When you're preparing an application for medical school, your score on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is one of the key criteria used to evaluate your candidacy. Unfortunately, studying for the exam can be a challenge because it tests so many different areas of knowledge and types of skills. That's why it helps to invest in an MCAT prep book, which can simplify the studying process and help you zero in on the most important concepts for the exam. If you don't know what makes up an effective MCAT prep book, though, our convenient buying guide can help you find the best book to prepare for the exam. Our top choice is from Kaplan Test Prep, one of the best-known brands in exam preparation, and offers access to three practice tests to help get you ready for the MCAT.
Considerations when choosing MCAT prep books
You'll want to choose an MCAT prep book that provides specific subject reviews to make sure you have all the necessary knowledge for each section of the test. Subject reviews should focus on:
Physics and math
Psychology and sociology
Critical analysis and reasoning skills
The best way to get comfortable with the format of the MCAT is to take practice exams. A practice test also allows you to see what subjects or areas you may need to study more closely. The best test prep books usually offer three or more practice exams, so you have a test to take at the start of your studying, another in the middle, and one at the end to see how well you have progressed.
To ace the MCAT, it helps to understand the best strategies for earning the highest possible score. Some prep books offer specific test-taking strategies to improve your score based on the test's format, such as answering all the questions even if you're only able to guess at some of the answers. A chapter dedicated solely to general test-taking strategies can be an extremely helpful feature in an MCAT prep book.
In addition to practice MCAT exams, it helps to choose a prep book with plenty of practice questions to help you understand what the exam is testing for as well as how the questions are formatted for the test. Some books offer thousands of practice questions so that you have plenty of material for studying.
Keep in mind that practice questions aren't all that helpful on their own, though. An MCAT prep book should also provide detailed explanations of the correct answers so you can understand how to answer a similar question when you sit for the actual MCAT. Some books even offer explanations for why the wrong answers are incorrect, which can help you better understand the concepts that are being tested.
For quick studying, opt for an MCAT prep book that includes a glossary with terms and phrases that are key to the exam. A glossary allows you to quickly find the definitions for terms that you don't understand so that you don't waste time searching the entire book for one word or phrase.
For more comprehensive studying, some MCAT prep books include other study aids to help you prepare for the exam. Flashcards, online practice tests, video explanations of key concepts and terms, and smartphone apps are some of the supplementary resources you can find with MCAT prep books.
MCAT prep books usually range from $12 to $200. For a basic book that contains subject reviews, practice questions, and one practice test, you'll usually pay between $12 and $30. For books with more practice questions and more than one practice test, you'll typically pay between $30 and $75. A test prep book with in-depth subject reviews, plenty of practice questions and explanations, and at least three practice tests usually costs between $75 and $200.
Q. How much time do I need to prepare for the MCAT?
A. The best study schedule depends on your studying habits and educational background. For most people, though, it's best to begin studying with an MCAT prep book at least three to four months before you plan to take the exam. You'll usually have better results if you study for just one to two hours each day, though, rather than trying to cram all your studying into one day each week.
Q. How many practice tests should I take to prepare for the MCAT?
A. At the bare minimum, you should take three practice tests--one when you start studying, one in the middle of studying, and one at the end. It can take more than seven hours to take a practice exam, though, so it's a serious time commitment. For most people, eight to 10 practice exams are more than enough.
MCAT prep books we recommend
Best of the best: Kaplan Test Prep MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review
Our take: An MCAT prep book that relies heavily on text, but the concise subject reviews use examples from real life and mnemonic devices to make studying easier.
What we like: Always updated with the most current MCAT information. Contains over 350 practice questions with explanations of both right and wrong answers. Includes access to three online practice exams. Features full-color 3D illustrations, charts, graphs, and diagrams.
What we dislike: Some users complain that the material doesn't necessarily correspond to actual test questions. Includes mainly text, which can be difficult to get through for some students.
Best bang for your buck: Mometrix Test Preparation MCAT Secrets Study Guide
Our take: Ideal MCAT prep book for students with test-related anxiety or anyone looking for a concise, streamlined test prep strategy.
What we like: Condensed approach allows you to maximize your study time. Provides real-life advice for taking the MCAT. Includes links to online test preparation materials, including video tutorials.
What we dislike: Focuses more on test-taking strategies than subject reviews.
Choice 3: Kaplan Test Prep MCAT Flashcards + App
Our take: Affordable but still comprehensive MCAT flashcards that are perfect for quick, targeted study sessions.
What we like: Flashcards focus on vocabulary and key concepts. An ideal supplement to other test prep tools. A quick review of test materials on a wide range of subjects. Includes an app to aid studying.
What we dislike: Some users have issues downloading and using the app. Cards can feel somewhat flimsy. Information on cards tends to be broad rather than detailed.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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