As with my other post (so long ago), I’ve been meaning to write up something about the MCAT study guides and what I found to be useful. I ended up writing it all in an email to a friend, which I decided to just reproduce here.
Quick summary for those disinclined to deal with my verbosity :
- I like ExamKrackers stuff. Audio Osmosis was good. Their 101 Verbal passages book was good. Skip the “1001 Chemistry questions” books.
- IMHO, don’t spend too much time trying to learn “The Kaplan method” or stuff like that. For me, at least, it seemed like it would be counterproductive.
- Go to http://www.e-mcat.com and buy/take the tests there. Those are great practice for the actual exam.
- Remember! This isn’t a science test. It’s a critical thinking test in the language of science.
- Have fun with it! May as well, right?
I found those Audio Osmosis CDs to be really useful. Glad you’re getting good use of em in the car. I think the physics stuff was hardest for me to do in the car, since it wasn’t as intuitive/conceptual, and there were calculations and stuff involved. Not generally great to do in traffic
ExamKrackers (who makes those CDs) also has a bunch of books. Their Verbal Reasoning one (it’s like “101 Verbal reasoning questions” or something) was pretty good. The style of the passages was solid. I had some issues with their answers, though - and I didn’t have the same problems with the official MCAT pre-tests or the MCAT itself. So I’d say use that book, but don’t get too pissed about their BS reasoning for the answers EK also has other stuff, like “1001 MCAT chemistry questions.” Skip em. They suck - it’s just a whole crapload of goofy questions, none of them in MCAT form. I think they also have more thorough books (like the Kaplan ones I talk about below), but I don’t know how good they are.
Speaking of which - go to http://www.e-mcat.com . For $35 each, you can buy practice MCATs, basically. IMHO, that stuff is well worth it. It’s the best practice you’ll get. If you wanted to be less on the up-and-up, you could go in with a friend to buy em, or you could find a friend doing one of the expensive courses - I think the $1700 Princeton & Kaplan courses also give you access to the e-mcat stuff. But definitely check that stuff out. I paid for it alone, and it was well worth it.
I played with the Kaplan books (e.g. their Physics book) and found them to be fairly useful reviews. I wouldn’t rely on them completely, but I think they were good to have for reference. As I understand, people get them included with the Kaplan courses and are forbidden from reselling them. That’s probably why the Pre-Health office has so many copies. They were happy to lend me one for like 2 months, so you might consider that. Otherwise, ask around, if you want em.
Princeton also has books, but I didn’t much use them. I think I liked Princeton’s tests better than Kaplan’s though. Just keep in mind that (for Physics, at least, the only Princeton section I remember) their questions are more specific than the actual MCAT. Princeton seems to focus more on memorizing lots of stuff.
Going back to Kaplan, they seem to focus more on cheesy methods. Like, they’ll tell you some approach about skipping questions, or figuring out what’s best to answer, or some shit like that. I don’t really like that. I think it gears people up to getting mid/high 20s, which is good if you’re pulling yourself up, but not so great if you’re pulling for higher. Kaplan stuff kinda reminds me of:
“OK, learn the Kaplan way of bubbling in circles on your ScanTron! First, look at how big the circle is. If it’s too big, skip it and come back to it later. Otherwise, put a dot in the top right corner if you think you can answer it right away, then color it in counterclockwise in increasingly smaller circles. Memorize this technique and you can save yourself 5 minutes on the exam!”
I did like the ExamKrackers approach of trying to understand the stuff. They seemed most in line with my own thought process on that (like I talk about in that OPM post I linked). That’s really what it comes down to, and why I think you’ll do well. It’s about learning the coursework well, understanding the principles, and having fun applying em. The MCAT really is a critical thinking test. The review material is just to review it, so you’re comfortable with the science. And the practice tests are great for getting a good feel for the exam itself. I had fun with practice tests, too…
I mean, most of what I did was just the basic “Take the exam and see how I did.” But I kinda went beyond that to see what I could get from it. I’d been taking all of the exams at home, even though I thought maybe the library would be best. Well, I kinda realized that I’d be getting up and getting food when I had a pause or something, and I wouldn’t really be able to do that during the exam. So for one exam, I forced myself to take it like I was at the MCAT itself - no running off to the kitchen or playing with my cat or anything. It was kind of a different experience. So make sure you don’t get too used to stuff like that .
Also, I tried to push myself. I’d retake exams to see how I improved on them, and if there were any questions I got wrong the second time around. One day, I took two full MCATs! (except the written parts) One was new, and the other was one I had taken before. Still, if nothing else, it was good for my perspective. I knew that if I could do two of em and do okay, one wouldn’t be so bad.
I also made this excel spreadsheet with my results. It wasn’t just the section scores; the e-mcat site also gives you pretty thorough feedback on what you got right/wrong. So I also kept track of how many organic chemistry questions I got wrong on each, or how many physics, etc. That let me see where I needed to focus my studying.
Also! One last thing . When there was a concept I had to remember, or just a factoid, or whatever, I made a flash card about it. I’m not usually big on flash cards, but this was pretty useful to me. I ended up with two little recipe boxes of flash cards. One was stuff to learn, and one was stuff that used to be in the “to learn” box, but that I felt I knew well. It was good practice at learning stuff I missed.
Anyway, there’s also other books and techniques and stuff, but I can’t really speak for them.