If you’re a student gearing up to start preparing for the MCAT, the planning can seem almost as intimidating as the actual material. How many months should you set aside, and how many hours per day? What prep materials should you use? And how will you be able to confirm that you’re ready to take the official exam?
All of these questions are influenced by another common query: how many full-length MCAT practice tests, or FLs, should you plan to take? The AAMC currently has three FLs available for purchase, but only two give a scaled score. Virtually all sources recommend taking more, but exactly how many can vary substantially. In general, it’s best to take somewhere between 5 and 10 FL exams. To pinpoint an exact number, we’re offering the following tips:
1. If you’re a first-time test-taker and/or have problems with endurance, aim to take 8 or more FL exams.
A large proportion of MCAT prep can be accomplished outside of MCAT practice tests, including review of content and practice working through individual passages. However, the one aspect that is difficult to master in any format other than full-length tests is endurance. If you tend to lose focus or get tired easily, you’ll want to take more tests than the average student. Don’t fret if you become exhausted by the bio/biochem section of the first few tests you take; keep working through more until you feel relatively mentally sharp throughout all four sections. Similarly, if you tend to run out of time on certain sections, try to assess whether this happens especially often when you are already tired. If so, you may need to take extra FLs to practice moving through the exam in the proper amount of time in a test-like setting.
2. If you have very little trouble staying focused for 6+ hours, 5-6 exams may be closer to the perfect number for you.
It’s not uncommon for students to score extremely well on the MCAT after taking only 5 full-length exams. However, these are typically the students who are already suited to the MCAT style and format – either retakers, those with naturally good endurance, or those who (in other facets of life, such as work) already practice remaining focused for long durations. If you fall into these categories, you may be able to get by with only 5-6 MCAT practice tests, but be sure to complete sufficient practice outside of FLs to fully master the MCAT science material.
3. Avoid taking more than one FL per week!
Students – especially those with only 1-2 months until their test date – often fall into the trap of packing multiple full-length MCAT practice tests into the same week. But each full exam takes approximately one full day to complete, and ideal review should take that amount of time or even longer. Trying to take even two FLs in a week, then, leaves little to no time for other studying, and it risks burnout or exhaustion. If you have limited time until your test date, try instead to limit yourself to one FL per week, and fill some of your remaining time with individual exam sections, if available. This way, you can complete the equivalent of 1.5-2 FLs per week without risking the fatigue that comes with taking multiple full exams in a row.
4. More FLs is NOT always better.
As a tutor, I’ve seen a number of students with the same grave misconception – “if 5-10 FLs is good,” they say, “then more than 10 must be even better!” While this sounds sensible in theory, students who try to take more than 10 full practice tests typically sacrifice some valuable review time. Taking 6 FLs and reviewing each carefully – making note of your mistakes and weaknesses – is far more valuable than taking 15 and skimping on the review.
Of course, every student is different, so it may take some time to decide what path is right for you. But regardless of the number of practice exams you end up completing, we have high hopes for your MCAT success. Good luck!