Let’s get into the materials to study for the MCAT.
1) Official AAMC materials
No matter what budget you’re on, you need to buy the official AAMC materials. Use all of them, including the official guide, practice packs, and sample tests. Because these materials come from the same people who made the tests, they will be the most representative of the test. The content outlines are not the most detailed but cover the fundamentals. Be sure to make note of any topics that are unfamiliar or confusing. The questions and practice tests are best saved for the end of your study period, after you’ve done the majority of your content review. These should be used leading up to the exam to get used to the style of questions and electronic exam interface which will mimic the real deal.
2) The Princeton Review
The Princeton Review is known for over-preparing you for the test. Although there is more detail than you need, its not to the extent that it becomes a waste of time. If you are shooting for a top score, such as the 99th percentile, you should definitely use the Princeton Review materials. Also, I have heard great things about the psych/social science book.
As for the practice tests (link to FREE practice test), they are good but not perfect. Again, make sure you save the AAMC practice tests for the end. Use the Princeton Review practice tests earlier on. The Princeton Review tests are generally heavier on content and weaker on interpretation and critical thinking, and are therefore more difficult than the real deal. When it comes to predicting your score, rely on the AAMC practice tests to get an idea, not the Princeton Review or other test prep company practice tests.
I enrolled in the Princeton Review MCAT Ultimate Course which was a little over $2,000. It was very expensive and in hindsight I am not sure if it was necessary, but it really depends on you as the individual. I’m disciplined enough now that I can create a schedule and try my best to stick with it, but I wasn’t nearly as disciplined in college. If you don’t want to do the MCAT Ultimate Course, you can always do the self-paced class which is a few hundred dollars cheaper and gives you the same content and instruction online versus in person. I think the most important thing are the Princeton Review textbooks, so if you are ok with being a little over-prepared for the test, be sure to at least get the books if you decide against the course. The course is secondary and comes down to whether (1) you like the schedule and structure of being in a class setting and (2) benefit from learning from lectures and asking questions versus reading straight from a book. It was helpful for me but I cannot say I would recommend it for everyone, especially at the price point.
Use this or the Princeton Review. You do NOT need to use both although some people choose to. While the Princeton Review is helpful for achieving a 99th percentile score by over-preparing you to a certain degree, I believe Kaplan will increase your score quicker but you will reach a plateau faster as well. It’s possible to get a great score, but it will be less likely for you to get that 99th percentile. For some people that’s totally fine. Not everyone wants to dedicate the time and effort needed to achieve a 99th percentile score. I know a few people who did Kaplan and got good scores. You can still do very well by using Kaplan over the Princeton Review, just know you’re less likely to get a top score.
4) ExamKrackers 101
The EK 101 verbal book was extremely useful for me when I took my test, and people taking the new MCAT also state that its a great resource. I recommend you do a couple passages every day to get used to the verbal questioning style and build your reading comprehension abilities. Unlike science content, you cannot sit down and consume large quantities of information. Instead, you have to carefully practice and understand the patterns over time.
5) Khan Academy
The reason I love the Khan Academy is that it’s a free resource. When you’re confused about a concept, a quick search on Khan Academy can help clarify your confusion. However, be careful that some areas don’t have enough detail, while others are too detailed. Therefore, don’t emphasize this resource too much. You should use this sparingly only when confused about a topic.
I recommend taking the MCAT during one of the summers during college. Either between sophomore and junior year if you plan to go into medical straight after college like I did, or between junior and senior year if you plan on taking a gap year like many people do. I know there’s a lot of you who are not able to take it during the summer for various reasons. In those cases, just know that without dedicated time you’ll have to spread your studying out over a few extra weeks. Don’t worry, its still definitely possible to get a killer score.
As you guys know by now, I love the power of habits and discipline. That being said, sign up for the MCAT question of the day emails. There’s a few sources you can get these from, including Kaplan, Examkrackers, Next Step, and MCATquestion.com. This helps you two-fold. First, you are getting regular practice, and secondly, this helps build your discipline with a clear purpose in mind. Eye on the prize.
Next is Anki. I did not know about Anki when I was in college, but I wish I did. As you guys know I’m a huge proponent of using this spaced repetition software as it is the most efficient way to memorize information. As I’ve mentioned in other videos, its crucial that you create your own flashcards. Downloading other people decks only a fraction as helpful. If you want to know why, check out my video on Study Strategies where I go over active and passive learning. Making your own cards is an absolute must.
- Shoot to create anywhere from 30-100 new cards per day, and review anywhere from 100-250 per day.
- Be careful when making cards though. You don’t want to make cards which aren’t helpful. I go over how to make Anki cards in this video above. Don’t be afraid to edit or delete cards if you find that they aren’t helpful as you review them. I have had to do this a lot. With time, you’ll get better at making cards and deleting or editing cards will become an infrequent occurrence.
In terms of formally starting the content review, I recommend you start 2.5 months out. This gives you plenty of time to learn all the content, review it again, and have time to complete multiple practice tests. I go more into the details of big picture scheduling in that first MCAT video I mentioned earlier. When you plan your days and weeks, be sure to include catch up days, as you will surely fall behind. You also need break days or blocks, which should be at least a half day of relaxation and time to unwind. This ensures you do not burn out during the intense studying.
As was described by the course schedule, I rotated between subjects on a daily basis. Some like to go through one subject all at once and then jump to the next. I prefer the method of jumping around for a few reasons. First, it prevents you from getting bored, burned out, or sick of the material you’re reading. By jumping from something I enjoyed like physics or biology to something I didn’t enjoy as much such as verbal, I felt like I had something to look forward to. Additionally, this strategy avoids the problem of reviewing certain content too far away from the test. It’s obviously not ideal to review all your chemistry a month out from the test. But by doing bits of each at the same time, you’re able to build your notes and your Anki deck, allowing you to slowly build up the number of times you review the information over the weeks. Also, in terms of study pace, I was generally doing a couple chapters each day from the Princeton Review textbooks while following their class schedule as closely as possible. However, I did fall behind by a couple days.
I took my first practice test after 2 weeks of content review. This was therefore 2 months out from test day. I then did one practice test per week for a full month, so a total of 4 practice tests. These initial practice tests are useful to teach you the rough style of questions as well as give you a gauge on what your relative strengths and weaknesses are in terms of subject areas. Use the Princeton Review practice tests for this part, not the AAMC. When you do a practice test, set out the whole day for it. After taking the exam, take a solid break and try to come back to it later that same day. You should be reviewing not only the questions that you got wrong, but also the questions that you marked and were therefore unsure on. There’s generally no need to spend time reviewing questions you got correct. That would be inefficient.
At about 4 weeks out, you should start using the AAMC practice tests and recreate the test day conditions. You may not be finished with the Princeton Review content, but you should be getting close to done. Once you are finished, begin focusing on your weak areas but be sure to review your notes on all areas. Increase your practice test frequency to 2 exams per week. I was doing 3 tests per week but the old MCAT was half the length. Also be sure to recreate the test conditions as closely as possible. Take the test at the same time as the real day if you can. Wear earplugs. Strictly follow the break times and such. You need to build your ability to focus for prolonged periods. The new MCAT is a long test and nothing to scoff at.
I recommend you do not take any practice tests within 2 days of your exam. Therefore if your exam is on a Saturday, your last practice test and review should be on a Wednesday. Again you want to make sure you’re not burned out on exam day. Being fresh and ready for the grueling 6 hours is more important than squeezing in another practice test. Trust me. Remember, the MCAT is a test which tests your critical thinking abilities above all else. Unlike Step 1 and Step 2 in medical school which test more of the knowledge you memorized, the MCAT asks you to synthesize new information that you’ve read from passages. Being fresh and ready is so paramount for these types of questions. You will be tested on your ability to make educated guesses and reason through difficult concepts. Don’t get shaken up. This is all part of the process.