Should I Take an MCAT Review Course?

As a premedical student you know that the MCAT is essential to med school admission: without a solid score admission is very unlikely, while a stellar score may place a top program within your grasp. When confronted with the sometimes daunting task of preparing for the MCAT, students have a difficult time choosing among the myriad of books, CD-ROMs, online banks of questions and courses available. Given the almost endless choices, I am frequently asked by applicants how to go about preparing for the test and if it is necessary for them to take an MCAT preparation course.

As a former MCAT instructor, I understand the value of an MCAT prep course, yet I have also worked with many applicants who did extremely well studying on their own. To decide the best route for you, you need to know exactly what it is a review course offers and make sure that you can provide these for yourself during your preparation if you choose to forgo a formal course.

Review courses provide students with three major benefits:

  1. Structure – Having to attend class, either in a classroom or online, at certain days and times provides a framework for one’s studies. Homework assignments, lectures and scheduled tests keep students moving along and ensure that they cover all sections of the MCAT systematically.
  2. Materials – Courses offer their students varying combinations of books, CDs and access to online materials.
  3. An Instructor – By taking a course, you will have an instructor to interact with. He or she can answer questions as well as provide guidance and motivation along the way.

Studying independently means that you need to cover the three areas above through another means.  If you are disciplined and organized, you can make your own study schedule, and by studying independently, you can formulate a study plan that allows you to focus on your weaknesses and cover the material in the order you prefer. For materials, invest in a good set of review books, questions and practice tests. Do not study from your textbooks. They are too detailed and cover areas that may not even be tested on the MCAT. Practicing is essential, so make sure that you do practice questions frequently and complete MCAT practice tests periodically.

An instructor is a bit harder to replace; however, if you are already comfortable with the subject matter and prefer to work out challenging material on your own, you won’t necessarily need an instructor. Form a study group with students with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. That way, if one of you gets stuck on a physics problem or a verbal reasoning passage, someone in the group can help you through it.

Either method you choose, make sure you begin studying well ahead of the exam. Give yourself several months to prepare and take a light course load that semester and cut back your work and other commitments. The investment of time cannot be replaced by a course or the most well-intentioned study plan. The MCAT is a major factor in med school admissions as the GPA and mastering the test will pay off at admissions time.

For experienced advising on your medical school application, contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or for a free 20 minute phone consultation.

1 thought on “Should I Take an MCAT Review Course?”

  1. The people I know that did best on the MCAT did not take a prep course, but studying on your own requires a lot of discipline. I started studying just under two weeks ago and it takes a lot of adjusting. Since you need a lot more time to study, you have to do a lot less time to do the things that you were doing with your life. For me, no gym, no martial arts, less family time, no reading time, less sleep. Besides committing about 6 hours a day to study, it needs to be the main focus of your life. I don’t answer the phone while I study, I try to arrange my eating so that I don’t get food coma during my study hours. Many temptations come up to go out and see the Chinese Nighttime Festival at Zoo, or someone’s birthday party or the Orange County Fair Barbecue Festival, or just go out to eat with your friends, but pretty much everything fun will still be available when the test is over, and you can only study for the test for a fleeting moment of your life. I try not to go to sleep until I finish what I need to study, but sometimes I get a day behind. The key at that point is keeping up with a normal days work and chipping away at the deficit. I’m posting all my notes online at I follow the AAMC (maker of the MCAT) content outline directly and use my own knowledge, internet research from, the Nobel Prize Foundation (and many other places) and internet videos from the National Science Foundation and You Tube. It is great that there is so much free, quality educational material online. I hope my notes will be useful for other students. Good luck to everyone taking the test. Thank you for your honest advice Dr. Eaton.

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