Becoming a doctor is often a raging aspiration among undergrad students in America. It perhaps is also the most demanding among career options, involving tireless study and rigorous testing at each stage. Quite aptly, the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) — the gateway to almost all medical schools in the US — needs candidates to labor through months of preparative study at the end of which they have to take the grueling 7.5-hour exam.
Preparing for MCAT is a stressful and drawn-out exercise that stretches over 300-400 hours of study, which is as intensive as extensive in its scope. The good part is there are a plethora of resources to help you through your MCAT preparation. Principal among those resources is MCAT practice tests, which let you periodically check on your preparedness for the actual exam. To be in the catbird seat when taking the MCAT, treat each practice test as MCAT itself.
There are many reputed sites offering MCAT practice tests: AAMC, Next Step (Blueprint), Berkeley Review, The Gold Standard, Princeton Review, Kaplan. That last one, Kaplan, is considered by some medical pros as the best MCAT practice test.
Accessibility and Flexibility
There are many factors to consider when picking MCAT practice tests. Foremost are the quality of questions and the diversity of questions. Other factors are: Are the questions harder than the actual MCAT (the case with Next Step)? How long will you have access to the site (Berkeley Review gives you just 40 days)? Do the answers come with good explanations why your choice was incorrect (Gold Standard often says, “The answer is C because C is correct”)?
There are two more factors to consider. One is screen reader-friendly web pages. Visually hampered persons may not study reference material or take any test unless the web pages are adapted for enhanced readability on the screen. Therefore, if you have such a condition, you must keep this aspect in mind.
Another factor is flexibility. Ideally, you want to take practice tests when you wish to and not when the site is administering the tests mandates. So make sure you inquire whether the site is offering you the option of choosing the test date and time.
Feedback and Support
The significance of feedback cannot be overstated. If you take a test one day with an average score and then study for another month without feedback, your score on the second test is not likely to rise.
Good feedback tells you your mistakes and shortcomings in your medical knowledge, as well as reasons why your answers were wrong or right. Learning the reason for a wrong answer is key to filling up gaps in your armor. Learning why answers are correct serves a different purpose: reinforcing your knowledge. It helps if you also get statistics correlating other candidates’ responses.
Customer support becomes vital when you experience connectivity issues. So you should check whether the site offers 24×7 support to handle any technical problems you report promptly.
Variety of Tests
MCAT has four sections. Each MCAT practice site excels in some of the sections while falling under par in other areas. It thus follows that each test has its strengths and weaknesses.
The right way to prepare yourself comprehensively is to take a variety of tests from multiple sites. The sound idea is to start with the AAMC official guide half test as your first practice test. This gets you an early view of the official questions and a solid way to judge where you stand at the start. You can then follow up with other sites’ material and tests to build up your repertoire. Most experts agree that you should take a total of 10 practice tests spread across the areas that suit you best.
The last thing you need is an early test that gives you a high score that dips in later assessments. Instead, your practice test scores should form a crescendo that peaks in the actual MCAT exam.
To steer clear of dissipation, you should look for strategies that tune you to continuous improvement. An often-used approach for taking practice tests is to break up the four sections over two consecutive days. Some MCAT practice sites offer different strategies which you can explore. Combining the right strategy with a good regimen (study, exercise, sleep) maximizes your chances to score high on the day it matters most.