When it comes to the MCAT, every student is different making every journey different. By popular demand, here is another MCAT prep + testing experience interview. Please only use this interview as insight into this particular student’s experience as you work to craft your own MCAT prep journey.
Which books did you use to prepare for the MCAT?
Just Princeton Review. Although I heard that TPR was weak on P/S so I switched over to Khan academy for all my P/S review. I watched EVERY SINGLE Khan P/S video, plus some of the biology and Biochem.
What did you think of TPR?
I thought it was good overall. The Physics book is quite long but it’s mostly practice problems, so some people find it to be too much focus on Physics but I’d say just do fewer of the practice problems if you know the material. The Biochem book is a little thin, especially since I don’t have a biochemistry background not having taken the course.
Leah’s Note: It’s less about WHICH resources you use and more about HOW you use them. Read more here: Ultimate MCAT Prep Step 3 – MCAT Resources
What About Practice Passages?
I used the AAMC Section bank and Question Packs.
I found it especially helpful for CARS because it gives a LOT of passages to practice on. As I worked my way through my TPR books, I also completed all the practice passages they had at the end of each chapter.
TPR passages are not similar to AAMC passages but they do test if you know the topic and are ready to move on or not.
Some people are skeptical of the Q packs because they are technically questions from the old exam. However, I found them to be much more wide-ranging in terms of topics than the more recently released Section Banks and therefore more representative of whether you are studying the right stuff/generally prepared.
Also, CARS has not changed much so they are a great resource to get up to 240 CARS questions.
There’s no better way to practice CARS than to just do it. (practice CARS passages)
The AAMC Section Bank
I took the Official AAMC Section Bank near the end of my prep. The section bank Chem/Phys and Bio/Biochem sections are BOTH about 60% Biochem.
I haven’t taken Biochem so this definitely threw me a bit and made me pretty nervous about whether I had prepared for those sections correctly–was this whole exam Biochem?!
The Section Bank is also VERY skewed toward questions about experimental methods and tests.
Leah’s Note: This is great given the new direction of the actual MCAT
I’d say it’s helpful in terms of just more AAMC passages, tough questions, especially if Biochem and experimental methods questions are tough for you.
DON’T treat it as equivalent to a full length test because the proportions of the Section-Bank type questions to what’s on the actual exam is just not similar.
Leah’s Note: The actual MCAT fluctuates from exam to exam. Some students report very high biochem, others report very low. Same for the other subjects. Go into your exam prepared for every topic.
Full Length MCAT Practice Tests
I used the Princeton review and AAMC Full Length practice tests.
AAMC full lengths were the best, just most similar passage-wise.
Honestly, I only did the TPR because they came free with my book. I only recommend them as far as getting a feel on timing and what the MCAT is like.
Leah’s Note: Which full lengths are best? Read about them on the MCAT Resources Page
I took the TPR FL Demo pretty early on in my studying and I felt like it helped me focus/know what the test was like before I was ready content-wise to ‘waste’ one of my AAMC takes.
DO NOT pay attention to your score on those (TPR). I got a 502 and a 505 on the TPR exams, respectively. It really freaked me out each time, but obviously did much better on the AAMC tests. I very strongly recommend taking AAMC FL 2 as your last-ever practice exam. The other companies tend to have lower scores because they want you to buy their prep course. Taking an overly hard FL when you’re about to test is only going to freak you out.
Leah’s Note: Every prep course is different. The goal of your full lengths are to help you identify weaknesses and prepare you for the AAMC full lengths. Use AAMC exams to ultimately help you determine readiness to test.
Additional MCAT Study Advice
People like to go through and say they’re done with ‘content review’ and ‘moving on’ to practice tests/other review. My take is that the entire study period should be BOTH. Never watch a video and think you are doing review–you have to be ACTIVELY studying, doing practice questions, etc. As I worked my way through my books, I did all the in-chapter and end-of-chapter questions. I wish I had also interspersed AAMC Q-packs at that point as well.
I made a flashcard of every single P/S person or term mentioned by Khan Academy. Same goes for bio topics, anatomy, etc. If I missed a practice question, I wrote it in a word document. After making my way through all of my review books/videos, I returned to each of those topics to find new resources, do more practice questions, etc.
Leah’s Note: Use Active Writing to help build your long-term memory
I didn’t know you can’t use a calculator on the MCAT
When I first started my prep I actually didn’t know that a calculator wasn’t allowed, so as soon as I heard that I watched all the MCAT Math Without a Calculator videos. That’s how I discovered Leah4sci.
I also used Leah’s Amino Acid resources because the explanations of why each AA goes in a given category (polar, nonpolar, etc) are some of the best I’ve seen.
The MCAT Itself
I felt like the MCAT was hard but fair which is probably how it’s supposed to feel.
I felt like it was decently similar in difficulty to the AAMC Full lengths, but I did a lot better on FL 2 (517) than FL 1 (512) so I can’t really ‘guess’ at my score.
I think that C/P and B/B were pretty much what I expected based on the two AAMC FLs. C/P started out easy and seemed to get progressively harder–so don’t get complacent even if you feel you’re doing well.
I felt like my exam had more physics than some people have described (some people say the C/P section has gotten really biochem-heavy–DON’T count out the other topics.) My physics seemed to be more from the 2nd semester than the 1st, which I’ve heard from other people as well, but never say never.
The topics were fairly straightforward on CARS section which might mean it has a less forgiving curve. The passages felt long compared to many of the practice passages I did, so make sure you are an economical reader.
Leah’s Note: Aim to finish the CARS section on your full lengths with 10 minutes to spare. This will help you create a buffer for longer MCAT passages.
I personally don’t find skimming helpful because you lose the tone/theme easily. I highlight key words and transition words, and when they have quotes/odd phrases or analogies/reference an author or other specifics. That way I don’t have to spend time searching through the passage. They do NOT always refer you back to the paragraph where you’ll find the answer.
A decent amount of genetics–don’t count out your basic intro bio topics in favor of more complex processes or biochem. I have never taken biochem and found those questions reasonable.
The passages can be LONG and you don’t always need all of the information in them, so skim first. Also, USE your scratch paper. There are a lot of weird double/triple negative questions where you’re figuring out what inhibits what and it’s really really helpful to quickly draw out the pathway on your paper. You get unlimited scratch paper so don’t hesitate to use it here. Understand experiments/experimental methods (ex. blots, SDS/PAGE, plus ‘why did experimenters do this’ type stuff).
It can be tempting to think that you know information just because you recognize it when you see it. Many topics seem intuitive. The AAMC knows this, and isn’t going to give you a freebie section–so they will test whether you know nuances and be able to APPLY the concepts to more complex situation.
The Section Bank is helpful here alongside just doing questions from Khan or your practice book. There were some questions that seemed a bit out of left field.
What I Wish I Knew Before the MCAT
Use more resources for P/S. There were just a few questions that I had to guess on because I didn’t know the terminology. I also wish I had stressed less about biochem–at least as far as the 6/29 exam went.
Don’t get me wrong, Biochem was very important (enzyme kinetics, major metabolic pathways, amino acids,), but the kind of extreme detail of structures/pathway intermediates/enzyme names that take up a lot of brain space to memorize from the Section Bank were likely to be given in the passage.
Advice for students about to test
Adjust your sleep schedule for the whole week in advance–otherwise getting up early and having your brain at its best is tough. They let us in a little early, so I was already working on chem/phys by 7:40am.
Leah’s Note: Start adjusting your schedule a month early using these tips.
Do your due diligence on finding out about the testing conditions.
For example: I didn’t wear any pockets and was able to go through security faster for that reason. Recognize that even having practiced FLs with the allotted breaks, 10 minutes feels a LOT shorter when you have to spend 5 of them getting in and out of the room, being fingerprinted, etc.
Bring snacks that you can eat quickly and have some variety. Bringing a ton of snack options saved me because I was nervous enough that I didn’t really want my sandwich for lunch. However I knew I needed the brain fuel, so I had a lot of granola bars and fruit and easy snacks to munch on.
Don’t assume that any topics are off limits, but ALSO don’t overdramatize it: even if they DO end up testing on the one physics topic you’re bad at, it is a LONG test. There are a LOT of opportunities to get both right and wrong answers. Don’t get bogged down by the time–skipping a couple hard questions completely is better than throwing away multiple easier questions at the end. Trust yourself.
Wishing all of you the best of luck on your upcoming exam!
Leah’s Note: Not sure where to begin your MCAT prep? Sick and tired of all the misinformation available on the internet? I got tired of hearing students quote terrible advice and took matters into my own hands. To ensure that you have NO EXCUSE not to be prepared I wrote the Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide and published it FREE on my website.