When choosing which MCAT prep books you should use to study for the MCAT you will probably first come across the hand full of large MCAT prep companies that offer a comprehensive review. The most common being Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Examkrackers. Here are the best MCAT prep books for 2020!
The traditional approach to studying for the MCAT is picking an MCAT book set which fits your studying style and read through every book to completion. The idea is that the book set will contain all the material you need to know for the MCAT with corresponding practice problems
However, this is NOT how you should study for the MCAT. The best approach to studying for the MCAT is completely different.
In a previous post, I described what I call “the MCAT mindset.” Long story short, getting into the MCAT mindset means learning how to take the MCAT. This is much different than learning all the material that is covered on the MCAT. In fact, if you boil it all down, there is not much you really need to “memorize” for the MCAT.
How do you get into the MCAT mindset? Practice passage after practice passage. The most important thing you can do to maximize your MCAT score is doing as many practice passages as possible.
You see, the most difficult part of the MCAT is its ability to confuse the test taker. This is especially true for the new MCAT (post-2015) which made its passages read more like science articles. At a glance, MCAT passages seem like they are presenting very complex material. However, the reality is that the MCAT places relatively easy and straight forward premed concepts into these complicated passages. The key is learning how to sift through the fluff in order to find the target.
This only comes with lots of practice.
At Med School Pursuit we teach that the best MCAT self prep strategy does not simply involve reading through an MCAT book set with the hope of absorbing enough material to do well on the exam. Our strategy is focused on practice problems. After completing practice passages you will need to review the material addressed in that passage to make sure you really have a good grasp of it. You will find that there are concepts you forgot or there is a topic you just don’t understand.
This is active learning.
You are challenging your understanding of particular material with an actual MCAT problem. You will understand that material even more after you learn why you got a problem correct or incorrect.
Even though our focus is practice problems, buying an MCAT prep book is still very important. You will need reliable and MCAT focused material to refer to as you review the practice problems you took.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to have a reliable MCAT focused database. If you do a practice test or even a singular practice question and review the problem using material found in one of your premed textbooks or online, you may end up learning material that is not covered on the MCAT. Or even worse, you might review the material presented in a different way than the MCAT presents it which can confuse you on the exam!
Here is a list of the most popular MCAT prep courses and our careful review of each.
|Rank||Name||Practice Questions / Exams||Pages||Price|
|# 1||Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Review|
|3 Practice Tests||3288||CHECK PRICE|
|# 2||Examkrackers MCAT Study Package |
(Best Time Saver)
|32 Thirty-Minute Mini Exams||1986||CHECK PRICE|
|# 3||The Princeton Review MCAT Subject Review||3 Practice Tests||2864||CHECK PRICE|
|# 4||The Berkeley Review MCAT Home Study Materials|
(Best For Physical Sciences)
|550 Practice Passages||2700||CHECK PRICE|
|# 5||Sterling Test Prep||Varies||Varies||CHECK PRICE|
|# 6||Next Step MCAT Psychology and Sociology||Mini Exams||364||CHECK PRICE|
|# 7||Barron’s New MCAT Review||4 Practice Tests||1128||CHECK PRICE|
#1 Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review (Our Choice)
I have personally used several different MCAT prep books including Kaplan. The Kaplan MCAT book series is the best overall resource for MCAT content.
Kaplan does an excellent job of going into a lot of detail without putting in superfluous information. This is important if you are taking our approach to study for the MCAT. The Kaplan book set will help you find the solution to any MCAT practice problem you are struggling to figure out. If a certain topic is giving you a hard time, having this detailed resource will really help you gain a better understanding. Kaplan also “stars” content they think is more likely to appear on the actual exam. This helps when narrowing down what material is most important.
Although Kaplan is very text heavy and sometimes lacking in figures, it has lots of side panels containing helpful mnemonics, expertise, and real-world connections. Those real-world connections really helped me develop a deeper understanding of the material.
Kaplan is lacking in the practice problems department. There just aren’t as many problems as I would like. However, if you are following our study philosophy (practice, practice, practice), this book is still recommended due to its primary purpose: reviewing questions.
You will have to buy more practice passages regardless. I wrote a post on the best MCAT practice problems books out there right now. Make sure to check this out when building up your MCAT study prep arsenal. Most of these books are pretty cheap!
The book does come with 3 practice tests. However, the Kaplan practice tests are not the best out there. My suggestion is to use AAMC’s material for practice tests. When you run out of that, the next best is NextStep’s practice tests. In my 1 month MCAT schedule, I go into more detail on how to obtain 15+ tests from these two resources alone.
#2 Examkrackers MCAT Study Package (Best Time Saver)
The Examkrackers MCAT Study Package is best for individuals with a strong science background. It’s perfect for those who only need the barebones in MCAT review. This is because Examkrackers assumes that you have a good grasp of the premed prerequisites already and functions more as a strategy book for the MCAT as opposed to content review. This book is perfect for those who only want a quick refresher on topics.
The Examkrackers books are easy to follow with lots of colorful pictures and mnemonics to help you better understand the material. They throw in some comic relief to make your MCAT study prep just a little bit more enjoyable.
The 10th edition of the book improves on several mistakes from the 9th edition. Here is a review from Amazon which lists the important improvements:
Examkrackers offers 30-minute practice tests at the end of each chapter providing a considerable amount of practice problems. There are a few common complaints with these practice problems:
One is that they don’t offer the best explanations. This is not necessarily a deal breaker because you should be going back to the content yourself to review problems you were having trouble with instead of relying on someone else’s explanation. Remember, discovering the answer yourself is the best way to learn!
Two is that the problems tend to be more difficult than the actual MCAT. We want problems that are as accurate as the real exam as possible, but having problems that are too difficult is better than too easy.
Like the Kaplan books, The Princeton Review MCAT prep books go into lots of detail on every topic covered by the MCAT. The reason why I prefer Kaplan is that The Princeton Review tends to go overboard with their content, covering topics that won’t be on the MCAT.
That being said, I found few to no mistakes in the book. It is well written and easy to follow.
For the student who needs a larger overview of concepts, The Princeton Review might be a better choice. However, most students are pressed for time when it comes to MCAT prep. Wasting time on something that won’t even be on the MCAT is not ideal.
The math and physics book is just too big. I understand that there is a lot of material to cover for these subjects but there are hardly any physics/math questions on the actual MCAT which makes this a very low priority subject. The Princeton Review could benefit from condensing that material to something more digestible.
I also found the psych/soc book difficult to get through. This book is particularly text heavy and not organized very well.
The Princeton Review contains discrete problems and a passage problem at the end of each chapter. In addition to this, they offer 3 full-length practice tests online.
The Princeton Review Practice tests tend to be a lot more difficult than the AAMC practice exams. Although this is better than the exams being easier than the real deal, it can be fairly discouraging to get your practice MCAT score back and find out you did much worse than you thought you did. The Princeton Review is not our recommended resource for MCAT practice exams. As stated in our one-month MCAT self-study schedule, the best non-AAMC practice tests are made by Nextstep prep.
#4 The Berkeley Review MCAT Home Study Materials (Best For Physical Sciences)
The Berkeley Review is an MCAT test prep company that focuses entirely on the MCAT, unlike the other MCAT prep companies which also have books for the SAT, GRE, DAT, ect.
However, the books are very dense. The Berkeley Review blows the competition out of the water when it comes to how much material is contained in those books. This is a great book for someone severely lacking in their science background but not for someone who mostly needs a refresher.
The Berkeley Review does particularly well with chemistry and physics. If this is a subject you struggle with the most, consider buying they’re chemistry and physics book separately. What The Berkeley Review does best is actually teaching the science material instead of just rehashing all the necessary information. They really go above and beyond to explain the material in a way which helps you develop a deeper understanding.
Once again, if you are lacking in your physical science understanding, this could be a good book set for you. However, this is still not ideal for pure MCAT prep.
The Berkeley Review does a great job with their practice problems. They organize them in a way that makes it very easy to refer back to specific subjects being tested. The passage problem difficulty tends to be very challenging compared to the AAMC’s actual MCAT problems.
The Berkeley Review does offer a lot of practice questions. The 10 books alone have 550 practice passages!
Which book is right for you?
It is important to understand why you are purchasing a particular book set. Remember, you are not simply reading through every book and then taking the exam. Think of these books as a resource to help you review the practice tests you take.
Purchase an MCAT prep book that will be easiest to navigate and provide MCAT oriented explanations to concepts. When you review your practice tests, you will need to quickly brush up on the topics that are giving you trouble. You want to make sure you are getting good information but also as little fluff as possible.
Other MCAT Prep Books
I covered the 4 main MCAT prep companies. However, there are plenty of other MCAT prep books that can aid you with your studies.
Sterling Test Prep does not have a book set but sells all their books separately. I do not recommend relying solely on these books, but I do recommend using Sterling to supplement areas you are having trouble with. Sterling Test Prep provides great summaries of subjects but does not go into enough detail for a primary resource.
The Sterling MCAT Psychology and Sociology review book is particularly great. There is a lack of good quality psych/soc MCAT books out there, but Sterling provides a quality review on this topic. While most psych/soc books only provide descriptions of terms and concepts, this book tends to apply these concepts to empirical research which is the style of the MCAT.
The Sterling MCAT test prep books are also great because they offer A LOT of practice questions. They go into a lot of detail when explaining why certain answer choices are correct and others incorrect. I find this very useful because when I get a question wrong I want to know exactly why it is wrong. Especially if I am still convinced that the wrong answer could still be right.
Because all the books are sold separately and are relatively cheap, I think these are a great addition to subjects you struggle with.
#6 Next Step
Next Step does not have much to offer with content review but they make up for it with practice passages. There are very few resources out there for good quality psychology and sociology review. If you are going to buy any of the Next Step books, I recommend getting the Next Step MCAT Psychology and Sociology review book.
The second most recommended Next Step book is their Biology and Biochemistry book. There is a lot of Biochemistry on the new MCAT. Next Step’s Biology and Biochemistry book offer plenty of high-quality practice passages with great explanations.
Finally, I recommend the Next Step’s CARS workbook. Once again, Next Step does a great job creating passage problems that match fairly close to the real deal. Also, CARS requires the most practice out of every section. This is because you can’t “study” for the CARS section. The only way you get better is by doing practice passage after practice passage. The passage problems in this book also offer a timed option which is a big benefit.
The most difficult aspect of CARS (and the exam in general) is timing. You will not have enough time to devote your full attention to each passage. Prioritizing passages comes with experience.
What makes this book stand out is that it is very cheap.
It has 1128 pages in a single book that covers every topic on the MCAT. The book is very concise with its review and not the best option for someone following our MCAT study strategy.
However, they do offer 4 full-length tests and a handful of online practice problems. This alone can make the book worth it. The quality of their practice passages is mediocre at best. Definitely not something you want to replace the AAMC material with, but a good addition for those looking to expand their practice passage database.
Make Sure You Have Plenty of Practice Problems
After you pick your primary MCAT content books, it is important you acquire lots of good quality practice problems.
There is no silver bullet to studying for the MCAT. The only way to do really well on this exam is knowing all the ins and outs of the MCAT. The best way to accomplish this is by doing as many practice problems as possible. The more the better.
Unfortunately, the AAMC does not have enough practice material for this exam. While the AAMC practice problems are always going to be the most accurate, there are lots of other companies that provide practice at almost the same level quality as AAMC.
I wrote a post on what I believe are the best MCAT practice problems books. These books contain only practice problems and will quickly build up your arsenal. When creating this list I looked for problems that represent AAMC as closely as possible.
Supplement with Khan Academy
Khan Academy partners with AAMC and produces amazing free content for the MCAT. I do not recommend studying exclusively with Khan Academy, but I do recommend using them for concepts that you are struggling with.
I wrote a detailed post on how Khan Academy is great for MCAT prep.
Khan Academy is especially good for phycology and sociology review. As I mentioned above, there really isn’t much MCAT pysch/soc material out there. And most psych/soc material out there isn’t the best quality. Khan Academy does a great job in covering all the important psych/soc topics with easy-to-understand videos.
Do yourself a favor and supplement your psychology and sociology review with Khan Academy.
Also, if you are studying using our method, Khan Academy’s MCAT videos are well organized by topic making it easy to review the practice problems you had trouble with.
Lastly, Khan Academy offers additional practice problems. As I keep hammering in, practice problems are key. The more problems you have the more you can practice and get the MCAT score you are looking for.
Best MCAT Flash cards
There really aren’t that many companies that produce MCAT Flashcards. Nonetheless, they can be helpful with memorize details you keep missing when doing your practice problem runs.
I recommend Kaplan’s MCAT Flashcards.
These cards are very well organized with the perfect amount of detail. They are pretty flimsy which can be aggravating when you end up with a bunch of bent cards that you shoved into your backpack pocket.
Using flashcards are a great way to hammer in the details you struggle with the most while doing practice passages and tests. Although purchasing a pack of cards like Kaplan’s cards will save you a lot of time, you may want to still create your own flashcards with Anki. Creating your own Anki decks will allow you to tailor cards to your specific weak points.
Taking lots of MCAT practice tests is the most important factor in doing well on the MCAT. If you are pressed for studying time, don’t worry. In our 1 month MCAT study guide, I outlined exactly how you can take 12-15 exams in 30 days!
You need to purchase every practice exam that the AAMC offers plus some. Pretty much all of the prep companies I listed above offer free exams. In addition to these couple of free exams, every major MCAT company offers exams for purchase.
Our personal favorite third-party MCAT practice exam? Next step. They are the most accurate and offer great explanations per question.
Remember, the MCAT is a marathon. Train like it!
You can spend a lot of money getting prep material for the MCAT. I just want to help you spend your money wisely while also getting the best material possible.
As I have said time and time again, the most important thing you can do is practice as much as possible.
Read this guide carefully and pick the book set that you think will be most helpful for reviewing topics you struggle with. I recommend Kaplan because it is the best blend of in-depth review without going overboard. They are well written and perfect for referring back to time and time again as you review your practice passages and tests.
Studying for the MCAT soon? Share your thoughts here. If you have any questions, you can comment here and I will get back to you. Alternatively, you can reach me through the contact page!
Good luck studying!