Free MCAT Prep and Piracy
The cost of MCAT prep can really get out of hand, and if you’re on a college student budget even the most basic resources can seem unattainable.
That means that your mind may immediately turn to quasi-legal and illegal ways to get MCAT prep. Now I’m not going to pretend I’m some sort of paragon of perfect virtue (I may have found a web stream of the last five episodes of a certain crystal-meth-based drama before it was available on Netflix), but I will say that I think you’ll want to think carefully before turning to the “cheaters” way to get MCAT materials.
First and I think most importantly, you should think of your MCAT prep as the first step in your professional life. This isn’t some pop quiz in a poli sci class that maybe you can peek over at your neighbor’s paper for just one question. This thing is the big gatekeeper into a professional world. As a professional in medicine (arguably the only real profession left that almost everyone respects), you’re going to have rights and powers well beyond a normal citizen. And as Spider-Man reminds us, those powers come with a whole lot of responsibility.
And the fact of the matter is that those responsibilities are almost all self-imposed and self-policed. There may be various agencies meant to keep doctors in line, but in the day to day operations of a physician, it’s self-policing that keeps them upholding the highest standards of their profession. Your MCAT prep is an excellent place to start what will be a lifetime habit of maintaining an exceptional level of personal and professional integrity.
Second, you may be able to “justify” piracy to yourself by thinking, “Well, it’s not like Lars Ulrich is going to starve to death if I pirate one Metallica album.” or “Hey I would gladly pay a small fee to watch last night’s Game of Thrones legally, but HBO is a giant jerk and won’t even take my money if I offered it, so if piracy is the only way to get it, then I’m going to pirate.” or “None of my money would be going to the author anyway, it is just going to line the pockets of the executive jerks at the publishing company and I’ll be damned if I’ll spend my money to pay their marketing budget.”
But none of those classic “justifications” work in the context of MCAT prep. You’re not defrauding some giant multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (with the possible exception of the Graham Holdings Company), you’re stealing from a relatively small to medium sized business. And the owners and operators of MCAT prep business will “starve to death” if their material is stolen rather than paid for. Or rather, they’ll eventually quit the business b/c they can’t afford to operate if they can’t sell their materials. And finally, you can certainly never claim that the companies aren’t willing to distribute their materials in a convenient way, so piracy is justified – these things are available immediately online or in just a couple of days shipping from Amazon.
Finally, you can’t justify piracy as “the only option” since there are tons of low-cost and no-cost ways to get yourself ready for the MCAT.
So, how to prep for no cost?
1. Study groups. They’re free and they’re the single best way to prep for the MCAT. Chat programs like Skype are free, so you can’t use the excuse “well there’s nobody in my area”. It’s the 21st century. “Your area” is the whole planet these days.
2. Borrow books from friends.
3. Public library. People are often a little surprised when I say this, but lots and LOTS of public libraries have plenty of high-quality (if somewhat roughed up) prep books available to check out.
4. AAMC.org has the full outlines of science topics for free.
5. In combination with #4, use mcat-review.org or wikipremed, or just wikipedia or khan academy. When it comes to just purely learning science content, prep books are a convenience but far from a necessity. The work at mcat-review.org is especially convenient, well-organized, and consistent quality.
6. Free Practice Tests: heres where going free hurts the most, but at the very least you can get a free test from AAMC, from Kaplan, and from Princeton. Three exams is really light, but it’s better than nothing. Take AAMC MCAT #3 at the beginning of your prep, take KTP halfway through, take TPR near the end, and re-take AAMC MCAT #3 a few days before the real thing.
7. Free Practice Questions: here’s where the library or borrowing from friends will really help, since those books will have practice questions in them. You can also just google MCAT Question of the Day to see several sites that will give you a free question every single day.
How about if you have a small budget? Say $150?
Stick with all of the options above – don’t pay for any books. If you only have a tiny budget, you need to spend your money on practice questions. I’d suggest a one-month subscription to the Q-bank at http://www.mcatquestion.com/qbank.php
The qbank there has thousands of discrete questions and about a hundred passages. The quality is variable, but the price/Q ratio can’t be beat.
After that go to e-mcat.com and buy the bundle described here where you get all of the self-assessment packages and AAMC practice test 4. More practice tests would be better, but if you’re looking to stretch your prep dollar as far as possible, you need to maximize your Q/cost ratio and the self-assessment packages are better for that.
And finally, what if you have a chunk of money but not enough for a whole prep course ($500-$800)?
Here’s where you can finally start purchasing everything you really need. I’ll just add a few comments here:
Even if you’ve got several hundred dollars to budget for MCAT prep, I still think you should try to get your books cheaply or for free. Before buying anything, check with friends and your local libraries. If you can get the books for free (legally!), that saves you money to buy more practice materials.
Next, you’ll want to buy all of the official AAMC materials. The full retail price if you bought each item ($35/test, $45 BS/PS, $40 for VR self-assessments) is $375. At Next Step, we’ve arranged a discount for Next Step students, so if you sign up for tutoring with us, you can save a few bucks (all AAMC materials for $300).
Finally, if you want additional practice problems, I’d still recommend the qbank mentioned above and the set of all 10 gold standard exams (the quality is variable, but the price of $15/exam can’t be beat).