The Highest-Yield MCAT Prep Materials to Purchase
Success on the MCAT does not necessarily mean getting a high score. Personal success is instead defined by overperforming your own expectations. Since there is no one single content review book or set of practice problems that sufficiently covers all the MCAT content, we recommend using a variety of resources that work for you. And that’s why we structured our FREE MCAT eCourse to filter out the endless sea of MCAT material into an easy-to-follow guide using resources that worked for us (and hundreds of other premeds.)
Today we are going to walk you through the best prep materials to buy, as well as other important purchases to boost your premed journey. As you may already know, MCAT Self Prep is all about providing the most help for the lowest price. So, we wouldn’t recommend anything to you without firmly believing that it’s worth the investment.
Buying review books can be tricky. Reading them can be even more exhausting. Because I am a visual learner, reading MCAT prep books were less helpful for me. But if you absorb information best through reading you should definitely buy them using the links above! I don’t want my experience to color yours as a lot of students find them to be incredibly helpful. The basic breakdown is that the Kaplan books are the standard and they cover all of the main material for the MCAT. Most people buy those. I bought the Princeton Review books because they are more detailed (with less engaging pictures). The added depth makes the Princeton Review books more dense and difficult to read but includes lots of low-yield topics for those trying to score 520+. All in all, the review books were helpful except the Princeton Review CARS book. Terrible suggestions. Again this is just my experience, but I found tutoring and working through the CARS strategy course to be much more helpful. I also stopped reading the content books altogether after about 2 months of study. But hey… some students swear by it. For another list of MCAT book options, refer to another blog post that spells out more of the details.
But if you’ve already purchased books and prep materials for the MCAT, the most important thing you can do is create an effective study-plan. The Create-your-own Study Plan Course will help you map out a successful plan using a proven step-by-step process. But if you haven’t gotten started, let’s review what you should buy—from books, to practice tests, to the official AAMC material.
Other students, like me, choose to watch MCAT prep videos on YouTube. There are lots of options to choose from between Khan Academy, AK lectures, and more. Khan Academy is the gold standard because the AAMC paid Khan Academy to make the only official prep videos. Khan Academy, therefore, had insider access to all the AAMC material. Some students don’t like Khan Academy because they speak incredibly slow. I got a FREE Chrome extension called Video Speed Controller so you can watch videos at over 2x speed (I would watch them up to 3.5x speed on subjects I understood really well) to save me hundreds of hours.
Khan Academy Videos vs Prep Books
Both options provide advantages and disadvantages. Khan Academy uses the official AAMC material to make their videos, but it will take you much, much longer to work through all of them than getting through the books. Ask yourself: do I get more distracted during boring lectures or reading boring textbooks? There’s no other way to put it, getting through dozens of science subjects will inevitably become incredibly boring no matter how nerdy you are.
Aside from buying the AAMC practice tests, some students purchase third party full-length exams (FLEs) if they have time in their schedule (consider bundling with the prep books to save money). Only buy more practice tests if you have extra study time available, otherwise, just start with the AAMC material. Practice tests are incredibly helpful because they teach you test-taking endurance and build your familiarity with the MCAT format. They are also a great way to learn content! The common practice test makers are Kaplan, BluePrint, Altius, and Princeton Review. All of them are generally harder than the AAMC tests themselves. Kaplan’s are the most similar to the AAMC (add 2-3 pts to your FLE score) and Princeton Review’s are the hardest (I bombed a PR test and then scored 16 points higher on an official AAMC practice test THE NEXT DAY). NextStep (add 3-4 pts to your score) and Altius (add 5-6 pts to your score) are in the middle. I would recommend buying the Altius tests if you want to practice with greater resistance (think of training with heavier weights to make competition seem easier) or Kaplan/NextStep if you want to practice with a similar level of difficulty. Most of the top scorers will say that doing FLEs is the best way to prepare for the MCAT. I agree.
We cannot recommend strongly enough that you buy all of the AAMC material. You’ll need it. All of it. It’s truly worth every penny. Save at least 4 AAMC FLEs until your last month of studying during MCAT Bootcamp. Take your first three official FLEs 3, 2, and 1 week away. The order doesn’t matter. Then take your last AAMC FLE (one of the scored ones) three days before test day. Then review it the next day (two days away from test day) and then take your final day to just relax. When reviewing AAMC tests, make sure you spend at least 3-6 hours reviewing the day after you take them. AAMC has also given us the opportunity to take thousands of prepared, official questions. Make sure you do them all.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the options for starting to study for the MCAT on your own, feel free to reach out to Andrew or to me directly with your questions. I personally scored a perfect 528 on test day and you can message me using the link at the bottom of my tutoring page.
Theo Bennett scored a perfect score (528) on the MCAT and has been accepted at Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, UCLA, and other top 10 medical schools across the country. You can learn more and sign up to work with him one-on-one here.
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