Are MCAT prep books needed to study for the MCAT? Are they the best resource out there to help you ace this test? The MCAT is an extremely challenging exam that requires months of preparation. Using the right can help you learn test-taking strategies and have a clearer idea of what to expect from this test. Prep books can also provide comprehensive MCAT content review and practice tests or questions for you to work into your study schedule.
In this article, we’ll look at whether you should use MCAT prep books in your study regimen, how they can help you study for the MCAT, and the best MCAT prep book resources out there.
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The MCAT is a 7.5-hour exam that represents an important milestone in your medical school application journey. There are no right or wrong study resources to use to prepare for this exam, although achieving a high is much easier when you use quality study resources and materials. Good MCAT prep books should provide you with more than just information on the topics included in the test; they should also provide study strategies, practice tests, , and other helpful tools.
The trouble with finding the best MCAT prep books is that there are hundreds of options out there, and no one can seem to agree on which are the best quality or offer the most value for your money. MCAT prep books or prep guides can get expensive, and while they are more budget-friendly than some or an , they should not be your only study resource. Every student is different, so prep books or study guides might not be the best choice for all, but they can certainly be a great supplemental study tool.
MCAT prep books offer the benefit of organizing the information in such a way that you can easily get a realistic sense of what the exam consists of. They highlight what’s important and provide expert tips and information you wouldn’t typically find in other sources. They can be an excellent addition to your MCAT study materials, but they should be used selectively to save yourself studying time and money. It’s important to use MCAT books that will actually help you.
Wondering if you need an MCAT tutor or prep course? Watch this video:
Prep books can be a guide to the different MCAT sections, their content, and question format. They will break each section down, including the number of questions and length. Prep books can be an asset when focusing on particular sections of the MCAT.
The MCAT is divided into four sections:
The MCAT is designed to assess your problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. The first three sections of the test are based on fundamental scientific knowledge, while the CARS section analyzes your reading comprehension through a series of passages and questions. MCAT prep books can provide you with practice questions for the first three sections, or even teach you with detailed, visual examples. Prep books can, of course, help you ace the CARS section by improving your reading comprehension or providing a detailed analysis of practice passages.
Next, we’ll look at the 3 pillars of MCAT study and how MCAT prep books can help you with each.
1. Content Review
MCAT prep books can be an excellent resource for learning what subjects are on the MCAT exam and Its format. MCAT prep books lay out all the important information about the test in a focused, clear way, so they are good guides for first-time test-takers. A majority of your time studying for the MCAT will be dedicated to content review, so an MCAT prep book can be a good place to start reviewing the content of the exam, i.e. what you will need to study and what specific subjects you'll need to know.
MCAT prep books don’t just include official or commercial study guides, either! MCAT prep books can include written texts you can use to help you with MCAT content review. A large part of studying for the MCAT includes reviewing the exam’s content and subject matter.
Here are a few options for external MCAT content review:
- Textbooks and course notes
- Academic and scientific journals
- Newspapers and publications
- Literary classics
Your undergraduate textbooks and course notes will be an important method of review for the scientific subject matter on the MCAT, such as equations and you need to know. Journals and publications will cover a wide range of socioeconomic topics, providing you with base knowledge and understanding. Reading widely benefits your , which is essential for the MCAT’s passage-based questions and the difficult CARS section.
2. MCAT Practice
MCAT prep books can be a great resource for the second part of your MCAT study, which is practice. Using high-quality MCAT prep books means the practice questions and passages you’ll read are more likely to accurately reflect what is on the actual test. Many MCAT books and guides contain extensive practice questions and passages, or even full-length tests. Others might provide a detailed analysis of MCAT questions, what the right answers are and why. These can help you gauge your level of knowledge and develop your critical thinking and analytical skills for the real test. An MCAT prep book might also have detailed visual examples of MCAT graphs, charts, and data representations. These representations can be quite complex on the real MCAT and learning to read them accurately and quickly can improve your and score.
3. Test Day Prep
Lastly, MCAT prep books often outline detailed study strategies and critical information about the test. For instance, we’ve seen that prep books can provide a detailed look at the sections of the MCAT and their content but that they can also include information on testing conditions and tips on preparing for test day and what to expect. They might also feature study schedule templates or advice on how to structure your MCAT study plan or .
Next, we’ll look at the best MCAT prep books you can use to help you study for every part of this challenging exam, as well as additional study resources you should consult.
MCAT Prep Book #1: AAMC Official Guide to the MCAT
There are many commercial MCAT prep books and guides out there, but it’s always best to start with the official prep. Guides such as the are fundamental to understanding the tactics and strategies to obtain the highest score, as well as . It is not just about having all the necessary knowledge, but also about knowing what to do with it.
The AAMC offers official guidance that contains all the general information you need to know . Their website is a good place to start if you’re looking for information on the MCAT and what to expect, or if you want to take an . The AAMC’s official guide is not available in an online version but can be purchased from the AAMC store. This guide should be a complement to other study resources such as the AAMC’s official full-length practice tests.
The AAMC offers a series of for you to get a real sense of what your exam day will be like. These practice exams are not only the best, but they are also quite affordable and include 230 authentic questions that replicate the exact MCAT experience, plus a free sample test. When you take one of these practice exams, you will be able to see your score to have an idea of how you might perform on a test day.
Want to practice with some MCAT CARS passages? Check out this video:
MCAT Prep Book #2: BeMo’s Ultimate Guide to MCAT CARS
MCAT CARS is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the test and your prep for this section of the exam should start long before you schedule your test date. It is essential to familiarize yourself with books from outside the scope of the core MCAT subjects to ace this section. This familiarity is not something that can be achieved over time, but part of your MCAT CARS strategy should involve developing analytical and reading comprehension skills.
is the perfect prep book as you approach the year when you decide to take the MCAT. Our ultimate guide will not only test your reading and comprehension skills, but will also help you get accustomed to the unique CARS format. Using our , you will be able to tackle any passage you face on your test.
This book includes:
- Top 8 reasons applicants score low on CARS
- 10 sample CARS passages with expert responses and analysis
- 40 practice CARS passages with questions and answers
- BeMo's top strategies and 7 steps to ace any CARS passage
- Long-term and short-term stress management strategies
- Free access to BeMo’s online resource center
Check out this infographic on how to study for the MCAT to see steps to MCAT prep and some key resources:
Looking for tips on how to get a good MCAT score? This infographic might help:
If you are fully aware of , you know that preparing for the exam on your own can feel like an impossible task without the appropriate study resources. Fortunately, there are several options for you to choose from, depending on your budget, learning style, needs, and study schedule. Normally, test-takers like to combine two or more resources to get a broader understanding of the MCAT and how it works.
MCAT prep books are a great study resource, but they should be used in tandem with other study materials and help. MCAT prep books can easily get pricey, too, so it’s best to be selective in which prep books you use to help you. Keep in mind that MCAT prep books do not need to be commercial guides! Use course textbooks, journals, and even literary classics as part of your MCAT prep book repertoire to improve your reading comprehension for CARS or develop your critical thinking abilities. Even though the MCAT is definitely a challenge, with the right preparation you can ace the test like a pro!
1. Do I need a book to prepare for the MCAT?
Even though it is true that the MCAT is based on everything you learned during your undergraduate studies, knowing about the topics covered in the exam is not enough if you don’t know what to expect from it. You need to be familiar with certain aspects of the exam such as question complexity, scoring, time management, and come up with an effective study plan to get to the exam day with a solid notion of what the MCAT consists of.
While it is true that most of this information can be found online for free, books present the advantage of structuring the information in an organized way that is easier to digest. In a few words, the right books can make your exam preparation much easier and stress-free.
2. How long does it take to prepare yourself for the MCAT?
Technically, you start studying for the MCAT as soon as you start your undergraduate degree, since you are going to learn about all the topics included in the exam. The recommended time you should dedicate to your MCAT preparation is 6-7 months, dedicating an average of 10 hours per week. Needless to say, students who can dedicate more time per week to their exam preparation will need less time to complete it, although a more gradual approach can be more effective for some students.
3. What is a good MCAT score?
Your ideal MCAT score will depend on which schools you plan on applying to. All schools have different standards, and depending on your score, you might have higher chances in some than in others. Any score between 506 and 515 can be considered competitive. However, a truly outstanding score will be at or above 517.
4. What happens if I get a low MCAT score?
Well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but you will have to make up for it with an outstanding GPA and impressive extracurriculars. An MCAT score is considered non-competitive if it is below the matriculant average, meaning that it has to be above the mark of those who applied and did not make the cut. High and low scores are not set in stone, they vary greatly from one school to another. You might not get into your dream medical school but you could aspire to less competitive programs if you apply strategically. After carefully analyzing all of your possibilities, you can always consider retaking the exam if you really think it is the best choice for you, but you should rule out all your other options first!
5. Is MCAT mandatory for medical school?
Given the difficulty of the exam and the stress it involves, it is understandable that some aspiring doctors end up looking for ways to skip the MCAT. Although it is an extremely common requirement for medical schools in the US and Canada, there are some .
6. How hard is the MCAT?
There are a few factors that make the MCAT especially challenging:
- It is lengthier than probably any other exam you have taken before. The testing time for the MCAT is 7.5 hours, including introduction and breaks between each of the four sections.
- It consists of 230 questions covering many different subjects, such as general and organic chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.
- It is passage-based, which means that you will be asked to read a 6 to 7 paragraph passage and then answer questions that combine details from the passage with your own knowledge, so it is not just about memorizing information but also putting your critical thinking to work.
- You don’t really have much time to answer each question. Yes, we mentioned earlier that the exam lasts several hours, but that doesn’t mean you get to dedicate a lot of time to each individual question. Your time management skills can make you or break you.
7. Are there resources online?
Yes, there are countless resources you can find online for free, including the information provided by the AAMC on their website, plus testimonials and tips from students and teachers who can help you get a broader picture of how the MCAT works. You can also explore our and our free . However, investing in a good MCAT prep guide is a must if you want to obtain a high score. Some of these guides are even in digital format and allow you to practice MCAT questions on your computer, just like you would do in real life.
8. Is there an official MCAT preparation guide?
9. Which book is best for MCAT prep?
While there is no agreement on which commercial MCAT prep book is the best overall for MCAT study, it’s better to stick with official MCAT guides from the AAMC or prep books which adequately prepare you for the MCAT’s content and format.
10. What books do I need for MCAT?
The best books to use for your MCAT study are official resources like the AAMC Official Guide or reliable and affordable books like BeMo’s Ultimate Guide to MCAT CARS. However, you shouldn’t rely just on prep books to help you study. Don’t forget to include your course textbooks, scientific journals, and other academic sources that will help broaden your knowledge of MCAT content and increase your reading comprehension.