How To Stay Motivated For The MCAT In 9 Steps

February 2, 2024

minute read

Are you struggling to stay motivated for the MCAT? Do you find yourself burning out constantly and wanting to procrastinate? 

Recently we've been spending time with top MCAT scorers figuring out how they kept themselves motivated for the MCAT.

An exam of this length with this extreme amount of content to know, requires a whole new level of motivation than the exams you're used to.

We realized that someone who has mastered the ability to motivate themselves during MCAT prep, can make progress in their MCAT score at a MUCH faster rate than someone who studies for this exam like it's their regular college exam. 

It seems obvious, but we know that if we're dedicating ourselves to providing you with the tools to skyrocket your MCAT score in the quickest amount of time, then the topic of MCAT motivation needs to be addressed. 

Some will dismiss this as 'soft' skills that don't matter...

Those who are smart, will take this seriously and master themselves. 

When you master yourself, you'll be able to master the MCAT, and more importantly you'll truly be ready to take on med-school...


The Obvious MCAT Burnout Advice You Hear Everywhere

It can be kind of exciting when you’re first starting MCAT prep, getting your stack of MCAT prep books...

You hear about how difficult it is, but you’re constantly wondering ‘how hard can it really be?’. You’ve had some pretty hard exams in your life, and you’ve been fine!

A few weeks later, or maybe your first or second practice exam later, you’re inevitably feeling all kinds of frustration, overwhelm, discouragement, and even boredom! A lot of students end up feeling hopeless...

MCAT prep procrastination becomes very real at this point, and you need to cure it as soon as possible because unfortunately, the MCAT needs to be taken. It needs to be studied for. It’s a barrier to med-school that NEEDS to be crossed! You can't ignore it forever...

So what do you do?!

How do you summon the motivation, the willpower, to keep studying, to keep grinding, even when every ounce of your body wants to be as far away from MCAT books as possible?

Well first realize you’re dealing with MCAT prep motivation burnout. 

Knowing that, let's get the obvious, basic advice out of the way that you've heard from many other people...

You need to pace yourself.

You don’t begin running a marathon by sprinting the first mile… So why are you trying to run MCAT prep in that way?

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You've heard it before, but we're saying it again...

The MCAT is not a sprint. It's a marathon. 

A marathon takes training. It takes a little strategy. It takes patience. 

Which means you need to take breaks. You need to take time out for yourself to have fun, go for walks, exercise, meditate. These activities rejuvenate you, so that when you're done them, you automatically feel inspired to work.

[By the way, our Instagram and Facebook feed is littered with motivational MCAT image quotes to keep you inspired, even while you're procrastinating on social media! Make sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook :)]

If you require an hour long break, or a day long break, that fine - it's up to you and your needs. Our advice is to satisfy whatever that need is. It's like dehydration can occur at different levels - some people need a sip of water, others have been dehydrated for so long, they need two glasses.

Give yourself however much you need to feel rejuvenated again.  

Of course, your test date can make a lot of difference too. If it's close, you might not have such luxuries. In which case, we still recommended taking small breaks.

At the back of their mind, top scorers know that every choice has a cost...

The question you need to ask yourself, is when does it become more painful to not study for the MCAT, than to actually study? When it becomes more painful, that’s when you’ll take action automatically. 

And sometimes the most painful part is just starting...

Which brings us to our next point about harnessing the physics of MCAT motivation...

How To Harness The Physics of MCAT Motivation

Here’s what we’ve realized…

MCAT motivation often sparks when you actually take action and study. Motivation doesn’t cause you to study, but studying causes you to get motivated. Why?

Remember Newton's First Law?

Objects in motion like to stay in motion. 

So once you start studying, it’ll be much easier to continue studying. 

All the pain to MCAT studying happens in the beginning right before you pull up your notes or books. If you can summon the willpower to just start, in the smallest way possible, the momentum will kick off. 

That means if you just tell yourself “maybe I’ll just review one page of notes”, that would make it really easy for you to get started.

What’s one page right?

But what will often happen is that you’ll find yourself WANTING to continue reading beyond that one page.

If you can summon the willpower to just make the tiniest step towards productivity, you'll find yourself making giant steps.

The key is to make that first step easy, a no-brainer. That first step needs to be hard to say "no" to!

For example, when you're feeling unmotivated, and when you feel like procrastinating when you know you should be studying, tell yourself you're only going to try to study for 30 minutes and see what happens. 

If 30 minutes is too much to make you take action, go down to 15 minutes! Take the easiest first step.

Next, one of the leading causes of MCAT burnout is this mistake that we see premeds constantly making when they schedule their MCAT test date...

Don't Make This MCAT Test Date Scheduling Mistake That Can Burn You Out

You've set your MCAT test date. Now ask yourself and be honest, have you given yourself enough time? If not, you need to. It's imperative.

Sounds like common knowledge but there are a lot of students who give themselves less time than they know they’ll need. Purposefully giving themselves less time, hoping a deadline will ‘force’ them to go hard, put in 14 hour days and make it work.

These are gambles and you can’t take gambles with what is likely the most important exam of your doctor career. 

Booking an MCAT test date in advance, before even taking a diagnostic is not a smart idea. 

Take your time for MCAT prep. You want this to be the last time you write the MCAT.

Having to rewrite is not a fun experience - more costs, more energy, more pressure, more time invested - everything goes against you at that point...

And each time you rewrite, the worse it all gets.

So take your time, and stop forcing your way through it. It might seem really slow if you give yourself 3+ months to study for one exam, but come test date, you’ll likely wish you had a little more time. Almost all premeds feel like that. 

One of the biggest reasons premeds try to rush through MCAT prep is because they can’t imagine how each step they take, contributes to the final picture, to the goal. Each step during MCAT prep, each day you spend studying, builds on the day before it.

So even though your next hour of studying might seem minor in comparison to all that you need to cover, remember the bigger picture. Remember that you need to climb one step at a time, so when you reach the top, you can actually appreciate the view. 

How Creating A Strategic Schedule Kept Top MCAT Scorers Motivated

If you don’t have a set time for when you should start studying for the MCAT, you’ll spend a lot of your day wondering when the right moment to start will be. If you don’t schedule your MCAT prep on a weekly and daily basis, you’ll find yourself ‘hoping’ to find the willpower to actually do it. 

With a schedule, you’re clear on what you need to do and in what order. You’re no longer debating or trying to make decisions.

The hard part about getting yourself motivated is deciding what to do, how to start studying, what to study out of all the different things you could study.

With a schedule, it’s like you just follow a map. You don’t have to think and when you’re not forced to think, there’s no room for your mind to start creating doubts and self-defeating thoughts.

Top scorers created a strategic MCAT study schedule and they stuck to it. Low MCAT scorers are always waiting to feel motivated. Top scorers make themselves feel motivated - and the right schedule accomplishes just that.

So how do you make the right schedule? What you DON'T DO is spend hours figuring it out yourself. Instead you see how 90+ percentile MCAT scorers did it by downloading the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide. Inside this guide we've also included real MCAT schedule templates top scorers used, that you can just copy so you don't have to waste your time creating it on your own.

How To Use The Goldilocks Rule To Increase Your MCAT Prep Motivation

Imagine you were studying a 5th grade level science book...

After the first few pages, it’d be so easy that you’d get bored of it and you wouldn’t have the motivation to continue reading it.

Now think about the MCAT. This exam is on the opposite side of the spectrum where it can be so daunting that once again, it’s easy to get discouraged by it, bored of it, and unmotivated to continue.

So what do you do? If it’s too easy, life sucks. If it’s too hard, life sucks.

The key to maintain your MCAT studying motivation is to keep your studying in the “optimal zone of difficulty”. 

The Goldilocks Rule states that we get the most motivation when we’re working on something that’s just at the border of what we’re currently capable of. So in other words, we love attainable challenges.

So when it comes to the MCAT and getting motivated to study, you need to bring it back from being this massive insurmountable obstacle, and break it up into manageable pieces which on their own, can be little challenges that you overcome.

It's not hard to break the MCAT up into manageable pieces. In fact, it's already done for you with four sections. Break up those sections into manageable pieces and keep going until you can see every single step of the whole staircase.

Also, add a fifth section called "MCAT studying and testing strategy". Ideally, tackle that section first so you don't waste your time ineffectively going through the rest.

Another thing you can do is practice more "active recall" as opposed to "passive recall". Active recall is a little bit harder, which keeps you focused and motivated. It involves actions like using flashcards and practicing with mnemonics. When you're forced to produce answers from memory, you're using active recall.

On the other hand, when you're just constantly re-reading notes or watching lectures, that's passive recall. That's not challenging. That can get boring really quickly, and before you know it, you feel like procrastinating!

If you want to know how top MCAT scorers created and utilized flashcards in the most efficient and strategic way when studying for the MCAT, we discuss it in detail in our MCAT strategy guide. We also have hundreds of MCAT mnemonics used by top scorers, that we've listed in the VIP Member's area

Another way to slightly increase difficulty and practice active recall is to constantly give yourself MCAT problems to solve.That way you're constantly testing your knowledge and keeping yourself "on your toes". 

Trying to teach all of the information you've learned is another way to utilize active recall.

The key point is that you need to get MCAT studying into that optimal zone where it’s not too easy, not too hard.  When you can do this, you get into a state of “flow”. 

Achieving MCAT Flow: How to Get Into The State Of Peak MCAT Studying Motivation

Now what do you do if you're in flow, but as you're measuring your progress, your scores just refuse to increase significantly, or not at all? That could be incredibly discouraging and detrimental to your MCAT prep motivation...

Have you ever been reading, working, or writing and were so focused that it felt like nothing else existed besides you and your task?

It happens most often in our creative endeavours relating to art, dancing, music, etc. Competitive sports is another common area where we experience this. But it can often happen while studying and working as well. 

Being in this state of flow (in the "zone") is known as being in a state of peak motivation.

If you can get here consistently, during MCAT prep like many top scorers before you were able to do, you’ll find yourself breezing through the material, with exceptional recall and looking forward to the next time you study. 

We often enter flow when we're trying to problem solve, when we're trying to get to the right answer. When we're trying to "beat" a game, or a puzzle. When you can get into this mindset with your MCAT prep, you can jump into the flow state, where hours go by and you're making incredible progress. 

One way to get into flow is to eliminate as many distractions as you can. Distractions include phones, noise, etc. Distractions can also be relating to comfort - if you're wearing comfortable clothes, it if the temperature isn't too hot or cold in the room, etc. 

Remember, you want to get completely absorbed in the material. That's what flow is. Which means you need maximize your chances of that happening, so making sure your environment is ideal for that is really important. 

Next, find your ideal studying time that gets you in 'flow' more easily and milk that! Is it at night? Is it early morning? Those are usually the two times of the day where people find it easiest to get into flow and study efficiently. Why? A huge factor is probably the lack of distraction at those times. 

Also, get interested in the material. We've said this before many times. Get curious about what you're learning, find it fascinating, because when you do, it'll be that much more easier to get absorbed by it.

One of the biggest keys to flow is getting constant and instant feedback on how you’re doing. Therefore, you need to measure your progress.

How do you measure your progress with MCAT studying? One way comes back to scheduling. As you check off or cross off sections/chapters/pages/lectures you’ve finished reading/learning/reviewing, you feel a sense of progress and you want to continue.

The second way is measuring your progress in your knowledge, in your ability to apply what you’ve learned. In other words, doing practice questions, passages, and exams.

When you try these types of active recall initiatives, like trying to teach someone what you've learned, you're getting immediate feedback at how well you know the material. 

To keep yourself motivated, and to drastically improve your MCAT studying quality, you need to conduct proper MCAT practice, constantly.

You’ve probably felt this intuitively too. When you’re constantly reading, note-taking for weeks (some students go for over a month or two of straight content review), you’re very likely going to get bored, discouraged, and unmotivated. That’s what leads to procrastination and burnout.

You need to get in some practice and track those numbers on a spreadsheet, or somewhere else that you can see everyday.

Also make sure you know HOW to do practice questions and exams strategically. Especially the AAMC resources. They're limited and your most valuable resources - you can't waste them. If you want to know the most effective ways top scorers took and reviewed practice exams, you'll find that information in our downloads.

So remember, to get into flow consistently, measure your progress for feedback.

Lastly, one of our favorite ways to get into flow is to practice mindfulness as well as meditation, which as you know by now, we're huge proponents of. When you're in flow, you're in the present moment and that's why you're focused, and that's why it's one of the most addictive states that you want to keep getting back into.

All activities that bring you in the present are the "best feeling" ones (watching a beautiful sunset, movies, sex, dancing, etc.)

When you practice mindfulness and meditation, you're practicing the ability to get present. When you master that skill, you master your ability to get into flow and maximize your motivation, for ANYTHING you do, including studying for the MCAT.

Plus there are a dozens of other physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits to doing these activities that will serve you for the rest of your doctor career.

Now what do you do if you're in flow, but as you're measuring your progress, your scores just refuse to increase significantly, or not at all? That could be incredibly discouraging and detrimental to your MCAT prep motivation...

The Biggest Source Of MCAT Motivation: Seeing Your Score Increase

If you’ve been trying to increase your MCAT score for weeks or even months, you’re going to get extremely discouraged and you’ll need extreme willpower to continue studying.

Which is understandable.

At this point, most students think that the solution is more studying, more review, more practice. In fact, they’ve been constantly thinking this is the solution and acting on it, but not getting any results.

It’s a horrible cycle because with every disappointing result, they keep studying more and more trying to see change, trying to see improvement. Each disappointment forces them to push harder and further, until one day they break down from the burnout, hopelessness, discouragement and more. 

The problem is that most don’t take a step back and question if their studying methods are right.

“How can they not be right? I’ve been doing great all throughout undergrad!”

Every med-school student who mastered the MCAT, had this realization - the MCAT is a whole different monster and needs to be approached in a new way. 

If you’re not seeing your score increase, you’re going to get demotivated. Plain and simple. Our strongest advice to you, for increasing your motivation, is to take the smartest steps to increase your MCAT score continuously, with every practice exam.

There is no better motivation than to see your score increase, because then you start looking forward to the results of the next practice tests. It’s an amazing dopamine rush every time you see you’ve made progress. 

So how do you make sure you see your score increase with every practice exam? Like we said before, take some time first learn HOW to study for the MCAT, THEN study for the MCAT.

The way to learn how to study for the MCAT, is something we’ve made extremely easy for MCAT writers. It’s based on the principle that "to be the best, learn from the best”. Meaning, find out how 90+ percentile MCAT scorers studied for the MCAT, and do exactly that. 

From our years of researching and interviewing top MCAT scorers, we’ve compiled the most common, most reliable, most high-yield MCAT prep strategies that we give to our students.

These strategies have helped students improve their scores by 10 or more points in as quick as 30 days. The reason it works so well is because the students always had it in them - they know the material, they just needed to tweak how they were applying it for the MCAT. 

You also have it in you... 

You just need some guidance.

So when you see your score increase, your MCAT motivation will also skyrocket. You’ll stop procrastinating and you’ll stop feeling like you have to force yourself to study. 

With the increased confidence in your MCAT score, you’ll know med-school is much more closer than ever before. Which brings us to our next point…

The Key To Short Term MCAT Motivation Is Your Long Term Vision

You want to go to med-school. Why? You want to become a doctor. Why? 

That’s as far as our assumptions can take us. You need to keep going and keep asking ‘why’.

You need to remember your vision. You need to remember why you’re doing this. Why you’re going through this gruelling process.

What’s at the end? What’s your highest vision for yourself? Why will you be fulfilled going down this path?

You need to write your vision down. Your vision must be long term. It must be about the difference you’re going to make in others, AS WELL AS in your own life. What does your future look like? This exam won’t matter in 10 years when you’re a doctor. But what will life look like at that time? 

Write it all down. 

Reading this will be an immense source of motivation on the days when you’re questioning it all, when you’re feeling so discouraged that you’re contemplating giving up. Those days will happen.

For those days, and even for the days when you’re over the moon with your accomplishments, like the day you get back your high MCAT score, looking at your vision will lift your spirits higher than you can imagine. You’ll become unstoppable. 

You were born to be a doctor. This is just one exam that has been created to seem harder than it is. It’s not going to stop your “dr.” dreams. We won’t let it.

But we can’t do it without you - we’ve taken the first step by presenting you with proven resources showing you how you need to study. You need to take the next step by downloading them and understanding how this exam is mastered.

Lastly, there is nothing more motivating than seeing how others, who were once in your shoes, struggling in the same ways, are now living their dreams…

Get Inspired By Listening To Top MCAT Scorer Success Stories

Recently we started featuring the interviews that we do of top MCAT scorers. We put them up all over our blog, we send exclusive stories in our emails, and we put up actual recorded interviews on our YouTube channel (plus a lot more recorded MP3 interview downloads are put up exclusively in the VIP Members Area). 

We encourage you to read those success stories by signing up to our email newsletters. You can sign up here. Next, we highly encourage you to actually listen to the FULL interviews. We recommend you listen to them while doing ‘off’ tasks like driving, cooking, etc. Soak in the top scorer mentality during this time. You can hear a few on our YouTube channel and of course, when you download the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide, you’ll get access to a lot more downloadable recorded interviews. 

These interviews are loaded with MCAT prep insights and they’ll motivate you immensely by showing you that no matter how bad it got for them, others managed to dominate the MCAT, and so can you.

You’re amazing for being on this journey. We’re proud of you. You’re going to get through this because you have what it takes. Someone who is on a journey to help people, the way you are, will always be taken care of. Believe it. 

You got this, 

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors

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About the Author

We're a team of future doctors passionate about giving back and mentoring other future doctors! All mentors on the team are top MCAT scorers and we all are committed to seeing you succeed in achieving your physician dreams ???? To help you achieve your goal MCAT score, we take turns hosting these Live MCAT Courses and are also available for 1:1 private tutoring!

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