TBR Review

Why am I writing this

There were very few Amazon style “this is who I am, this is how I use the product, this is how it has worked (or not) for me” reviews of the various prep companies’ materials on SDN. People just say “XYZ was RAD, I got a 42!”, etc. That didn’t help me. I wanted to know a) their background, to see if their feelings were applicable to me (if you have a PhD in physics, I probably don’t have the same needs as you. ditto for people who took their sciences 6 years ago, etc. etc. etc.), and b) how they USED the product. OldPreMeds is better than SDN, so I’m posting this here…

About me:

Did well in my post-bacc, though not exceptionally - probably top 25% overall. I learned to understand, not to memorize. I say this to provide perspective on this review, nothing more.

Content knowledge/facility:

Physics: 7/10

G-Chem: 7/10

Organic: 6/10

Bio: 4/10

Where 4/10 is “highschooler in an AP class probably knows as much/more” and 10/10 is “could be GSI for the class”.

All of my classes were completed in the last 2.5 years, so content was fresh for me.

My perception of TBR:

TBR seemed made for a person like me. I knew that my foundations were relatively strong, except biology, and I wanted devote more or less equal time to preparation for all four subjects. My main goal was to get good at the test, not to learn a bunch of new material/concepts.

How I used TBR:

If you try to read the chapters you will die. Do not read the chapters. TBR is massively overwritten - multiplicatively so: there’s a ton of content AND it’s very dense. Good news, though; the value is not in the content.

I did all of the practice problems in each chapter. If I got them wrong, I figured out why using the chapter content, or more often another outside resource (do not hate the internet). I’d then take the 25 question chapter pre-test.

Here’s the most important part: after doing the passages, I REVIEWED EVERY QUESTION, and figured out why I got right what I got right, and why I got wrong what I got wrong. I never left a question as “eh, NBD, that won’t be on the exam”. I approached every wrong answer like that same type of question WOULD DEFINITELY be on the exam.

After the pre-test, I took the half of the chapter test (each chapter test is 52 or 100 questions, depending on subject), then did the same review as above.

I dedicated one day per chapter per subject (ie Tuesday Bio chapter 5, Wednesday Organic Chemistry chapter 5). These chapter-specific days tended to account for about 5 hours of aggregate work.

One day per week, I had a review day, on which I did the second half of each of the week’s chapter tests (in this example, on Thursday, I would have done the second half of chapter tests for Physics 5, Gen Chem 5, Bio 5, Ochem 5), and reviewed my answers - right and wrong - in the same way.

These review days felt exceptionally long (plenty of them took me 8 hours of honest work). If you can break this up and follow the SDN 3-month MCAT prep schedule rather than doing it this way, I’d highly recommend it. The SDN plan also has the benefit of touching each chapter 3, rather than 2, times. I was just not able to do this because of other commitments.

The real benefit of TBR

It’s the passages. Each chapter has TONS of passages. The MCAT is a passage based exam. It is in your best interest to prepare in a way that’s closely aligned to what you will see on the exam, and NOBODY (I looked) does this better than TBR.

I sat down to take my first full length practice exam and I was nervous. About halfway in to PS, I was like… wait, this is DEFINITELY no worse than a TBR chapter test. I hit my target score on my first practice test, and I still had about 25% of my content review left to go. Subsequent full lengths only went up from there.

Bio still brutalizes me at times, but you can see from my content self-assessment above that it’s not much of a surprise. This brings me to the major flaw of TBR: Bio. The real exam (at least the FL’s that I’ve taken) is much more of a “know the basics and use the passage” style. TBR Bio at times falls in to the trap of testing discrete memorized knowledge. As is often suggested on SDN, I used EK Bio for content and only used TBR bio for passages. It has worked well for me.


I’ll stop yelling, but say once again: TBR has passages.

Finally, TBR is not for the easily discouraged. There are plenty of chapters where I’ve scored 60% on the chapter exam. This sucks. You feel defeated (and it takes a lot longer to do the review because you’ve gotten so many wrong). This is tough to get used to for those of us who have really occupied the “less than an A is failure” mindset.

But, if three months from now you had to lift as much weight as possible, and every extra pound you lifted were worth $10,000, you would beat the living crap out of yourself in the gym to get ready. TBR is like a personal trainer - they’ll push you till you’re sore, but you’ll be happy when the big day comes.

Ok, that analogy was stretched a little thin, but I believe it’s true.

Provided I don’t totally crater the exam, I’ll post more thoughts and details (and my score?!?) once I’ve taken the test (4/26).

OH! Verbal!

I almost forgot - everyone’s nemesis Verbal. I looked at all of the books and the only one at all worthwhile is the PRINCETON review. Find it, cherish it, and pass it on. Don’t bother with TBR on this one subject.

This is very good stuff! Thanks for the initiative in posting this.

I too, am using the TBR books as well as the EK 1001 (101) books. Lets see if this works. I’ve learned thoughout my studies that one tends to get out of it what they put into it. The MCAT is no different.

I’m also going to take your advice as to do the chapter questions and review the rationales. This stretegy seemed to work in the past for me and I feel that I will have a little more “traction” when it comes to studying all those subjects as well.

One addition to this post (for the sake of sanity) take breaks, move, get the blood pumping. Anxiety and stress cannot be overstated as to how much it affects one’s concentration and recollection of the material learned (or reviewed in our case).

There is no worse a feeling than knowing that you just spend the last weekend (all weekend long) sitting and studying til you’re blue in the face and then a few days later are unable to recall some very basic information regarding what you just studied.

Arg! Very frustrating indeed…

My semester ends in the beginning of May, and that’s when I’ll be hitting the studying hardcore.

I pray nothing but the best for you Esperen, good luck and God speed!

I concur, TBR is the BEST, but I think EK is the best for Verbal.

BTW, 60% on the MCAT is a 27 (assuming a balanced score), and while not spectacular, it’s nothing to brush off either!

Thanks for contributing, guys.

TBR is meant to be harder than the real test, in my opinion. For reference, a 66% on a chapter exam correlates to a solid 10 in content knowledge, according to TBR.

Most people who have a mean TBR score in the mid 70%'s (there is a large community of TBR data sharers over on SDN) score in the 11-13 range per section.

The TBR score correlations given in the books have been roughly accurate for me as well - I’ve never scored less than a 60% on a chapter exam and never scored less than a 10 in a FL section. My mean chapter exam score is in the low to mid 70%'s and my FL scores fluctuate between 10-12 per section.

And again, I have no experience with TBR verbal. I stopped doing VR practice quite early on when I realized that it was not an effective use of my time. I am one of the fortunate few for whom VR is the easiest section.