MCAT Test Prep Tips: How to Get 30 or Higher Without Expensive Courses

I Was an Underdog

Let me start by admitting that I needed lots of prayer. I needed lots of divine intervention for my MCAT because the odds were all against me:

  • I was a non-traditional applicant.

  • I was not a science major.

  • I was taking all of my science prerequisites in a community college.

  • My biology classes were about cells, plants, and animals — not about the human body.

  • I had not taken organic chemistry yet when I took the MCAT.

  • I was going to complete the biological sciences section of the MCAT without any formal education about the subjects.

My Results

And in the end, I received a score I was happy with, especially given the circumstances listed above: 30, which is around the 80th percentile among the people who have taken the test.

I was so overjoyed I could only thank God.

I will also share with you the steps I have taken to reach my MCAT goal. Who knows? Maybe they will benefit you too.

Crucial Resource #1 – Books

I did not take a prep course. I was paying for my science classes in Bergen Community College. I was paying for my own car. Funds were limited.

I was working part-time and taking courses part-time. Time was limited. I just did not have the resources for a prep course.

mcat test prep - examkrackers

This book was my primary source for doing well on the MCAT. No MCAT test prep course was needed.

So I did the next best thing. I browsed through and bought the most popular and most highly rated MCAT test prep book: Examkrackers MCAT Study Package. I am glad I bought Examkrackers because it was manageable for me to go through. The books were short and high-yield.

To some people, it may seem too superficial to get a deep understanding of the subjects. But if I got another book, especially one with more details, more likely than not, I would be so lost.

I was going through the biology and organic chemistry books without having learned them in college. And after going through them, I understood biology and organic chemistry somewhat. My knowledge in them was not as solid as my knowledge in physics and inorganic chemistry. However, when I took my organic chemistry class later in the year, it was easier for me than it was for many of my peers.

Overall, Examkrackers is good and I would highly recommend it to anyone who needs review books before taking the MCAT. I have a friend who is going to take the MCAT. I gave him the books and told him they were pretty much all he needs to understand the topics.

Crucial Resource #2 – Practice Exams

Understanding the topics is one thing, but doing well on the exam is another thing. You are under pressure when taking the MCAT. You have time constraints and a computer testing program to get used to. It is imperative that you take practice exams. What better choices are there than the official exams of the past?

Do take advantage of the free practice exam through AAMC (see previous link). But you will need more than that. I did not feel that the free exam was a good indication of the MCAT; it was too easy. I bought all the old official exams. It was not too expensive — only $35 each.

The key to doing well on exams, especially the MCAT, is through lots of practice. Take the exams and review what you guessed right or got wrong. Learning from mistakes is a much better teacher than learning through memorization.

When I take the USMLE or COMLEX (both are national licensing exams for allopathic and osteopathic schools respectively), I will definitely do tons and tons of questions.

When Is a MCAT Test Prep Course Needed?

Another reason I did not take a MCAT test prep course was because I was taking classes at the time, and did not have enough time nor money for a prep course. There was some overlap between the things I have learned in class and the items being tested.

However, if you need a refresher on the subjects, cannot learn solely from reading, and like to attend lectures, the major MCAT test prep companies are Kaplan and Princeton Review. I cannot say much about either company because I did not use them for the MCAT.

I can say that I am going to use Kaplan when preparing for my first national medical exam. I read some reviews and the general consensus about Kaplan (for USMLE and COMLEX) is that it is pretty good, but expensive. From my first time through the Kaplan question bank for USMLE, I felt it was very detailed but did teach the main topics to focus on. I would assume the Kaplan question bank for MCAT would be the same quality –- detailed but will teach you the materials.

Do Not Lose Focus

Your main goal regarding the MCAT is to do well, 30 or above.

So take a deep look at yourself and find out how you learn best. If you have to take MCAT test prep courses, take them. It would be more expensive for you reapply than signing up for test prep courses. If your study methods are more like mine, get a review book. But most important of all, do practice questions!

This article is part of the Get into Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about getting accepted into medical school.


  1. Eric Nelson says:

    I am in the same boat as you were that I have not had organic chemistry. How can I learn the organic chemistry tested on the exam?


    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Eric,

      Good luck with learning organic chemistry. I actually learned it by myself by looking through Examkrackers. Looking back, I don’t think I learned it well. If I were you, I would look through Examkrackers, but I would also take the additional step of viewing online lectures for organic chemistry. I’m sure there are good and free lectures on YouTube or Google.

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