Time Management Strategies for the MCAT

The MCAT is typically considered a fast-paced exam. Certain sections can seem harder to finish within the allotted time than others, but all the portions of the test require students to employ time management strategies in order to succeed. The Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences sections each have 52 questions that must be completed in 70 minutes, while Verbal Reasoning consists of 40 questions in a 60-minute window. Below are several key time management strategies to exercise while sitting for the exam to ensure that you do not exceed the time limit and forego points. 

1. Monitor the time

This simple technique may seem intuitive, but on exam day, many test-takers forget to note the time. Wear a reliable watch, and locate the clock in your exam room as soon as you sit down. Be certain you understand the pacing of the section you are working on. You have approximately one minute and twenty seconds for each question on the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences portions. For Verbal Reasoning, you will have one minute and thirty seconds for each problem. Do not become obsessive about the time, but establish landmarks within each section to ensure you are on schedule. For example, when you have 35 minutes remaining in Physical Sciences (the half-way mark), you should be finished with at least 26 (half) of the questions. Here is some great information on how to manage your time during MCAT prep as well.

2. Move on from difficult questions

Utilizing this time management strategy can seem difficult at first, because the majority of students hope to answer every single question correctly. However, recognizing your limits and moving on from a very difficult question that you cannot seem to grasp will ultimately earn you more points. By moving on, you allow yourself to answer easier questions in the section. If you still have time remaining after you have completed the remaining problems, return to those you initially omitted. These are 5 strategies for MCAT practice tests that you may find useful.  

3. Read the question line before the stem

Many question stems on the MCAT consist of several lines of text. In order to quickly understand what information you must know, read the last line of the stem before the beginning. This will focus your skimming of the rest of the stem. Many times, it is not even necessary to read the remainder because you will be able to answer the question immediately. However, you should always skim the stem to ensure you understand the full problem. 

4. Practice beforehand

Though this is not a time management strategy you can rely upon come test day, it is crucial to complete timed practice sections and full exams to gain familiarity with the pacing of the MCAT. Practicing well in advance will also aid you in understanding the types of questions you will be asked on test day. Moreover, you can practice applying the above strategies during your sample exams to further build your time management skills. An MCAT tutor can even guide you through each individual step. 

Timing is a major component of success on the MCAT. Many students struggle to earn an extra point or two simply because they do not reach the questions at the end of a section. Pacing yourself by watching the clock, moving on from difficult questions, reading the question line of the stem first, and completing practice exams before test day are all important strategies to help you beat the clock.