by Faizan Malik
Part of the stress of taking the MCAT comes from figuring out how to prepare for it. The thought of studying for such a long and comprehensive exam is scary, and certainly the myths, rumors, and rituals that some swear by don’t help. Sorting through all the resources available can can be challenge of its own.
A good place to start though is with MCAT prep books that can be used to self-study without an instructor. Though there are tons of books out there, brands like the Princeton Review, Kaplan, Examkrackers, and the Berkeley Review are a safe bet. The problem is choosing which one. There are certain qualities to look out for like the thoroughness of the review or the difficulty of the practice questions, and each book is a little different.
Examkrackers is a great option for those who did well in their science classes and just need to survey and brush up on all the material they need to know. Examkrackers review books can be purchased as a package including separate books for biology, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry and verbal reasoning, each with review mini practice exams. Though the coverage of math heavy subjects like general chemistry and physics is not as thorough as other books, Examkrackers does a good job of removing extraneous details and concepts from its biology and organic chemistry books. Examkrackers also has a separate book titled 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning for more practice, and the Audio Osmosis which is an extremely basic review of MCAT material in a lighthearted and occasionally funny of podcast format.
The Berkeley Review on the other hand is extremely detailed and thorough, which is good for those who need relearn subjects or those shooting for a really high score. Except for Verbal Reasoning, each subject comes as a pair of books since Examkrackers covers so much. The Berkeley Review is ideal for physics and general chemistry, but as mentioned earlier its coverage of organic chemistry and biology is overkill. Also, unlike Examkrack questions which tend to be on the easy to medium side in terms of difficulty, the Berkeley Review passages can be very challenging. Though it leaves you well prepared for the MCAT, it can be demoralizing, especially when a lot of the math requires ambiguous estimation compared to the actual MCAT which is more straightforward. The Berkeley Review also sells up to seven full length practice exams which are a decent approximation of the actual exam.
The Princeton Review falls somewhere between the Berkeley Review and Examkrackers in terms of depth and rigor. Besides the subject books, the Princeton Review also has a book titled Cracking the MCAT which is a comprehensive combination of all the subjects bound together and comparatively inexpensive at around $100. They also make MCAT Elite 45, which is aimed at overachievers trying to perfect their score and offers strategies and practice passages for the toughest material. The Princeton Review however excels at providing a variety of live, instructor-directed courses including a Summer Immersion course and LiveOnline over the internet.
Kaplan is much like the Princeton Review in terms of its content and style of practice questions. Kaplan offers its own set of subject review books as well as its own Kaplan MCAT 45 for students trying to perfect their score. Essentially, both the Princeton Review and Kaplan are good options for students who don’t need to relearn entire subjects but could benefit from some in depth coverage. Choosing one over the just depends on personal preference since each has its own specific strengths and weaknesses depending on the subject and concept at hand.
Obviously choosing a particular set is no easy task and may require some experimentation. However, any set should provide a strong foundation, which can always be built upon with other resources out there. And, if self-studying doesn’t work out, each of these companies offers a live course around Los Angeles and Southern California, which along with the prep books can be found on their respective websites. Ultimately, it won’t be the book or course you take that determines your score but the amount of work and effort you put in.