I know shopping for MCAT review books and test prep can be a little stressful because you don’t know if one type of book or test company might work better for you than another. I had to just trust other people’s reviews, and that wasn’t easy for me because I’m a skeptic. And what works for one person, may not work for me. However, I bought test prep books thinking it’s better to have more study materials that I can use, than to be short of study materials. So I went out, shopped around, and bought some test prep books here and there. Despite by promise to never touch an MCAT prep book AGAIN after my MCAT, I went and dug up my prep books so I can list all the self-study materials I used to prep for the MCAT, as well as my input on them. Hopefully this can give you a better idea of whether you want to add this to your collection of study materials or not:
To review and learn content: (These were included in the Kaplan MCAT course, but you can them buy individually on Amazon)
- Kaplan MCAT Organic Chemistry Review Notes
- Kaplan MCAT Biology Review Notes
- Kaplan MCAT Physics Review Notes
- Kaplan MCAT General Chemistry Review Notes
- Kaplan MCAT Verbal Reasoning Review Notes
- Kaplan MCAT Flash Cards
=> My take: I think Kaplan’s review books are comprehensive and contain everything you need to know for the MCAT, so you don’ t need to worry about missing out on any information if you choose to study off of these books. The Verbal review book contains strategies for tackling this portion of the test, as well as some test questions where you can try out the strategies. I didn’t refer back to this book as much. The Kaplan MCAT flash cards were only somewhat helpful. The flashcards cover all the science topics: biology, org chemistry, gen chemistry and physics. It’s good for reviewing some key facts here and there, but the MCAT is really a comprehension test, and I seemed to have more problem with that part, than simply remembering the definition of chirality. But if you think you will benefit from the Flash Cards, then go ahead with them, or make your own!
For practice tests and practice questions:
- Kaplan MCAT Practice Tests – 7th Edition
=> My take: The beginning of the book contains obligatory MCAT introductory information and some helpful tips and strategies on tackling the test, but that is not the focus of the book. The rest of the book contains 2 full-length practice tests as well as detailed answer explanations. The explanations are pretty sufficient. They’re not as bad as some unhelpful, terse ones that I have seen from other test prep books. Overall, they’re just good additional practice tests if you need more practice. Kaplan practice tests are known to be a bit tougher than the AAMC practice tests.
- Exam Krackers 101 Passages in MCAT – Verbal Reasoning (2nd Edition)
=> My take: This was an integral part of my preparation for the verbal portion of the MCAT, which is a section that some of us scienc-ey pre-meds have the most difficulty with. I used this only on my last re-take, when I was desperate to raise my verbal score and would have tried anything. I liked this book because of the sheer number of practice tests – 11 full verbal tests (60 min, 40 questions). Many people seemed to like this book and think that its level of difficulty matched with the verbal passages on the AAMC tests, but I thought the Exam Krackers passages were more interesting, less dry, and the topics were more variable. Needless to say, I did raise my verbal score by +2 points after this, but I can’t say it was solely due to this book, but it definitely helped.
- Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Chemistry
=> My take: This is a book of discrete MCAT general chemistry questions. They are not associated with any passages, so if you want passage and question type of practice, this is not for you. And the type of questions are not written in “MCAT-style”, but are asked in a direct manner, as if they are fact-checking. This book is broken down into different topics in General Chemistry, and under each topic is just a slew of discrete question. Answers and short explanations are in the back of the book. I found that this wasn’t as helpful because some of the questions were a hit and miss. Some questions were great and high-yield for the MCAT, whereas others were very left-field. I could have done without this book.
- Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Physics
=> My take: This is a book of discrete MCAT physics questions. It’s structured the same way as the 1001 Questions in MCAT Chemistry book, with just pages and pages of discrete questions. Again, the questions are not written in “MCAT-style”, and are more for fact-checking and making sure you know the difference between two types of Forces, for example. I felt that this book was much more helpful than the Chemistry one. So if you want to brush up on some Physics definitions and calculations, then you can practice with this book.
- Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Biology
=> My take: This was the best out of all my Exam Krackers prep books. It helped me improve my Biological Sciences section score, but more importantly it made me feel more confident when tackling the Biological Sciences section of the AAMC tests. The book contains actual passage-based type of questions, AND a few discretes so it feels like an actual practice test. The passages and discrete questions are grouped together by topic, and this book covers all topics from blood to viruses and evolution. I would recommend getting this book, especially if you need help in the Biological Sciences section.
- AAMC Full-Length Tests (all of them)
=> My take: I think no one goes into their MCAT test without having practiced with some full-length AAMC practice tests. This is a crucial part of your preparation because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to the type of questions and formatting that will be on the real test. I would recommend you do as many as you can, especially as you get closer up to the taking the real thing. These were really the best indicator of how I was going to do on the real thing, and my scores were always +/- 2 away from how I scored on the real test. I would take two tests a week leading up to my test date. After each test, I would review all questions and my mistakes, and then focus on problem areas using my other prep material (i.e. reread chapters, or do additional practice questions). Each AAMC practice test is $35 each, (but I think you get a slight discount if you buy all at once?), but they were each worth it.
I know the MCAT is changing in 2015, so I’d be interested in seeing how the new test will look like, and how the test prep material will change to reflect that. However, despite the new change coming in 2015, the biological sciences, physical sciences, and verbal reasoning are staying the same (for now), so I can imagine some of these test prep materials above still relevant.