And…they offer premedFAQ.com visitors discounts up to $300 and sometimes more. Click here for the latest Kaplan and Princeton Review discounts.
Every MCAT prep company will try to convince you that:
- The MCAT is scary;
- You couldn’t possibly face it on your own; and
- So, of course theirs is the best class to help you prepare.
- So, we decided to review these two courses and give you more to go on when you’re making the all-important decision about the best MCAT course for YOU. There are plenty of other test prep companies out there, including ExamKrackers, Berkeley Review and Altius. The thing about Kaplan and Princeton Review that makes them a natural choice for lots of pre-meds is that they’re offered in more places, and they both offer plenty of extra study resources.
Do I need a formal MCAT prep course?
It depends. If you’re a solitary type studier who isn’t into groups and gets distracted in big classrooms full of people, you may want to consider the self-study route.
But if you love the idea of having a coach, mentor and organizer to help you fit MCAT prep into your frenetic life, and would like someone to direct you in the best ways to approach this monumental task, then you’re the perfect MCAT prep course preppie.
Between 70 and 80% of all premeds who take the MCAT enroll in a prep course; half of premeds who take the MCAT have to do it a second time. The best advice I can offer you is to do whatever you can to avoid that unpleasant possibility!
But aren’t classes expensive?
Yes and no. It may be even more expensive to go through four years of pre-med and not get accepted to medical school. If you think you may need help, spring for a class. The best MCAT courses offer a “higher score guarantee” allowing you to repeat a class at no cost within a 3 month period if you’re not happy with your initial MCAT score.
So….here are the B A S I C S
THE PRINCETON REVIEW MCAT PREP COURSE
The Princeton Review’s 3-month MCAT Ultimate Course is generally given high marks. I’ll encounter students occasionally who complain about instructors who were weird or condescending, but that’s the risk (albeit small) you take when signing up with any test prep company. The students I’ve talked to were very happy with the amount of class time and depth of study materials offered with The Princeton Review course.
The live classroom TPR course offers 34 3-hour class sessions plus 20 one-on-one office hours with your instructor, who’ll help you with your problem areas. That’s a whopping 123 hours of live instruction. It’s the best MCAT course in th is area. Another plus: the instructors are all certified, which means they’re considered “subject experts” in the areas they teach.
The typical in-person class is a semester long, and meets 3 days a week for 3 hours per session. There are more accelerated classes that meet more often, and some that meet only on weekends. There’s even an intensive Summer Immersion course and a compact course offered during the December break.
The typical schedule includes 18 hours of Psych and Soc, which means students may need to add more of those to their schedule.
Another valuable piece of the TPR package is the practice exams—14 full-length tests including the top-rated AAMC official exams. These are golden, as TPR’s proprietary full-length tests are superb.
The MCAT Ultimate Course offered by TPR is its most comprehensive, costing $2,399 in most locations. That price is discounted for premedFAQ website visitors, so you can click on the links here for a $300 discount on the Ultimate course, or up to $600 off the price of the Summer Immersion class.
-An online “dashboard” helps you make a custom schedule for study times.
-The “Amplifire” online workbook complements the materials that come with the TPR MCAT book set (see below).
-The higher score guarantee gives you the chance to take any TPR course again, at no cost, if you’re unhappy with your score.
KAPLAN MCAT PREP COURSE
For some obvious reasons, Kaplan’s MCAT Prep Course is the most popular among pre-med students. For starters, their name recognition in the test prep industry is legend. Kaplan classes are also offered in more cities, which may make Kaplan your only option for a live MCAT prep course. My experience in talking with Kaplan MCAT preppers is that the courses are extremely well designed and effective in helping students get the material down.
Class time, online tests
A total of 540 hours of instruction and online practice include 13 class sessions and 14 full-length practice tests. As with TPR, Kaplan includes AAMC’s full-length practice tests, a must for those who want to succeed. The AAMC tests are most like the real MCAT since they’re written by the same people who created the MCAT.
Very much like TPR, Kaplan offers a live MCAT prep course that lasts a semester with 2-3 hour classes 2-3 days per week. There are optional schedules that focus more on the weekend or add more weekday sessions, so you’ll have choices.
As with TPR, Kaplan offers 14 full-length tests including the top-rated AAMC official exams. The AAMC exams are a must, and TPR’s proprietary full-length tests are considered top notch. If you miss a session, you can make it up by listening to a recording of the class.
The standard Live In-Person MCAT Prep Course costs $2,299. (If you use the premedFAQ link you’ll get the discount they offer our visitors.)
-The Kaplan course offers you access to The MCAT Channel and their QBank of some 11,000 practice questions that can be accessed online, as well as digital books and a flashcard app.
-You can access 130 interactive science videos.
-Kaplan helps you create a personalized study plan that takes into consideration your strengths and weaknesses.
-As with TPR, Kaplan offers a higher score guarantee so you can repeat any class within 2-3 months of your first try at no cost to you.
Comparing Books, Tests, Tutoring and Online Resources
Let’s start with tests. Both Kaplan and The Princeton Review offer access to AAMC’s computer-based full-length MCAT tests. Each company has also created its own proprietary tests, which are a regular staple during the class periods. Most reviewers I’ve talked to agree that Kaplan’s MCAT practice material is slightly better than TPR’s. That’s because TPR tests and passages are not as reflective of the actual MCAT’s question style. TPR tests tend to over-emphasize memorization and calculation. In my estimation (and the reviews I’ve read by other students), Kaplan’s aren’t the best tests on the market either (see our review of several MCAT CBTs and how to best use them here), but they are still a respected resource, and slightly better than TPR’s.
Testing: slight edge to Kaplan
MCAT book sets
Prior to the 2015 MCAT changes, TPR was seen as being the best MCAT course for having better book sets, but with the new test Kaplan comes out slightly ahead. The Kaplan books place greater focus on test skills and practice, while TPR focuses more on the science and strategies of taking the MCAT. That said, both book sets are well reviewed by MCAT studiers, so it’s a great idea to supplement your prep with either of these book brands. You can check out our review of both sets here. And we also have written a review of MCAT books by individual subject here. Your MCAT prep course comes with a full set of books, but that shouldn’t restrict you from getting some extra books to fill the gaps each prep company inevitably has.
Testing: edge to Kaplan
As mentioned above, TPR’s “Plus” MCAT prep course comes with 20 hours of personalized tutoring. Kaplan’s comes with three one-on-one sessions with a medical school mentor, plus some small group test review sessions led by MCAT instructors.
Granted, instructors can answer your questions in class, but if you need more than 20 hours of customized help, you’ll have to purchase extra tutoring with both Kaplan and The Princeton Review. But with Kaplan you’ll have to purchase tutoring hours separately at around $185 per hour when you buy them in bulk. Here are links to purchase tutoring time from The Princeton Review and from Kaplan as needed!
Tutoring: slight edge to Princeton
Self-paced MCAT courses
Both Kaplan and The Princeton Review offer “self-paced” courses, which are basically their premium courses available in online videos. This is a super sweet option for pre-meds who want to jump on the MCAT prep train early, since you can begin at any time and direct your own progress.
Up until a couple years ago, Kaplan was the best MCAT course on this because TPR had nothing like QBank. Back then, even QBank wasn’t perceived as being especially helpful since Kaplan’s practice material wasn’t great, and QBank was just an extension of it. But TPR’s Amplifire online test prep software was introduced, and all I can say is “wow!” It’s impressive. It’s focused on illuminating your thought processes as you answer each MCAT question. (You can check out a demo video on TPR’s site.) With 2,700 questions, TPR has more than Kaplan (2,300), so if you’ve got tons of time to burn, these features can be super helpful. But then again, the really glitzy stuff TPR offers isn’t nearly as time efficient as Kaplan’s so it may not prepare you as well for the break-neck pace of the real MCAT.
Both Kaplan and Princeton Review also offer “Live Online” MCAT prep courses, where you attend a live lecture sitting in front of your computer. This means you can still interact with your professor and fellow studiers, while sipping a latte in your pajamas. Or you can watch a video version of it at 2 a.m. if that works best for you. (Check out Kaplan’s Live Online Course here, and Kaplan’s here.)
Online tools: to Kaplan for quantity; Princeton Review for quality (both are important!)
As I mentioned above, TPR is the best MCAT course at diving deeper into the science and strategy of the MCAT during class (and in their books), while Kaplan MCAT teachers are focused more on helping students get the fundamentals down. At this point I should just say that you can’t go wrong with either company since their approaches in the classroom are both well respected, and neither company is too advanced or too elementary for most pre-meds. Whichever live class you take, you’ll have the chance to ask questions during class, then study outside of class at your own pace.
Classroom experience: Edge to Kaplan for beginners and non-traditional applicants; edge to Princeton Review for science geeks and purely classroom learners since more classroom hours and tutoring time are offered.
By intangibles, I mean extras and minutiae that don’t matter much, but are worth mentioning and may even make a serious difference to some. For example, Kaplan is offered in more cities than The Princeton Review, and since any course is better than no course (if you’ve decided to take one), it’s probably worth taking MCAT prep from either company even if it’s not perfectly fitted to your needs. Kaplan one-ups its Live Online class with its MCAT Advantage-On Demand course, which offers 24/7 access to classroom lectures online for the same fee as a live prep course. If you have an irregular schedule, or need to hear or see something twice before it registers, this may be the perfect option. (Pause, replay. Pause, replay again!)
Kaplan used to have a bunch of courses and tools you could purchase separate from its MCAT prep courses. For example, it sells tutoring hours. Also, Kaplan has subject-centered courses like “Organic Edge,” “Physics Edge,” “Verbal Edge,” to give you what? And EDGE in your weakest subjects. There’s also a Kaplan Online Science Review—a whole set of tutorials to help you get a better grasp of the core pre-med sciences. Check out the full list of Kaplan MCAT prep courses here.
Edge: to Kaplan
WHY CHOOSE KAPLAN?
—If you don’t think you need a full course, but would like some heavy review of Organic, Physics, or Verbal. These courses are cheaper than a full course, and Kaplan gives you access to QBank with any of its courses. That’s good stuff.
—If you don’t care about extra fancy tools and don’t have time for them. You’re wanting the classroom experience that offers full-length tests and a set of books, along with an MCAT prep teacher who’ll help you navigate the experience.
—You need plenty of basic review (either you had trouble with your pre-med classes or took them years ago!), but don’t need a rigorous classroom experience. Kaplan teachers are better at helping students get their fundamentals down.
If any of these describes you, head to Kaplan to check out their Online/Live course options up-close. Here’s Kaplan’s MCAT Test Prep Homepage with all available options. And check out our list of Kaplan books and study materials available through Amazon.
WHY CHOOSE THE PRINCETON REVIEW?
—You have your content down pretty well, and want your teacher to help you go deeper in class and in the TPR books. You want help and tools to help you refine your MCAT reflexes.
—You don’t want to spend extra cash on more materials after you pay for the full course. TPR has great books and MCAT practice tests, so you are less likely to need other supplemental books.
—You could use some one-on-one Private Tutoring, but don’t want to spend the higher fee Kaplan charges.
If this sounds like you, why not surf around TPR’s site and check out how their courses work. You can also click here for a list of TPR books you can find on Amazon.
Since every TRP and Kaplan testing center is different depending on who’s running it and who’s teaching, you may want to put your ear to the ground to see what you can find out about your local center. It’s not a bad option to go with the best instructor(s), instead of honing in on a specific MCAT prep company. However, this one feature being equal, I’d still choose the best MCAT course to fit my needs.
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