Studying for the MCAT on a Budget

Yes, we have all seen that one ad telling us the "MCAT is hard and the MCAT is important", but what it neglects to mention is that the MCAT is also expensive. It is very easy to spend well over $1000 just on study materials and prep for the test. Taking a class or getting a private tutor costs at least $3000. I took the MCAT this summer, maintained a budget, and still achieved the score I was looking for. After taking the exam, I have carefully thought about what materials were worth the cost and what weren’t. Now, I want to spread that knowledge.

If you're someone who is on a tight budget and looking to take the exam, here are some helpful tips for you.

  1. Khan Academy was one of my main resources for reviewing content material. It offers questions for each section of the exam, as well as thousands of videos reviewing all of the material. The AAMC actually partnered with Khan Academy in 2015 to compile these videos and modules. Thus, it is some of the best free material out there. I personally downloaded a “Video Speed Controller” on my web browser so I could watch the videos on 2.5x, higher or lower depending on how well I knew the content. It was really helpful to have a free resource to review all of the content. Unfortunately, Khan Academy has announced that they will be ending this program 9/30/2021. Until then, I definitely recommend using this over any content review textbooks, especially if you are someone like me and learn better from a video than a book. 

  2. Jack Westin is a website which provides free daily CARS passages, and you can subscribe for free to have them emailed to you as a study reminder. This is an incredible resource as the modules mimic the test set-up on the actual exam, which helps get you used to what it is like to take it. Not only do the passages show which questions you got right and wrong, but it shows the percentage breakdown of each answer choice for everyone who has taken it. This helps you see if the question you missed was commonly missed or not. A great part about this resource is that they save all of the old passages that you can go back and do too, which is really helpful if you miss a day or feel behind.

  3. 3. Free MCAT Practice Exams

    This one may take a little digging, but it is not impossible to find. Most MCAT resources will provide one free practice exam if you subscribe to their emails. While this is at the cost of completely filling your inbox, it is definitely worth the free exams, especially since some can charge up to $50 for just one test. A few that I can think of off of the top of my head include Blueprint, Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and Altius.

  4. 4. Anki

    If you have ever watched any medical school youtubers, you know that they swear by Anki to learn material. Anki is a flashcard program that uses spaced repetition to try to help you memorize all the information you need to know. It is free on a computer, but the app costs $25. However, I found that using the computer was enough for me. There are a lot of premade MCAT ready decks you can find on Reddit or Facebook Groups or you can make your own deck too.  

  5. 5. Other Online Resources

    Joining Reddit threads and Facebook groups can also provide you with tons of other great free resources. This includes a 100-page document of all you need to know about the PS section of the exam and other’s handwritten notes that they are sharing. Kaplan’s review books also grant access to online resources, but these sources are not locked by an access code. Instead, to unlock the resources, you just have to type in the exact word on a certain page and chapter of a book. This means you can use a friend’s copy or local library to get the passcode necessary and unlock all of Kaplan’s online resources at no extra cost to you.

  6. This is the first thing on this list that costs money, but it is also an absolute must for preparing to take the exam. The four full length exams provided by the AAMC may be expensive, but they're worth the investment. This will be your only true understanding of what the actual test is like since these practice exams are made by the makers of the MCAT. I found that this was most significantly different in the CARS section, since the AAMC had different reasoning than other third-party exams I had attempted. It is well worth the $140, especially if that is all you end up spending on study material.

  7. 7. UWorld

    This is by far the most expensive thing on the list, but if you are going to splurge on any study resources, splurge on this. I bought the 90 day basic subscription, but you can also start with a free 7-day sample if you want to see what you think of it. UWorld was the best resource by far for my studying. It was a perfect combination of content review and practice questions. You can either use the practice tests in tutor mode to learn the material or in a test mode to stimulate test conditions. Their explanations per each question not only explains the correct answer but goes through the entire concept to make sure you understand all of it before you continue. While UWorld is expensive, you can try to sign up for a group discount via Facebook or Reddit groups, or you may be able to find someone selling their account who has finished their exam. Plus, you will be likely using UWorld in medical school, so might as well get used to the platform now.

Remember, you will do great on the MCAT and make it into medical school and become a great doctor. I believe in you. Now go out there and study! You got this.