Every year at college commencements there are many graduates accepting their diplomas whose next stop might have been medical school had it not been for a disastrous experience with the MCAT . Considered by many to be the most demanding of all the graduate school entrance exams, a sub-par result on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a key reason that so few of those who set out for medical school ultimately make it there. But it’s not the difficulty of the MCAT exam itself that keeps success rates low. A common culprit is inadequate preparation.

The MCAT is a seven-hour exam with three science sections (Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior) and a critical reading section.

According to 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Studying for the MCAT, by a student who “flunked” the MCAT the first  time around, the big mistake is treating the MCAT as just another end-of-semester exam—i.e., a few hours spent going over notes and readings. Instead, treat it like you are training for a marathon, allocating solid, dedicated time every day. How much is enough? According to 4 MCAT Myths, most students who do well on the MCAT spend between 200 and 300 hours preparing for the exam.

And it’s not just about hitting the books. You also need to eat right, manage your social life, avoid straining your eyes and don’t plan something big for right after the exam—that’s likely to be an unnecessary distraction that will rob you of precious points on your score.