The Best MCAT Prep Course

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is considered one of the most difficult standardized exams — with a testing period of 7.5 hours, it is a mental and physical marathon. Like any marathon, the MCAT requires training. But carving out time over many months to study for the MCAT can be tough when you are also balancing school, work, or other life responsibilities.

Enter the MCAT prep course. These courses not only include the materials students need to study but also provide (or help students create) a study schedule. For those who need help reviewing subject material and sticking to a study plan, an MCAT prep course provides a welcome degree of structure. The best will help you stay on task while offering clear explanations, adaptive study tools, and practice exams that replicate the real MCAT experience.

Next Step Test Prep ($1,600) is our top pick for a self-paced MCAT prep course. Like most other self-paced prep courses, students can expect thorough video lessons and official practice exams. What takes Next Step to the next level is the unique access to instructors through live-online office hours five times a week. Interacting with instructors gives you a chance to receive feedback and guidance on the topics giving you difficulty. This ensures that you have the ability to address any gaps in your understanding in the event you have trouble doing so on your own. Best of all, the instructor help is optional, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice any flexibility in your study schedule unless you want that extra input. If you have a busy schedule and need a flexible study plan, Next Step Test Prep is a solid option with excellent resources.

Kaplan takes top spot for both live online ($2,500) and in-person ($2,500) prep courses. The instructors are knowledgeable and engaging, and you can contact them outside of class in case you need additional help while studying at home. When you do study on your own, you’ll also have access to a large range of resources, such as a customizable quiz generator. More importantly, these adaptive tools will help you pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses for more effective study sessions. As instructor-led courses, you will have to show up or login for class at specific times (students on tighter schedules should consider Next Step instead). How do you choose between the two options? Consider whether you prefer a physical classroom environment or the flexibility to attend class from the comfort of your home.

Our Picks for the Best MCAT Prep Courses

Best Self-Paced Course
Next Step Test Prep
Next Step Test Prep
Students can expect the best of flexible scheduling and instructor guidance in this self-paced package, with a wide range of materials and live online office hours.

It was a close call with industry giants like Kaplan and The Princeton Review, but Next Step Test Prep ultimately took the crown for self-paced MCAT prep course thanks to its well-designed practice materials and unique (and free) live online office hours.

Next Step offers access to an impressive collection of company-made practice exams. According to student reviews from the Reddit and SDN community survey, Next Step’s practice exams are close simulations of the real thing. The testing platform even mimics the official MCAT interface down to the keyboard shortcuts and color scheme. Of course, you’ll also be preparing with four official AAMC practice tests provided in the course, but we appreciate that Next Step ensures all available practice exams are as realistic as possible.

When it comes to resource quality, Next Step beats out other providers. In addition to its practice exams, the company impressed us with detailed explanations, nine informative books, and interactive video lessons. The interactive video lessons are particularly engaging, with built-in quizzes that include multiple choice questions, word banks, and even diagram completion.

Next Step video lessons include interactive quizzes with diverse question formats.

The interactive lessons not only help you pay attention, but also serve as knowledge checkpoints where you can examine your level of understanding. The changing question formats also keep lessons diverse and interesting while preparing you for the types of questions or thought processes you can expect from the MCAT. Other providers, like Gold Standard MCAT Prep, simply provide videos that play from start to finish. The closest competitor, Kaplan, offers interactive videos, but mostly includes short multiple choice questions without much question diversity or need for critical thinking.

What You Get: Next Step Self-Paced Course
    Price: $1,600
    6 months of access
    10 company-made practice exams
    Access to all released AAMC practice material
    Access to the Next Step Question Bank (1,000 questions in 28 subject-specific quizzes)
    Access to live online office hours (five times a week)
    250 hours of interactive on-demand video instruction
    9 MCAT Coursebooks
    Customizable study planning tool

Unlike most self-paced courses, Next Step also offers live office hours five times a week. During these sessions, an instructor guides you through a comprehensive review of specific topics. The small focused lessons allow students to receive real-time feedback through live practice questions and Q&A opportunities. While these sessions are best viewed as a supplemental resource — they won’t replace traditional live-online lessons — having access to an instructor can help students who have more difficulty understanding certain topics and questions. You also don’t have to attend the full session, you can drop in just to ask a question, or watch the recorded version later. In other words, Next Step incorporates some of the benefits of a live-online course without sacrificing the flexibility of self-paced learning — an innovative touch.

Next Step provides live online office hours where you can interact with an instructor. Once you join the video conference, you can ask questions or simply follow along.

As for the competition? The company’s closest competitor, Kaplan, provides a similar feature. But you’ll have to pay $500 extra (total $2,500). To be fair, Kaplan adds a few other resources such as three hours of tutoring. But for us, at $1,600 Next Step offers better value for the same (if not better) instruction.

Next Step’s customizable calendar makes it easy to adjust your study schedule to match your progress — one of the core aspects of an effective study plan.

With the abundance of study materials, we were worried that it would be difficult to balance them all. So we were glad to see that Next Step also includes a customizable schedule to help you craft a study plan that works for you. Simply drag and drop events such as a video lesson or review session, and you won’t have to worry about wasting time or being overwhelmed by resources.

Of course, Next Step isn’t perfect. Outside of the customizable study calendar, there are no other adaptive resources. Our tester also found some of the on-demand video lessons a little difficult to follow. But live office hours mitigate the issues by giving you access to an instructor for personalized feedback. In addition, useful practice materials offer the tools and confidence you’ll need for test day. If you are looking for the most-well rounded self-paced course on the market, Next Step is an excellent choice.

Live office hours with expert instructors and useful practice materials, including company-made exams with high ratings from online MCAT communities, make it the most well-rounded self-paced course we evaluated. It offers the self-paced study tools and can help to build the confidence you’ll need come test day.

Best Live Online & In-Person Courses
Kaplan MCAT Prep
Kaplan Test Prep
Expert instructors and adaptive resources make this a strong choice for live online and in-person students. You have the option of a traditional classroom, but for those who need more flexible scheduling, live online is your best bet.

As a leading provider of prep courses since 1938, it wasn’t too surprising to see Kaplan take top spot in two categories — live online and in-person. After all, its many years in the industry have helped the company develop a large and impressive library of resources for prospective medical students. Not only that, its expert instructors will help you identify your weaknesses and earn a higher score.

At a glance, the live online instruction from Kaplan is fairly standard for the industry. Instructors lead digital lessons and students can receive real-time feedback through a chat feature. Explanations are clear and precise, and the material is easy to follow. But a deeper look reveals a two key characteristics that make all the difference, including the ability to contact your instructor outside of class. If you get stuck on a topic or question, you won’t have to wait for the next class period to receive assistance — an important feature for students who are on a once-a-week or twice-a-week class schedule. The closest competitor, The Princeton Review, also offers this feature, but you only get one week free before having to pay extra. We prefer courses that are designed to help students avoid roadblocks throughout the entire course, so Kaplan takes the cake.

The other characteristic? Instructors who have top-notch credentials — after all, instructors have to be more than just available, they have to be effective. Kaplan’s live online instructors all scored within the 90th percentile (a top tier score) on their own MCAT exam, which means they will know what to expect on the MCAT and how to take it effectively. But can they teach? Student reviews report good experiences with caring and helpful instructors who provide the feedback and clear explanations you’ll need to improve. We had a similar experience while watching sample lessons — instructors seemed genuinely interested in the material and excited to help students.

What You Get: Kaplan Live Online Course
    Price: $2,500
    Course length depends on the class you sign up for
    Live instruction
    15 company-made practice exams
    Access to all released AAMC practice material
    Access to the Adaptive QBank
    Access to the MCAT Channel (elective on-demand and live video sessions)
    130 Science Review Videos
    7 MCAT Subject Review Books
    700 hours worth of total instruction and practice

Live Online Plus

    Price: $3,000
    Everything from the standard live online course
    3 hours of one-on-one tutoring
    20 hours of Biochemistry Review videos
    18 hours of Behavioral Science Review videos

You can switch classesTaking an instructor-led course always comes with some risk of being paired with an instructor you dislike. Fortunately, Kaplan allows you to switch into a different course up to three times at no charge, as long as it’s before you reach the halfway mark.

Kaplan holds the instructors for its in-person prep courses to the exact same standards. So you can expect expert instructors in the classroom -- and beyond, if you need to contact them outside of class. During the course, they will also cover the same material as their live online counterparts and offer feedback when you ask questions. In short, you won’t have to worry about receiving qualified instruction. However, when it comes to in-person courses, you will have to worry about availability. Since an in-person course relies on physical classrooms, available locations are often limited. Kaplan was the only provider of in-person prep courses that could offer quality instruction in at least three quarters of the nation.

What You Get: Kaplan In-Person Course
    Price: $2,500
    Course length depends on the class you sign up for
    Live instruction (in classrooms across 45 states)
    15 company-made practice exams
    Access to all released AAMC practice material
    Access to the Adaptive QBank
    Access to the MCAT Channel (Elective on-demand and live video sessions)
    130 Science Review Videos
    7 MCAT Subject Review Books
    700 hours worth of total instruction and practice

In-person Plus

    Price: $3,000
    Everything from the standard in-person course
    3 hours of one-on-one tutoring
    20 hours of Biochemistry Review videos
    18 hours of Behavioral Science Review videos

An instructor-led course should also offer the adaptive study tools you’ll need while studying on your own — which is where Kaplan set itself apart from its competitors. Both its live online and in-person prep courses offer useful tools, like the impressive adaptive QBank, a customizable quiz generator that measures your strengths and weaknesses. Adaptive quizzes are ideal for shorter study sessions where you can focus on the areas where you most need to improve.

Kaplan’s interactive video lessons pause automatically, so you can answer questions along the way.

The resources for both courses are the same, and include interactive videos and AAMC practice exams. For example, Kaplan video lessons pause automatically so that you can answer built-in questions. This ensures you not only pay attention but also allows you to identify whether or not you understand the content the video covers. We missed the interactivity when watching videos from competitors like The Princeton Review that simply play from start to finish. The Kaplan courses also give students access to all released AAMC practice materials including official exams (3 scored and 1 unscored). Studying for the MCAT is a multi-month affair, and we appreciated the extra material compared to the single AAMC exam that competitors like Examkrackers provide.

Of course, Kaplan has its flaws. Some students complained that its company-made practice exams did not accurately replicate the MCAT experience. But with its wide availability, solid instructors, and other helpful resources, including official AAMC exams, the benefits of a Kaplan course outweighed the competition. In short, if you want an effective instructor-led course, whether live online or in-person, Kaplan is a strong bet.

How to Study for the MCAT

Feel confident about studying on your own? We have a list of resources that can help.

A prep course offers the benefit of having scheduled study plans and a wide range of resources to help you study. However, there are quite a few MCAT students who feel comfortable studying on their own, and doing so is often more cost effective. If you choose to build your own MCAT prep course, you’ll still need quality resources to help you increase your score. We found a few that might help:

No prep course, self-made or otherwise, would be complete without official practice exams. Fortunately, the AAMC sells official practice exams and study materials, which will help you get the practice you need to do well. Official study materials will help you learn what to expect on the day of the real test, but to get the most out of the materials you’ll need to review the practice exam questions thoroughly.

Khan Academy is one of the most popular sources of MCAT study materials. For those who need a more detailed refresher of subject material, studying with Khan Academy before a full prep course is a good option. There are also plenty of practice questions which makes the website a good option for those who choose to forego a full prep course. The best part? All of the material is free.

With all of the digital resources available, physical books may seem antiquated. But in reality, prep books are still some of the best resources around. Rather than sign up for a full prep course, many students elect to buy the books separately to study on their own. Some of the most tried and true prep books include Kaplan’s 7 set series, The Princeton Review’s collection, and the set from Examkrackers. Along with supplemental videos from Khan Academy and practice exams from the AAMC, they are highly recommended by students.

The MCAT changed in 2015

The AAMC updated the format and scoring of the MCAT in 2015 to reflect changes in medicine and science. How did the exam change? The exam now centers even less on content knowledge and focuses more on your ability to apply it.

The reasons for the update are due to the changing perspectives about medical professions. In a letter to prospective medical students, Darrell G. Kirch, president of the AAMC, explained that physicians not only need to possess domain knowledge, but need the ability to critically think about ethics, philosophy, and cultural studies. The goal was to ensure future medical students would be both knowledgeable scientists and caring and responsible practitioners.

This led to the introduction of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section (CARS) which introduced new subject fields, including psychology and sociology. The majority of MCAT prep courses, including our top picks, have updated in accordance with the change. But understanding the reasons why the MCAT changed will help you prepare for the type of work you can expect to do in medical school.

Our MCAT Prep Courses Review: Summed Up

MCAT Prep Courses
The Best...
Next Step Test Prep
Self-Paced Course
Kaplan Live Online
Live Online Course
Kaplan In Person
In-Person Course