Integrating AAMC Materials into your MCAT Prep
- Jun 11, 2019
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Prep
One of the most important components of MCAT prep is a strategic and personalized study plan. For many students, designing a plan is a huge challenge of its own. Finding the best MCAT practice tests and ensuring comprehensive content review are among the many concerns that students must take into consideration when creating their study plan. Most students will pair the AAMC study materials with an MCAT review course—fortunately, Next Step students have access to the full suite of online AAMC prep materials so you don’t have to choose between them.
After acquiring the necessary study materials, however, the next questions are how to combine both Next Step and AAMC MCAT Prep materials in an integrated study plan, when you should take AAMC practice tests, what are the AAMC Question Packs and Section Banks, and how do you use them. With a little guidance, you’ll be able to seamlessly integrate the AAMC materials into your MCAT prep!
Take Stock of Online AAMC MCAT Prep Materials
When you gain access to the full suite of online AAMC MCAT Prep materials, you will find a series of online resources that fall into one of three categories: Practice Exams, Question Banks, and Section Banks.
The AAMC currently provides four full-length Practice Exams. While all will simulate testing conditions, only three of the AAMC Practice Exams will provide you with an estimated score at the end: AAMC MCAT Practice Exams 1, 2, and 3. The unscored full-length exam is called the Official MCAT Sample Test. It’s important to remember that other than being scored versus unscored, all 4 practice exams are equally representative of the MCAT.
The Section Banks and Question Packs are a little more complicated. The AAMC MCAT Section Bank includes three different section banks – one for each of the science sections (bio/biochemistry, chemistry/physics, and psychology/sociology). Each section includes roughly a dozen passages that are interspersed with discrete questions. If you’re thinking that this sounds just like a normal MCAT science section, but longer, you would be right! Unfortunately, there is not an AAMC CARS Section Bank (Next Step students supplement their practice with the CARS practice passages available in the Next Step Online Course, or the Next Step MCAT books), but there is a CARS Question Pack.
AAMC Question Packs
The Question Packs are sets of subject-specific passages interspersed with questions, much like the Section Banks. These packs cover Biology, CARS, Chemistry, and Physics. These are especially useful for bulking up your practice in certain subjects. However, the lack of biochemistry and sociology questions makes it important to mix in other prep materials that do include those subjects. For example, the Online Practice Questions from the Official Guide provide 30 questions each from all four MCAT sections.
Full-Length Practice Tests
The AAMC has put out five full length practice tests. One test is unscored and the other four tests are scored. The unscored test is, also called Sample Test, gives a percentage score for each individual section.
The Sample Test is seen to be less important and beneficial when it comes to prep material because it’s not as illustrated in the real test. However, the four scored tests are advantageous and seen to represent the real test. The four tests are rather difficult but give accurate predictors of your real score. Since they are so representative and valuable it is recommended to save these closer to the exam.
Plan out the AAMC Practice Tests
The first question students usually ask when spacing out their AAMC resources is when to take the scored versus unscored AAMC Practice Exams. Students often treat practice exams as their most valuable resources—as they should. The AAMC Practice Exams are scored based on real historical MCAT data, We recommend that you take them towards the end of your MCAT prep. Make sure you take a diagnostic test before you begin any prep, though (score a free one here).
Space out representative MCAT practice tests to ensure you complete one every four weeks, until you get closer to your test date, when you can start taking one every week. The AAMC exams should make up the bulk of those you take in the final weeks. This tactic reduces the variables that effect fluctuations in scores, so it’s more closely aligned to your performance. Take the unscored AAMC Practice Exam right before your MCAT so you can keep your mind sharp, but the score won’t stress you out.
Practice tests, in general, should never be put off until the final weeks. This allows little room to bulk up on the sections that scored unexpectedly low or to reschedule your test date should that be necessary. Most importantly, you won’t have ample time to review each of these practice tests thoroughly.
Plan out the AAMC Question Packs and Section Banks
After you’ve scheduled the AAMC Practice Exams, you should plan to work through all AAMC Question Packs and Section Banks in an evenly spaced manner throughout your calendar. A common strategy is to schedule a maximum of half of a Question Pack or a Section Bank per day, then schedule one day for review of the questions you completed on the previous day. Rotating through the subjects is also important, as you will see a mixture of subjects when you take the real MCAT. For example, the schedule for one week can be:
- 1. First half of Chemistry Question Pack
- 2. Review day
- 3. First half of Biology Question Pack Volume 1
- 4. Review day
- 5. First half of Psychology/Sociology Section Bank
- 6. Review day
- 7. First half of CARS Question Pack Volume 1
On days when you review your completed Question Pack or Section Bank questions, you should schedule an additional content review.
Overview of Recommendations
- Sections Bank: Apart from the full length test, this section has the best science material. This can be done 1 month before the test. Aim for once early on in your studying and a second time a month before.
- Question Packs: The CARS Question Packs are the most beneficial and helpful. The science Question Packs are a little less insignificant since they are collected from the old test from 2015. Do the question Packs at any time.
Full Length Practice Exams: Start these a month or so before the test day. Plan to do one per week. The four scored exams (Practice Exams 1-4) are beneficial. However, the sample test is just as beneficial, but not as illustrated. This exam at any time.
Find Your Balance
It’s too easy to get overwhelmed or burnt out during your MCAT prep. Don’t do this to yourself. The saying, “Work smarter, not harder,” still rings true here. Pencil in some rest days where you can recharge and recuperate. Next Step students use our online scheduler to plan out their prep and modify it if anything comes up, but even a simple paper daily planner works too!
The most important thing to remember is to incorporate a variety of practice resources and modalities into your prep. The best MCAT study plans use multiple materials as you curate a strategy that works for you.
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