Fresh from the MCAT frontlines: my observations on MCAT CBTs (computer-based tests)
What’s the skinny on MCAT CBTs? Undoubtedly you find yourself here, on this page, looking for advice on MCAT prep because you want to blow the MCAT out of the water. You dream of the day your MCAT score comes back a 528, medical schools are calling YOU, begging you to matriculate to their school, and your lifelong dream of getting into an Ivy League medical school is finally in sight.
Maybe that scenario is a little (or a lot) far-fetched, but you’re looking for insight into how to prepare for the MCAT, and you’ve come to the right place.
Full-length MCAT CBTs (computer-based practice tests) are…a MUST!
If you look through websites and blogs dedicated to MCAT prep, you’re sure to realize that one of the most vital components to your MCAT preparation is the use of full-length MCAT CBTs. The MCAT is a 7-hour test, and it’s brutal. (I would know, I just sat for it last week!) Trust me when I say, if you haven’t completed a CBT you’re sure to be overwhelmed, exhausted and short on time during the real exam. My recommendation is that, while studying, you should take at least one CBT each week, and more if you can handle it. Now the question becomes “which test company provides/sells the best MCAT CBTs?”
MCAT CBTs…quality varies greatly
Much like the classes, books and practice material, CBT quality varies from company to company (even from test to test from the same company). The 2015 MCAT is new and improved, and test companies are playing catch-up trying to produce MCAT CBTs that are similar to the actual test in length, content, and difficulty. There are a lot of opinions out there, and that’s all they are—opinions, but I’ll try to provide you with an objective rating of the tests, based only on how they compare to the actual MCAT.
Understand that these MCAT practice tests vary in price, and some are free with the books and/or classes given by the test prep company. Another thing to consider is that the scores you receive on these practice tests do not reflect how you will do on the actual MCAT. Most of these tests are significantly more difficult than the actual thing. A quick search on studentdoctor.net will produce a number of pages dedicated to ‘predicting’ your actual MCAT score from your practice scores.
My personal gold-star ratings for MCAT full-length CBTs…
AAMC (eMCAT): A+
With the advent of the 2015 MCAT, AAMC immediately produced an MCAT CBT to give studiers and test-prep companies a clear idea of how the new MCAT would be structured, and what and how material would be presented on the test. That first practice test reproduces, almost exactly, the testing conditions seen on the actual MCAT. Though it’s not ‘scored,’ it gives you a ‘percentage correct’ total upon completion of the test. A year or so later, AAMC released a second ‘scored’ CBT, which is identical in functionality to the first, but with new questions and a realistic score posted at the end of the test. The material covered in these two CBTs closely mirrors that of the actual test. Instead of in-depth, knowledge-based answers, the tests elicit more application-based responses, which is what the new MCAT is moving towards.
A plus: you are also able to look through your questions after the test, to review the questions you got wrong. The only downside I can see to these tests is the vagueness of the answer explanations (e.g. ‘A is the correct answer because is is correct and B,C,D are incorrect.’).
These tests, as you would expect, are the best you can get your hands on. You absolutely should take at least one, if not both, of these tests during your prep, preferably close to your test date. They will make you infinitely more comfortable with the format of the test as well as the type of questions you’ll be asked.
Most test-prep gurus will tell you that the Examkrackers (EK) test makers really know what they’re doing. I agree 100%. The material on their MCAT CBTs is the most similar to that found on the actual MCAT. That isn’t to say that the actual questions are closely related to actual MCAT questions, but the way the questions are asked, and the depth of knowledge necessary to answer the questions is very similar to MCAT questions. They aren’t perfect; the EK tests do expect you to know some equations that you won’t need to know on the MCAT.
The format of the MCAT CBTs is also very similar to that of the actual MCAT. One issue I did have with the EK tests was that the questions for each passage (6-7 per passage) are found on the same page, meaning that the format of the test differs from the actual MCAT format. Also, reviewing the test can be somewhat tedious, as the only way to review your questions is to go back through the entire test, in order, question by question.
EK, like the first AAMC test, only computes a percentage correct upon completion. This is annoying, as gunners like you and me want a score we can compare to other tests. A quick search on studentdoctor.net will give you an equation that is supposed to reliably convert your percent correct to a score.
I would recommend EK tests to all serious studiers. They offer three CBTs, and at $50 a pop, it can get a little pricey, but if you can afford it, these things are worth their weight in gold. Really.
Gold Standard (mcat-prep.com): D
Cost: From $40 to $175 for 3-month access to tests, depending on the number of tests you wish to access. One free test is available.
Mcat-prep.com offers a cheaper alternative to other practice tests, with an average cost of $30/test, but you get what you pay for. I bought two of these MCAT CBTs early on in my studies, and upon taking them I was thrown into a downward spiral of self-doubt and anxiety (check out photo to the right!). I scored below 500 on both tests, after having scored a 509 on an AAMC test. I thought “how could this be? Am I digressing? If this is what the real MCAT is like, I’m screwed!” I honestly wish I had never taken these tests. They tested on incredibly specific details, destroying my confidence and hope. I remember sitting at my desk, taking these tests, getting incredibly frustrated with the questions being asked. I even tried their free test, but didn’t finish because I was so frustrated. I had to take a week off from test-taking because these tests had truly terrified me. The only reason I’m not giving the GS CBTs an F is because the format of the tests was acceptable.
Don’t waste your time or money on these tests.
Cost: Available with purchase of new books or class
Like you, before I started taking FL’s I read everything I could on various blogs and websites, trying to gauge which MCAT CBTs would be best to spend my money on. A number of sources seemed to dislike the Kaplan test, equating them to the GS tests. I had bought the Kaplan book set, so had access to three of their tests, which I decided to take. My experience was poles apart. The first two Kaplan tests were excellent. The content seemed to mirror the questions used in the AAMC tests, and I liked that they provided me with a complete score after the test. There definitely were some questions asking for specific knowledge-based answers, but they were few and far between. The third MCAT CBT, however, seemed to include more nit-picky questions, and so was more frustrating than the others, but nowhere near the meltdown-level frustration I experienced while taking the GS tests.
Early test scores on the 2015 and early 2016 Kaplan practice CBTs were artificially low. But Kaplan changed its scoring system a few months ago. I’m assuming that studiers were taking the tests, getting low scores, and trying to blame the low scores on a bad test experience. Now that Kaplan has changed its scoring scales, the scores seem to be more fair, and on par with AAMC scoring. If you’re looking for both books and MCAT CBTs, getting three from Kaplan with your complete book set would be a major plus in my opinion. They aren’t the best books on the market, but they will do the job of getting you ready for d-day.
Princeton Review: C
Free MCAT Practice Test
Cost: Available with purchase of new books or class
Princeton is one step down from Kaplan. Their MCAT Review Test-1 is decent, and the best of the three MCAT CBTs. But after the first test, their material starts to look more like the GS tests, and less like AAMC material. They ask specifics, and expect you to know a number of equations other than the basics (something you don’t need for the MCAT). By the third test, I was pretty frustrated. They do have good formatting to their tests, which is a plus, and the MCAT CBTs are free with the purchase of their book set. Also, their review tools (after you take the test) are really easy to use and make jumping around from question to question really simple.
If you purchased the Princeton Review MCAT book set and their MCAT CBTs are available to you, I would use them for sure. Just make sure to buy a couple of the EK tests and both AAMC CBTs to get a better idea of what will be included on the real test.
Cost: Set of three FLs is $110
The only other well-respected MCAT CBT test company I haven’t reviewed is Berkeley Review. I’ve only heard good things about their tests, and most reviewers compare them to the EK tests. I would assume that you can’t go wrong using them in your studies. I bought a set of three too late in my studies to use them, but I’ll be including a review of the BR MCAT CBTs here in the next week or so, so keep an eye on this spot!
Remember, these are just practice tests! Meaning, they are only somewhat predictive of your final MCAT score. If you do poorly on a couple, don’t sweat it. Just keeping studying. If you want to see a conversion chart for ‘predicted’ MCAT scores based on practice test and equations used to translate %’s to scaled scores try:
Good Luck! And Do Work!