How to Handle MCAT Study Burnout

Preparing for the Medical College Admission Test, commonly known as the MCAT, is often a months-long process that requires medical school hopefuls to review a breadth of academic materials from their undergraduate coursework and to master test-taking skills crucial for identifying correct answers.

MCAT practice tests take up a full day, and individual sections last about 90-95 minutes each. Given the sheer amount of hours needed to study for this test — as well as its weighty implications — it is not uncommon for students to experience burnout at some point during their MCAT studying.

If you find your attention wandering or your practice scores failing to improve, try these three tips to get yourself back on track:

— Break down large tasks.

— Make rest a part of your study regimen.

— Consider energy expenditure outside of studying.

Break Down Large Tasks

Simply considering the magnitude of a large task can be cognitively taxing, so avoid overwhelming yourself when you’re tired by breaking down your daily study tasks into checklists of much smaller tasks.

For example, instead of telling yourself to complete and then go over a timed CARS section, break the task down into four or five bullets. Your first task might be to complete the timed questions, and subsequent tasks may be to go over five to 10 questions at a time until your review is complete.

You can schedule short breaks between your small tasks to give your brain a break, and checking off the boxes will give you a sense of accomplishment to help propel you forward.

Make Rest a Part of Your Study Regimen

Many students make the mistake of trying to study for the MCAT all day, every day, with the belief that more time spent in front of books will yield a higher score. While this seems logical, as these students become more and more fatigued, they might notice their pace of study slowing and their ability to absorb information stagnating.

If you feel your studying losing efficiency, take a step back and consider whether you’re giving yourself enough time away from your study materials to allow for quality studying. Schedule several short breaks throughout the day, and consider taking one to two days completely off from studying per week. Make your breaks true breaks, disconnecting completely from your study materials to give yourself a chance to recuperate.

Remember, quality of study trumps quantity.

Consider Energy Expenditure Outside of Studying

Though some students can devote a period of time to dedicated study — in which they are not working, taking classes or are otherwise preoccupied — many find themselves having to balance MCAT prep with other obligations.

While it is feasible to balance studying with other activities, if you find your studying suffering, you may do well to question whether the expectations you have for yourself are reasonable and whether you need to adjust your schedule to better serve your MCAT prep needs.

If you’re working, would cutting back on hours at work free up some time to rest and to make conquering practice questions more fruitful? If other areas of your life can’t change right now, is there room to move your test date to give yourself more time to study?

Approach your MCAT studying with a degree of flexibility. This is an important test, and if your studying is suffering, don’t be afraid to make a change.

More from U.S. News

14 Mistakes That Can Keep You Out of Medical School

3 Inexpensive Types of MCAT Test Prep

How to Read Your MCAT Score Report

How to Handle MCAT Study Burnout originally appeared on

Update 07/13/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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