Success on the MCAT does not necessarily mean getting a high score. Personal success is instead defined by overperforming based on the natural abilities and weaknesses that we individually bring to the table. Success is doing the best that you can do. The key to success for the MCAT or any difficult task is in the preparation. Prepping for the MCAT starts with getting the right materials. Let’s review what you should buy—from books, to practice tests, to the official AAMC material.
Buying review books can be tricky. Reading them can be even more exhausting. Honestly, reading MCAT prep books were the least helpful thing for me. But 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 super high. All in all, the review books were helpful except the Princeton Review CARS book. Terrible suggestions. Again this is just my experience. I also stopped reading the content books altogether after about 2 months of study. But hey, some people swear by it.
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 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 longer to work through all of them than getting through the books. Ask yourself: do I zone out more during boring lectures or reading boring textbooks? There’s no other way to put it, getting through dozens of science subjects will inevitably become 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. Only buy these 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, NextStep, 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 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.
I 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. 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. Make sure you spend at least 3 hours reviewing these tests 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.
Some students choose to buy the massive UWorld section bank instead of practice tests. UWorld has done an incredible job creating excellent questions and explanations for each answer. They put out some of the highest quality prep material that I’ve seen and you can purchase it as part of our Curvesetter’s self-paced package options as well.