by Dr. Anthony LaFond
Congratulations on considering the path towards that white coat. Whether you are just beginning to prepare for the MCAT, still thinking about when to take the exam, or considering a retake, there are some vital resources you should have for your journey. These resources are not meant to be exhaustive, as to prepare best for the MCAT, you will need to take your own learning style and academic history into account. But, for those still having trouble figuring out where to begin their studies, here is Next Step’s MCAT must-haves.
#5: Test-oriented content review books
The MCAT will challenge you in select areas within physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, psychology and sociology. However, the breadth of material covered by the exam is but a fraction of what you will learn in your undergraduate courses. In order to study efficiently, you must not study material that will not show up on the test. College textbooks contain far too much detail and have too wide a scope to serve as effective prep for the test.
The best approach is to purchase a set of MCAT-oriented content books. There is no one perfect set, as people learn different subjects in different ways. Browse through several sets of MCAT book, and see which fits your learning style best. Some prep companies offer you the opportunity to purchase single books, which is helpful if you want a more visual/summary style in physics, but prefer more details and explanation in psychology. You can take a look at the MCAT books Next Step offers here.
#4: Realistic CARS practice, and plenty of it!
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills is the bane of many a pre-med’s MCAT study plans. This section is typically the toughest to prepare for, as there is no previous knowledge or coursework that will directly prepare you for it. To succeed at CARS you need to learn to think like the test-makers, and this requires diligent practice and review, right from the start. The AAMC CARS resources are limited, so you will need an outside resource, like our CARS book. Ideal CARS practice should mimic the length, style and tone of the actual exam. An often overlooked aspect of good CARS prep is the quality of the explanations. Obviously the book should explain the correct answers, but, just as important are proper explanations for the passage and the incorrect answers. This will allow you to develop the right reading technique that will allow you to learn the skills you need for the test.
#3: The AAMC Official Guide to the MCAT Exam
Any good study plan starts with a solid foundation. To crush the MCAT, you must know what science the MCAT will include, the skills it will test, and the parameters of this standardized, entirely predictable exam. The test-makers have provided a breakdown of the content that can potentially show up on the exam (you can use this outline to pick your ideal MCAT content-review books). This will also be helpful for identifying the skills the exam explicitly tests. You could get this information through your studies and by taking lots of practice tests, but the Official Guide has it all in one place. In addition to being a good reference, the book provides a half-exam of practice passages and questions.
#2: A suite of realistic full-length practice tests
As mentioned above, practice makes perfect on the MCAT. The average student takes about 12-16 weeks to prep for their test, and that means lots of practice time. You should plan to take 6-10 full-length practice tests in your studies. This is the minimum needed to take as full-length simulations. Since you’ll need to build your test day endurance and stamina, you’ll really need 12-15, the balance can be broken up as sections and other, shorter practice sets. As with the CARS material, thorough explanations (for the passage AND questions) and matching the style, tone and difficulty of the real thing is imperative. The modern MCAT is much different in its presentation than the pre-2015 exam, so purchase tests that will prepare you properly.
You can get started with your MCAT practice tests with our free practice bundle. You’ll get access to a half-length diagnostic, something all pre-meds should take when beginning their MCAT prep, and access to our first full-length exam. If you’re looking for more practice, you can take a look at our other exam bundles here.
#1: A positive attitude
This test is but the first step on the long road towards physician-hood. It is not an easy road, and there will be stumbling blocks and frustrations to overcome. Many students lose faith in themselves or see the exam as some obstacle or intelligence test. It is not. This is your chance to show admissions committees you can handle the rigors of medical school. You are learning to think like the exam, this predictable, standardized exam. To keep spirits buoyed, schedule a day off for each week of study. Break up study times with relaxing activities, or creative approaches to studying content such as the worksheets and exercises discussed in our MCAT course. Remember why you are doing all of this hard work, you want to be a doctor.
We wish you the best of luck!