Category Archives for MCAT

What is a Good MCAT Score?

Your MCAT score is one of the most important numbers in your life, and in many cases, can help determine your future in the medical field.

As you study for the big exam, you may be wondering where to set your sights and what a "good" score is.

Read on for a breakdown of your MCAT and how to get your best score to add to your application for medical school.

The MCAT Breakdown

It's important to know how the MCAT is laid out in terms of scoring.

You already know that there are four parts, and each part has its' own score.

When you get your MCAT score, you will see a separate score for each section of the exam, and a final score.

MCAT Sections:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

It's important to note that medical schools are very interested in the breakdown of your score as well as the total.

We want to make sure that each section score is relatively even.

Don't try to stand out in one section; this is usually not a strong tactic and can suggest that there is an area of the medical field you are weak in or don't find particularly important.

The Numbers Game: MCAT Score Basics

Each section ranges from a low score of 118 to a high score of 132.

Total scores range from a low score of 472, to a high score of 528.

The top of the bell curve for the total score is at 500.

The Old vs. New MCAT Scoring

As we look at scores from students past, it's important to remember that the MCAT has changed its format, and therefore its scoring, in April 2015.

While comparing the old scoring to the new scoring is almost impossible, the AAMC has released data on MCAT and GPA scores from 2016-2017.

Since the AAMC has not released statistics on the new exam yet due to lack of data, it's important to know how to convert a good score on the old exam to a score on the new exam. We do this using score percentiles.

Score percentiles

Using score percentiles, we are able to compare the scores from the old MCAT to the new version.

This will tell you what your score on the new MCAT exam would have been, roughly, on the old MCAT, along with the percentile you would fall into.

Here are the percentile ranks for total and section scores for the old exam, and the new exam.

For example, the 55th percentile scores for the old MCAT is a 26, and on the new MCAT, it's a 502.

When we look at data to determine a "good" MCAT score, we can use the conversion tables from the AAMC to translate across both exams.

So what's a "good" score?

Now that you know the range of scores that are possible, it's time to back into the scores a little bit and determine what is "good" for your future into the medical field.

What school are you looking to go to? What's your top choice/dream school, and what's your safety school?

The students standing in your dream medical school lab - what did they score on their MCAT?

By now, you've most likely picked a few medical schools that you'd see yourself going to.

Median MCAT scores and GPA for all medical schools are available here.

Best Medical Schools: Research Ranking Methodology, 2017

The Numbers Game Part 2: GPA

Don't forget that the MCAT score is not the only number that medical schools look at on your application. Your GPA is very important as well.

Two different applicants can have the same MCAT score, but if their GPA's vary greatly, they will have two very different outcomes.

For more guidance on your MCAT at GPA aligning, the AAMC has provided this table.

Numbers aren't everything!

We spent a lot of time on numbers, as medical minds tend to do.

However, as a medical professional you will come to understand that test scores aren't everything.

Your patients will not just be made up of numbers on a chart, and neither are you when it comes to your medical school application!

Here are some other factors that are taken into consideration by the people reviewing your application.

These factors can make your MCAT score look even better and increase your chance of acceptance into your dream medical school.

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal Statement
  • Extracurricular activities such as volunteer work, internships, any research projects you have done

Remember, the application committee is reviewing the entire person that you are - MCAT score and GPA are important, but they are not the only pieces of the puzzle.

So, take a deep breath, and do your best on your next MCAT exam.

Good luck!

What Counts as a Valid MCAT ID?

Valid-ID-For-MCAT-EXAM

So you’ve decided to take the MCAT. Feeling a little bit nervous?

It may make you feel better knowing that over 60,000 students per year take the test, so you’re not alone.

Today we are going to talk about something that may seem silly at first, but has no doubt taken a few students by surprise when they arrived on test day.

That something is valid forms of identification.

I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Before you are even allowed to enter the room and sit for the exam, you must present valid identification that matches your MCAT registration form exactly. Let me repeat that again, it must match EXACTLY.

We will also be touching briefly on the three different “zones” during which an applicant can apply to take the exam. So, get your notepad out and prepare for an inside scoop of the MCAT, and common mistakes that you can avoid.

Valid MCAT ID

Now then, presenting a valid form of identification at check in on test day seems easy enough, right?

For most that is the case, but for some that go by nicknames or shortened versions, it can lead to admittance issues and a delay their testing date.

Firstly, let’s go over the conditions that must be met by your chosen form of identification for the MCAT exam, which I have listed below as per AAMC:

  • Be current (cannot be expired)
  • Issued by a government agency
  • Include a photo that can be used to identify you
  • Include your signature, which you will be asked to duplicate on test day
  • Have no evidence of tampering (ex. Holes or clipped corners)

Invalid MCAT Identification

Secondly, let’s discuss the forms of identification that will NOT be accepted at the testing center.

Pay close attention and even take notes if need be.

The following guidelines are also taken from AAMC:

  • Temporary IDs, paper IDs, IDs with extension stickers, or ID application receipts
  • Virtual IDs, Employee IDs, School IDs
  • ​Library cards
  • Any ID that does not fulfill the above mentioned requirements, even if issued by a government-issued sponsor

It’s important to know that the name you use when filling out the MCAT registration form MUST match the name on your chosen identification.

For example, if you are going to use your driver's license and your name appears as “Jonathan Smith”, that’s how your name has to appear on your registration form.

It doesn’t matter if you go by Johnny or John, you have to list your name exactly as it appears on your chosen form of identification - no high school nicknames either.

Often times, students disregard or pay little attention to these otherwise obvious requirements and end up dealing with a less than ideal testing day experience.

The last thing that you want to spoil your “I’ve got this handled” mindset is something as simple as a valid form of identification.

The two easiest IDs that will meet all of these requirements will be either your driver’s license, or your passport. (Hint: write that last sentence down)

Have your acceptable form of ID in mind?

MCAT Zones

Great, let’s talk about the different time “zones” in which you can apply, also listed by AAMC.

The three different zones are gold, silver, and bronze - similar to the Olympics right?

These are designed to encourage students to register early, and avoid paying higher fees if the decision to sit for the exam is made closer to the actual testing date.

The Gold Zone and most lenient, counts as anything one month or more prior to the exam.

The Silver Zone counts as weeks three and four prior to the exam, while the Bronze Zone is really cutting it down to the wire, counting as weeks one and two prior to the exam.

In the event that you are unable to provide the proper identification, or you feel there will be an issue on exam day with your form of identification, it is imperative that you contact the MCAT Resource Center at the following number: (202) 828-0690.

If you have even the slightest doubt that not everything will go smoothly on test day, give them a call for your own sake and sanity.

This must be done no later than the Silver Zone deadline.

Conclusion

To sum everything up, let’s recap what we’ve gone over in this article.

The more something appears to be “common sense”, the more likely you are to overlook it.

Keep in mind and take note of the most common forms of acceptable identification, as well as the restrictions.

Pay close attention when filling out your MCAT exam form to be sure that your name appears EXACTLY as it does on your form of identification.

Also, and as a piece of advice that can apply to almost anything in academic life, apply early!

You’ve studied hard and put in more than enough hours to prepare for this behemoth of an exam - do yourself a favor and prepare for the small things in advance.

Last Minute MCAT Study Tips

For some, studying for the MCAT can be the most stressful part of their academic career, especially right before the exam date, but does it have to be? Feeling prepared for this exam doesn’t have to come at the cost of sleep, health, or doing the things you love. What if I said you might even enjoy studying for the MCAT?

Here, we’ve brought together 7 tips to help you feel prepared, grounded, and excited as you study, especially in the days leading up to the exam!

1. Understand the Exam Structure

Ask: how can I know where I am at any point during testing, and what’s expected of me?

Even if you’ve been studying and reviewing for a while already, you may still not know how the exam is actually structured – so, let’s begin there! In 2015, the MCAT was revised after many years without changes; now, it reflects a greater focus on applying the skills and concepts you will need most upon entering med school (rather than memorization, as was often emphasized in past exams).

The test is divided into 4 main parts:

Chemical and Physical (95 mins)

  • The main topics covered here are general chemistry, introductory physics, biochemistry, and organic chemistry.
  • There’s no need to memorise the elements – you will be provided with a periodic table!

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (90 mins)

  • The main topics covered here are the humanities and social sciences.
  • Practice reading quickly without losing comprehension, as some of the passages are quite long – you will benefit from knowing how to pull out the main points and set aside less relevant information.
  • You will only be tested on information provided in the passages; no need for outside resources or knowledge (except maybe specific terminology!)

Biological and Biochemical (95 mins)

  • The main topics covered here are introductory biology and biochemistry, with some general chemistry and organic chemistry included.
  • Again, no need for a periodic table – one will be given to you.

Psychological and Social (95 mins)

  • This section asks you to bring together what you know about psychology and biology, then to apply logical and reasoning skills to problem sets

Although you will need to prepare yourself for a long testing session – this exam can take anywhere from around 6 to 7 hours! – you are also permitted a couple of breaks (between 15 and 30 minutes) throughout. To complete the exam on time, plan to spend around 2 minutes on each question, or a little less. Know how to pace yourself!

Check out the foundational concepts for each section. This will help you orient yourself around what kind of knowledge and conceptual process is really being asked of you.

2. Do a Practice Run

Ask: how can I prepare myself for what the testing session will be like?

  • In case you haven’t yet taken a practice exam, make sure to do so, preferably at least a few days before your exam. Exam Genius has a list of some of the best books you can use in preparing for your MCAT (if you find free practice test materials online, just make sure they are post-2015 changes)
  • Set up the space as you expect it will be. What does it feel like if the room is colder than you usually keep it? What about sitting in a less comfortable chair for extended amounts of time? And if you are used to having sound or music around, how does your mind stay focused and keep rhythm without it?
  • Move through a full-length exam, noticing how you work with time; plan out the times you will want to take your breaks. How many questions/sections can you work through before you notice your attention wandering or focus becoming less sharp?
  • Move through a full-length exam, noticing how you work with time; plan out the times you will want to take your breaks. How many questions/sections can you work through before you notice your attention wandering or focus becoming less sharp?
  • Maybe even visit where you’ll be testing, to minimize the things you don’t know and add to the things you do know – your mind will already be full on test day, so keep the surprises to a minimum!

3. Sharpen Your Skills 

Ask: how can I work actively and confidently on the things that are most challenging (for me)?

  • Know what testers find challenging in general. Review a list of concepts that are commonly missed: for example, you might review how to interpret types of data/statistics, as these are often missed by people who otherwise understand the material (especially important as this exam is very focused on not just knowing facts, but applying concepts!)
  • Compile a list of things that you’ve struggled with – study those concepts which have presented a challenge to you, personally; is there there any sort of conceptual link between those things you find challenging? (hint: most likely, there is!)

4. Trust Yourself

Ask: how can I shift my focus to all the things I do know, all the ways I am prepared?

  • Walk through some problems you feel you have mastered; can you explain them to someone else (why they matter in general/what they offer in conceptual understanding, how they are being applied in a specific question, etc)?
  • Prepare your materials and anything else you’ll need (for navigating to the testing location, parking, two valid forms of ID, confirmation email, any needed medications, food, a back-up mode of transportation, someone to wake you up) so it isn’t on your mind the night and morning before testing.
  • Rely on what you do know during testing or while doing practice exams; for example, when working through a question, imagine what a right answer would look like before looking at the choices.

Only if your first thought doesn’t appear among the choices, then you can go through and cross out choices that really don’t make sense to you. Looking too early can greatly impact the confidence you have in what you know!

​5. Re-imagine the Test

Ask: how can I reclaim what this exam means to me?

  • While many people will go in thinking of the MCAT as the make-or-break-it test, think of all the stress that creates for them (yes, remember that others are struggling with some of these same questions, too!). Surely, if anything is going to impact your testing, it will be the anxiety of placing all your focus on this one thing. Whatever scores come after the exam will just be the test-makers’ approximation of what you know, and they do not represent your complete knowledge and all the things you have to offer.
  • Rather, think of the exam as an opportunity to explore all the things you have learned, to bring them all together in one place and apply what you know. And you know a lot!

The test is a conceptual playground, a set of puzzles that will allow your mind to make new connections. Perhaps you have never had a chance to stop and think about how everything you’re learning all fits together. How great is it that you have this opportunity? Enjoy it!

6. Prioritize Self-Care​

Ask: how can I know and meet my other needs before the test?

  • Make space for things beyond studying (if you want to) – remember that while you have the option to study, you also have the option to rest, to play, to laugh, to smile, to go outside, to make food that you love, to watch your favorite show, or to do nothing at all and let your mind turn off for a while. The test is only one part of your life experience.
  • Communicate with others about your needs; let those around you know what you are experiencing and working through so you can minimize any outside challenges or distractions, big and small. Others who care about you would probably appreciate knowing some ways they can take care of you and support you in something that is so important to you! Think of them as allies, people who want to collaborate with you in achieving your goals.

7. Get Your Rest

Ask: how can I do my best to be fully alert and present on test day?

  • Get into a routine of sleeping and waking up at certain times the days before your exam; knowing what your schedule looks like and keeping it consistent will be another way to keep yourself grounded on the day of testing.
  • Exercise or explore physically to release any excess energy throughout the day; this can become part of your routine or just something you use on days when your mind is especially racing.

Super last minute tip: if you find yourself really unable to sleep the night before the exam, go ahead and take 20 minutes to jog, dance, or whatever you are able to do (and finish with a comforting bath or shower!). That 20 or so minutes will go a lot further to helping you rest well than spending another hour or more in bed stressing over how you can’t fall asleep.

  • Most importantly, just be sure to give yourself some space to let your mind rest – maybe don’t even study on the last day!

Most people will want to spend the whole last day cramming, but this may actually limit your performance on test day; by overwhelming yourself with the things you feel you don’t know, you will undo the confidence you have built from all the things you do know. Plus, all that crammed information will most likely disappear or get confused with other things you studied more thoroughly.

If you are struggling with feeling stressed on the day (or days) before testing, don’t hesitate to go back and revisit the tips above. Have you followed them and done what you could to prepare? If not, spend some time thinking on them, as they can help you figure out how you can most benefit from the time you still have.

And once you have worked through these tips and found what works best for you, congratulate yourself! You have really put the work in and are on your way to having an awesome testing experience, sharing a bit of your brilliance and connecting all the incredible things you have learned.

Who knows – maybe you’ll even find that the exam was a little too easy.

Best MCAT Psychology Book 2017

The Psychology and sociology section is one of the most underestimated parts of the MCAT.

Some people think they can get by with what they remember from Psych or Soc 101 they took their freshman year of college, but that's not nearly enough to get a good score.

Of course, if you want a 480 on the exam, then don't worry about this section, but if you actually want a good score then you need a good book to prepare.

Sadly, none of the books currently available cover everything you need to know for the MCAT either, so your best option is combining multiple books with Khan Academy and the provided information the official MCAT website.

The Best Way to Prepare

​Usually we would have a section here where we rank multiple books in order from best to worst, but for the MCAT Psychology exam you need to combine at least 2 books together in order to get a complete picture. 

We actually recommend using all 3 of the books below, but if you're short on time then using only 2 books should be enough provided that you watch the Khan Academy videos for content not covered in the books.

Also, keep in mind that many of these books seem to have fake reviews on Amazon so don't be fooled by the 5 star reviews.​

​MCAT Psychology and Sociology by NextStep

MCAT Psychology and Sociology Review

This is the book we recommended in our complete MCAT books post, but even though we recommend it, it is sadly not perfect.

​The best part of this book are the practice passages. There are 240 questions in total which is a very solid number, and you get a free full-length exam, but the rest of the book lacks substance.

There's a glossary section which isn't very useful, a section that explains the layout of the new exam, and a bunch of pages for you to write notes which isn't very useful.​

They also constantly update the books to make correct typos, poor explanations, and other issues, but sadly the overall format of the book will always stay the same.

MCAT Psychology and Sociology by Princeton Review

MCAT Psychology and Sociology Princeton Review

This is our second recommendation for this exam. If you only plan on getting 2 books we recommend getting this one and the one by NextStep as together they should cover most of what you need to know for the exam.

It has a couple redundant chapters, but the quality of the actual content makes up for the issues with the book.

They follow the format of the new exam well and they have 2 practice tests you can take which is always a must if you want a good score. (They advertise that they have 3 tests, but in reality the 3rd test is simply the one that's available to everyone for free on their website.)

You can also register online to get corrections to a couple errors in the book and more information that wasn't included in the book that you need to know for the exam. It comes in a PDF which is a bit annoying, but it's better than not getting anything at all!

​It might also go into too much detail compared to what you actually need to know for the exam, but you'll just have to suck it up and learn all of it because taking the time to figure out what will be and what won't be on the exam will take more than actually learning the material.

MCAT Psychology and Sociology by Sterling Test Prep

Sterling test prep MCAT Psychology and Sociology 2017-2018 Book

While this book has glowing reviews on Amazon, don't be fooled. If you look at the profiles of the people who reviewed it, they've only reviewed Sterling test ​prep stuff before, and trust us- this book isn't as amazing as they say it is.

It doesn't have any practice questions and ​it's an enormous book, so why are we recommending it?

It's the biggest review book for this section on the market!

It has a whopping 582 pages and it's packed full of great examples and ​explanations that might be helpful to you if you don't understand the explanations in the other books.

However, we don't recommend using just this book because it also has a lot of content that isn't on the actual exam.

This is the perfect reference book to quickly figure out something you don't understand or jog your memory, but it's not the best book for actually learning the material. For that, the previously mentioned 2 books are your best bet.​

The Ultimate Study Combination

If you can afford to then we recommend you to get all 3 of the above books.

Focus most of your studying efforts on the NextStep book and the Princeton Review while using the Sterling test Prep book for additional examples for things you don't understand.

​We also recommend quickly going through the Khan Academy playlist and watching videos on topics you haven't heard of, or watching videos on topics that you're not completely clear on. 

​If you have extra time, go to the official MCAT website and go through their Section overview to make sure that you covered everything you need to know. If not, check out those topics in the Sterling review book or Khan academy videos.

It's a shame that there's not one single book that can guarantee a good score, but we're confident that the above combination will prepare you well for the exam.

What is on the New MCAT Exam and How Should You Prepare?

The new MCAT is a tough exam, but you're on our site looking for ways to prepare for it instead of being out partying, so you already have the advantage!

If you haven't read our post about the best books for the MCAT yet, we recommend checking it out.

If you already did, then kudos to you and let's jump right into figuring out what in the world the new MCAT exam is like!

​The Outline of the Exam

There are 4 main test sections of the MCAT:

  1. Chemical and Physical
  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  3. Biological and Biochemical
  4. Psychological and Social

Each section except for the Critical Analysis one takes 95 minutes (the analysis one is 90 minutes long), and you get an optional 30 minute break after completing 2 sections with an optional 15 minute break after completing 1 and 3 sections.

All in all the exam can take you anywhere from 6 hours and 15 minutes to 7 hours and 30 minutes, so when you're practicing for the exam make sure that you do some endurance testing practice because the exam is long.

Each main testing section also has multiple subsections or "big ideas" that you should be aware of before you step into the exam room.

Chemical and Physical Foundations Basics

There are 59 questions in this passage which means that you should take just less than 2 minutes per question if you want to finish within the time allotted.

There are 10 passage based sets of 4-6 questions each and 15 independent questions.​

​You will have access to a periodic table during this part of the exam so don't worry about knowing all of the elements by heart.

Over 50% of the questions on this part of the exam is based off of gen chem and intro physics, so make sure you know those topics inside and out.

Biochemistry and orgo make up nearly all of the remaining questions and biology comes in last at only about 5%.

However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't study biology because biology is tested in its own section!​

​We recommend exploring big idea 1 and big idea 2 on the AAMC website just so you're aware of what they're looking for. 

​Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Basics

​There are 53 questions in this passage so the guideline of spending less than 2 minutes per question still stands. However, be aware that you'll have to do a lot of reading in this section so make sure you trained yourself to read quickly while still taking in a lot of information. 

​Although the passages are only 500-600 words long, they're usually hard to understand and may include difficult vocabulary and crafty writing styles. 

An important point to note is that you DO NOT need any knowledge from outside of the passage to answer any of the questions on this part of the test.

If you find yourself trying to figure out the answer using something you know from outside of the passage, stop doing that! (Unless it's a vocab word that you don't remember of course.)​

The passages are almost always evenly divided between humanities and social sciences, and you shouldn't have too much trouble with this section especially if you practice.

Biological and Biochemical Basics

​This part also contains 59 questions and lasts 95 minutes, so taking less than 2 minutes per question is suggested.

​You will also have a periodic table during this part of the exam which means that you don't have to worry about stuffing your head with fascinating, albeit useless, elements.

Most of this section is highly focused on intro biology and biochemistry, but there will also be some gen chem and orgo questions. (So don't turn off your chemist brain right after the chemistry section. You're going to need it!)​

This section contains 3 "foundational concepts" or big ideas, and we recommend checking them out on this website

Psychological and Social Basics

Yet another 59 question section that lasts 95 minutes. Are you surprised yet?

This section will ask you to combine your knowledge of psychology and biology with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills

This is the section a lot of students lose points on because they think that psychology is easy, but they underestimate the difficulty of being able to connect what they know about sensory thresholds to how the sensory receptors work and explain why the thresholds are what they are.

Also, while this test is mostly based off of psychology and sociology, don't forget that psychology can also include explanations for how things work biologically, so just because you're not in the biology, physics, or chemistry section, doesn't mean you don't need to know the basic (and not so basic concepts from those sections).

How Should You Prepare?​

This isn't a hard question to answer.

Get as many practice books as you can get your hands on, ​study them as closely as possible, take a couple of practice MCAT tests while simulating the test environment, and do something that calms your mind like meditation or yoga so you know you won't freak out on the day of the exam.

Simple. Right? ;)​

Kaplan vs Princeton Review Books- Which is The Ultimate MCAT Prep Package?

Kaplan and Princeton review are one of the most popular options for studying for the MCAT, but which one is better?

We ranked Kaplan much higher than Princeton in our MCAT book comparison, but because of Princeton review's popularity we decided that it's important to explain why we believe Kaplan is the better choice.

Disadvantages of Princeton Review

The worst part about the Princeton review books is that they include a lot of information that will not be on the exam at all.

Do you really want to spend your precious time on learning things you won't need to know for the exam? We don't think so.

They also have practice questions at the end of each section, but there aren't as many as Kaplan has, so you might have to buy an additional book to get additional practice for the exam.

Disadvantages of Kaplan

The total length of the Kaplan books is about 300 pages higher than the Princeton review, which means that they cover more information.

Their psychology section also isn't completely perfect which means that you might have to get a different psychology and sociology book to make sure that you're 100 percent ready for the exam.

Advantages of Kaplan

Although Kaplan does cover more information than Princeton review, all of the info they cover has a chance of being on the exam, and the material that's most likely to surface on the exam is starred so you know what you need to focus on.

The visuals in the books do a great job of explaining complicated concepts, and the amount and structure of the practice questions guarantees that you'll be ready for the MCAT.

It's also one of the best value packages you can get if you're buying study guides for all sections of the exam. Other books might seem like they're cheaper, but once you buy everything you need you will probably have to pay more than you would for Kaplan's complete package. 

Similarity of Prep Packages​

The study packages also have similarities that help them outrank other study guides..

They both contain 7 books and come with 3 complete practice tests to check that you understand the material. 

They also both offer practice questions at the end of each chapter, but as you can see above, Kaplan includes more of these in each book.

Why the MCAT Changed and How it Will Affect You

According to the AAMC:

The new MCAT exam includes the concepts and skills that medical educators, medical students, and residents rated as the most important for pre-meds to know so they are prepared on day one of medical school.​

That's a mouthful!

You're probably wondering what this means for you, how this will change how you should study, and how this affects you if you were planning on using older prep materials.

The exam was changed in 2015 after over 20 years of no changes.

The Main Goal of the Change

The main goal of the change was to shift the focus from ​simply memorizing things to being able to apply the things you memorize.

It might seem that studying for the new exam will be harder, but in reality, this change actually made it much easier.

When studying for the new exam, you'll be forced to think about the numerous ways you can apply the material you're learning (which is a part of holistic learning) which means that it will be easier for you to memorize what you need to know.

​As you might know (depending on which stage of studying for the MCAT you're at) the more connections you make between whatever you're studying and other things you know, the easier it will be to remember it later.

The test takes care of that by forcing you to think about possible applications for the information you're learning while studying, so it will be easier to remember it for the exam, and you will remember it for longer after the exam is over.​

What's on the exam?

The exam creators asked medical students​, faculty, and residents what they think they need to know before staring med school, and based the exam off of that.

​They ended up with 4 main sections:

  1. ​Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  2. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The first 3 sections are based on 10 big ideas or "foundational concepts" as they call them and the last section checks for 7 analytical and computational skills.

​How should you study?

We DO NOT recommend using older material (pre-2015) for studying for the new exam.

There have been too many changes and it will be a highly inefficient way of preparing for it.​

Instead, we have a list of the best MCAT prep books ​we recommend you use for the exam.

​If you get one of our recommended study packages on that list and diligently go through it, you should be ready to take on the new exam.

Just make sure to think about how you could apply what you're learning to the real world as you go through the books.​

Best MCAT Prep Books 2017/2018

If you're looking for the best MCAT books we're sure you've stumbled upon sites that claimed to have the ultimate list, but instead promoted all of the books on the market right now.

You deserve better than that. 

You're on our site which means that you're ambitious and you want to do well, and it is our job to help you find the best prep materials for the exam.

​We didn't just use our previous knowledge of the exam.

We also interviewed dozens of high-scoring med school students (520+ on the MCAT) and several MCAT prep course creators in order to bring to you the truly best list of MCAT prep materials.

(We also have a books to avoid section as some sites have been recommending books that will decrease you score instead of increasing it.)

MCAT Study Materials Comparison Table

Rank

Name

# of Pages

# of practice tests

Price

1

MCAT Complete 7-Book Kaplan

3152

3

$$$

2

Examcrackers MCAT Complete Package

N/A

24 questions/section

$$$$

3.

Sterling Test Prep Books

Varies

Varies

$

4.

Princeton Review MCAT 7 Book Set

2836

3

$$$

5.

MCAT Psychology and Sociology

329

1 + mini-exams

$

6.

Kaplan MCAT Flashcards

1000

N/A

$

The Ultimate Prep List

We update this list monthly, but if you have any questions or feedback about the books we selected feel free to comment below.

Also, simply buying the study materials isn't effective, you also have to put time in. 😉

1. Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review + Online Materials

Kaplan-7-Books-MCAT-Plus-Online-Learning-Combo

This Kaplan study set is hands down the best option for studying for the exam, but only if you have the time and dedication to go through all 7 books. (If you don't have the dedication to do this, then maybe self-studying isn't for you and you should sign up for a prep program.)

These books were highly recommended by nearly every high-scoring student we talked to, and for a good reason- they're highly detailed with great visuals and well-structured practice questions in each chapter.

None of the other MCAT books were as detailed as these, and Kaplan even has the "star feature" that lets you know which sections and what material is most likely to be emphasized on the test.

If you're worried you won't get enough practice with this book, don't worry. They have the end of chapter review sections, 3 online practice tests, and ​random questions throughout the book to keep you on your toes. If that's not enough you can always look at the Khan Academy video bank.

However, while you will be 95% ready after reading through all of the books and working on your weak spots, you might still need to get the MCAT Psychology and Sociology book as the Kaplan psychology one that comes in this package doesn't cover 100% of the info you need to know.

While this is the most expensive item on our list, it also gives you the biggest bang for you buck as you get 7 practice books (which ends up being around $20 per book) and 3 detailed practice tests which is more than you get from anyone else.

Pros

  • Very detailed
  • Great graphical representations of concepts
  • Plenty of practice questions
  • The "star feature" lets you know what's likely to be on the actual exam

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Very in-depth with a lot of content. Might not be the best for those crunched for time

2. Examkrackers Complete Study Package

Examcrackers MCAT Complete Study Package

This is the best study option if you're pressed for time and you need to know the essentials without having to wade through tons of extra material that won't be on the exam.

​Just make sure to order the 10th edition instead of the 9th one as the newer version greatly improves on the disappointing 9th edition.

They corrected nearly all of the mistakes present in the previous version, updated the psychology/sociology book, and added more questions to the practice exams.

As for the quality of the study material, in the typical Examkrackers fashion they only provide what you'll need to know for the exam, but in some cases they err on the side of not providing exactly enough. 

All of the 6 books are precise in their language, and the mascot, Salty the Kracker, provides much needed breaks from the arduous studying that you'll have to do. (There's 6 long books to go through after all!)

All in all, the Examkrackers package is great for those who don't have the time to learn superfluous information, but still have enough time to go through 6 books worth of material.

Pros

  • Concise, but still covers everything you need to know
  • Mistakes from the last version were corrected
  • Funny mascot distracts you from the pain of studying

Cons

  • Quite expensive. Especially if you don't use all of the books.
  • Sometimes they don't provide enough information about certain topics so you have to look them up yourself.

3. Sterling Test Prep Books

Sterling Test Prep MCAT Practice Tests Chemical Physical Biological

Sterling doesn't offer a package of study materials like Kaplan or Examkrackers, but you can create your own package for about the same price as Kaplan.

The best part of Sterling is that they update their books every month to make sure that the material covered best reflects the current MCAT.

Their "high yield" MCAT questions books each have over 1200+ questions on specific subjects which is perfect since the best way to prepare for the MCAT is to take similar tests over and over again.

Each book also has detailed explanations for each question in the back, and their support team is incredibly responsive so if you don't understand the explanation in the back of the book, they'd be more than willing to help you. (It's like having a personal tutor!)​

However, keep in mind that while the books over an overview of the foundations, if this is your first time learning a certain topic it might be better to purchase a different book or use Khan Academy or a similar resource to learn it before practicing.

Even if you buy the Kaplan package, it might be worth it to invest in a Sterling book for the subject that you're weakest in.

Pros

  • Updated books guaranteed to cover the new exam
  • 1200+ questions for specific subjects
  • Very responsive support team that's almost like your own personal tutor

Cons

  • Only contains an overview of topics. You'll need to actually learn them elsewhere.

4. Princeton Review MCAT Complete Box Set

Princeton Review MCAT Complete Set 7 Books

While the Princeton review books are great, they do have some drawbacks compared to the Kaplan or Examkrackers study materials.

However, if you don't mind learning extra material that won't be on the exam and expanding your ​general base of knowledge then this is perfect for you.

​The 3 practice tests are very helpful, and there are questions at the end of each chapter to make sure you understand the material, but it doesn't have as many questions as Kaplan or Examkrackers which means you'll have to purchase the Sterling question book or something similar to make sure you have enough "real-exam" practice.

​The visual aids are quite useful, although they should've included more of those in the physics book as it's much easier to explain a physics concept through images instead of drawn out texts.

Overall all of the books are well-written and they will prepare you well for the exam as long as you are willing to buy more books to practice the your weaker sections.

Pros

  • Very in-depth
  • 3 full-length practice tests and other practice

Cons

  • Contains some extraneous material that's not on the exam
  • Not enough visual aids in the physics section

5. MCAT Psychology and Sociology

MCAT Psychology and Sociology Review

​The MCAT psychology section is a mess because there are no great review books for it.

We even wrote a post about the combination of study materials you should use to make sure you're prepared.

However, if you do decide to buy only one book for the exam, we recommend getting this one ​as it has the most practice passages, and whatever this book doesn't cover you should be able to figure out using Khan Academy and other online resources.

They've greatly improved the book since the last edition, and it now includes a full-length exam in addition to the actual practice sections in the book.

​The passage breakdowns and question explanations are highly helpful, and while their glossary isn't the best, that's not why you're buying this book, are you? 

Pros

  • Highest number of practice passages for the exam
  • Contains great explanations and passage breakdowns

Cons

  • The best of the worst. The psychology section is a mess with nothing truly good.
  • Will need to use other sources to be fully prepared

6. Kaplan MCAT Flashcards

MCAT Kaplan Flashcards

If you're this far in your medical career then we're sure you understand the power of flashcards.

They're great for studying on the go, memorizing hard to remember topics, and making sure you remember older material.

A couple different companies have released flashcards for the MCAT, but the Kaplan ones are the best ones by a mile.

​It has exactly 1000 flashcards which helps review the ton of material you need to know for the exam. 

Quick word of warning though: the flashcards only contain general definitions and no detailed information as it's impossible to fit that much on a small flashcard. It's still highly useful for jogging your memory and making sure you understand the concept at a high level.

One thing we do recommend is going through the flashcards and adding other important things you would like to know for the exam. EX: add your own quick graphs, notes, etc. (This can be a bit of a pain, but it also helps a ton with remembering information.)

As for the quality of the cards themselves, they're somewhat flimsy, but they should last you the couple months that you'll be spending preparing for the MCAT. 

Pros

  • Perfect for spaced repetition and studying on the go
  • Great for jogging your memory and understanding concepts at a 10,000 foot level.

Cons

  • Flimsy, but will last you a couple months.
  • Lacks detailed explanations.

MCAT Books to Avoid

We've seen other sites recommending books that are absolutely terrible so we want to make sure that you don't end up buying one of them and wasting your money. ​

​MCAT 528: Advanced Prep

​This book is terrible simply because it's pretty much a copy of an official AAMC prep guide with a couple chapters of Kaplan strategies for the test.

Trust us, buying this book simply because of the Kaplan strategies isn't worth it.

The Princeton Review Complete MCAT

We had high hopes for this book because of the fairly high ratings, but we were disappointed.

It seems that the majority of the high ratings come from people who either never looked at the book, or who were paid to give the book a high rating.

The book is terribly structured and they will give you questions that contain material you're supposed to "learn" 3 chapters later.

​The solutions frequently reference non-existing or non-related examples, and they're riddled with errors and missed steps.

It seems as if they just threw this book together as quickly as possible in order to make money, but we guess they forgot that their book can be the difference between someone becoming and not becoming a doctor.

What a shame.​

However, we don't want to end on a sad note. Just know this: we believe in you, and if you put in the time and study using one of our recommended resources you will do well!

MCAT FAQ

We know you might have a lot of questions about the MCAT so here are the answers to some of them!

How long is the exam?

It can take anywhere between 6:30 - 7:30 to complete depending on how many breaks you take.

​How is the MCAT scored?

There are 4 sections that you can get a 118-132 on. This means you can get anywhere between 472-528 points on the final exam.

​How many times can you take the MCAT?

You can take it 3 times per year, 4 times in a two year period, and 7 times during your entire life.

How many hours should you put into studying for the MCAT?

We recommend studying for around 250 - 700 hours depending on how well you know the material beforehand.

This ends up being about 2-6 hours per day for 3-6 months.

What does an optional break mean?

You can skip the optional breaks without penalty, but you can't use the extra time on the next section. We recommend utilizing the breaks for recharging your brain with food and water, going to the bathroom, and stretching out your legs and getting the blood flowing by doing some jumping jacks.

​Can you use old MCAT prep materials to get ready for the new exam?

There are many similarities between the two exams, but there are also many differences, so in order to make your preparation as effective as it can be we recommend using a new prep book or course.

Otherwise you might end up spending too much time on topics that won't actually show up on the exam.​