5 Best MCAT Prep Books (2020)
The MCAT is a serious test that requires a colossal amount of preparation.
If you plan on taking the MCAT anytime soon, you already know that you’ll need to be equipped with the very best test prep resources if you want to get a score that will get you into medical school.
In this article, we’ll give you a handful of our picks for the best MCAT prep books so that you’ll have a few ideas about which might be useful study resources.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have the first steps of your study strategy in place and ready to go.
The Best Books to Prepare for the MCAT
Table of Contents
- MCAT Prep Book Reviews
- MCAT Frequently Asked Questions
- Bracing Your Mind, Body, And Soul For Studying And The MCAT
- Final Thoughts on MCAT Prep Books
MCAT Prep Book Reviews
1. Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review
Kaplan’s MCAT Complete review collection is the market-leading solution for MCAT test preparation, and it’s the single most comprehensive prep resource.
Publisher: Kaplan Test Prep
Our Final Grade: A++
Kaplan’s prep set is the standard among many students preparing to take the MCAT because of how meticulous it is about covering every aspect of the test.
No matter the section of the MCAT, the relevant Kaplan book will go into the nitty-gritty details you need to both understand the concept and also ace the test. Each section has a smattering of quiz questions, thought exercises, and review passages.
You won’t necessarily need to purchase any other test prep resources if you grab the Kaplan collection. If you think you will need intensive support in a specialized area, try going through the relevant Kaplan lessons first, then circle back afterward if necessary.
While the study strategy tips are helpful, they are far from a coherent study plan. If you go into Kaplan’s collection guns blazing, you will quickly burn out, so you will need to make a study plan of your own that will lead to you giving each piece of material its full due.
Similarly, this collection is too ambitious to use effectively in the context of a study group. There’s simply too much material to cover and too many detailed areas that you require close and uninterrupted attention.
Instead, if you want to use these books to study in a group, consider breaking out one single section and focusing there. You’ll still need to find outside resources to round out your study of that section if you’re doing it with a group, but it’ll be more manageable nonetheless.
Overall, it is very difficult to make a better study guide book for the MCAT than what Kaplan has produced with this collection.
- Includes a plethora of guided example questions
- Includes three full-length practice tests online
- Provides tips on how to form a study strategy and how to troubleshoot problem areas
- No tips on how to recruit outside resources to study
- Too dense for effective studying in groups
2. Test Prep Books’ MCAT Prep Book
The MCAT prep book from Test Prep Books is an effective overview that includes a bit of everything you’ll need to perform well on the MCAT.
Publisher: Test Prep Books
Our Final Grade: A+
This MCAT prep book is notable because it isn’t overwhelming. Indeed, no matter the topic, this study guide will touch on it and give you a few important details that you will need to understand to succeed on the MCAT.
As a result, the Test Prep Books study guide is an excellent introduction to studying for the MCAT. Everything from test-taking strategies to making study plans is covered.
Critically, this book also helps you to prepare your psyche for the test. To accomplish this, there are many sections that offer coaching regarding anxiety, over-analysis of test questions, and second-guessing yourself.
It isn’t a dedicated resource regarding test anxiety, but the interjections it provides in the course of teaching other material will be valuable for nearly anyone who takes the MCAT.
It’s important to remember that despite its many strengths, this test prep book is not intended to be the only resource you use when preparing for the MCAT. The topics it covers in the lesson sections will help you to understand where you need to follow up with further learning.
Likewise, the quiz questions and solutions manual should be considered as tools to prompt deeper investigation using another test prep resource.
It’s no secret that other test prep books will go deeper than this one, but keep in mind that it’s helpful to have a resource that’s skimmable for when you’re doing your final preparations.
- Excellent psychiatry section
- Assumes very little background knowledge
- Includes frequent exhortations to avoid analysis paralysis and over-analysis of test questions
- Annoying marketing content included in bonus activities
- May approach some topics in an overly simplistic way
3. Princeton Review’s MCAT Subject Review Set
Princeton Review’s MCAT review guide is a polished and meticulously detailed set of books that won’t let you down when it’s time to study for the MCAT.
Publisher: Princeton Review
Our Final Grade: A
With the Princeton Review set, it will be harder for you to fall asleep while studying than it might be with other review guides. The reason for this is that all of the lesson material is decorated with colorful diagrams, helpful charts, and focus material to keep you engaged.
Unlike other study guide collections, however, Princeton’s MCAT review set doesn’t skimp on the meat. All of the topics on the MCAT are comprehensively discussed.
No matter whether you have a strong background in an area already or if you’re just approaching it for the first or second time, this collection will guide you through the process.
Your knowledge will be tested at every step of the way, including meta-material like test-taking strategies and study planning.
This isn’t to say that the Princeton review books are ready for studying on autopilot. If anything, you’ll need to decide which sections to focus on and which to spend less time studying. If you naively approach these study guides as page-turners, you will get lost in the weeds very quickly.
Detailed information is far from a weakness when it comes to MCAT prep, however. With that said, there are a few minor areas where the Princeton collection could improve.
First, the online study tools included with the collection are an afterthought. You probably won’t find much utility in spending time exploring them unless you’ve never picked up a flashcard before.
In contrast, the glossary section of each book is positively encyclopedic. You will find that the glossary is never referred to as a learning tool, unfortunately.
If you want to get the most out of the glossaries, you’ll need to interject it into your study plan regardless of where the books are telling you to spend time studying.
- Engaging teaching style with colorful pictures
- Comprehensive coverage of content
- Great chapter summaries
- Difficult to make use of the voluminous glossary content
- Online tools aren’t very useful
4. Mometrix MCAT Secrets Study Guide
The Mometrix MCAT Secrets Study Guide is a capable prep resource that devotes a significant amount of time to helping the test-taker feel like they are prepared for the arduous ordeal of taking the MCAT.
Our Final Grade: A-
The lesson sections of this guide are comprehensive but not overwhelming. This means that each lesson leaves the student feeling prepared rather than overwhelmed at all of the material they need to keep track of.
All of the material is sufficiently engaging, and you don’t need to worry about identifying weaknesses because the book will help you.
As far as MCAT test prep books go, the Mometrix guide spends a lot of time helping the student to handle their psychology so that they can accomplish the best when it’s time to take the test.
If you are frequently worried during your MCAT study sessions, this book will help you to keep things on an even keel.
Likewise, if you feel that you have chronic test anxiety, the Mometrix study guide will help you to understand those feelings and address them with a handful of different tactics.
One downside of the Mometrix MCAT test prep book is that it only includes one practice test, so you’ll definitely need to find more before you can be fully prepared.
Another downside is that the test-taking strategies included in the Mometrix book are fairly superficial in comparison to those offered by other books. If you already understand how to take the MCAT from a test strategy perspective, don’t let this drawback scare you away.
On the other hand, if you aren’t prepared to articulate exactly how your test-taking strategy impacts your study plan, you should be careful to shore up your preparedness before relying heavily on this book.
- Has an in-depth section on test psychology and overcoming test-taking anxiety
- Includes a helpful critical analysis primer
- Has a great solutions manual for scientific concept questions
- The facile test-taking strategy section
- Only includes one practice test
5. Sterling Test Prep General Chemistry High Yield MCAT Questions
If you need intensive and extensive support for your general chemistry preparation, there’s no better resource than the Sterling MCAT question set for general chemistry.
Publisher: Sterling Test Prep
Our Final Grade: B+
If you’re like most pre-medical students, general chemistry is one of your bugbears during your MCAT preparation. As a heavily quantitative discipline, many students find that their classes have poorly prepared them to nail chemistry problems on the MCAT.
Sterling’s book of general chemistry questions is one potential solution to this issue. In the book, you’ll find thousands of questions and answers regarding every general chemistry topic on the MCAT.
Make no mistake: you’ll need to be brushed up on your background knowledge in chemistry before you can take advantage of this resource. The book is light on exposition and heavy on question-and-answer style learning.
As a result, this guide is extremely effective at what it sets out to do. However, you will find that it is enormously tedious to proceed through each section of the study guide, completing the problems along the way.
The exception to this is if you enjoy the order and logical progression of solving general chemistry problems with a pen and paper. If this sounds like you, the Sterling book will be a page-turner.
For everyone else, it needs to be carefully incorporated into your study plan to ensure that you don’t burn out after an hour or two of struggling with the material.
If you have a fundamental misunderstanding about a relevant chemistry concept, you’ll identify it immediately, but you may not have the resources to address your problem with the book’s help alone.
One minor caveat is that this MCAT prep book doesn’t include any practice tests, nor does it include robust electronic learning resources. You should still incorporate these resources into your study routine for your general chemistry studies.
Finally, it’s important to remember that this book is a specialized resource. You won’t get any help with organic chemistry or any other section of the exam. As a result, this book works best when you have several other resources in your study routine.
- Exhaustive coverage of every general chemistry topic on the MCAT
- Includes four different diagnostic tests to guide study planning
- Includes a plethora of practice problems and concept questions
- Minimal discussion of basic principles outside of solution manual
- Very dry content
MCAT Frequently Asked Questions
What Sections Should Every MCAT Prep Book Have?
If an MCAT prep book is trying to be a one-stop-shop for your test preparation, it needs to have the following sections at a minimum:
- Study planning guide
- One section for each segment of the test
- Practice questions after each lesson
- Test-taking strategies
- Practice tests
- Solution manuals
Study Planning Guide
The study planning guide is important because it explains to you how to use your time wisely when you are studying.
Most study planning guides sketch the basic activities of preparing for the MCAT, including diagnosing your level of knowledge, finding gaps in your knowledge, learning the material, testing how well you learned the material, and so on.
The best study planning guide sections in MCAT prep books help you to mold the contents of the book to the areas that you need to work on the most in your study planning.
In other words, they help you to develop a study plan rather than handing you the plan and expecting you to follow it.
Plenty of Practice
Similarly, the best MCAT test prep books guide you through each section and test your knowledge at the end of the section. Then, potentially before the practice tests, the best MCAT test prep books explain how to implement testing strategies so that you get the best outcome.
Practice tests are an important segment of most MCAT test prep books specifically because of how effective they are at getting you to practice the core information and techniques you learned elsewhere in the book.
If your MCAT test prep book doesn’t have a practice test and a solution manual, you will need to find additional resources to ensure that you are prepared.
However, if a test prep book is specializing in a single area like organic chemistry or physics, they don’t necessarily need to spend much time on any of the above.
How Many Practice Tests Should I Take?
The rule of thumb regarding practice tests for the MCAT is that you should take as many as you have time for. That does not mean your only test preparation should be taking practice tests, however.
Nor does it mean that you will raise your score by taking more than one practice test in a row.
Each practice test will run you about five and a half hours of time, assuming you stick to the time limit as during the real MCAT. Effectively, this means that each practice test takes up about half of a day that you could be spending on studying the MCAT material firsthand.
Furthermore, there’s no point in taking a practice test before you have made one full in-depth pass through all of the MCAT material and performed a review.
Once you have deep familiarity with the content of all of the sections in the MCAT, you can proceed to take practice tests.
Try to take one practice test per week, then spend the rest of the week identifying problem areas and solving the underlying misunderstandings comprehensively. After a few weeks, you should notice that you have fewer and fewer problem areas.
In summary, this means that most people should try to take around five or six practice tests, but it depends on how rapidly your score improves with each.
The harder you try to address your problems after each practice test, the fewer future practice tests you’ll need before you feel confident enough to proceed to the real MCAT.
How Important Is Study Planning?
Study planning is critical to effectively preparing for the MCAT. If you do not have a study plan, your study efforts will be so disorganized that you will not cover all of the material in the depth necessary to get a good score.
In essence, your study plan should account for:
- Your target score
- How much time you have to study before the test
- How much time you want to spend learning each section during your first pass through the material
- How you will test your comprehension of each section after you process it the first time
- How much time you are willing to spend ironing out problems after each test
- How much time you want to spend reviewing each section in the context of your pre-test review
- How many practice tests you will take
The best MCAT prep books will help you to compose a study plan. Remember that you are the one who needs to take the test, not the textbook authors, however. Consider the suggestions of MCAT prep books to be a jumping-off point for whatever works best for your efforts.
Bracing Your Mind, Body, And Soul For Studying And The MCAT
Preparing for the MCAT is an ordeal in and of itself, so do not underestimate it. Be sure to eat three meals per day, maintain your normal exercise and sleeping routines, and maintain at least some social contact with people who are not also preparing for the MCAT.
Many people also find it helpful to take meditation breaks while they are studying for the MCAT.
If you neglect yourself, your study efforts will suffer, and you will also suffer. It will be tempting to push yourself too far, and you will probably do so a few times even if you try not to.
Try to avoid drinking too much coffee, using study-enhancing drugs, studying all night, and binging on anything, even if it is very tempting for you. You need to be in top form when you’re studying, just like when you’re taking the test.
Don’t forget to be outside near some greenery at least once per day to minimize your stress levels. If you find that your stress levels are off the charts despite implementing the above strategies, reach out to your friends, family, and medical caregivers for help.
Final Thoughts on MCAT Prep Books
If you want a comprehensive yet well-organized test prep book, Kaplan’s collection is probably a good choice for your needs.
On the other hand, if you know that you need specialized assistance, don’t be afraid to grab focused resources like the Sterling general chemistry question and answer bank.
Now that you know what to look for in an MCAT prep book and that you’re familiar with our picks for the best MCAT prep book, it’s time to steel yourself and study for the MCAT.
Keep in mind that you are allowed to have emotions about the looming MCAT or the state of your test prep. Stay dedicated to your study plan and give yourself plenty of time to decompress. You can do this if you put your mind to it.