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Pacing on the MCAT

As the MCAT is a timed test, pacing is important to get a good score. You don’t want to rush through the test and get a bunch of questions wrong. At the same time, you don’t want to go so slowly that you don’t have time to answer all the questions. Students should strive for a pace that will allow them to answer as many questions with as high of accuracy as possible. This sounds easy but is actually quite difficult in practice. In this post, we will discuss some strategies for pacing on the MCAT.

Timing on the MCAT

The MCAT contains four sections: three 95-minute sections on the sciences and one 90-minute section on critical analysis and reasoning skills. Students have about a minute and a half to answer each question. However, all of the sections also include passages that students need to read to answer the questions so there is definitely a time pressure on the MCAT. Students that don’t pace properly end up having to rush or guess on many questions. While you don’t have to answer every question correctly to get a good MCAT score, there are still pacing strategies that students can utilize to increase their scores.

Pacing on the MCAT - Magoosh

Table from AAMC


Pacing Strategies

Watch the time. This is pretty self-explanatory. When you take the exam, there is a timer that counts down how much time you have remaining for the section. While taking full-length MCAT practice tests in preparation for the actual exam, you should establish checkpoints for yourself. Here are some sample checkpoints for a 95-minute science section:

Passage 3: ~1 hour remaining

Passage 5: ~42-43 minutes remaining

Passage 8: ~15-16 minutes remaining

When taking the MCAT, the student should check how much time they have left after completing passage 3, 5, and 8. If the student notices that they have less time than allotted at the checkpoint, then the student knows to speed up their pacing. In contrast, students that find that they have too much time should slow down to improve their accuracy.

Do the freestanding questions first. On the science sections, there are passage-based questions and freestanding questions (questions not associated with a passage). Freestanding questions are typically easier and take less time to complete than passage-based questions. As all questions on the MCAT are worth the same amount of points, students can choose to do all of the freestanding questions first. For students that struggle to finish the test, this can be a great option.

Do the easy passages first. The passages and questions on the MCAT vary in difficulty. In addition, pre-medical students often have their own strengths and weaknesses so they find certain passages harder and others easier. For example, a student that is very strong in chemistry can strategize by completing all of the chemistry passages first and then focus on the rest of the passages. On top of helping with pacing, this approach can give students a great confidence boost!

These strategies are great to help students with pacing issues on the MCAT. If you are looking for additional ways to improve your score, check out our previous post on memorization techniques for the MCAT.

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