My Comparison of MCAT Review Books

Academic Guidance

My Comparison of MCAT Review Books

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably starting to prepare for the MCAT and you may be feeling a bit intimidated by the task ahead. Well, I’ll admit that preparing for the MCAT is a time intensive process and it’s going to require a lot of dedication. After all, the test is more than three and a half hours long (not counting the optional trial section) and it currently covers topics in physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and verbal reasoning.* The good news, though, is that I believe in you. With enough time and preparation, you can reach your target score.


With that being said, it is a good idea to give yourself as much time as possible to study and the most important resource you should use to study is a set of MCAT review books. There are a lot of different options out there, but the three most widely used sets, in my experience, are those produced by Kaplan, the Princeton Review, and the Berkeley Review. I personally used the sets offered by Kaplan and the Berkeley Review when I was studying and I found that each offered different benefits. The Kaplan review books, though, were my go to source for reviewing the different concepts and I preferentially used this set for two major reasons. First, the Kaplan books are very simple to read. The text gets right to the point and it tends to explain concepts in ways that are very easy to understand through the use of tools like metaphors and diagrams. Additionally, the Kaplan books do an excellent job of highlighting essential information that you should know by including notes on the side of the text that marked particularly important concepts. The second major reason that I preferred the Kaplan books is that the books provide an integrated review of the concepts by including notes in the text that explain how certain concepts tie together across different subjects. For example, say you were studying the concept of how kidneys work. Well, in the Kaplan books, there would be a note on the side of this section that ties the concept of kidney function back to the concept of active and passive transport. I found that reading these notes that bridge the two concepts really helped me to better understand and use the information that I was learning.


The Berkeley Review books have their own benefits and are quite different from the Kaplan books. The most important thing to note about this set of books is that it is more suited for students who already have a pretty decent comprehension of all the concepts. The text goes much more in depth when explaining ideas and the language that is used is much more complicated than that found in the Kaplan books. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. I found that reading the Berkeley Review books was very useful whenever there was a concept that I was still confused about even after reading the explanation in the Kaplan books. That being said, I would not recommend learning concepts from scratch using the Berkeley Review books. I would suggest that you find a simpler overview to get you acquainted with the information first, and then turn to the Berkeley Review books for a more complete explanation. The major benefit of using the Berkeley Review books, though, is that the books include an ample amount of practice problems that are extremely useful for solidifying the information that you learn. Other review books, like the set offered by Kaplan, also include practice problems, but the problems in the Berkeley Review books are especially useful because they tend to be harder than the problems you will encounter on the real exam. This is beneficial because, if you can learn to solve these problems well, then the problems that you face on the real exam will seem much easier.


In summary, the Kaplan review books are great if you want to learn concepts from scratch and if you enjoy text that is simple, concise, and full of metaphors and diagrams. In contrast, you should opt for the Berkeley Review books if you already have a decent understanding of the various concepts covered on the MCAT and if you want text that is more comprehensive, detailed, and which challenges your understanding of the material at a higher level. If neither of these options matches your preferences, then you may find the books offered by the Princeton Review to be best for you. Though I’ve never personally used this set of books, I’ve been told by many of my classmates that the Princeton Review books are a happy medium between the Kaplan books and the Berkeley Review books. I’ve heard that the text is neither too simple nor too detailed and the practice problems are at about the same level of difficulty that you will find on the actual exam. Ultimately, the biggest factor that determines your success will not be which set of books you study from, but rather how much effort you put into studying the set that you choose. So, with that, I wish you the best of luck with your studying and I urge you to remain persistent with your preparation!


*The MCAT is changing in 2015 to encompass a wider range of topics. More information can be found here: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/