Here’s a fun fact: The entire exam was my weakness (except maybe CARS). I got more than half of the Psych/Soc section wrong and scored in the 42nd percentile overall, so the only thing my diagnostic told me was that I needed to study. Here’s another fun fact: everyone needs to study to improve their scores! A wise man once said: Started from the bottom- now we're here. There’s nothing like putting in work to get the score you want and looking back to see how far you’ve come.
Which test-prep company should you use for your diagnostic? This is a question I get a lot but I don't have a perfect answer for it. I hear NextStep’s practice exams are very good and you can actually sign up for a free full length! I used one of the Kaplan full lengths that came with my books but, while I loved their content review materials, I didn’t love their practice tests. Not sponsored- just my two cents! Otherwise, my biggest piece of advice about your diagnostic would be this: do NOT use the AAMC official practice tests because you should save those for closer to test day.
FOUR: Get yo' books. Across test companies and materials, I know at least one person who used x book and got the score they wanted. I used Kaplan and it worked for me, a close friend used ExamKrackers and it worked for her, and a friend of a friend got the score he wanted using The Princeton Review. All three of these are consistently listed as the best prep materials for the MCAT so I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. In the end, I think it’s just a matter of picking the one that works best for you. You don’t have to take my opinion as Bible, but here are my thoughts on the two I'm most familiar with, strictly in terms of content review:
Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review: This is what I used and it really worked. I think the visuals are great and the text is well-written and straight-forward. It’s also super detailed so I felt confident that there wouldn’t be any surprises on test day. With the exception of the Psych/Soc section (which is apparently tripping up all of these test companies), everything I saw in the AAMC practice materials and on test day was covered in these books. I would 100% recommend this series if you have the time get through it and can appreciate what might be a little too much detail.
10th Edition Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package: I actually purchased this set in early July when a friend told me she preferred these books over Kaplan but I ultimately decided not to use them. I was already well into the Kaplan books and I’m not sure why I thought I’d "just use both". A word of advice: pick one and stick to it. EK is great for to-the-point, concise content review. Some might say it's too concise but, like I mentioned before, my friend used these books and did really freakin' well. If you’re looking for simple and targeted high-yield MCAT review with none of that extra stuff, or if you’re strapped for time and need to study quickly, this is the set for you. I've also heard this set is “fun to read”- whatever that means.
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FIVE: Dive in but don’t plan (yet)! Depending on how far you are from your test date, I’d recommend giving yourself a little bit of trial-and-error time for your study methods to develop. By 2 months out (if you’re studying full time) you'll want to be in your flow with a content review system that works. Before then, I think it’s worth investing some time into just figuring out what that system should look like. By the time I found what worked for me it looked nothing like how I had started. I went from highlighting and re-writing entire chapters to minimal note-taking, writing in the margins, using videos for difficult concepts, and actually ENJOYING prep (*gasp*). Moral of the story here? You’ve really got to do you.
That’s it! I have no doubts that if you’ve read this far and follow these steps, you’re on your way to killing content review and getting the score you want! I know, I know… it’s easier said than done, but these first steps really do set the tone for your studying!
ONE LAST THING! Remember that everyone is different and you might have extra things to consider before getting started. If you're still finishing your pre-med requirements (gen chem, orgo, physics, biochem, and biology) you'll have to study more for the subjects you're missing. It isn't impossible and I don't want to discourage you, but it does take longer to master things you're seeing for the first time. That being said, I know for some of you there's no way around it. If you're dead set on taking the exam anyway I would recommend two things: quickly looking through what's on the MCAT (just to get a sense of what you'll have to learn) and increasing your goal number of "total study hours". As a reminder, I studied for 500-600 total hours, and the average test-taker studies for around 350.
If you have any questions or anything to add, leave it in a comment below so that others can benefit from it too. Happy Hustlin! xx