What are the important differences
between the MCAT and the tests I've taken in the sciences?
The MCAT is more conceptual and far less numeric (On average,
less than five questions on the entire MCAT require more than
a couple of multiplications, divisions, additions, or subtractions.).
The test stress relationships, proportions, consequences, and
fundamental principles. Most MCAT questions in the Sciences present
novel information to you in the form of passages. You will be
expected to integrate this new information with material you
already have mastered in order to arrive at the correct answer.
is the best way to prepare?
Whether you take a prep course or not there are four essentials.
One - Learn all you can
about the MCAT.
Two - Get complete and appropriate reference materials.
Three - Use a source of high quality practice tests.
Four - Put in the time.
One - The first thing
to do is to learn everything about the test. Look over the AAMC Practice Materials, and
The AAMC Web Site . (I have
not viewed the MCAT videocassette offered by the AAMC so I can
not make a recommendation on this item.) Talk to a large number
of folks who have taken the MCAT, and learn from their experiences.
Although the content, and difficulty level will vary from
one form to the next, the MCAT has a distinctive style*.
Once you understand this style, you can then begin learning effective
strategies to maximize your MCAT scores.
*On some forms
of the MCAT one of the subtest is more difficult then the others.
Some have lots of passages that describe experiments or alternative
hypothesis. Some have lots of graphs. Some have lots of diagrams,
and some have almost none. Some have passages on bungee jumping,
others on fusion reactors.
All of the above are
trivial concerns. What matters is that the underlying style of
the MCAT is consistent.
Two - Recently
(Nov 02) I've had the opportunity
to look through "MCAT Physics" and "MCAT Biology",
two prep books by ExamKrackers (EK).
These texts are impressive. While "Kaplan's
Comprehensive MCAT" (the ONLY other MCAT content
review book I feel comfortable recommending) is more of a study
guide, EK books, are closer to textbooks.
The EK books make far greater demands on the reader then Kaplan's
work. Kaplan sticks only to the facts you MUST know and presents
these facts in a dry, straight forward manner, which makes a
point and then moves on. On the other hand, EK books have more
of a conversational style--it feels like someone on the "other
end" of the book is talking to you and challenging you to
think. While EK's approach certainly has its strengths, its primary
weakness is that it does not effectively differentiate between
material that you MUST know, and the material that could help,
but is not required. To be fair, attempts are made by EK to make
this distinction, but there are many cases where the distinction
is not clear.
Overall, I give the the EK books an
"A" , and the Kaplan book a "B+".
Compare prices at: http://www.bestbookdeal.com
Three - The
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The AAMC has recently stopped
offering The Student Manual, The Practice Items, and Practice
Tests I & II. These materials are dated but still of great
use if you can find them, especially when considering the shortage
of high quality MCAT practice materials--most practice tests
from non-AAMC sources are close to worthless, and the best non-AAMC
practice tests are significantly inferior to these AAMC materials.
OPTION: Practice Test III is
now free. PT IV, V & VI are available online and as pdf downloads
as a package that sells for $80. Solutions to these tests are
given only online, in a format that is very tedious to print
out. These online solutions are text only--no diagrams are included.
The web option offers a number of bells and whistles that keep
track of your MCAT proformance and some message boards, which
currently, are rather unimpressive.
OPTION: Only PT V & VI ($40
per exam) are now offered in booklet form. They come with solution
booklets that included text and diagrams--at least they use to.
The tests included in the web and paper
options above have been altered to include recent changes to the MCAT.
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AAMC materials are the best test sources.
Princeton Review's in house tests (given as part of the course)
are the next closest to the MCAT in style, but tend toward the
Like their over the counter books, Princeton Review's in house
materials have a fair number of errors. Kaplan's in house tests,
do not resemble the MCAT in style as closely as do Princeton
Review's; some Physical Sciences sections tend to be too difficult
and/or too numerical. These tests are, however, still useful,
and like all Kaplan materials are relatively free from errors.
*"Easy" and "difficult" refer to raw
scores, not scaled scores.
Four - Set up a study schedule
and stick to it. If you miss out on a few planned study hours,
have free time set aside that can be used to make up the work.
Do not continue studying when you become fatigued. Take a break
and then return to your work later.
> you still regard the Kaplan MCAT review book (assuming
> the most recent edition) my best bet for study info?
> I have Kaplan review notes (from the classes you pay
> for)for Bio and Physical Sciences as well as Verbal
> sections but they are the 1997 edition. Are they
> worth my time to study them or should I invest in
> something more recent? I also have the REA (Research
> and Education Association) book of six full length
> practice MCATs, 2000 edition.
Yes, the Kaplan book is the best for
content review. Since the material on the MCAT has not changed
(yet) there is no need for an update. The practice exams in the
Kaplan book are not so great, but the REA exams bear only a passing
resemblance to the MCAT.
The tests distributed by Princeton Review
in their class are very close to the MCAT in style, but many
are too easy and there are many mistakes. Kaplan's "in house
tests" have only a few errors but are considerably different
in style then the actual MCAT, and not in a way that is helpful.
"Over the counter" (bookstores
or online) the tests by Columbia
Review are useful. In a way these tests are more like the MCAT
the MCAT itself--they are caricatures. I like them, but like
Princeton Review's tests, they contain too many mistakes.
The best practice exams by far are the
tests from the AAMC.
For Content -> Use Kaplan
For Practice Tests -> Use AAMC