How to Prepare for an Entrance Exam

If you are planning to pursue a professional or graduate level degree, it is essential that you are prepared to do well on your entrance exam. For admission to medical school, students must take the MCAT exam and for most other graduate schools, the GRE is required. More information regarding each entrance exam can be found in the table at the bottom of this page.

Depending on the type of exam you plan on taking, recommended preparation could range from one year to three months prior to the exam. In addition to practicing test taking abilities and reviewing of content knowledge, students benefit greatly from taking one full-length practice exam every two weeks. There are three main questions you should consider:

  • When should I take my exam?
  • When should I start studying?
  • How should I study?

The answers to these questions can vary between each applicant and will depend on your situation. It is important that you should first take an practice/ diagnostic exam to gauge where you stand. Read the information below to help answer these questions.

For scholarship opportunities to help fund entrance exam material, click here.

When should I take my exam?

To answer this question, first identify when you plan to attend and apply for professional/ graduate school. Most applicants will take their exam at least one year prior to entering professional/ graduate school. In general, the earliest time an applicant should take their exam is after they have finished all their courses relevant to their exam, and at the latest, (receiving their scores) right before they submit their applications. If you have not completed a course or learned content that covers a significant portion of your exam, you may want to wait until you do so. That particular content may be learned through self-study material (prep books, online videos) and a course may not be necessary.

Applicants should only take the exam when they feel they are ready. Keep in mind that your particular entrance exam will be offered during various dates and locations throughout the year. More information regarding time, date, and location can be found on your entrance exam’s main website, which can be found under ‘Additional Information’. When choosing your exam date, you should consider if you have any classes, special events, work, or any other responsibilities that may hinder your focus or time of preparation. Many applicants take their exam during the summer when they are off school and have more free time to focus and prepare. Again, the right time to take your entrance exam is when it is RIGHT FOR YOU.

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When should I start studying?

For those taking the MCAT, DAT, OAT, & PCAT, about one year of studying prior to the exam date is recommended. For those taking the GRE, about three to six months of studying prior to exam date is recommended. In general, although study time can vary depending on the student, the earlier students study, the better the result. Depending on how much material you may need to go over, recommended study time is at least one hour per day, and for those who need more time should study at least two hours per day. Again, in addition to learning/ practicing test taking abilities and reviewing content, students should take a full-length practice exam every two weeks prior to exam date.

To determine when you should start studying and how often, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How comfortable am I with the material?
  • How long ago have I taken courses relevant to my exam?
  • Have I taken a practice or diagnostic exam? If so, how do I feel about my performance?

Keep in mind that many test prep companies and test providers (eg. AAMC, Kaplan, The Princeton Review, Nextstep Prep) offer diagnostic/ practice exams from fee to free.

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How should I study for my exam?

There are four main ways that students study for entrance exams:

  • Independent Study
  • Group Study
  • Private Tutor
  • Commercial Course Preparation

Each method has their own pro’s and con’s, and it is up to you to determine which one is right for you.

Independent Study – This has been the most common and traditional way students prepare for their entrance exams. Students who have been successful in the past and are most comfortable with self-studying utilize this method. The main advantage of independent study is that it gives you the flexibility to study on your own time, location, and schedule. It is essential to create and follow a structured and well thought out study plan that is suited to your schedule and learning style. Although this is one of the most cost effective ways of preparation, applicants tend to get distracted, procrastinate, and fall behind their study schedule. Students typically use self-study preparatory books offered by popular commercial companies such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, ExamKrakers, Nextstep Prep, and others. Material can also be accessed online, as well as content review videos (eg. Khan Academy Videos for MCAT).

Group Study – Applicants who are successful studying in small groups use this method to study for entrance exams. Applicants can learn many things from their peers such as new study techniques and ways of viewing concepts. Another advantage of using a study group is that students can test their peers to reinforce the knowledge that they have learned. Choose study partners that you are most comfortable studying with, not ones that can get you easily distracted!

Private Tutor – Hiring a private tutor may be the most beneficial way of preparation. Typically, hiring private tutor provides flexibility as they can work around your schedule based on the times you are free. This method provides a personalized and focused one-on-one learning experience, although it may be the most expensive option.

Commercial Course Preparation – Another popular study method is taking a commercial preparatory course. These courses are specific to your entrance exam, and they typically provide three options: self-paced, in-person, and live online. Self-paced courses fall under individual study, as the prep company provides you material to study at your own pace and location. In-person courses provides in-class instruction taught by an instructor, and are regularly scheduled in various locations and dates offered by the prep company. Live online courses are similar to in-person courses, except the learning sessions are held online and can be taken wherever you have internet access. Again, many commercial prep companies that offer these courses are Kaplan, Princeton Review, ExamKrakers, Nextstep Prep, and many others.

Pros and Cons

 Pro's Con's
Individual Study- Flexible Schedule
- Can study anywhere
- Cost effective
- Lack of structure
- Tendency to procrastinate and fall behind study schedule
- No professional assistance/ guidance
Group Study- Help from peers
- Interactive
- Fun
- Distraction
- At group's pace
Private Tutoring- One-on-one learning experience
- Flexible schedule and location
- Cost
- Tutor Compatibility
Commercial Prep Course- Structured
- Professional assistance
- Different options
- Cost
- Less flexible schedule
- Limited in-class locations

Each applicant is different, and there is no single right way to prepare for an entrance exam.  Choose the test date, study length, and study method that suitable for you. Be diligent, start studying early, and take practice exams to prepare!

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) offers current students access to their lending library. Here, students may check out test prep books for most entrance exams including MCAT, PCAT, GRE, LSAT and more. Please visit our office for more information.

Test Administered Related Fields Overview Website
MCAT- Allopathic Medicine
- Osteopathic Medicine
- Podiatric Medicine
- Physician Assistant (some programs)
- Public Health (some programs)
- Veterinary Medicine (some programs)
PCAT- PharmacyPCAT OverviewPCATWEB
DAT- DentistryDAT OverviewDental Admission Test (ADA)
OAT- OptometryOAT OverviewOptometry Admission Test (ASCO)
GRE- Physician Assistant
- Physical Therapy
- Public Health
- Occupational Therapy
- Social Work
- Speech Pathology and Audiology
- Veterinary Medicine
GRE OverviewEducational Testing Service - GRE
- NursingNLN Overview
TEAS Overview
- National League of Nursing (NLN)
- TEAS Website

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