaks do to help you in the final MCAT.
It’s helpful to think of information as food. To truly experience the flavor – you need to slow down and reflect back on the savory dish you consumed.
This is what a break does. Instead of abandoning a topic, try to slow down and apply it to everyday life. On your walk, think about how good managers in companies shouldn’t be involved in the process – but make it go faster.
Voila! They’re enzymes!
This type of allegorical thinking is precisely the sugar Mary Poppins sings about making the medicine go down.
MCAT Time Waster #7:
Fixating on Low-Yield Content
Time Wasted: 20-100% Study Time
In an exam with as much content breadth as the MCAT, people are often tempted to exercise poor time management on material they either already know or find interesting.
While I can never fully know the reason for this time wasting phenomenon – I presume it has to do with clinging onto past presentations of the same material.
In example, if someone took an amazing physiology course – this would doubtlessly be helpful with the MCAT.
However, said person might forego reviewing biomolecules, and cell/pathogens – two/thirds of the Biology/Biochemistry section – for reviewing the layers of skin, or other infinitesimal organ systems discrepancies.
Not only is this a huge MCAT time waster, it is perhaps one of the most disheartening study practices possible.
Because, come test day – said person who studied immeasurably hard and would likely make an excellent physician – prioritized the wrong material.
Don’t end up with a score understating your capacity!
The solution to this is the same solution to MCAT Time Waster 1: create visible AAMC concept maps for C/P, B/B, and P/S to keep you focused on the “lost sheep”, or high-yield information you are least prepared for.
Don’t study notes from a previous course! Only apply this knowledge and reconfigure it within the confines of AAMC’s expectations.
MCAT Time Waster #8:
Time Wasted: 3 Daily Hours Slumping = 21+ Days of Food Coma (in 6 Months)
This may be a strange entry in a list concerning MCAT time management – but if you think about it: food either takes too much or too little of our focus and time.
I never seek to promote eating disorders – but a personal game changer for my own MCAT focus was fasting. I love food too much to starve myself, so I had the motto, “No MCAT, no breakfast.”
The most important, pressing, high-yield topic I knew I would be caught empty handed on if tested then was the one I reviewed. Sometimes this would take hours – forcing me to delay feeding until brunch.
This, however, did something incredible to my time: it multiplied it. I could finally look forward to a small light at the end of the tunnel, encouraging me to work harder and smarter. Unlike late-night YouTube viewings, where “Just one more video” becomes a sleepless night of fatal consequence – “Just one more passage” made breakfast taste so much better.
Food makes us content, sleepy, and unmotivated. I do not advocate getting less than your daily recommended calories. I only suggest altering how and when you consume said sustenance.
Food affects your emotions. To avoid a perpetually disgruntled food coma – lay off too many carbohydrates, chew slowly and appreciate the flavors while you mull over the last third of your accomplished day, drink water, and eat until your hunger subsides…not until you are full.
Eating will become a victory dance rather than an indulgent guilt-ridden afterthought.
MCAT Time Waster #9:
Time Wasted: 70-100% Study Time!
1000 Hz. 30 Hz. 10 Hz.
These are – in order – the processing rates of hearing, vision, and tactile sensations.
Speed-wise: sound is supreme. So speedy, sound is actually is faster than the rhythm of consciousness (presumed to be 60 Hz.): meaning you hear into the future. This is why it is presumed coma patients hear sounds before waking.
What does this have to do with MCAT time management? Sound can be your greatest distractor or your greatest weapon.
If you control for your sound – you not only control for your external milieu, but your internal noise as well.
Perhaps one of the best academic investments I have ever made are both noise-cancelling headphones, and ear plugs. One is far more affordable than the other – but together…you can finally start listening to your thoughts. You can finally hear both your nescience – what you don’t know – and your conscience – what you do know.
Words cannot express how important eliminating noise is. It would not be a stretch to say the greatest threat to CARS is internal noise. Sub-vocalizing the author’s prose allows you to step into the author’s shoes – precisely what the AAMC wants.
This cannot happen until you have first eliminated all noise.
MCAT Time Waster #10:
Time Wasted: 0-6 Months
Relationships are complex. There are two keys to ensuring they get supportively behind you – rather than in front of you – when it comes to MCAT time management. Said keys are: facts, and how they are communicated.
Poor communications – “I’m studying!!!!!!” – backfire, as they lead to painful shrapnel: guilt, depression, and despair. This not only destroys current and future relations – but has the power to annihilate all of your MCAT study time. Remember, the responsibilities and stress will never stop. Either you learn to address them now, or the will address you later.
A good communicator points to the inevitable consequences of interruption, kindly – yet firmly – making them clear.
A constantly updated sign posted outside the door might say:
“I am currently studying for the MCAT. I appreciate your support and love. Given this exam is enormous – a typical 6 month study ordeal – and largely determines the remainder of my life, I strongly, lovingly ask for silence and no interruptions [even on trips to the restroom or kitchen]. My phone will be on silent, and I will have irregular, independent meal times. Thank you for your support.”
This frees you from any and all negative emotions associated from poorly communicated facts. To make this even easier on yourself and loved ones – relationships can actually encourage accountability.
Make a shared Google study calendar. This way everyone should have access to practice exam times, and you can hold yourself to an adjustable, announced schedule.
Speaking of psychological effects…
MCAT Time Waster #11:
Psychology or Sociology Courses
Time Wasted: 6 Credit Hours (100 Real Hours)
While some medical schools require Psychology or Sociology courses – I would never recommend taking said courses solely to prepare a person for the real MCAT.
Psychology and Sociology courses not only mess with your head, they completely warp MCAT time management.
Because the AAMC is exceedingly picky when it comes to terminology tested on the MCAT. Alongside Khan Academy, the AAMC provides the best resources – and expenditure of time – to acing P/S.
Psychology and Sociology has enough terminology to make lawyers, coders, and geneticists scratch their heads. You’ll lament later in Medical School. Don’t fill your plate with nutrition-less iceberg lettuce.
See – the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior system depend the most on context. By depending on your coursework and course notes – you are depending on the wrong context.
While most people score well by creating an enormous Anki set/flash card deck of AAMC terms – this isn’t strictly needed.
Because the MCAT is a multiple choice exam, without a guessing penalty and with an option to strike through answer choices. “This word popped up under Behavior and falls outside the question’s scope.” is a much more time-effective strategy than “What does that word mean again?”
Create that P/S concept map, and instead of wasting time: take courses like Statistics, Biochemistry, or Physiology – in order of importance. People forget – Statistics is the language of research and research articles: exactly what the MCAT poses as.
MCAT Time Waster #12:
Other Company Practice Exams
Time Wasted: 10-20 Days
Not to destroy MCAT Prep Companies – their materials have helped countless students – but nothing beats the accuracy of the AAMC’s practice exams.
Prioritizing time and money on a third party exam would be like driving an expensive limo to Stanford to take a practice exam for a course you are taking at NYU… especially when said NYU professor offers their own practice materials.
A motif in this article: MCAT time management is best spent on anything and everything AAMC.
Most – if not all – our articles thoroughly focus on AAMC’s 10 fundamental concepts, 3 comprehension skills, and 3 science skills. While another test prep company practice exam might be terrific practice years in advance – it is a far cry from the nuanced, unique style of AAMC.
Save your money and time, and instead invest in AAMC’s online practice bundle.
You’ll get five practice full-length simulations (use all five) and countless test bank questions. Every question references one of AAMC’S FCs. This is the only authentic way to study for the MCAT.
MCAT Time Waster #13:
Failing to Review “Learnings”
Time Wasted: 1 Month to All Study Time
Imagine you move briskly from topic to topic for about a month. At the end of said month – you’ve finally covered everything!
Except…come to find out – you take your first practice exam and learn you know nothing.
Most of MCAT time management should be spent on recall, rather than learning.
Because it is easier to remember a stranger’s name once we characterize them. Meaning: memorizing a formula – while extremely helpful – is useless until we familiarize ourselves with applying said formula. The MCAT isn’t about what you know. It’s about if you can apply what you know.
Knowledge is useless unless it: survives time, and is wielded. Recall needs to strive to accomplish both tasks.
Think of recall like resuscitating a corpse: you’re unsurprised by how gruesome the crime scene is – how much you’ve forgotten – and you have to enliven it with newfound passion.
This isn’t a time to mourn the corpse’s death. Instead, it’s a time to prevent further decay, and spice things up a bit!
Talk to someone about what you’ve learned.
Teach an imaginary student aloud.
Journal about it.
Associate it with a piece of music.
Dissect the corpse and see what killed it.
CSI: MCAT Time Management
MCAT Time Waster #14:
Ignoring Physics Formulas
Time Wasted: 12.5% of All Study Time (and your MCAT Score)
Physics is 12.5% of the MCAT – comprising 50% of the Chemistry/Physics section.
Your MCAT time management system has failed if you have neglected physics and its formulas.
Don’t go overboard – either. The AAMC doesn’t offer it’s own formula sheet, but it does reference every formula topic on its website. Therefore, we made our own formula sheet: not only for Physics, but also Chemistry.
What makes this formula sheet stand out from others you might find online? It focuses solely on topics the AAMC covers, and also ensures you don’t ignore Fluids (FC4B) and Light/Sound (FC4D) – the two most overlooked Physics subtopics.
Sign up for free access below.
Instead of ignoring Physics, you can prioritize applying formulas to practice problems. We strongly recommend doing this on – first – Khan Academy and – second – the AAMC C/P question bank.
Work each problem one passage at a time – first with the formula sheet, and then without.
MCAT Time Waster #15:
Postponing Full-Length AAMC Practice Exams
Time Wasted: All Time Before First Full-Length
Time wasted: all time before first full-length
You don’t actually start real MCAT prep until you take your first AAMC full-length exam.
Because the MCAT is an experience.
Just as reading about skydiving won’t make you solely an expert skydiver until after your first go – studying for the MCAT becomes exponentially more efficient after your first full-length practice exam.
The AAMC offers five full-length exams. The first practice exam needs to almost always be done as close as possible to the time you start preparing for the MCAT.
If you simulate the experience, especially at the time you register for the exam, you begin to understand “what it’s going to take” to get that 528.
It will almost certainly be rough. That’s where the next point comes in…
MCAT Time Waster #16:
“I’m not ready”
Time Wasted: Potentially, Years
You’ll likely never be completely ready for the MCAT. Don’t use this excuse to postpone your full-length exams.
The excuse “I’m not ready” to take a full-length practice exam is precisely the reason to take it. Even if you haven’t taken Biochemistry, Physiology, or barely touched Psychology/Sociology – your first attempt to do well on a full-length is that premature dive into the swimming pool one needs to learn how to swim.
The water is cold and I might drown and my body literally trembles at the thought of swimming – so how should I adjust my MCAT time management system to ensure I just do it? This is the make it or break it question. Not only for getting your feet wet – but preparing your entire MCAT mindset.
Try your hardest on your first practice exam and honestly expect to get 472. Why? You’re a fledgling. Anything above the lowest score is pure Grace. Adjusting your expectations, will recalibrate your entire MCAT time management system.
MCAT Time Waster #17:
Ignoring Incorrect Answers
Time Wasted: 1 Month Quality Studying
After your first practice exam – no matter your score – you are wasting both time and money if you do not review and rework each and every question.
Ignoring your incorrect answers out of shame not only robs you of that amazing payoff of finally “getting it”, but also creates a frame-shift mutation in your entire MCAT time management system.
I recommend reviewing your completed practice exam systemically: either on paper or in a spreadsheet. Honestly – both are ideal.
On this spreadsheet – you should paste the AAMC’s official explanation, give your own explanation, and isolate the specific Foundational Concept and subtopic.
What does this accomplish?
It is a reminder of what you got wrong and how you can actionably prevent getting it wrong again.
This way you won’t lose sleep over anything…
MCAT Time Waster #18:
Time Wasted: 75% of Each Day
If you were like me – you would scoff at this statement.
Who needs sleep? It turns out – everyone does. I found this out the hard way: if you don’t find sleep, sleep will find you. It found me and put me in a hospital.
Who has time for sleep?
This is a dangerous question, because the Pre-Med lifestyle attempts to cram in as much as humanly possible within a 24 hour timespan. Time is – after all – precious. Thus, a better phrased question is: who has time to lose sleep?
Losing sleep snowballs: it fuels an egotistical superhuman attitude – subtle, but stubborn – that eventually crashes you down. This is why it is beneficial to schedule at least one rest day a week to reset the clock.
In fact…sleep is essential for memory and longevity – two words almost synonymous with the MCAT.
A great incentive for sleep is memory. Just as muscle growth doesn’t happen in the gym – but in bed; memories typically don’t get strengthened or killed until a snooze vis synaptic pruning.
Ergo – a spectacular study tactic is to give thanks to God for everything you learned that day while lying in bed at night. First thing in the morning is testing yourself – either through recitation, writing, or “white-boarding” yesterday’s content and seeing what fell through the cracks.
This study-sleep tactic is perhaps one of the most powerful memory techniques I have discovered and an excellent MCAT time management hack.
MCAT Time Waster #19:
Time Wasted: Time Spent Memorizing Information – Time Spent Using Information
Speaking of memory, rote memorization may be lucrative – but a risky, and ineffective MCAT time management activity.
One of the most touted MCAT study methods is a software called Anki. Timed flashcards on steroids, Anki is a terrific opportunity to ensure you don’t forget something.
However, there is a temptation to try and memorize rather than conceptualize.
I once heard this bit of advice in college, and was annoyed.
After all – my notorious pocket-sized flash card collection awkwardly bulged the side of my pants wherever I travelled: a small price paid for my then high GPA.
I noticed something: months after a course, I would forget almost everything. After hours and hours poured into the system, why was this?
The flashcards never connected. The bricks never built the building. The neurons never connected. The concepts never conceptualized.
Data, alone, is boring. Make a narrative, and it instantly becomes fascinating. The most powerful memory device is narrative.
A movie – after all – is only a collection of images with words, people, props, and locations. How is it we remember so much from said movie?
It makes something more than the sum of its parts – an emotional experience…the best often based on logic and reason.
This is what the MCAT should be.
MCAT Time Waster #20:
“I have to know everything”
Time Wasted: Your Life
And the biggest MCAT time waster is….drumroll please…. hubris.
Circling back to MCAT Time Waster 1, the attitude “I have to know everything” will ensure you know nothing.
I wrote about this in another post, but it is important to reiterate that you are not a giant: you are an ant. The heavens can’t fit in your head. But your head can fit into the heavens. That – in fact – is the only way you will see them.
Appreciate and admire what you are learning. Make opinions about subjects. Illustrate what fascinates you. You cannot change truth. Truth – however – can change you.
Be economic with your MCAT time and score.
You are human. Therefore, you are of immeasurable value. Your time is limited as it is precious.
An MCAT time management system that listens to what the AAMC orders will translate into a physician listening to his patient.
Many of the above black holes can be circumnavigated by the following series of Journeys:
If you have encountered any other MCAT time wasters or have unique advice to offer on MCAT time management, comment below or start a topic on our forum.