Preparing for the MCAT is one of the most important steps on your way to becoming a doctor. It’s no wonder test takers spend months of their lives and hundreds or even thousands of dollars preparing for the test. By choosing your study materials appropriately and focusing your study time on high-yield content, you can maximize your money and effort. Before you grab the cheapest or most popular practice test, it’s good to have an idea of how each test compares to the MCAT.
Most Practice Tests Are Harder
The consensus is pretty clear; the MCAT is hard. Most practice tests are even harder than the real MCAT. This is — of course — a subjective measure, and the only way to gather data is to examine experiences of people who have taken these tests. We looked at people’s reported experiences and how their practice test scores compared to their MCAT scores. There are many variables that come into play, including:
- The amount of time between a practice test and the real MCAT
- How much extra preparation was done between a practice test and the MCAT
- How similar the environment of the practice test was to the MCAT
- The number of practice tests a person took
- How well the practice test and accompanying materials were used
Nonetheless, having a general idea of how the tests compare can help you choose ones that are best for you. Knowing how much scores on any given practice test tend to compare to MCAT scores can also help give you a better idea of how your preparation is coming along.
All of the practice tests we examine below are as close as possible to the real MCAT in terms of structure, but of course, no practice test is going to be exactly the same as the MCAT in terms of content.
AAMC Practice Tests
In theory, the AAMC practice tests should be as close as possible to the real MCAT because these tests are written by the same test developers who write the MCAT. Many students report that their actual MCAT score is very similar to what they scored on AAMC practice tests. This is also why almost every test taker utilizes AAMC’s practice materials.
People also note that AAMC’s free practice test that does not provide you with a scaled score is easier than the real MCAT. If you want something as close as possible to the real MCAT, you’re going to have to pay for one (or more) of their full-length practice exams that provide scaled scoring.
Kaplan Practice Tests
Most test takers report that Kaplan practice tests are more difficult, with many scoring about ten points higher on the real MCAT than they did on Kaplan practice tests. Some people report that the Kaplan tests were so difficult that they started overthinking, which threw them off and caused them to lose some confidence in their abilities. Due to the difficulty, many people report that they like Kaplan tests so they can see where their knowledge gaps are, but don’t like them so much as a score predictor.
Test takers often report a discrepancy between the types of questions asked on the Kaplan practice tests vs. the real thing. Kaplan practice tests tend to focus more on content knowledge and minutiae, while MCAT has a stronger focus on assessing how you think, not just what you know.
The Princeton Review Practice Tests
Like other practice tests, The Princeton Review (TPR) practice tests are often reported as being harder than the real MCAT. Many test takers found that the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section (CARS) was very different compared to what they saw on the MCAT. This might even be one of the most difficult tests, with many people reporting their scores on TPR practice tests were 10 to 15 points lower than their score on the real thing.
These tests include many questions that ask you to recall specific details and facts at a higher rate than the questions on the MCAT. Even though this is different from how the MCAT asks questions, a lot of test takers said that this gave them a good idea of where their content knowledge was weak. Many people report that these exams in particular are what gave them a wakeup call and kicked their studying into high gear.
Blueprint Practice Tests
Previously known as NextStep, Blueprint full length practice tests are also harder than the real MCAT, although not as hard as some of the other practice tests. Notably, many test takers say that Blueprint is the closest thing to the real MCAT after the AAMC practice tests. Particularly, they find the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section (CP) and the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BB) very representative of the real test. Many people’s scores on Blueprint tests are within five to seven points of what they ultimately score on the MCAT.
Test takers also like that what they see on the screen when they take a Blueprint practice test is very similar to the screen of the MCAT. They also appreciate that Blueprint has long and detailed explanations for each answer.
ExamKrackers Practice Tests
The ExamKrackers practice tests, like the others, are harder than the MCAT according to most test takers. People report about a ten point higher score on the MCAT than on ExamKrackers tests on average. These tests tend to have a higher amount of experimental questions.
One of the biggest complaints about ExamKrackers is that the interface and on-screen experience is very different from the real MCAT. While this isn’t likely to have a huge effect on your score, it could leave you feeling less prepared if you get familiar with the ExamKrackers interface and then are suddenly met with the MCAT interface.
Altius Practice Tests
Many people report that Altius practice tests are more difficult than the MCAT, particularly for CP and BB. They report that the difficulty level of the test as a whole was just enough to challenge them to do better. People who took Altius MCAT practice tests often say that they feel more prepared and confident going into the MCAT, and they attribute that to these practice tests. Test takers typically report that their Altius practice scores are about five to ten points lower than their MCAT score.
One thing test takers like about Altius is its focus on experimental questions that are very similar to the types of questions you’ll see on the MCAT. A major downfall is that CARS does not match the MCAT as closely as the rest of the sections.
How to Take Practice Tests
Once you decide which practice tests you are going to take, the way to take them is also important.
To really get a comparable experience, try taking most of your practice tests under the same conditions as the real MCAT. Pack a lunch and snack, drive around the block or to the library to simulate driving to the testing center, begin the practice test at the same time you will take the MCAT, enlist a friend or family member to act as a proctor, only use the restroom or take breaks during scheduled breaks, practice at the library or similar area where it’s quiet but there might be a few distractions, etc.
What you do after the test is important, too. To take full advantage of each test, use them as a studying and diagnostic tool. If you take more than one test from the same company, that can give you a good idea of how much you are improving.
Your performance can help you tweak your study plan, too. When you finish a practice test, resist the urge to simply look at your score and keep plugging along with whatever study plan you already had in place. Take some time to review the questions, particularly those you got wrong and those you guessed on and got correct. When you do this, you’ll get the most out of the practice test and will be one step closer to improving your score.
A Note About Practice Test Deflation
It’s made clear above that third party MCAT practice tests are deflated, no matter what company you purchase them from. Many people speculate that this is a marketing technique designed to sell more materials. If test takers don’t do as well on the practice test as they hoped, they’re more likely to purchase additional study materials and practice tests. It’s a good idea to keep this in mind when you’re preparing and viewing your scores on your practice tests.
Additionally, knowing that practice tests are deflated, many people get very anxious when they leave the MCAT testing center feeling like they did worse than they did on any of their practice tests. Whether it’s due to test anxiety, fatigue, the test scale, or a myriad of other reasons, people often feel this way but end up doing better than they expected on the MCAT.
This is an excellent reason to take full advantage of the AAMC practice materials, particularly as your test date looms closer and closer. Because they are most similar to the real thing, they’ll help you get a good feel for the style, pacing, and other aspects of the real test. They’re also likely to give you the best idea of what score you can expect.
Regardless of which MCAT practice tests you choose to use, knowing the degree to which each test is deflated can help give you a better idea of how well you might do on MCAT test day.
In order to perform at your best and score highest on your MCAT, proper use of practice questions and practice tests is paramount, in conjunction with highly effective content review and memorization. The science is clear—there are a handful of evidence-based learning principles that rapidly accelerate learning, and you can leverage those techniques to rapidly improve your MCAT score. Even better, you can use these advanced learning techniques in one simple, easy-to-use tool—Memm.