MCAT review courses

I took Kaplan course this semester…along with full class load and job. I thought I knew all the equations and the material, but then I did HORRIBLE on their practice exams (except verbal)…and have decided not to risk taking the MCAT. Anyone else have this experience? Now I am faced with decision of taking MCAT in August and how to prepare for this. Should I dish out more money to retake the Kaplan course for reduced fee…take another course like the Columbia Review…or just buy more prep books and do it “my way”?
Thanks for your feedback- Sara

Hi Saralane,
Its just my opinion but, I feel that the Kaplan and TPR classes are a waste of time, not to mention a lot of money. I believe somewhere there are statistics which provide pretty clear cut evidence that taking these courses provides no advantage over those students not taking the exam. The people who make up the mcat are trying to make the playing field as even as possible. They know all about every mcat review course there ever was, and they design the test to avoid any biases these courses might inflict on their score distributions.
Another issue i have with these courses (people may disagree with me here but…) is that every person who takes one of these classes approaches the exam with the same “cookie cutter” type of tactics. So anytime during the exam when you encounter a problem that doesn’t fit into the kaplan/tpr paradigm of problem solving (and the test takers make sure there are a few of these), you end up trying to solve it like everyone else who has had these courses (the majority), and consequently, you get it wrong just like everyone else. I firmly believe that if you study properly on your own you will not only be prepared content wise, but, you will also be able to incorporate your own creativity into solving problems, which will come in handy on those tougher problems that everyone gets wrong.

Some people claim they need the structured review courses to keep them disciplined in their studies, but, I’m not sure thats a good justification for dropping big$$ on something you supposed to be disciplined enough to get through yourself. Just force yourself to sit and study everynight for a week or two, in no time you will find yourself in a groove and plowing through material. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll start to feel guilty on the nights when you’re not studying. After all, kaplan is not going to be there for you in med school when you have a tough class are they? A doctor is supposed to be a disciplined, self learner anyway right? Why not start the habit now and save yourself some money?
I may be alone in the way i feel about this topic, so take my advice with a grain of salt, you need to do whats right for you. I’m just sick of being inundated with Kaplan’s empire of propaganda and advertisements, especially considering there is no hard evidence that they provide ANY advantage what so ever. They pump out book after book of “new” material and the “latest” techniques and charge tons of money for it, yet,the material and the test hasn’t really changed in years. What’s going on here? are they really doing heavy research into cracking the mcat or are they just taking advantage of students desire to do the best they can?
As for me, I’m taking the test in August. I bought the 1998 flowers and silvers book and kaplan review from the same year, both used, total purchase price 25$. That will be the extent of the money i spend, the rest of my review will come from class notes and textbooks. I guess i just have to wait and see if my anti- review course approach works or not.
I think you already know what kaplan can do for you, and its nothing that you couldn’t have done for yourself.
Good luck with your studies!
Down with kaplan

Hi saralane :) I think whether you take the Kaplan again depends on why you took it in the first place. If you need the structure and discipline of a class then things like Kaplan, PR, Columbia etc all provide excellent structure and you would profit from taking it again. As ‘structure’ can be found from any of them I would, in that instance, suggest just re-doing the Kaplan as it will be cheaper that way than starting a whole new system.
If you took it for the materials - well, you have those now, so there wouldn’t be any point retaking it. I doubt taking a different course would add much to the materials you have as really they all cover the MCAT, and the contents of the MCAT syllabus are not a secret.
I (respectfully) disagree with gundersd on the utility of kaplan/pr - I think that for some people it is exactly what they need to get a good score on the MCAT. Gundersd is right that there are statistics published by AAMC showing that there was no statistically significant difference between the distribution of scores for people that took the MCAT with Kapklan/PR and those who took the MCAT without it. I don’t think we can conclude from that that the prep course was useless - just that it is possible for those people who are motivated and disciplined enough to do just as well studying on their own. Perhaps the people who were motivated to pay out $1000+ for a course did so knowing that was their best learning strategy…I guess I also don’t believe the MCAT people purposely work at placing questions that will “fool” those that take Kaplan/PR. How could they do this without also “fooling” people who didn’t take the prep courses…
So look at your motivation for wanting a prep course. If it is structure, re-take Kaplan. If it is that you want someone to explain the material to you - depends on the instructor (were they one that really understood the material and took time to explain stuff, or were they one of the “I will read from this sheet, then set your exam” types…?).
Whatever you decide I would offer one thought - if you decide to go with Kaplan for the ‘structure’ you might want to bare this in mind when choosing a medical school. At the end of the day in medical school you are responsible for learning the material but different schools have some different ways of teaching it. Some are very lecture based and structured…some are more laissez faire, leave the student to their own devices
Best of luck

Well, I agree with the other posters insofar as the formal prep courses are a mixed bag. I took Princeton Review and, in retrospect, I think the best thing I got out of it was the prep materials. With TPR, you can take the course again “free” if you don’t like your MCAT scores – I didn’t, and I took it again. The second time through I had no intentions of taking the MCAT following the course: I just wanted the review. As a consequence, I have two sets of review materials (perhaps I should visit E-bay???).
If a person needs the structure and in-class interaction, I agree, they should take the course. I really believe that’s the criterion. There is lots of good review material out there and, while I’m not that familiar with the Kaplan book, I think Flowers is pretty good at hitting the high points. I’m using my TPR review materials to supplement Flowers, and I believe one of the other posters is using Kaplan.
In a certain sense, I think worrying about the “best way” to prepare is counter-productive. I think it’s more important to know what works best for you and then do that. The overall result will probably be more positive.

One more thought on preparation. I mentioned knowing yourself in my last post and kind of alluded to the idea that the time spent worrying about how to prepare might be better spent in some self-examination. This is what I mean: Ask yourself about how you’ve prepared for exams in general. Have you done best when you studied with a group or by yourself? Did you find the group pressure to be stimulating or discouraging? Do you study best early in the morning or late at night? Do mnemonics help you or do you find it harder to remember the mnemonic than what it represents? How do you memorize? What about flashcards? Do you need one person asking you questions that you’ve prepared ahead of time? Do you benefit from explaining the material to someone else? Do video presentations help you (there are videos out there on the major MCAT classes)? What does it take to reduce your anxiety? What does it take for you to accept “not knowing everything”? How many hours of sleep do you need to be effective? How can you adjust your schedule to maximize opportunities for review?
These are the kinds of things it helps to be aware of – then work accordingly.

I bought my Kaplan materials off of Ebay. I won’t be able to resell them, as I have marked the heck out of them. I have found that the review materials have been more a trip down memory lane than anything else. I knew 99% of what was in the books, it had just been years since I knew that I knew it (if that makes sense). I think a solid background is the best preparation (at least I hope). Nevertheless, I am studying a lot. Organic scares me. :(
One of the hardest things for me has been changing my perspective from regurgitation mode to thinking mode. I am sure this is tough for everyone. I just hope I can hack it on Saturday.

remember - the MCAT tests basic science - not arcane weird stuff -
for example, they might present a horrible looking multi-ringed molecule - and ask a simple question about if it is an amide or an amine - an easy functional group question.
they might have a detailed passage on separating aldehydes from ketones, details of the Tollens test - and then present
H3C C H and H3C C CH3CH3CH3
|| ||
O 0
and ask which would plate out silver or not - again, a simple reading comprehension + functional group question.

(those C=O are the right carbon when I sub the post, they move when you go to look at it - I really can draw aldehydes and ketone )

I studied on my own the first year…did terrible. Took Kaplan the next year, did much better. Above the national average. Applied, got accepted. After I took the 2nd test, I promised myself that I would never take it again. Never. I believe that being/becoming a doctor involves a whole spectrum of characteristics, not excluding the MCAT. I was able to show my passion for caring for patients and my dedication to learning that will continue for the rest of my life. One never stops learning. Apparently someone got my vibe!! Good luck to all of you!! Hang in there…relax, remember why you are doing this!

My $0.02 worth on formal test prep coourses – partially, I echo the snetiments of the above posters…if you seek an organized approach or want the perceived discipline of a classroom-like atmosphere - Kaplan & TPR are great. KCOM, my school, also footed the bill for us to go through Youel’s prep course for Step 1 – also a rewarding experience.
For these course to be successful, you must do them as they are designed. You mentioned that you were working and going to school FT. I think this may be the root of your lack of success. I know and can completely empathize with your needing to work – we all love to eat and live indoors. However, when you’re preparing for the MCAT, it needs to be a primary focus for you…not a sideline. I would strongly recommend that when/if you retake the Kaplan course (or what ever mechanism you choose to prepare through) that you minimize your outside commitments…work as little as you cand and take no, or a minimum, of coursework alongside your MCAT preparation.
Many folks allow themselves to fall into the trap of believing, “If I don’t push myself to the point of exhaustion to ensure I am not 1 year older when I apply – they’ll let me in…but if I take my time and apply as a 1 or 2 year older applicant, I will be zapped for being an old fart!” That is simply not true.
You were wise to opt out of taking the MCAT if you were not fully prepared. You need to apply this wisdom to your entire approach to applying. Stop trying to cram everything into such a small timeframe because you feel pressured to get in less than self-prescribed amount of time. Take your time, savor the wondrous experience know as education – time spen on education is never considered time wasted. And, if you’re enjoying this path, you will do much better, both grade-wise and rentention-wise.
Also, do not reply on review course to teach or re-teach you the information to be tested. If you have taken and scored well in your prerequisite courses, the materials to succeed are implanted in your gourd. You must simply leanr to retrieve it in an efficient & timely manner – this is where these courses excel. They teach you test-taking skills that aid in recall and in maximazing your chances of being correct when you are uncertain b/t a couple of choices.
Another important attribute of review courses is the exposure and acquired familiarity with the exam. Through TPR, I had taken no less than 6 or 7 full-length MCAT sims under testing conditions prior to setting the real thing. I was so sick of “taking” the test, I never thought to get nervous – I simply wanted it to be done!
Many folks, esp non-trad who fell they are up against the wall due to their age, old shitty grades or length of time since their last courses undertake these courses for the review or the re-learning. In essence, you’re underutilizing a valuable tool. A hammer is awesome for driving nails, but really sucks as a screwdriver – do you condemn all hammers for that time you tried to drive a screw with one? No, you learn what the tool is best suited for and use it to its maximum capacity.
Maximize your learning while in your courses…do not rely upon any review book or course to teach you the info. Once you have thoroughly reviewed the coursework or focused your efforts on your courses, then take a review course and absorb the test-taking skills that permeate their lessons. Focus on the elements they are offering that will benefit you most. Use the hammer for nails and the screwdriver for screws.
Becoming a physician is a life-long journey that you should enjoy and not some obstacle course to completed in under x-years.