How to Prepare for the MCAT on a Budget?

Medical school is expensive. From preparation till graduation, you can easily find yourself shelling out a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and hence, it is important to save money wherever you can. One of the best ways to do this is by making better spending decisions during your MCAT preparation.

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is one of the most competitive exams in the US. However, that does not mean that you will need to spend a fortune behind preparing for it. The following tips will help you prepare for the exam on a budget without compromising your preparation quality. 

female student suffering from headache in library

Understand the Structure of the Test

Familiarizing yourself with the MCAT structure and pattern will help you strategize better for the fierce competition that it entails. The exam consists of a set of standardized questions spanning four sections which will test your viability for a career in medicine. They are:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems - The questions from this section will test your understanding of various biological systems' physical, mechanical, and chemical functionalities. 
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) - In this section, you will need to analyze a set of given passages and answer questions related to the same. 
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems - Here, you will be tested on your understanding of the fundamental biological and biochemical processes that happen in synchrony inside a living organism. It encompasses topics like growth, metabolism, the foundations of genetics and endocrinology. 
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior - This section will test your understanding of the fundamentals of human psychology and behavior that is an integral part of a medical career.

Every section apart from CARS comprises 59 questions which are to be answered within 95 minutes. The CARS section, on the other hand, features 53 questions and a time limit of 90 minutes. Apart from these, you can also avail of an optional break of 10 minutes between each section. Thus, the MCAT has a total duration of approximately seven and a half hours.

Take Practice Tests and Old Exams

Taking practice tests and solving old test papers is a great way to familiarize yourself with the test structure and develop a solid understanding of the candidates' exam tests. Moreover, you can easily find such practice papers in digital or in-paper formats either completely for free or for a very low cost.

The MCAT doesn’t just test examinees for their content knowledge but also for their ability to thrive under the 95-minute time pressure. Thus, it would help if you attempted the practice tests in a simulated test environment within a dedicated time frame. Also, after attempting every test, make sure to analyze your mistakes to figure out which areas you have performed poorly on and need to focus more during your prep.

Prioritize Your Spending

With the sheer variety of resources available in the market, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed by the urge to acquire all the ones that promise to “best prepare you for the MCAT.” If you’re having trouble allocating funds to augment your prep, try to focus your spending on resources that will help you prepare for the sections in which you need additional help. 

It is important to understand here that the MCAT will primarily test you on subjects you’ve already covered in med school. Hence, you can focus more on resources like the best MCAT prep books instead of conventional courses, which are highly expensive.

Best MCAT Books on Amazon

# Preview Product Rating Price
1 MCAT Flashcards: 1000 Cards to Prepare You for the MCAT (Kaplan Test Prep) MCAT Flashcards: 1000 Cards to Prepare You for the MCAT (Kaplan Test Prep) 2,089 Reviews $39.99 $21.34Amazon Prime
2 Princeton Review MCAT Subject Review Complete Box Set, 4th Edition: 7 Complete Books + 3 Online Practice Tests (Graduate School Test Preparation) Princeton Review MCAT Subject Review Complete Box Set, 4th Edition: 7 Complete Books + 3 Online... 85 Reviews $249.99 $134.58Amazon Prime
3 MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2024-2025, Set Includes Books, Online Prep, 3 Practice Tests (Kaplan Test Prep) MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2024-2025, Set Includes Books, Online Prep, 3 Practice Tests... 217 Reviews $289.99 $275.49Amazon Prime
4 MCAT Mnemonics 2024-2025: 100+ Memory Tricks, Study Strategies for MCAT Success (Cambridge Ten) MCAT Mnemonics 2024-2025: 100+ Memory Tricks, Study Strategies for MCAT Success (Cambridge Ten) No ratings yet $11.81Amazon Prime
5 MCAT Prep Books 2024-2025 - 650+ Practice Test Questions, MCAT Secrets Study Guide and Exam Review with Step-by-Step Video Tutorials: [7th Edition] MCAT Prep Books 2024-2025 - 650+ Practice Test Questions, MCAT Secrets Study Guide and Exam Review... 22 Reviews $65.99 $54.99Amazon Prime
6 MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2019-2020: Online + Book + 3 Practice Tests (Kaplan Test Prep) MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2019-2020: Online + Book + 3 Practice Tests (Kaplan Test Prep) 525 Reviews $259.99 $40.00
7 MCAT 528 Advanced Prep 2023-2024: Online + Book (Kaplan Test Prep) MCAT 528 Advanced Prep 2023-2024: Online + Book (Kaplan Test Prep) 61 Reviews $54.99 $30.09Amazon Prime
8 MCAT – The Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam, Fifth Edition MCAT – The Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam, Fifth Edition 281 Reviews $30.00Amazon Prime
9 MCAT Prep Books 2024-2025: 2 Practice Tests and MCAT Study Guide Review for the AAMC Exam [8th Edition] MCAT Prep Books 2024-2025: 2 Practice Tests and MCAT Study Guide Review for the AAMC Exam [8th... 6 Reviews $66.99 $43.99Amazon Prime
10 MCAT Workout, 2022-2023: 780 Practice Questions & Passages for MCAT Scoring Success (Graduate School Test Preparation) MCAT Workout, 2022-2023: 780 Practice Questions & Passages for MCAT Scoring Success (Graduate School... No ratings yet $46.99 $33.69Amazon Prime
11 Sterling Test Prep MCAT General Chemistry Review: Complete Subject Review (MCAT Science Preparation) Sterling Test Prep MCAT General Chemistry Review: Complete Subject Review (MCAT Science Preparation) 20 Reviews $54.95 $50.59Amazon Prime
12 Sterling Test Prep MCAT Practice Tests: Chemical & Physical + Biological & Biochemical Foundations Sterling Test Prep MCAT Practice Tests: Chemical & Physical + Biological & Biochemical Foundations No ratings yet $69.95Amazon Prime

Use Second Hand Materials

The current MCAT pattern that was introduced in 2015 is fairly stable and hasn’t had any major changes apart from some regulatory ones due to the pandemic. Hence, second-hand materials like past papers and textbooks are both ubiquitous as well as quite reliable. 

You can find entire sets of second-hand material in used bookstores and on websites like eBay. If you’re still in school, you can contact your professors and your pre-med advisor for suggestions and visit the library to find the relevant resources that you require.

Connect With Others

Preparing for and finding resources for the MCAT on a budget is quite complicated. To make things a little easier, you try to connect with and form study groups with other prospective students in a similar situation.

Study groups are a great place for like-minded students to exchange information on finding resources and prep materials. You can also use it as a platform to augment your preparation by organizing mock quizzes and periodic study sessions. 

Affluence Isn’t a Prerequisite

The inflated cost of MCAT preparation is often a result of fear-mongering that many coaching institutes use as a marketing tool to sell their prep courses. Now, while it is true that the MCAT is very competitive, it only tests candidates on topics that they are already familiar with from their pre-med days. 

There are plenty of quality, low-cost resources available in the market that you can use to prepare for the exam with the same efficacy as a thousand dollar prep-course. Affluence isn’t a prerequisite for the MCAT; determination and diligence are. 

Last update on 2024-07-19 using Amazon Product Advertising API.

About Gaurav Tiwari

Gaurav Tiwari is a blogger, influencer and designer with expertise in brand regeneration and growth hacking. He is the co-founder of Gatilab, a successful digital agency focused on content and design.