The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a standardized test that students take to gain entrance into medical school. It’s required by just about every medical school and has been for a long time. This test has been an admissions requirement for 90+ years.
Nearly 85,000 students take the MCAT every year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The MCAT is a hard exam, but as with any test preparation, studying is the best way to succeed. For that reason, many people take prep courses to understand the test and the best way to score well.
For those thinking about prep classes, we’ve created this guide that explores everything you should know about the process. We’ll cover:
- What’s on the MCAT?
- How is the MCAT scored?
- Why do you need an MCAT prep course?
- Who needs an MCAT prep course?
- Things to consider before selecting an MCAT prep course
- How to choose an MCAT prep course
- Frequently Asked Questions About the MCAT
- The best MCAT prep courses to consider
What’s on the MCAT?
The MCAT tests a student’s critical thinking skills within subjects that pertain to medicine. The test is broken into these four topics:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Each of the sections has 59 multiple-choice questions, except the critical analysis and reasoning skills, which only has 53 questions. This is one of the longest standardized tests, which takes 7.5 hours to take.
How is the MCAT scored?
Students receive five scores from an MCAT exam. There’s a score for each of the four sections of the exam and there’s a combined total score. The section scores will range from 118 to 132 and the total score, which is the sum of all of your sections added together, ranges from 472 to 528.
Wondering what a good score is? The average MCAT score for students admitted to medical school is 510, according to The Princeton Review. That test score should accompany a GPA of roughly 3.7.
Why do you need an MCAT prep course?
For students considering an MCAT prep course, there are several reasons to go through with one. Here’s a look at why people opt for a prep course:
Higher test scores
Medical school admissions look at MCAT scores closely. A student’s score could be the difference between getting in or not. For students who want to work hard and score well the first time around, a prep course is the best way to do that.
Get to know the test
Students sometimes assume that their pre-med classes will prepare them for the MCAT. While classes do cover the subjects that are tested, understanding the concept in class is different than understanding it in a way that applies to the test.
A prep class can help students get familiar with the exam, know what to expect, and provide the necessary materials to do well.
Test strategies revealed
There are test strategies that students can benefit from. Aside from learning material, students need to learn how to work the exam. Strategies that apply to timed-testing and educated guessing, for example, are all included in prep courses.
Check out our roundup of the Best College Scholarships
Who needs an MCAT prep course?
For students wondering if a prep course is right them, here’s who typically takes the courses:
Students looking to score well
Whether your dream school requires a certain test score or you just want to do well to have as many options as possible, a prep course is for you.
Students who struggle with tests
There are some students who simply aren’t good test-takers. Rather than shy away from this test, students who get test-day jitters say preparing for the exam calms their anxiety and gives them a chance to focus on the task at hand.
Students who are willing to do the work
Prep courses require students to set aside time to study. Attending classes is part of the process, but working at home is part of the process too.
Things to consider before selecting an MCAT prep course
When you’re ready to select an MCAT prep course, here’s what to consider:
To get the most out of a prep course, students have to put in the work. Going to class or attending an online course is just the start, students will have homework and will need to study.
A prep course takes time, so students with busy schedules may need to make changes to accommodate prep courses. It might mean better time management skills or it might mean eliminating an extracurricular activity.
In-person or online courses
There’s a variety of MCAT prep courses available. Some are scheduled, in-class courses with homework assignments that could last up to ten weeks, others are online and give students the chance to learn at their own pace. Students can also opt for private tutoring sessions as one of their prep options.
The cost of prep courses varies. There are some free online resources that students enjoy and there are professional companies that specialize in prep courses. Courses can be expensive, so it’s important to explore all the options and find one that fits your budget.
How to choose an MCAT prep course
There’s a lot of test prep resources out there, but for those who are ready to commit to a prep course, here’s what you should look for:
Know what you want
If you’re looking to score well on the MCAT and only take it once, find a prep course with a higher score guarantee. These courses are more expensive, but they’re more likely to propel your success than trying to prepare alone or with DIY materials.
Pick a format
Do you want classes that are online or just resource materials to reference at your own pace? MCAT prep classes vary in format, so consider how you learn and what your preferences are before researching options.
The MCAT is a challenging exam and medical students have to score well to get into most schools. While a prep course is an ideal tool, the cost of some courses are quite high. Costs can go up to $7000 for a course. There are many more affordable options than that, but it’s important to know your budget before moving forward.
Frequently asked questions about the MCAT
For those new to the world of MCAT testing, here are answers to a few frequently asked questions:
How much time is needed to prepare?
Research shows students who do well on the MCAT study between 200-300 hours.
Do students need a prep course if they’re doing well in pre-med classes?
There are many people who believe their pre-med classes will prepare them for the exam. While the courses certainly help, the MCAT is a standardized test, which requires preparation. An estimated 50% of students who retake the exam do so because they assumed their classes provided enough preparation, according to The Princeton Review.
When should a student take the exam?
Many students take the MCAT a year or so before trying to enter medical schools. With this kind of timing, a student builds in time to retake the exam if necessary.
How often can the MCAT be taken?
The exam can be taken three times in a year.
How long does it take for schools to be released?
Scores are released about 30-35 days after test day.
The best MCAT prep courses to consider
For students planning to take an MCAT prep course, there’s a lot of choices to sift through. To help narrow the search, here’s a list of the best MCAT prep courses to consider:
1. Magoosh MCAT
- Price: Starting at $129
- Format: Video lessons
- Best for: Students on a budget
Magoosh offers high-quality testing materials for reasonable prices. In fact, Magoosh is one of the most affordable MCAT prep courses out there. Magoosh specializes in self-study, so students will find a variety of video lessons, practice exams, and study materials that they can use to study when it works for them.
Magoosh courses are also mobile-friendly, which means students can use their smartphone to do a little test prep as a schedule allows. For example, if a student is waiting at the doctor’s office, he or she can use the app to work through a few questions or listen to a lesson.
Students can try Magoosh for a week for free and get a money-back guarantee if they decide that the platform isn’t for them.
Wondering what the cost of this kind of program is? As mentioned, Magoosh is pretty affordable, coming in at a quarter of the price of main competitors. The cost for a three-month plan is just $129.
2. The Princeton Review MCAT
- Price: $2899
- Format: Online classes, in-person classes, on-demand
- Best for: Students who want a score guarantee
The Princeton Review is one of few test prep companies that offer a score guarantee. Students using The Princeton Review are guaranteed to earn a score of 510, which as we mentioned, is the average score that medical schools are looking for.
For students who are hoping to get into a tough medical school and can commit time to study for the exam, this program is for you. The Princeton Review, which offers dozens of prep courses for standardized tests, actually offers score guarantees or score improvement guarantees on many of its prep courses.
As you might expect, a course with a score guarantee like this isn’t cheap. While the company does offer several different packages, the score guarantee plan is $2899. The plan comes with 128 hours of instruction, a study expert, 16 full-length practice tests, and other exclusive study materials. The instruction is in a schedule, live online setting. Students sign up for a set of classes that work for their schedule.
The company does have other options, including in-person classes and on-demand classes as well.
3. Next Step MCAT
- Price: Starting at $99
- Format: Study resources
- Best for: Students who simply want study materials
Next Step MCAT is quite different from the other options listed so far. This site offers basic study materials – that’s it. Students looking for test prep books or practice questions, for example, can buy these resources from Next Step MCAT. All of the tests that are purchases are set up to emulate test day. All of the same features and functionality that a student has at a test center is the same as the tests purchased from this company.
Next Step MCAT is a great alternative for students who are self-starters that just want helpful study materials. The cost to buy these materials is minimal as well, which might be another factor for students.
The cost of a four exam bundle, for example, costs $99.
- Price: Starting at $3499
- Format: Online classes
- Best for: Students who want private tutoring
Altius takes a unique approach to MCAT test prep by adding a private tutor component to its online classes. Depending on the type of packages that are selected, students could have up to 45 private sessions, access to an MCAT mentor, small group instruction, study halls, and mastery sessions.
Altius has a 14-year history in the industry and has a history of helping students raise their MCAT scores. According to their website, one of five students raise their MCAT score by 20 points.
Altius offers a two-week trial period for its classes, which do have a high price tag. Of course, private tutoring is always the most expensive test prep option, so the prices for this kind of package are expected to be higher than average. For 45 private tutoring sessions and online classes, students will pay $6,999.
Students can downgrade their plan to 15 private tutoring lessons for $3499.
5. Kaplan MCAT
- Price: $1599
- Format: Online instruction or on-demand videos
- Best for: Students looking for a structured online class
Kaplan has a trusted history in the test prep world, with classes to master many standardized tests. Kaplan’s MCAT classes offer score-boosting strategies, expert teachers, practice materials, and a learning style that works for many students.
All Kaplan courses include live online instruction or on-demand videos, 16 MCAT practice tests, eight books, a solid MCAT study plan, and other prep materials that students rave about.
Kaplan’s classes use personalization tools that explore every student’s strengths and weaknesses and provide tips and strategies to improve. Many students like this kind of customization, which isn’t offered with many MCAT courses.
The course costs start at $1599.
6. Khan Academy
- Price: Free
- Format: Review materials
- Best for: Students who want a basic refresher
The Khan Academy works with the AAMC, which creates the MCAT and offers a free online prep course. Material is provided on-demand and includes video lessons and practice materials. Many students use this course in combination with several MCAT prep books to create a DIY course.
The Khan Academy is a non-profit that provides free educational content and videos to anyone who wants it. It runs on donations to keep education accessible and free to all.
For students who want to create their own program, or who aren’t interested in expensive structured classes, this could be a great choice.