Sunday, July 3, 2011

MCAT Preparation Materials Review

MCAT preparation – A Review of Study Materials

While I know everyone is different and surely different things work for different people, in my own preparation for the MCAT, I tried many different things. When preparing for my first test I followed SN2ed's Breaking down the MCAT, although I used the 4 month version and added about 3 to 4 hours of audio lectures in order to maximize my commute time. It didn’t work for me. So this next time, I am reworking my study plan. At one point or another, I’ve used Princeton, Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Berkeley Review, and a few websites. This page is going to be a work in progress and I wanted to put my opinions out there in the event someone thinks more along the same way that I do. I don’t have money to take these several thousand dollar MCAT classes which I’m sure are much more effective than a self study plan. Some of this will probably sound a little hostile, but given some of the nonsense I just went through with one of the resources which inspired me to write this, I’m sure you can forgive me.

First let’s start with the more traditional companies.

Kaplan – Kaplan periodically releases all their MCAT books (also law, medicine, and SAT) for free through the iBooks bookstore. It’s usually only available for a few days before they go to their usual price. If you are able to get their books for free, I would definitely download them and use them to read in your few spare minutes of time. On the other hand, I’ve found the books very difficult to scroll through and they do not make it easy for you to check your answers since you have to flick through pages one at a time and there is no quicklink to help get you there and back. On a touch, this can be more than a little annoying. The material on the other hand doesn’t seem to go into anymore or any less detail than normal biology books although I often looked at the questions and asked where on earth in the chapter did they talk about THIS? The answers to the question usually were detailed enough to allow you to understand where you went wrong. However, their practice tests were nothing like the real MCAT.

Princeton Review – I have the least amount of experience with TPR, however I have that little experience with them because I was very unimpressed by the little bit I saw. The questions on their version of the tests (Biology at the least) were also nothing like the real MCAT.

ExamKrackers – EK makes several products and I think I’ve tried all of them. I had nothing but difficulties with their Audio Osmosis. My ipod did not seem to understand that the mp3s would work better if they were in the order they were in on the CD and not in alphabetical order. Some of the jokes were on different tracks of the CD and I was very tempted to merge all of them into one correctly organized mp3 so I could play them correctly on my ipod. Just use the CD if you can. The EK books weren’t too bad (Salty is a weird little character) although the 1001 books were very difficult and many of the questions flat out state that they go beyond what would be required for the MCAT. I’m completely perplexed over their Verbal section. I was routinely scoring 9s and 10s on Practice AAMC using my own technique, but all the EK Verbals were giving me 5s and 6s using the technique they were trying to teach. When I used the EK Verbal techniques on a practice AAMC, I scored a 6. So my scores actually decreased on EK Verbal so I find them to be useless. I might as well just use my own techniques. Use 1001 and the science books, but if you are ok in Verbal (for example if you were a humanities major as I was), the Verbal books will mess you up.

Berkeley Review – The passages were by far the most realistic passages to the MCAT, however, the lecture portions of the books (The books by the way are a small fortune assuming you can find someone who is even selling them) were completely confusing. The Biology was, in my opinion, the worst and much of it was written on the same level as the 400 and 500 level biology courses I took for my Masters degree. The MCAT is unlikely to ask you such detail. If I didn’t have to learn it for my MS, I doubt the MCAT is going to require it. The writing book actually wasn’t too bad, although those are very polished essays and you are highly unlikely to be able to replicate any of them in 30 minutes.

Gold Standard – This is a HUGE book which can barely fit in my backpack so it’s not a resource that I am able to use regularly. If I ever get to the point where I can use it, I will post something.

Now for some additional resources – GunnerTraining offers both MCAT and Step 1 flashcard training. It is a pay site but you can get a free month for the MCAT or for the Step 1. I signed up for the MCAT one of course so I can’t speak for Step 1. It’ll give me a free month too, but I am just going to give them away or try to trade for a Step 1 so I can see write a review on that. However, while I think this website has the best of intentions, there are some major problems which finally in my second week finally got on my nerves so badly that I couldn’t stand it anymore. While yes, there are hundreds and hundreds of flashcards (and over 4000 questions for the Step 1 about 1200 or something for the MCAT) to go through, the questions are riddled with typos and errors. Of the multiple choice questions, there are several questions that have double answers. You know the type, when question B and D are literally word for word the same exact answer TO THE LETTER? On the questions were you have to fill in the blank or answer freely, more often than not when you click “show answer” what it does is link you to a flashcard with the key concepts. Which, while all well and good, usually doesn’t give you the answer. And assuming that you actually click any of the images in the “answer” it automatically ends your review section requiring you to log out and back in and you don’t get access to the flashcards that it would have suggested that you review and that is the only way to see those flashcards. Another thing that upsets me is that when I logged in today I saw that I had 176 review questions. And that is all well and good, but the website will only allow you to do 50 (upper limit) per session so I would have had to do four sessions today. I’m sorry, that isn’t going to happen since the typos are just too much for me. Another pet peeve is that it automatically addresses you as Dr. If I were a doctor, I would not be using this site. – I really like WikiPreMed. The site is free and there is a LOT of stuff on it. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s pretty darn good. It relies heavily on ExamKrackers so you should have those books. The creator also sells his own collection of materials. I don’t really think they are needed since the sheer amount of free stuff on the site is enormous. He claims there are over 100 hours of small group video. The videos are quite good if you prefer thinking about things in a more interdisciplinary way since he provides explanations and tons of questions and then explains the answers. My degrees were all interdisciplinary as was my research, so of all the MCAT review this is the only thing that explains things in a way my brain can grasp. He also provides writing samples and verbal advice. Unfortunately the sheer amount of material can make the website a puzzle to navigate although the owner states that he will be redoing the syllabus. Luckily this is something where one can pick and choose some of the resources to use. Be warned though, it will take you longer than what he suggests to get through each unit especially if you keep falling asleep during the first unit like I did! It does get more interesting. I wish I would be able to finish it by my second MCAT test date. If I do not break 30, I will not schedule another until I am on the last unit of WikiPreMed so I am sure I get through all of it.