Although there is an extensive amount of content that must be learned for the MCAT, mastering this test requires practice, practice, and more practice. Taking practice MCAT tests should be a crucial aspect of any student’s study plan. This will help individuals develop test-taking strategies, master their timing, become familiar with the test format, and learn the types of questions that will be asked and the types of passages that will be presented. In this post I will suggest some tips for selecting which practice tests to use, and how to get the most out of these study materials.
Despite the new 2015 MCAT being only a few years old, there are already countless options for practice materials and full-length tests that are available. The AAMC offers four full-length tests (three scored, one unscored) as well as a section bank and a question pack. The section bank contains three 100-question sections consisting of passages and questions written for the new MCAT, which are generally on the more difficult end of what you can expect to see on the MCAT. The question pack contains questions largely taken from the old MCAT and therefore lacking psychology/sociology; these are good for content review. All of the AAMC materials should be prioritized above all other practice tests/materials–they are the gold standard for MCAT test prep. They are by far the most representative of what you will see on your actual test (as they are written by actual test developers). I recommend learning these tests and practice questions inside and out, in order to develop a keen understanding of how the AAMC will test your knowledge of content in conjunction with your ability to comprehend and analyze dense literature excerpts and scientific article. If students feel as though they want additional practice, individuals can purchase online full-length practice tests (often ‘a-la-carte’ or in packs of tests) from a number of MCAT prep companies, including NextStep, Altius, and ExamKrackers. Many of these companies will even provide you with a single free trial test, without requiring any further purchase. This is a great way to save money while still acquiring some additional practice materials.
I advise all students to only use online practice tests as opposed to tests in a physical book. This will best simulate the testing style and format that you will experience, and enable you to practice using features such as cross-out and highlighting. Furthermore, practice materials such as bundles of discrete question or stand-alone passages are helpful, but should not be used as a substitute for a full-length test. Taking full-length practice tests is the best way to condition and practice one’s timing, mindset, endurance, and strategies. Finally, no single MCAT prep company has fully mastered creating practice tests. They all have different strengths and weaknesses and slightly different styles of questions. As a result, I recommend that you prioritize the AAMC materials, and, if you do feel the need to get more tests, access the single free trial tests of a couple different companies (in order to get a good variety).
When taking these tests, there are a few key things to keep in mind. With regards to scheduling, I have found (through my own studying and assisting various students) that it is often helpful to take one test near the start of your studying as a diagnostic ‘marker’, but to save the majority for when you have finished covering the content. Some students prefer to do a couple tests throughout studying the content, in order to remind themselves of how the content is tested, and that is totally fine too–as long as most tests are saved for when the all content has been covered. Saving these materials for after content coverage enables students to detect and fine tune their remaining strengths and weaknesses, and to determine why they may be getting questions wrong despite knowing the content. Also, students should understand that due to the differences in how these MCAT prep companies create, scale, and score the tests, their scores on the practice tests are likely to jump around a bit. This should not be an immense source of concern. As I have said, the scores received on AAMC practice tests are the most representative and therefore should be given the most weight in directing your study plan. Finally, take an extensive amount of time reviewing the practice tests you take. Taking the test is important, but reviewing it is equally (if not more) important. Review all answers, both ones answered incorrectly and correctly! Try to pinpoint which question styles may be tripping you up, and understand which approaches and techniques have worked for you, and which haven’t.