About a week after I had taken the MCAT in August 2005 I wrote a review of the Kaplan Preparatory course that I had taken. That review can be found here. Almost a year and a half later, my opinion of the prep courses is unchanged. But I decided to write some more about preparing for the MCAT because this is one of the most pressing concerns for Pre-med students.
One thing about any of these courses is that they are all pretty expensive. When I took the course, the going rate was about $1400 — and this is in addition to any AMCAS or secondary application fees. So the decision on whether or not to take the course weighs heavily on those applying to medical school. In this post I won’t discuss study methods. I assume Premed students preparing to take the MCAT will have a pretty decent G.P.A. and some study skills. So I will just restrict this post to discussing prep courses.
The first thing to remember when thinking about taking one of these courses is that it is a REVIEW course taught by people who most likely are not as qualified as the professors who taught you the material in the first place. When I took the course, Kaplan’s requirement to teach a subject was that one had to score at least an 11 on that section in an MCAT. So don’t expect to go into the class to learn the material in-depth. It should be a review of things you have already covered in Biology, Physics, G. Chem, and O. Chem classes; so study the material well while in those classes.
The second thing that one should do is assess his or her ability to get motivated to study. The MCAT covers four science subjects: Biology, Physics, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. One useful thing about these courses is that they force you to cover a certain amount of material for each class. It keeps students moving along. For some, this structured approach can be very useful. If you find yourself as one who needs the structure of a class to get you studying, then take it if possible. Others may be able to self-study and keep a healthy pace without the structure provided by a class and these peope may be better off saving their money instead of enrolling in a review course. Plenty of students who take the MCAT without going through a prep course and score very well. And while it can be difficult, this assessment is crucial.
The third thing to consider is practice exams. Practice MCAT exams are extremely important for preparing for the real deal. I think the real value of a prep course is in putting the students through a full-length MCAT under “real-life” conditions. For an exam as important as the MCAT, one does not want to go in not knowing what to expect. Taking practice exams under simulated conditions will helps in pacing. The worst thing that can happen is to have the proctor call time before finishing a section. These practice exams are also important because they build stamina. It is a long test. Sitting for 8 hours gets tiring on the neck. Believe it or not, you build neck muscles in these practice exams! However, I hear the MCAT is going electronic and will be taken on a computer and will be shorter. But you still should be able to sit through a whole thing without fidgeting and as they say: practice makes perfect.
Alright, so you’ve read to here. Should you take an MCAT prep course or not? This is a question each individual must answer on his or her own. A prep course offers structure and an environment in which a simulated MCAT can be administered. But this can also be done without a course. So if you feel you can go it alone, then by all means do so and save the money! If not, then take the plunge, go to class, practice the MCAT and get as much as you can out of it.