Update: Hello readers! I haven’t posted in the last few weeks because of finals and break, but I’m excited to hit the ground running in 2017. You may notice that a few things have changed on the site since its implementation. The focus is essentially the same, with added emphasis that these are my perspectives as a prospective physician and solely my own and an added section reaching out to other pre-meds. This will be the first post in this pre-med section. In case this category does not suit your interests, please check back next week!
Since many people have been asking me, I thought I’d do a review of the materials I found useful while studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Again, these opinions are my own and you may find that other materials work better for you.
Kaplan MCAT 7-Book Set
These were the main books I used to prepare for the MCAT. I bought this set well in advance, probably two years prior to my MCAT test date, to motivate myself by literally putting the weight on my shoulders. I structured my studying over a long period of time (9 months) because I was in school for the majority of the time (doing research, the rest). BUT, I did not study the full 9 months but instead stopped whenever schoolwork piled up. These books are well structured and give exactly the right amount of information. After comparing the material covered to the MCAT material listed on the AMCAS sections, I found that the Kaplan books covered everything to some extent. If a particular topic wasn’t covered as in depth as necessary for me, based on when I’d seen the material last, I looked up information in other books and materials. This set of books is also very visual, with lots of charts, tables, images, and diagrams–very helpful for visual learners like myself! Each section concludes with 30 or so practice questions, which are more-so to test understanding rather than to mimic actual MCAT questions. I found that the end of chapter questions were helpful in checking my understanding but did not mimic MCAT questions well. Within the set of books, I thought Kaplan’s Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Psychology books were the best. CARS was alright–had some useful strategies, but almost no practice exercises or questions, Physics I did not find useful at all because it was not very in depth, and Organic Chemistry was organized in a slightly odd way, but overall covered all of the necessary info.
Princeton Review 7-Book set:
The reason I also had this set was because I signed up to take the Princeton Review’s live online MCAT prep class and it came with these books. The Princeton Review books were a lot more in depth than the Kaplan books which was good for topics I’d forgotten, but trite for everything else. Hence, I used these more to selectively read up on topics I needed more revision on. These books have more practice questions than Kaplan’s and the questions are harder. There were also more passage-based questions which was helpful in preparing for the MCAT questions. I found all of the books in this set to be very helpful. Again, some give too much information, but I’d lean towards recommending Princeton Review for Physics, CARS, and Organic Chemistry (and the other subjects). Their CARS book especially helped me. It has a lot of exercises to improve your CARS score. While I didn’t exactly use their “method,” my score improved a lot from their practice questions. Cons: the diagrams had a little less color and generally weren’t as nice as the Kaplan ones.
Overall, you can definitely succeed with just one set of books and you can’t go wrong with either one. I do, however, absolutely recommend that these books not be your only study tools. The best advice I have is to buy all of the AMCAS practice materials, including questions, section banks, and flashcards, and use them to study. These are the closest things to the real test. Some of the questions (especially in the section banks) are harder than the actual MCAT, but I still found them useful in diagnosing areas I needed to return to.
Other materials I used that you may find useful:
NOVA’s MCAT Physics Book
This book was VERY helpful for physics especially since I hadn’t taken all of physics before taking the MCAT. It not only reviews, but teaches you all of the physics topics on the MCAT in a very simple way. There is no extra information that you won’t need, it is very simplistic and very accessible. Highly recommend if you’re feeling weak on Physics.
NextStep MCAT Verbal Practice
This is a set of 108 CARS passages. I found this book very helpful in the early stages of my studying when I wanted to do practice CARS passages, but didn’t want to use all of my AMCAS materials just yet (since there aren’t very many). The passages are very similar to the AMCAS ones. Only con I’d say is that since it’s a book, it’s a very different experience doing the passages on paper vs. on the screen. That said, if you do some of the AMCAS ones, you’ll have the screen experience anyways.
Materials I bought, but did not find helpful:
Examkrackers 1001 Questions – ALL subjects
Preface: a lot of people find these books helpful, hence their good amazon reviews. For me, these didn’t do the trick and I didn’t end up using them much. These books all contain “1001 questions” per subject. Some of the books, such as Organic Chemistry, just have stand-alone review questions, which you’ll find in the Kaplan and Princeton Review sets anyways. Others, like the Biology book, have passage-based questions that mimic the actual MCAT. These are great for reviewing material, but I found them to be either too easy or too hard compared to the actual AMCAS materials and the MCAT, and so, they were not helpful in preparing for MCAT-style passages and questions.
And that’s a wrap! Again, overall, I’d most recommend getting one of the 7-book sets and the AMCAS practice materials. You can get an older version of the 7 book sets since they don’t change much in between years, but make sure you get a set for the new MCAT (post-2015). Of the AMCAS practice materials, the absolute must-haves are the two official practice exams and the official question pack!
Hope that was helpful. Feel free to contact me or comment with any questions. Again, these are just my experiences with these materials and you may find that others work better for you.