Low Budget MCAT Studying for a High Score

The process of preparing for medical school is arguably one of the most expensive endeavors of a pre-medical student’s career. On top of the cost of attending a college or university, pre-medical students may also have to invest in MCAT preparation materials, AMCAS/AACOMAS primary and secondary application fees, and travel expenses for medical school interviews.

As a student in a tough financial situation, I couldn’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for an MCAT prep course. I often found myself wondering if I would be as successful as my peers who were enrolled in these courses. As I was studying for the MCAT, I occasionally felt like I was at a major disadvantage.

You know what they say about hindsight, it’s 20/20. Looking back now, I can see that forgoing an MCAT prep course and using more inexpensive materials did not harm my score in the slightest!

For those of you out there who are pursuing a career in medicine but are restricted by your financial situation, please hear me when I say this: The only thing that can keep you from succeeding on the MCAT is your attitude toward it. There are so many free/inexpensive resources available if you are willing to let go of the idea that you must use the “big name” test prep companies to succeed. (Hint: There is really nothing super special about them anyway!)

Additionally, AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program (FAP) that will cover the cost of the MCAT (if you apply and are approved before you register for the test!), AAMC section banks, AAMC practice exams, the Official Guide to the MCAT book, and other materials! The FAP application can be found here.

Below is a basic outline of how I studied for the MCAT using free and inexpensive resources. Please understand that this study plan may not be the best tool for everyone. Everyone should figure out how they study best and tailor their study plan to their individual needs.

  • Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package (9th Ed.)
    I chose to use the Examkrackers MCAT review books for the bulk of my studying because I felt they helped me understand the basic concepts without bombarding me with unnecessary details. These books are less expensive than other companies (depending on where you purchase them), but these books were the most expensive resource I used.The way I used the Examkrackers books was fairly simple. I outlined each chapter and did the review questions at the end of each section. If I missed a review question or felt I didn’t truly understand the concept behind it, I would write the question out in my outline.Here’s an example of one of the pages of a physics outline:Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 4.00.41 PMExamkrackers also provides multiple passages for practice at the end of each subject book. These are great practice before moving on to AAMC material.I believe the 10th edition is now available for purchase, although it is more expensive.
  • Khan Academy MCAT Series (FREE) – https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat.
    I used Khan Academy MCAT videos to supplement topics presented in the Examkrackers review books that I had a hard time understanding. Since I am a visual learner, watching Khan Academy videos and occasionally taking notes on them really helped me understand difficult concepts.
  • AAMC Section Banks (FREE, if approved for the Fee Assistance Program).
    I used these section banks to solidify what I learned through Examkrackers after I was done outlining the chapters and watching Khan Academy videos. I would complete a full set of 100 questions on one day, then go back over the next few days and review the questions I missed to see which concepts I needed to spend more time on.If you start to run out of time and must choose the most important things to do before your test, I personally believe questions are more beneficial than reading/outlining review books. Questions allow you to simulate the test atmosphere while simultaneously uncovering which topics you need to spend more time practicing.
  • AAMC Unscored/Scored Practice Tests (FREE, if approved for the Fee Assistance Program).
    I took and reviewed the Unscored MCAT Practice Exam about two weeks prior to my scheduled MCAT date. This gave me time to review concepts I didn’t quite grasp before taking the scored test.I took and reviewed the Scored MCAT Practice Exam about three days prior to my scheduled MCAT date. This helped boost my confidence, build my stamina for the real MCAT (let’s be honest, 7 hours is a LONG time to sit in one place and stare at a computer), and pick out the concepts I was missing most frequently to review them one last time.I highly recommend taking both of these practice exams in a distraction-free environment under test-like conditions. It will help you feel more comfortable on exam day.

If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: You are capable of much more than you think you are. Be confident in your ability to succeed, recognize that you are only competing against yourself, and give it your best effort. You can do it!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions that I did not address in this post! I cannot wait to see you all succeed on your MCAT and take another huge step toward becoming amazing, compassionate physicians!


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