Some degree of self-study is necessary for students taking this exam ahead of medical school. You may have grown accustomed to reviewing course notes to prepare for exams, but the MCAT requires you to seek out learning materials yourself.
Anyone completing undergraduate premedical coursework is familiar with the demands of challenging and high-stakes testing. Between midterm exams and finals, answering exam questions that require both background knowledge and application of that knowledge may feel like second nature.
But while the skills you develop from taking undergraduate exams can help you on the MCAT, it is important to understand that preparing for undergraduate exams differs from MCAT preparation.
For example, you may have been able to get away with cramming for your finals in college, but due to the wider scope of MCAT questions, abbreviated study time can lead to low scores.
Before you make the mistake of treating MCAT prep like preparing for your usual course prep, review these three ways in which the MCAT differs from the kinds of assessments you have already taken.
The MCAT covers material outside of that taught in lectures. Undergraduate exams generally cover material presented in class – and typically do not extend beyond this content. In addition, course syllabi and objectives help to clarify what students should focus on when preparing for assessments.
While the Association of American Medical Colleges provides review materials and outlines for test-takers, you may find the list of assessed topics to be more vague than those in your regular courses. Furthermore, some topics covered on the MCAT may not have been presented in your premedical courses at all, requiring you to master these concepts independently.
Unlike undergraduate courses that provide lectures, problem sets and labs dedicated to teaching you relevant material, preparation for the MCAT includes heavy emphasis on self-directed learning. You may find that reviewing course notes or even dedicated MCAT review materials is not enough to help you learn a subject, in which case you must seek out learning materials yourself and apply them to the exam as needed.
The MCAT spans several subjects, which are not tested in a discrete manner. An undergraduate course in general chemistry is expected to cover only general chemistry in its exams.
In contrast, the MCAT is interdisciplinary, covering social sciences, humanities, biology, chemistry and physics all at once. Though the test is broken into four general sections, overlap between subjects should be expected by test-takers.
For instance, a passage about biology may be associated with a question covering an organic chemistry concept, prompting students to interrelate the two subjects in a novel way.
Preparing for the MCAT requires that you practice broadening your view when approaching test questions, never assuming that topics will be conveniently grouped as they were in your undergraduate courses.
Test strategies that may have worked for your undergraduate classes may not work on the MCAT. MCAT questions are written in a prescriptive format, with questions and passages featuring both extraneous and relevant information to sort through.
Even though your undergraduate courses may have relied upon multiple-choice assessments, you may find MCAT questions to be longer, less reliant on pure recall and more application-based than those on your usual exams.
Further, the MCAT does not have any open-ended prompts, so partial credit, though available in many undergraduate assessments, is not given.
Becoming adept at quickly finding relevant information in dense passages, identifying extraneous information in question stems and elucidating exactly what each question is asking are all skills specific to success on the MCAT.
Your undergraduate exams may have given you a solid foundation on which to build your test-taking skills, but relying solely on these general skills may not beget your desired MCAT score.
Why we chose it
The Princeton Review Summer Immersion program’s 6-week course has all of the training and resources you need.
With 370 hours of instruction, the most of any of Princeton’s MCAT prep programs, you’ll have access to 11 books and 15 practice tests.
But not only that, it provides exclusive drills and stand-alone digital content, like its Medi-Flix instructional videos which allow you to brush up on content outside of the classroom. For students who enjoy having a study structure, and the added accountability or a classroom setting, the program also comes with an entire MCAT study plan created by experts.
One of the top benefits of the summer immersion course is that it isn’t taught by just one instructor. Instead, you’ll learn from a team of specialists biologists, physicist, and chemists.
The instructors not only knows the MCAT well, but are experts in their respective fields of study. Meaning you can study for organic chemistry questions with an organic chemistry expert and ask your professors questions in real time.
They can also help identify any weaknesses and recommend additional resources to work on before the exam.
Live and online options
You can take this intensive course one of two ways — live online or in-person. For those who benefit from the classroom setting, they will have one-on-one interaction with professors.
It’s also a great option for those who want to study with others and benefit from being on location as they prepare for the exam.
If you can’t travel to a specific location but still need an intensive course, the summer program is also offered online. You’ll still interact with instructors and have access to all of the materials offered in the in-person course.