A comprehensive guide to MCAT resources

Posted by Weike on 8/26/19 11:00 AM

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 11.09.08 AMThe purpose of this post is to update a previous I had written about MCAT practice tests. Since that post, my recommendation for practice tests has remained the same. AAMC tests (sample test, practice 1-3, in total 4 tests, practice 1-3 are scored) are still your best resource. After that, the next best thing would be the Examkracker tests for the c/p, b/b and psych/soc sections but not necessarily for the CARS. Generally, if I have a student take an EK test, I tell them to skip the CARS.

But, don’t take too many tests. No one actually needs to do 10+ and if you have hit that number without much progress, then it is not the tests, but how you have used or misused some of the other resources. I find generally that after the 4 official AAMC tests, the student is well prepared. If you are still scoring low on practice test 2, you should probably stop taking tests and go back and review. Below are the various resources I recommend with a description of what makes them helpful.

AAMC resources

In addition to the 4 tests, the AAMC offers the official guide questions, a 300-question section bank, and many questions packs. The official guide questions I usually recommend as a diagnostic, after you have done some content studying. These questions run like a half test and you should treat them as such. The section bank is a true gem. It consists of 3 100-question sections that focus on experimental questions for c/p, b/b, and psych/soc. Doing this section bank after you finish studying content but before you move into test mode (i.e. a test a week) is the best use of this tool; otherwise, you will be wasting the resource. There are several 120-question question packs on the portal as well but I don’t recommend using them all unless you feel fairly remedial in a particular area. These questions are mined from older MCAT tests (before the 2015 revamp) and while they are decent for content review, they don’t mimic the test in the same way the section bank questions do. I do however like the two CARS questions packs available (a total of 240 CARS questions) and have students work through those during the testing phase of prep. Beware of a tricky Picasso passage in the CARS that everyone consistently does poorly on! I wish to reiterate that you should not rush into the AAMC resources; leaving them until after some content review is crucial.

UWorld

This is going to be your bread and butter. The UWorld MCAT question bank has close to 2,000 questions that load in the same format (one question at a time, passage on the left) and have probably some of the best explanations I have ever seen. In med school you will be using UWorld for your Steps, so you may as well start early. The resource is subscription based and I would recommend 3 months (then, you can renew if you have to). The qbank is broken up into subject and within each subject, topics. For example, you can practice timed 25 questions of physics, mechanics. There are very few cons to UWorld, except that since a qbank you can’t take full tests. But, you can take long sections of chemistry, orgo, psych, etc. I generally have students work through most of this bank. Be warned that once you get to the last 200 questions or so, the difficulty level is very high and the topics, slightly obscure – still good practice though! UWorld on the whole can be harder than the AAMC, but that is a pro, and as a general rule of thumb you want to be scoring in the high 70s-80s percent accuracy on the questions. I am a visual person so the only way I can remember anything is by tables and graphs. Another good way to use UWorld is to copy the images/tables from the explanations (again, great explanations) and make a deck of them to review later.

Examkracker Set

The above two resources are only questions. They don’t teach the content and so while both AAMC and UWorld are musts, you will also need something to study from. For the most succinct and efficient way to review, I recommend the EK set. You can get them easily online. The books themselves can be somewhat cheesy. Lots of cartoons and cartoons with speech bubbles, but they do cover all the material and have targeted in lecture questions and 30 mins exams. The exams, while short, are experiment-based and can really help you orient yourself to the test before moving on to UWorld or AAMC.

Berkeley Review

If you have more time, I would check out some of the BR books. These are not easily gotten online as shipping may take a while, but try to look for some second-hand versions or just order them early. For the BR, I use the Biology I and II, Chemistry I and II, and halves of both Orgo I and Orgo II. I don’t necessarily find the physics too helpful in that it is far too in-depth for what you will have to know for this test. Be patient with these books. They are a complete 180 from the EK set because not only are the graphics rudimentary and serious, everything is in black and white and the writing can feel dated. Some passages are great and still quite relevant, while others are best for the purpose of reviewing a particular concept in a clear and methodical way.

Kaplan books

These books are more like mini-textbooks, or in other words, extensive. They can be easily ordered online as a set or individually. I quite like the biochemistry and the behavioral science books. I like these two because they cover the topics that require the most memorization and I find a book with a glossary to be helpful, especially for behavioral science, if I am doing heavy recall. I also recommend the Kaplan books for anyone who is remedial in a topic or who has just yet to take a class in it. Say, you haven’t taken orgo yet, then the EK might move too fast for you and the BR might be too dense, hence the Kaplan books could be a good compromise.

The Princeton Review

There is one book from the TPR that I always encourage students to find if for some reason they still want more practice. It is TPR science workbook (usually only available online through third party sellers). This book does not have content, only passages, but hundreds of them in each of the subjects. Very thorough and varied in terms of passages, and also good supplement to your content review.

Khan Academy

I get this question a lot: What do I think about Khan Academy videos? I feel fine about them but don’t often recommend they be watched one by one, entirely through at 1x speed. My general guideline is only watch if concept is especially confusing to you. The Khan academy videos are, however, great for demonstrating key experimental techniques (i.e. PAGE, blots, cloning, extractions). Experimental techniques are tricky because many students haven’t done them in lab or their own research. So, SDS-PAGE might as well be a boogeyman, and the goals of why we would run this technique are nebulous. Watching videos about techniques can demystify them. The Khan videos may also be good for those who haven’t taken psych or sociology classes. They include 2 sets of psych notes that follow the videos, a 100 pager and then a 300 pager. If you have a lot of time, start with the 300 and then move to the 100. The notes are thorough and run like a mini-psych-soc course. I would supplement the Khan notes with the Kaplan behavioral science book. However, I wouldn’t spend too much time on Khan passages and practice questions. They are inconsistent and don’t really run realistically (you have to get a question right before you can move on to the next). Outside of their videos, Khan Academy has several thorough and well-illustrated articles that are worth reading through. One that I recommend is the chromatography essay, another is on different types of neurotransmitter receptors.

Jack Westin (just CARS practice)

CARS practice is quite rare and Jack has created a website that offers an MCAT question of the day and thus hundreds and hundreds of CARS passages that are formatted like the real thing. You will need to make an account, but the question of the day (or, really, passage of the day) is entirely free. Start doing these right when you start studying. Do one first thing and you then get your 15 min daily practice of verbal. CARS is one of the hardest sections to bring up—mostly because it relies on whether you read as a kid and continued to reading—hence I find that the one passage per day is good practice to keep up because you get to see many different types of questions and, most importantly, topics.

Work with a Cambridge Coaching tutor

A tutor can make an enormous difference in the routine, habits and outcome of a student. A tutor can save you time, invaluable if you only a month or two to prep. A tutor can pinpoint your major flaws; identifying your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths. A tutor can engage and hold you accountable. Think back to your pre-med classes, and the lecture format they were in: a professor talks and the students listen. You leave lecture thinking you understand but when it comes time to apply a concept or explain it to someone else, you can’t. Application is what this test thrives on, and a tutor, especially a good tutor, will ask you questions that require you to discuss and engage. While the latter may feel uncomfortable at first, it is the fastest way to learn how to think critically. A more personal reason I believe in our MCAT tutors is that studying for this test is hard and long. Many students feel alone because they have no one to talk to about their anxieties (certainly, you are not going to talk to your premed friends, and probably not your parents). A tutor can offer support and a steady hand. S/he is there to remind you of your goals, but also to listen to you and cheer you on.

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More articles on the MCAT written by Weike:

Advice on MCAT Breakdowns, Depression, and Stress

Why you should take the MCAT CARS seriously! 

Two common mistakes students make about the MCAT, or how to reset your mind for MCAT success

 

 


 

Tags: MD/PhD admissions, MCAT, MD