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MCAT Prep Advice from Kaplan Experts

The 2015 MCAT tests more topics, requires more preparation, and is scored out of 528 instead of 45. Many of our readers have asked a number of insightful questions about the MCAT and its changes. To offer the best answers regarding MCAT prep advice, we interviewed Kaplan Test Prep’s Eric Chiu, executive director of Kaplan’s pre-med programs, to get more insider information about the kind of services they provide to help students prepare. ProspectiveDoctor is not sponsored nor affiliated with any MCAT test prep company.

From your experience, what are the few keys in preparing for the MCAT?

Prepping for the MCAT can be an incredibly daunting prospect — we actually recommend at least 300 hours of study time (which can be about three months) before taking the MCAT. So one of the very first things you’re going to want to do is map out an MCAT study schedule. Not only will it help make the prep time feel more manageable, but this is a vital component to achieving success on test day. Start early and you’ll be spreading your study time out over 2 – 4 months — or even more depending on your prerequisite classes, extracurricular activities and other commitments — which means that you’ll be studying about 10-30 hours each week. Procrastinate, and just like cramming for finals, you risk burning out before you reach test day.

Secondly, remember that MCAT prep should not be one-size-fits-all. You’ll be coming to MCAT preparation with your own personal set of strengths and weaknesses in both content areas and test-taking skills. You’ll want to make sure that you use your limited study time as efficiently as possible to focus on your greatest areas of opportunity for content review and skills development.

And practice, practice, practice! You’ve probably heard that practice makes perfect. Actually, on the MCAT, only realistic and targeted practice makes perfect. Whatever practice you do, make sure you’re working with realistic practice items, including the official practice exam released by the AAMC for MCAT 2015. However, since the AAMC won’t be recycling those sample items, you will also want to supplement your practice with both full-length practice and targeted practice. As before, the more targeted you are with your practice, especially early in your preparation, the more efficiently you’ll be able to focus your limited practice time. Of course, the MCAT is a computer-based exam, so you’ll also want to make sure you prepare with computer-based practice.

||Read: Path to Medical School Part 5: The MCAT||

Finally, remember that the medical school admissions is very competitive. Just 43% of students are accepted to any program and the average acceptance rate at top 10 med schools is less than 8% Small gains on the MCAT = massive leapfrogging of other med school applicants. A gain of just one point can mean leapfrogging as many as 5,000 candidates. One last point: by junior year, your GPA is mostly set, but your MCAT score is still completely within your control. This is your chance to do something about it.

How are your teachers picked?

Kaplan is the only national MCAT prep company that requires every instructor to be score-qualified with a 90th percentile score on every section they teach. But beyond that proven MCAT expertise, what we look for first is passion – those who truly enjoy helping students to approach what seems like an obstacle, and turn it into an opportunity to shine. We also seek strong presenters – we look for individuals with the ability to deliver in a dynamic way and connect with people. Finally, we ask our students to rate their teachers during and after each course, and we use those student ratings to ensure that we’re appropriately scheduling and compensating our top-rated instructors.

When do you think is the best time to take the MCAT?

Choosing an MCAT test date comes with some uncertainty so we want to remind you of some of the things to consider.

  1. Time of Year: There are 4 different “windows” to take the exam, the Winter (January), the Spring (March through May), the summer (June and July), and the Fall (August and September). The “ideal” time to take it, is when you feel fully prepared. It isn’t worth it to rush your MCAT if you don’t feel ready.
  2. Test Date: The MCAT is now an all day affair, you will most likely want to treat the day as full day of work, since the exam is now over 7 hours long. That said, you will want to pick a day during which you are not only free, but have had a chance to rest the day before. For example, if you plan to take the test on a Saturday, be sure you can get all of Friday to yourself.
  3. Important Personal Obligations: Remember that you have a life outside of the MCAT. Things can come up at different times of the year: vacation, weddings, finals, and graduation. We recommend picking a time that you are going to be able to focus properly on the exam.
  4. Testing Center Locations: This is often something students forget about. You want to pick an exam location that is going to be convenient for you. Just like all things in medical school applications, early is always better to ensure that you will be able to take the test at your preferred location. It is in your best interest to register for your MCAT exam date ASAP. We have already seen reports about test centers filling up for the upcoming April, May, and June exams. The last thing you want to have happen to you is have to take the exam in a location that’s far from home. So sign up ASAP.

There are many things to think about in one’s own ideal MCAT test date. The bottom line is taking the test when you are comfortable and FULLY prepared.

What are your thoughts about the 2015 MCAT and how is your company preparing to adjust to it?

Nobody has more experience in preparing students for test changes than Kaplan, including the most recent changes to the MCAT back in 2007 when it went from paper and pencil to computer-based. Since the MCAT changes were announced in March 2011, Kaplan has been carefully following all the developments and reporting them to both students and the medical education community. We had and have a team of hundreds of academics working on fully updating our curriculum to prepare students for the new MCAT – the new course actually launched this fall. Now, our take on the exam: The MCAT changes are needed and beneficial. Keep in mind that today’s medicine includes scientific advances that didn’t exist a generation ago, and doctors are increasingly serving a more diverse population.

Medicine really is among the most dynamic of fields. It’s never static, so the education to become a doctor shouldn’t be static either. That said, the new MCAT content will be more difficult than the old one not only because of the additional content needed to be learned, but also because the new MCAT will be twice as long as the current one. This sounds potentially daunting, but it’s achievable hurdle for this highly motivated group – many pre-meds have wanted to become doctors since they were very young. One of the most important things students can do to stay informed about the changes is to start or maintain a strong relationship with your pre-health advisor at your college or university. Here at Kaplan, as we inch ever closer to the launch of the new exam in April, we’ll continue to monitor the issues at stake, report back to students and give them the best advice we have to help them successfully navigate the medical school admissions process.

Our new course has been built from the ground up with the new test in mind. It perfectly matches both the content and skills blueprint of the new exam and we’ll help you get ready for this exam. We have a whole website dedicated to the changes, full of information, videos, sample practice questions and Q&A. You can find it at www.mcat2015.com.

What is the average and/or median MCAT score of students after taking your course?/What is the average and/or median increase in MCAT score after taking your course?/What is the standard deviation of MCAT scores of your students?

Every student has individual goals for improvement. Some students are looking to raise their MCAT scores significantly, while others come to us with already strong scores and are only looking for that little extra boost. Students also put in varying levels of effort, so there really is no average degree of improvement – much like in a weight loss program, there’s no average pounds lost because there’s such wide variation in body type, genetic makeup and commitment to a program. What Kaplan focuses on is a pre-med student’s individual goals and providing a higher score money-back guarantee.

||Read: Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Retake the MCAT||

What are the different price options for your different MCAT courses?

Kaplan offers a wide variety of prep courses for the MCAT, which can range from one-on-one private tutoring, to on-site courses, to live, online Classroom courses, to online On Demand course, each personalized to a student’s individual needs and goals. Prices can range from $1,899 to several thousand for our private tutoring packages or our Summer Intensive Program. More complete pricing options and what each course offers can be found here.

We partner with student groups like the American Medical Student Association and other organizations across the country to offer our programs at a subsidized cost. Students should see whether we have a partnership with their pre-health student group and if not, see whether their group might be interested in partnering with us. Kaplan also provides tuition assistance for students in need via our Kaplan-exclusive The Starting Line tuition assistance program. We never turn away a student in economic need – we provide over a million dollars annually in tuition assistance. You can find more information and apply online at www.kaplanpartnerships.com/thestartingline.

Additionally, Kaplan runs many free practice tests and seminar events across the country throughout the year and online These include free full-length practice tests, admissions seminars and informational sessions on the entire admissions process. We also have helpful tools and resources on our Facebook page, such as online quiz banks, and Twitter.

What is your policy regarding retaking the course, if one exists?

We do allow students to retake our course, if they do not achieve their desired score goal, as part of our Higher Score Guarantee. If you take our program, attend all classes (or make-up classes), take all the practice tests, do all your homework, and don’t reach your individual score goal – whether that’s 5 points or 10 points – you can take the course again for free. If you take our program and your score doesn’t improve, you can get your money back.

What percentage of your students are accepted to U.S. MD or DO medical schools?

This is information we don’t have, however what I can tell you is that twice as many doctors prepared with Kaplan for the MCAT than with any other course.* The fundamental reason we are successful as a company is because we are successful at helping students achieve their goals.

*Proven track record: Doctors refers to US MDs who were licensed between 2001-2010 and used a fee-based course to prepare for the MCAT. The AlphaDetail, Inc. online study for Kaplan was conducted between November 10 – December 9, 2010 among 763 US licensed MDs, of whom 462 took the MCAT and used a fee-based course to prepare for it.

Does your company provide admissions consulting?

Yes, Kaplan does offer medical school admissions consulting. The medical school application process is arduous and you need to find the right program, draft countless essays, orchestrate recommendations, and navigate the coveted interview process. Your Kaplan consultant can utilize your unique experience, personal goals, and passion to help you make a convincing case for your admission.Your consulting package can include whatever guidance you need depending on where you are in the medical school application process. You’ll start with a 15-minute introductory call, during which you and your consultant will determine how to structure your sessions together. The first 15 minutes of your first call are on us. This allows you to get to know your consultant before you begin, to make sure they are the best match for you. From there, you’ll act as a team, strategizing on how to build the most compelling application package for you.

||Read: Should I Use Medical School Admissions Consulting?||

Also note that we offer an MCAT Advantage Plus course, which includes our comprehensive MCAT Advantage On Site or Classroom Anywhere course plus three hours of one-on-one coaching from a Med School Mentor. To be clear, our Med School Mentors are not professional admissions consultants, but Advantage Plus students are certainly welcome to ask their mentors about their own personal experiences having successfully navigated the med school admissions process themselves. More broadly, Kaplan’s Med School Mentors are available to coach Advantange Plus students through the entire process, from making the most of your Kaplan MCAT course to the admissions process and medical school experience.

Why should students choose Kaplan over other companies?

One huge differentiator is that we provide our MCAT students with 11 Kaplan practice tests for the new exam with answers and explanations for every single question. The AAMC has only released one sample exam, and while that is included as part of our program, it is not enough to just have one test to practice with. This makes our practice the most realistic practice available. Kaplan differs in four key areas: unmatched experience, personalized prep, breadth of resources and guaranteed results.

  1. ​​Unmatched experience and expertise: Kaplan founded the concept of test prep over 75 years ago. We’ve been preparing students to take the MCAT for decades, so we have significantly more experience than anyone else. This experience gives us unparalleled knowledge in both understanding the test, and understanding students. Our programs are based on extensive feedback from our students on their concerns, needs and goals. Combining this feedback with our knowledge of the test, we’ve continually honed and improved upon what strategies work best, what type of content is most valuable, and what skills students most need to focus on.
  2. Personalized prep: Through our understanding of our students’ needs and goals, we’ve developed a number of program options to suit different learning needs – whether students want to focus on a particular subject area, or are particularly high achievers, or are working professionals who need a live online option – we have offerings tailored for everyone.
  3. Breadth of resources: As a global company, we’re able to invest in resources for our students that our competitors can’t match – everything from research and technology to faculty training and curriculum development. Our network of locations and live, online options provide flexible options and convenience.
  4. Guaranteed results: Kaplan offers the strongest score and satisfaction guarantee in the industry. If you feel you’re not ready to take the exam, you can study with us again for free for the next test date or for 3 more months for computer-based tests. No matter how many points you improve, if you’re not satisfied with your overall score, you can study with us again for free for the next test date or for 3 more months for computer-based tests. And if for any reason you don’t raise your overall score, you can study with us again for free or get your money back.

About Evan Shih

Evan Shih
Evan Shih is in charge of ProspectiveDoctor’s community outreach and is also a contributing writer. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. He also graduated in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science from UCLA. If you are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com or have any questions, please email contactus@prospectivedoctor.com. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.

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