The ideal test day pace for working through questions and passages is on average:

  • 9 minutes per passage in CARS, split equally between reading the passage and working through the associated questions.

  • 8 minutes per passage in the sciences, split equally between reading the passage and working through the associated questions.

  • 10 minutes for the 15 discrete questions in the science sections.

If you are working at this ideal pace, you would finish the CARS section with 9 minutes remaining. Similarly, in the science sections, you would finish with 5 minutes remaining. So, there is some wiggle room built into this timing so that if a passage or question takes longer than expected, you will still be on pace to finish the section on time.

If you aren't at this pace yet, that is totally fine - you are not taking the MCAT today!

This is going to sound very counterintuitive, but the best way to improve your pacing is to start with untimed practice. Focus on mastering the strategies for breaking down passages and approaching questions. Stressing over timing too early in your prep will only reinforce bad testing habits.

Take time to review your practice, looking for specific changes that you can make to improve your efficiency and accuracy. Ask yourself:

  • How can I use keywords and structure to more efficiently read passages? Concluding statements are often in the first or last sentence of a paragraph. Experimental passages also have a predictable structure - use this to your advantage!

  • Am I highlighting effectively? We all highlight differently, but good highlighting should allow you to summarize the main ideas of a paragraph and quickly navigate the passage to find information.

  • Is there a more efficient way to answer this question? Even for questions you got right, reflect on your approach. Often you can strategically eliminate at least 1 answer. Additionally, there are shortcuts you can take with calculation questions to save time.

Continue with untimed practice until you are consistently reaching 70-80% accuracy.

Next, work through a passage or set of discrete questions at your natural pace, and time yourself to establish your natural pace. Work through a passage every day, shaving off 15 seconds each time. Continue to cut down the time as long as you are able to maintain accuracy. If you find that you need more practice at a particular pace point before you shave off more time - that is totally ok! You should not sacrifice accuracy for timing.

When you are within a few minutes of test day pacing (11 minutes for a CARS passage and 10 minutes for a science passage), incorporate longer practice sets. Continue to time yourself with these longer sets. Start with two passages and work up to full sections. This will allow you to continue honing your pacing while also building the endurance necessary for the marathon of test day. You should always practice at test day pace with section tests and full length exams. While you should aim to complete Blueprint exams 1-5 and AAMC exams 1-4 in a single sitting (or over 2 days if you have accommodations), it can be helpful to work through the later Blueprint exams and the AAMC sample test as sections to get additional timed practice in sections you find more challenging.

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