There’s so much to learn when it comes to the MCAT that getting yourself a head start can be an excellent idea.

Normally students wait until the end of their Junior year of college to begin seriously preparing for the exam. Many will spend their entire Spring semester prepping for a test date in May. Others will decide to spend the whole summer between Junior and Senior year prepping, and will take the test in late July or in August.

But there’s no need to wait; you can get a good head start on your prep in a number of ways.

First and most important: buy a copy of the official guide

The official guide is your A-to-Z resource on all the basic info about the exam itself. You can pick up a copy on Amazon or directly from aamc.org for less than thirty bucks. The official guide will tell you about the mechanics of the test itself, how the test is administered, and will give you a few practice passages to let you see what’s on the test.

It’ll be really boring to slog through, but trust me it’s absolutely worth it: read the official guide cover-to-cover and you’ll know more about the MCAT than most pre-med advisors.

Next, begin building your review materials.

You can start building up your MCAT notes and study sheets once you’ve taken the relevant coursework. Took physics freshman year? Don’t give it two years for that content to get rusty – start building up MCAT review notes right away.

It’ll be worlds easier to come back to physics a year and a half later if you’ve already made your own review materials. Trying to start from scratch with a prep book (or even worse, a whole text book) makes for a very daunting task.

So how should you make your own notes? The easiest way is to download the official outlines of the MCAT science content and build your notes from those outlines. Use your textbooks, class notes, prep books, etc. to flesh out notes built on the AAMC’s outline.

You can get a copy of the official outline for the new MCAT here: Link

Finally, being practicing your reading passages

The one part of the MCAT that requires no studying at all is the reading passages – called Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. In fact, it’s impossible to study for this part of the test since the questions are solely based on the reading passage.

One of the best ways to prepare for this part of the exam is to simply read every day. While the MCAT CARS section will cover lots of different topics, I recommend that you focus your work on the single hardest thing facing any MCAT student: philosophy.

Those dense, difficult, abstract philosophy passages are the bane of most students. You can make your life much easier by getting used to reading philosophy every day.

Pick up an old used copy of Reason & Responsibility on Amazon. It’s a philosophy textbook used in universities all over the country. The nice thing about this textbook is that it covers lots of different parts of philosophy. So get used to reading crazy abstract articles about The Nature of Evil or about Proofs for Functionalism in the Mind-Body Problem. Once you can handle philosophy, you can definitely handle the MCAT.

Remember, the first thing to do is to start by picking up a copy of that official guide straight from the AAMC.

Bryan Schnedeker is the National MCAT Director at Next Step Test Preparation, a company that specializes in 1-on-1 tutoring for the MCAT.  Bryan has taught the MCAT for over a decade and has scored a 44 on the test himself.