New AAMC Exam! Now what?
The AAMC just released a new official scored exam for the MCAT. The question facing pre-med students is now: how should I use all of the AAMC’s official resources?
Let’s start with a quick run-down on what the AAMC now offers:
AAMC MCAT Official Guide
The official guide (OG) gives a rundown on all the background you could possibly need on the MCAT. Overall, there’s no need to spend $30 to buy a hard copy of this book. Instead, save yourself some money and spend $10 for the online access to the 20 practice passages in the OG. You can also download a free outline of all of the science content on the exam here. Between the practice passages and the outline, there’s no need to buy the book itself.
MCAT Question Packs
The question packs are just re-purposed old practice material from the old exam. The biology, chemistry, and physics question packs are likely a waste of time and money, since they reflect the old, easier version of the MCAT. While they’re certainly okay practice if you’re desperate for something to work on, you’re better off sticking with other resources such as Next Step’s Content Review series or the Khan Academy passages.
The one exception is the verbal packs – the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills pack 1 and 2. The verbal has changed so little that they’re definitely a good investment for the new exam.
MCAT Section Bank
These are three packs of 100 questions in each of the science sections – so 100 questions of Biological Foundations (bio/biochem), 100 questions of Chemical Foundations (chem/orgo/biochem/physics), and 100 questions of Psychological Foundations (psych/sociology/bio). While they’re not arranged as scored tests, they are in the format of the new exam and are high quality. They are a priority in your studies.
MCAT Sample Test
This was the very first test released by the AAMC. It’s a full exam in the new format, but it is unscored and offers very little in the way of diagnostics or analysis. It’s a must-have since it’s one of only three official tests available.
Official MCAT Practice Exams 1 and 2
These tests are the absolute top priority for all MCAT students. They’re the only official scored practice tests from the AAMC, so every single MCAT student should purchase and take them.
Official MCAT Flashcards
These aren’t flashcards as you’d typically think of them. Instead, each card has one discrete science question on it. So functionally this is just a 150-question bank of discrete science questions. While these official questions are nice to have, you’re better off getting your science discrete practice buying something like Next Step’s MCAT QBook, which will give you 2,000 science questions. The AAMC’s set of 150 just isn’t enough to be worth the time or money.
Ranking the AAMC resources in priority order:
- MCAT Practice Exams 1 and 2 – must buy
- MCAT Sample Test – must buy
- MCAT Section Bank – very strongly recommended
- MCAT Official Guide Online – very strongly recommended
- MCAT Question Packs for CARS – strongly recommended
- MCAT Flashcards – optional
- MCAT Question Packs for Biology, Physics, Chemistry – optional
Since there are only three tests, deciding when to take them is an important part of setting out a study schedule. When you take these tests will depend on how long you have to prep:
Short Schedule: One to Two Months
If you only have a short time to prep before Test Day, you should save the AAMC tests until right before the exam. Start off your MCAT work with a free diagnostic test, such as Next Step’s free MCAT Diagnostic. Then take the scored Practice Exam (PT1) about 15 days before the exam to give yourself the last two weeks to cram on whatever topics gave you trouble. Then take the scored Practice Exam 2 (PT2) about 10 days before Test Day. Finally, end your prep by taking the unscored Sample Test (ST) four or five days before the test. That way, you can wrap up your prep with a test that won’t stress you out with a score estimate.
Normal Schedule: Three to Four Months
On the standard timeline, you will be able to repeat your AAMC practice, since a four-month gap will mean you don’t remember the exact questions on the exam.
Here, you should start by taking the ST before you even begin your prep. This will give you a feel for what is involved in the MCAT, and will help you gauge how much work you have ahead of you. Then use a diagnostic test a week or two into your prep to get an estimated score for your baseline.
When you hit the mid-point in your prep, that would be a good time to assess your progress by taking PT1.
As Test Day approaches, you should take the PT2 two weeks before your exam, and wrap up your studies by re-taking the ST one week before the exam. Then, in your final week you can do some quick review of the topics from the PTs and ST that gave you the most trouble.
Long Schedule: Five Months or more
If you’re lucky enough to have a long timeline for your prep, you’re going to want to repeat both the ST and PTs in the course of your work. As above, take the ST before your prep starts to get a sense of what to expect on the MCAT. Then start your prep with focused review of MCAT content. After about 6 weeks of content review, take the PT1 to get a score and see how well your content review has been going.
When Test Day looms close, repeat both the ST and PT1 as described for the normal schedule: two weeks out for the PT1 repeat, and one week out from test day for the ST repeat. Take the PT2 about two or three weeks before Test Day.
Finally, you will likely find yourself needing additional practice beyond the three AAMC practice tests available. That’s where a prep company like Next Step comes in. We offer different packages of full-length online practice tests for students looking to hone their skills. If you’re interested in our one-on-one MCAT tutoring or our online MCAT course, you can schedule a free consultation with one of our Academic Managers to discuss your specific needs and see if our programs would be a good fit.
We want to wish you good luck on your MCAT journey!