Are MCAT Prep Courses Worth It?
- May 02, 2023
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Prep
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
The MCAT is a huge hurdle in the premed process that every student interested in attending a U.S. medical school has to overcome. But when you’re deciding how to prep for the MCAT, the number of options can overwhelm you. How do you know what the best options are to maximize your score? We’ll debunk common myths about what is important when preparing for the MCAT and help you decide if an MCAT test prep course is right for you.
Why is the MCAT so important?
It’s no secret that the MCAT is a huge piece of the med school admissions process. This is because the MCAT, along with GPA, is one of the biggest indicators medical schools have of your academic capability. When admitting students, medical schools do their best to assure that they are building a class academically capable of passing board exams and matching effectively in residency positions.
However, this doesn’t mean that the MCAT is simply a test of how “smart” you are; there is so much more to the story. Similarly, the MCAT is not a measure of your ability to become an informed and compassionate physician. In contrast, the MCAT truly only can assess one ability: how good you are at taking the MCAT. It sounds silly, but this illustrates an important point: preparing for the MCAT is a highly specific process. Regardless of whether you’ve done amazing on standardized tests in the past, studying for the MCAT is an entirely different process compared to anything most pre-med students have experienced so far in their education. Considering that even a few extra points on the exam can drastically improve your chance of getting accepted into med school, it is incredibly important that you take your MCAT preparation seriously and set yourself up for the most success possible.
Can you get a good score without an MCAT test prep course?
As a whole, the medical school application process is complicated and expensive, and the MCAT is no exception, with registration costs being over $300 alone (though the AAMC does offer a fee assistance program). Taking an MCAT preparation course is an investment that students and their families can choose to make. This, however, brings up the question of whether you can get a great score on your own without a course.
If you are considering studying independently for the MCAT, you’ll need to know a number of things confidently before you can succeed:
- 1. What resources will you need? These will be items such as practice questions, practice full-length tests, access to the AAMC resources, a flashcard system, content review sources, and more.
- 2. High-level testing strategy skills. How should you approach Roman numeral questions? What are red flags in CARS question answers? What is the purpose of highlighting passages, and how can you use that to your advantage? How do you analyze complicated figures? While you can answer many of these strategy questions over time through significant practice, the most successful independent studiers will already have a strong grasp on concepts like these early on during, if not before, their prep period.
- 3. How to organize a study schedule. Maintaining a study schedule is critically important for the MCAT. It is how you will ensure that by test day, you have learned and practiced for every concept and question type present on the exam. As you go through your MCAT preparation, you will also need to be ready to adapt your schedule based on challenges that arise.
- 4. What to do if you get off track. Imagine you are taking your fourth full-length practice exam, and your score is stuck at 490 (a score 11 points below the average test taker and over 20 points below the average medical school matriculant in the U.S.). Would you know what to do next to get out of your score plateau? Are you confident that you can adapt and improve your study strategies by yourself? These are questions that potential independent studiers should ask themselves.
Many high-scoring students prepare independently for the MCAT. However, without understanding a person’s full preparation history, it’s impossible from the outside looking in to know why someone got a specific score. Did that one person with a 517 in your chemistry class get that score in two months because of a well-planned and executed prep period, or did they get that score in spite of all the mistakes they made along the way? With a prep course, could they have gotten a 524 instead? How might 524 have changed their future? It’s impossible to know. One thing is certain, though: more support and better resources will always help push you toward your best possible score.
How do you know if you even need a course? Why are prep courses helpful?
You might be starting to really wonder if a prep course is right for you. In making this decision, do some serious self-reflection about who you are as a learner. Studying for the MCAT alone requires a lot of self-motivation. And when we say a lot, we mean a lot.
One of the hardest aspects of preparing for the MCAT is simply showing up every day and putting quality work in. It’s working through practice questions even though you’re tired. It’s staying motivated even if your score went down this week. Procrastination is also extremely dangerous in MCAT prep because it can cause you to not only lose money due to having to reschedule or retake an exam but also will make your prep period significantly more stressful. Cultivating a positive mindset (as difficult or cheesy as it may sound) and staying motivated are critical in becoming a high-scoring student. Having a strong support system and others who understand what you are going through is an often underestimated benefit of taking an MCAT prep course.
At Blueprint, the community is a huge part of our MCAT courses, especially our Live Online Courses (but more on that later).
Another factor to consider is your goal MCAT score. Your MCAT score won’t definitively make or break your medical school application, but it’s not without its perks. For example, a high enough MCAT score could help balance a lower GPA. On the flip side, too low of an MCAT score could reduce the competitiveness of your application. If you’re looking to score a 515+, you might want to strongly consider a prep course with proven results to get you there—or even a 515+ MCAT score guarantee.
What should a quality course include?
A quality course should provide both a wealth of practice materials and advice on effective study and testing strategies. Having access to eight to 10 full-length practice exams (including the official AAMC materials) is essential as you work to build your skills. In addition, the course should provide an extensive and well-categorized question bank. At Blueprint Prep, we recommend you do 3,000 test-like practice questions before your exam day. It’s critically important that you have somewhere reliable to source these questions from. Besides practice resources, all students need to complete an MCAT-specific content review as part of their MCAT prep. While you might still have your Organic Chemistry I notes, using MCAT-specific resources will always be the most efficient way to review. There are many ways to approach learning content, including using flashcards, video modules, and textbooks (Blueprint offers all three of these resources all in one place!).
If you’re interested in attending a live instruction class (rather than completing a self-paced course such as the Blueprint self-paced online option), you will have another set of considerations to think about in choosing the best class for you. Be sure to sign up for a class that fits your schedule and that you won’t have to miss. At Blueprint, we have a wealth of data that shows students who actively participate in their course tend to achieve higher MCAT scores!
In addition, you should check what the course content is focused on. Are classes dry lectures on topics you would be better off studying independently, or is the class flow customized to suit student interests? How interactive are lessons? How much time is dedicated to testing strategies and skills? What teaching experience does your instructor have beyond getting a stellar exam score? Are instructors available to help you outside of class time? These are items that, over time, can make or break your MCAT score.
Unsurprisingly, a quality course should also promote itself based on its students’ performance. If an organization doesn’t advertise how amazing its students do, this could be a red flag. At Blueprint, we’re happy to tell potential students that those who take the Blueprint Live Online Course increase their scores by 15+ points on average from their diagnostic tests to their official MCAT exams (as of data from winter 2022)!
Why is Blueprint the best choice for your MCAT prep?
Obviously, we think that Blueprint is the best choice if you are interested in taking an MCAT prep course. While there are many options out there, Blueprint offers high-quality materials, last-minute MCAT tips, and an incredible roster of instructors dedicated and excited to help you succeed on your exam. Here’s why we think we’re the best choice for your prep:
- 1. Customized Study Plan—We have an amazing drag-and-drop style study plan for you that will automatically generate based on your answers to questions like when your test day is, how much time you have to study per week, and when you want to take practice tests. This plan is filled with modules and suggested practice questions, taking all of the guesswork about figuring out what your best use of time will be on a day-to-day basis.
- 2. Test-Like Exams and Detailed Analytics—After you complete a couple of the best MCAT practice tests and questions, we’ll automatically calculate detailed analytics for you! This data includes super valuable information such as score trends, what topics you’re the weakest in, and what question types you struggle with. This information makes it straightforward to know what you should focus your study on week to week!
- 3. A Variety of Content Resources—Blueprint offers 160+ interactive video modules that will cover everything you need to know for the MCAT. Students also gain access to a set of MCAT-specific textbooks to supplement content review.
- 4. Live Content-Focused Office Hours—Office Hours are two-hour-long sessions instructors teach on different high-yield topics six days a week, 52 weeks a year! As a Blueprint student, you can attend as many of the highly customizable group sessions as you want.
- 5. The Live Online Course Experience—As previewed above, the Live Online experience will not only teach you every strategy you need for the MCAT (and then some), but it also provides a strong sense of community both in and out of the classroom. You can talk with your classmates via a Discord server and get personalized advice from your instructor. On a weekly basis, your course will help keep you on track and motivated to succeed!
So…Are MCAT Prep Courses Worth It?
Ultimately, the answer is: it depends. For students who have a strong content background, high motivation, rarely procrastinate, and have a good grasp on testing strategy, it is possible to succeed by studying independently. However, with how difficult and important the MCAT is, even the strongest students would likely benefit from the wealth of resources and support that a course like Blueprint Live Online provides. Through customized feedback, live instruction, and a flexible study plan, our instructors help you achieve your best score possible.
Interested in learning more? Attend one of our free webinars to learn more about what class is like. Or see a free sample (and other free resources) from our MCAT prep course. No matter what resources you decide to use, be ready to commit to the process and set yourself up for the best score and the best jumpstart to your career in medicine that you can.
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