One tutor’s guide to MCAT study materials

MCAT medical school admissions study schedules

MCAT 1One of the very first questions a student asks about a standardized exam is invariably, “Which study resources should I use?”. For the MCAT, the answer is far from simple. With the multitude of test prep publishers out there, each claiming to guarantee students the best possible score, it can often be difficult to find sources that are truly representative of AAMC’s MCAT. As someone who faced this conundrum myself, I can personally attest that no single resource is by itself enough to tackle the monstrosity that is the MCAT. So, which ones should you rely on? Hopefully, this brief guide will help!

Kaplan?... Princeton Review?... Examkrackers?... Other?... All of the above?

The focus of most students’ exasperation in the early stages tends to revolve around boxed sets provided by well-known test-prep companies. However, no company’s products are comprehensive and some can even misrepresent the style of the AAMC’s MCAT questions in their practice tests. Thus, the fool-proof strategy is to diversify one’s attention to various resources rather than just one. For example, many students find that Kaplan’s Biochemistry, Physics, and Chemistry books provide a thorough review of high-yield concepts. On the other hand, most agree that Kaplan’s Psychology and CARS books omit essential information and contain some unrepresentative practice questions. Such deficits are easily overcome by utilizing resources from various companies.

Also: You can view Cambridge Coaching's recommended MCAT resources here!

Online Resources

In addition to diversifying core study materials, students pursuing high scores on the MCAT should utilize online resources to obtain more representative practice questions and fill in content gaps. One of the most commonly used resources for this purpose is Khan Academy which has partnered with the AAMC to put out content review videos available for free online. However, Khan Academy’s passage-based questions are sometimes not very representative of the true exam. For this reason, I recommend UWorld for students looking for an extensive repository of well-formulated and challenging MCAT questions. Though UWorld’s questions are on the more difficult end of the spectrum, they are by far some of the most representative practice questions available online. A student who completes UWorld’s question banks will surely fare better on the real exam than one who sticks to the prep books. The most difficult section of the MCAT to find good practice questions for is undoubtedly CARS. For this section, only practice passages will help students to develop effective test-taking strategies. Jack Westin’s website provides a decent supply of passages and questions that closely mimic the AAMC’s style.

Practice Questions and Full-Length Exams

Most high scorers on the MCAT tend to agree that consistently completing full-length practice exams is just as important as having a solid content foundation. Finding good practice exams that accurately mimic the AAMC’s style is non-trivial though. For this reason, it is imperative that students obtain all the available materials from the AAMC if possible. It is also worth noting that the AAMC’s “Question Packs” are easier and not as representative as their “Section Banks.” Unquestionably, full-length exams are the most important practice materials out there and the three provided by the AAMC are not nearly enough for most students. The next best practice exams are generally those provided by Next Step. These are slightly more difficult than AAMC tests but are otherwise pretty representative of the real deal. In general, practice exams provided by the test prep companies (Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc…) are not as reliable as AAMC, and Next Step and should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to question style and format.