This interview is from a student I've worked with closely. She took the April 2015 MCAT and shares her opinions based on personal experience.
Real MCAT vs Official AAMC Sample/Practice Test + Packets
Have you taken the AAMC sample test?
Yes, I have.
If so how do you feel it compared to the real MCAT?
I think that it provided a good comparison, although the real thing was slightly more difficult.
What about the AAMC sample test do you feel was most and least helpful?
It was most helpful to get an idea of AAMC’s format.
Compared to non AAMC Test Prep Material
Have you taken any 2015 MCAT full length practice tests in preparation for your MCAT? if so which company?
I used Kaplan.
Do you feel that it prepared you for the real thing?
I do feel that it prepared me well, because these exams were more difficult than the real thing.
Which books did you use to prepare? Do you feel it prepared you?
I used the Examkrackers series, Next Step Test Prep for CARS, and Kaplan’s review books. (Buy them here) I certainly feel that they prepared me well, especially Examkrackers since they highlight the most important facts you need to know. Kaplan is way too detailed. I only recommend using it to thoroughly review a struggle topic.
Comparing the Old and New MCAT
Have you taken the old MCAT prior to taking this one?
I’d taken many practice tests for the old MCAT (I originally planned to take it in January), but to be honest, I’m very glad that I decided to wait. This new exam has an additional section (Kaplan likes to call it “Psych/Soc”), which I enjoyed studying on my own for. The Physical Sciences section also placed more of an emphasis on putting passages and questions in biological contexts. I appreciate the overall switch that the AAMC has made, and I’ve come to enjoy preparing for this new exam, which I hope you will too.
Does it have the same “feel” as the old MCAT questions? (So, is reviewing old MCAT exams worth it?)
I think it would be worth it to review the Biological Sciences and Verbal Reasoning sections of previous tests (although, in my opinion and from what I’ve experienced, the VR passages are slightly different from CARS in terms of difficulty and length). Reviewing Physical Sciences would be good to solidify understanding of content, but I think it is most important to familiarize one’s self with the new formatting of this section (“Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems”); passages will be structured in such a way that chemistry and physics topics are related in some way to biological systems. On the old MCAT, such a combination was not as commonplace.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – CARS
How many avg questions per passage?
On average, there were about 6 per passage. It ranged from 4-7.
Did it seem similar to the old VR section?
It is similar in terms of the question types (main idea, application, reasoning outside of the text, etc), but I found that the passages were slightly longer and slightly more difficult. By difficult I mean a greater incorporation of passages that many students may not be familiar with reading, such as Philosophy and History.
Were the passages dense or not dense or somewhere in between?
The majority of the passages were in between, but there were 1 or 2 that were fairly dense (i.e. Philosophy) and took me a bit more time on.
Were you able to finish all passages?
Yes, I was able to finish all passages.
Did the questions seem more main idea or paragraph/detail specific or something else?
The questions seemed more main idea. I believe that if you’re able to extract the main idea of a passage well, you will be able to answer the majority of the questions, even the detail ones. It’s important to map out the passage as well! (Create an outline)
Science Sections – Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem…
How much focus on equation/concept memorization was required?
I think this is very important. I created many flashcards and an equation sheet, which I recall myself referring to oftentimes throughout. However, I would place more an emphasis on understanding rather than memorizing in your studies. Of course it’s important to, for example, memorize the 20 amino acids (which are recurring on the test by the way!), but for example, don’t memorize every single enzyme in Glycolysis. Understand the general process, the inputs, outputs, and how it fits into the overall process of aerobic (or anaerobic) respiration. This idea goes for many other concepts as well.
Did you see a lot of organic chemistry?
I do recall a passage or two (in both the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections) dealing with Organic chemistry.
How difficult are the sciences compared to the old MCAT?
I personally think that these science passages were slightly (very slightly) easier than the old MCAT because of the constant biological contextualization of chemistry & physics passages.
Psychology and Sociology Section
Was it similar to CARS strategy, meaning more about reasoning than knowing the concepts?
It was similar to CARS strategy in that you need to be able to extract the main idea, but it’s much more about data interpretation and analysis. This is a skill you must absolutely hone for this section of the exam.
Having gone thru it, what would you tell a student how to study for this section?
I watched all of the Khan Academy videos for this section of the exam, and I found it incredibly helpful. If you have time, watch those videos, take notes, and make flashcards. Review your notes and flashcards every now and then to keep the material fresh in your mind, and do practice questions (through a test prep company, the AAMC, or buy a few prep books here). Make sure that you also understand how to interpret data, be able to identify the independent and dependent variables in an experiment (very important), know different types of studies, and for the rest of the topics, go through the “Complete MCAT2015 Exam Description” packet.
Was the psych section very specific or general?
This section was general. It encompassed many different topics.
Looking Back – Advice for Future MCAT Takers
What advice can you give to students who are about to sit the new MCAT?
My biggest piece of advice for students is to thoroughly go through the official AAMC MCAT Exam description packet and check off topics as you progress in your studying. Be sure to understand those topics listed, and to more or less ignore those that aren't.
What would should someone spend more time doing to excel on the exam?
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I cannot stress that enough. Take a practice test every week (if you have access to several), review it thoroughly, make a list of your weakness, STUDY your weaknesses, and start the process over again. If you feel that you’re not making progress, take a break. Breaks are important too. You don’t want to burn yourself out (read: how to avoid study burnout). Once you’ve refreshed yourself, get back to hitting those books. Best of luck!
I have been taking full length Kaplan but haven’t gotten more than 504 .With 4 weeks to go what is best way to practice full lengths
I’d recommend focusing on the AAMC practice material for the next few weeks. Use their packets and bundles as well as their 2 full length exams. Learn from every question to figure out how to increase your score on the next one
Mike K says
I thought the test was very hard,,,,,,For the General Chemistry I used my class notes and General Chemistry Destroyer book. For BioChem I used the Leninger text. The AAMC exams were also spot on.
Leah, I just want to thank you for all the help and encouragement you bring to the table. Reading this has definitely helped ease my nerves a little. Ill be taking the MCAT in August! I have been searching the internet up, down and all over to find out how the Kaplan full lengths compare to the actual MCAT. It’s reassuring to know that Kaplan’s are more difficult than the real thing.
Do you have any advice for the last 2 weeks before taking the MCAT, what should I be doing during that time? I plan to take full lengths every week until the week before my test date
Thank you a million times over!
Use the final 2 weeks to focus on your strengths and make them stronger. Work on your endurance and remind yourself that you can do this. Good luck
How were your scores on the Kaplan full length exams? How many of them did you complete?
Do you think Khan Academy provides a good understanding for concepts in the Behavioral section when compared to the Kaplan book?
I’ve never compared the 2 side by side but I’ve heard good things about both. I recommend combining video and book resources to ensure that if you miss something from one resource the other will supplement.
I have taken 5 full length Kaplan exams now and gotten 500 (between 499 and 501) on all 5. I then tried just taking a section at a time to see if my score would improve and I have still stayed around 125 for all sections. After taking the pysch/soc section 7 times in total, still no improvement. Ive read all of the books, know the content relatively well, but someone keep getting the same scores. I have 2 weeks till my exam – any advice?
I’ve heard from April and May testers that the Kaplan exams are notoriously harder in a bad way. With 2 weeks to go try the AAMC sample test and another company full length like Next Step or even Examkrackers
How did you do on the Kaplan FL Exams they seem horrible compared to AAMC or even the NS Diagnostic…Im concerned with three weeks to go and not doing well on kaplan but decent on the AAMC practice or NS
Ben: from what I’ve heard, the Kaplan exams are more difficult and least realistic when compared to the real MCAT. So far the students who tested say that the AAMC sample is the closest to the real thing followed by Next Step and somewhat followed by Princeton. I haven’t heard about the other test prep companies just yet. If you have 3 weeks get a 3-exam Next Step pack and take one every ~6 days in preparation
I only have three weeks. Havent finished my ochem book and my physics book. Plan to finish them in the next tow days and do one week of 101 ek practice tests and one week of 10 old aamc practice tests plus four new ones from princeton. Havent watched kahn academy either 🙁 What do u suggest? I dont have access to the new aamc full practice tests.
Sarah, I don’t like the sound of this strategy at all. With just 3 weeks to go I want to see you taking one weekly full length exam from a company like Next-step or TPR (linked here: leah4sci.com/mcat-resources)
I don’t want to see you wasting time on the old AAMC exams given thsi new format. Have you done the AAMC sample test or any full length 2015 tests?