I’ve been in test prep for a long time, more than 20 years. In that time, I’ve taught critical thinking and verbal reasoning for the MCAT, LSAT, and the GMAT. Of those three tests, the MCAT was by far the hardest test with the highest stakes. Students who didn’t do well in my classes didn’t get accepted to medical school.
Not only is the outcome of the MCAT a career-changing event, but the cost of an MCAT prep class is high, in both money and time. You or your parents will pay at least $2,000 for a live class, and you’ll go to class around 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 8 to 12 weeks.
Deciding if you should take an MCAT prep class is a big decision, and deciding which company to go with might seem like a random “close your eyes and point to one” kind of a decision, but there’s a smarter way to do it that will help you.
Here’s what you should consider when you’re thinking about live MCAT prep classes.
Your first MCAT practice test determines your next step
The initial decision to look into an MCAT class almost always begins with a practice test. If you’re like most premeds, you’ll begin your prep with a free practice test. The results of that first practice test often determine the next course of action. If your practice score is OK, you’ll probably go the less expensive route of MCAT prep books and online resources.
But if your first practice score isn’t very good, chances are you’ll start looking into an MCAT prep class. The sucky thing about that first bad practice test score is that you’ll suddenly feel a ton of pressure (I call it ‘MCAT Panic’) to raise your score, so you might jump into the first MCAT class that you see. That’s a bad move. If you’re feeling big pressure to boost your MCAT score, take at least a week or two to weigh all of your options so you end up in the type of class that will work for you.
You can take this free, full-length practice exam without affecting your record.
There is no such thing as one-size-fits all MCAT prep
In my experience there is no one-size-fits all approach to MCAT prep, and just because a course costs a lot doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work for you. I’ve seen the same two students take the same course with the same instructor and the same materials, but then earn vastly different scores.
For one student, the instructor and the program were the perfect fit. For the other, the teaching style of the instructor didn’t mesh with their learning style, and the entire course ended up being a bit of a waste. It doesn’t have to be that way for you, and it isn’t something you have to leave to random chance.
Trust and connection with your instructor is the most important thing
When you sign up for an MCAT class, the things that might attract you to it are the brand, the cost, the advertising, or word of mouth. But the one factor that really matters in an MCAT class is the instructor. The instructor is the person you’ll be interacting with in every single class; the person you’re trusting to connect with you so well that you’ll be able to understand and conquer the MCAT.
If you don’t trust your instructor and connect with them, the class isn’t going to go well and your score won’t improve. You need to believe in your instructor as much as they believe in you. Part of MCAT prep is a difficult type of logical self-examination that you may not have ever done before, so if you can’t trust your instructor enough to be vulnerable with them about your weaknesses, you need to find a different instructor.
You have to constantly evaluate yourself while you prepare
MCAT test questions are unlike any test questions you’ve seen before. They’re longer, they’re harder, and for many premeds the questions are diabolically challenging, so much so that many test takers see someone run out of the exam room in tears!
When you’re in an MCAT prep class, you’ll need to constantly evaluate the way you approach the material and the questions if you want to improve your score. You need to learn to recognize your own test-taking patterns and correct any flaws in your approach.
That level of self-analysis is very, very difficult to do by yourself. An instructor that you like and trust is the only person who can help you pinpoint and overcome your test-taking habits.
Find the class and instructor that’s right for you by sitting in on classes
Most premeds sign up for an MCAT class, pay, then show up and hope that they like the instructor. Instead, you should look at MCAT class schedules near you and sit in on a few sessions to get a sense of the teaching style of different instructors. You’ll find out right away that you like certain instructors more than others, and after sitting in on a few classes it will be a lot easier to decide who you want to go with.
My many years of experience as an instructor were with The Princeton Review. It’s the place where I really found my voice as an instructor and a coach, and my experiences there inspired me to stay in the premed world and become a private admissions consultant.
Of all the test prep companies, I liked that The Princeton Review was a medium-sized company that had didn’t have the cold, faceless feeling of a huge cooperation, but it was still large and established enough to have a ton of experience with the MCAT. If you’re beginning to consider a live MCAT class, I recommend that you start with The Princeton Review.