Thumbs up or Thumbs down?

For those of you that took a prep course can you give me a brief thumbs up or thumbs down on whether to take one or not (in your opinion as a non-trad)?

Well, it’s completely individual. I signed up for a prep course not because I thought it would be the ultimate in MCAT review but because I knew that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be organized enough to stick to a study schedule. Basically I paid Kaplan $1200 or some ridiculous amount, I forget what it was, to keep me honest and prevent me from procrastinating. Given that I recognized this need, I am pretty sure I would’ve done just as well taking a Princeton Review course. I suspect that the PR people would say I would’ve done better in THEIR course, and the Kaplan people would say I did my best because I was in THEIR course, and I’m very sure that’s hogwash. I just needed that schedule.
Someone who’s not as organizationally challenged would certainly not have to do that. For those who can make a schedule and stick to it, there are certainly plenty of self-study programs out there (ExamKrackers is the one on everyone’s lips at the moment). Heck, getting a good solid MCAT review book and using the AAMC MCATs would be plenty of preparation for some people.
So there’s no way to answer your question, actually. I believe that a prep course’s ability to help is probably far more dependent on the person than the course.
Note: it is possible to learn to do better at keeping yourself on task. There was no way I was willing to pay for a review course for Step 1 and I did make a study schedule and I sorta stuck to it… but you know what, I probably would’ve done better with a course. I don’t care. And I don’t know anyone who took a prep course for Step 2. By that time if you can’t figure out your own organizational methods for studying, you’ve flunked out of med school. {I’m saying that lightheartedly but there’s a kernel of truth to it: med school is all about figuring out how to be an independent learner.)
taking a breath after a surprisingly intense first week of PGY-2!

Hi there,
I did not take a MCAT prep course as I did not have the time back when I took the MCAT. Maybe it was luck or someting else, but I did OK without one.
I did attend our recent Kaplan versus Princeton Review head-to-head presentation at our convention in Washinton, DC. I had a chance to listen to both presentations and review the course materials from both companies. Here is my unbiased opinion based on my review:
First, you need to determine what your needs are. Do you have a knowledge deficit or need intense refreshment of material that you took in courses long ago? Do you need help with test-taking skills or reading comprehension? Do you need help with both?
After determining your needs, you need to figure out how much time you can devote to a MCAT review course. If you have to work full-time or cannot meet the course schedule, you might do better on your own with one of the audio or video courses in addition to working through a good review book.
If you can devote the time, and the money, (these courses are in the $1,500 range) then you need to investigate the differences between Kaplan and Princeton Review. Both offer courses in most of the larger cities and both have different options.
In terms of course materials, Princeton Review beats Kaplan by miles. They acquired Hyperlearning back in the late 1990s and have coursebooks that are very detailed in terms of how to approach the MCAT and how to solve problems. They also have more hours in class than Kaplan.
Kaplan tends to have better instructors and more practice tests. They also have more centers nationwide and more options other than just attending a course. If you are the type of student who tends to be very dependent on an instructor, then Kaplan is going to be more suited to your needs.
Both Princeton Review and Kaplan have options for you to obtain help online and in class. Both have the option of re-taking the course if your score is not what you expected. Both have extensive pre-course assessment tools.
Again, you have to determine what your needs are and determine which method of preparation will best meet them. These are expensive courses and you should be the most informed consumer and get your needs met for the money.
I have no bias for or against any form of commercial MCAT preparation other than to say, you need to be thoroughly familiar with the testing methods utilized by this exam. You also need to plan on taking this exam only ONE time after careful and diligent preparation. As a former member of an admissions committee, I automatically red-flagged anyone with more than two attempts on this exam without significant improvement on the second attempt.
Check out the websites of many different methods of commercial MCAT prep and see what fits your needs.
Good luck and happy reviewing!

I’m taking Kaplan now. It’s great for giving you a good idea of that the MCAT will be like, especially the part about sitting in a chair for eight hours. Don’t expect to learn content with Kaplan (they say that in their orientation info), but it is a decent review. I’m actually getting a better review from the audio osmosis tapes I listen to, though. For me, the combination of the tapes and class is good, the class really is about test taking stragegy for achieving the optimum score under tightly timed conditions. How I will do on the REAL deal will be my best test of Kaplan/AO prep!