Trying to choose the best MCAT practice test is a process that many students hate.
In fact, most students get overwhelmed by the thought of the MCAT in general. Makes sense! The MCAT is intimidating.
Feeling like your life is summed up by a single score is never fun. This is why talking about practice tests often leads to anxious jitters and long pauses punctuated by shifty eyes looking for the nearest exit. Throw in figuring out which ones to take and when, and it can get super overwhelming.
But not to worry, I’ve been working with students and recommending the best MCAT practice tests for ten years – old test and new test. I know how companies make their tests and have had some direct involvement myself.
The goal of this guide is to take my experience with these tests and help recommend the best one for you. You’ll learn the key factors to consider, and which tests I like the most.
If you’re in a rush and don’t want to read the details, click here to skip ahead to the summary.
Table of Contents
- How to Study, And Why Practice Tests Matter
- My Rating Scale
- The Best MCAT Practice Tests (Ranked In Order)
- AAMC (The Best)
- The Most Useful AAMC Products
- The Combination I Recommend
- The Other Practice Test Companies
- Blueprint (NextStep/NSTP)
- ExamKrackers (EK)
- The Berkeley Review (TBR)
- Kaplan/Princeton Review/Gold Standard
- What Tests To Buy(In A Nutshell)
- My Philosophy About The Usefulness Of MCAT Practice Tests
- When You Should Start Taking Practice Tests: A Quick Story
- Still Don’t Feel Ready To Take Practice Tests? That’s Normal.
How to Study, And Why Practice Tests Matter
There are three main phases of effectively studying for the MCAT:
- Content review
- Take practice questions/tests
- Review said questions
All three of these can be covered if you use the right practice test (often known as Full-Lengths, or “FL” for short) in the right ways.
Ultimately, finding and using the right practice test will make or break your score.
I often make students strictly take and review practice tests (using the right review strategies of course). This can often take them from 495s to 520s.
Getting this right is a BIG deal.
But you have to be careful because some tests are better than others. Compiling your practice material is one area where you really don’t want to cut corners.
So let’s look at all the popular options, the pros and cons of each, and which earned my vote for the best full-length MCAT practice test.
My Rating Scale
When looking at these we will weigh cost, accessibility, and quality. Each will be scored on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best.
Cost will factor in the price per single test and per package.You’ll notice that all the companies below offer at least one free test except for AAMC, ExamKrackers (EK), and The Berkeley Review (TBR). I’ve factored that in as well.
Accessibility will take into account how easy is the test to purchase and get started. It also includes factors about the online platform such as the quality of the interface, how they organize their system, if they let you retake tests, and how long you get to access them.
Quality will take into account the actual writing of the test, the feel of FL, and the quality of the answer explanations. This by far the most important factor in terms of score improvement. However if you can’t afford it, or can’t access it, then the quality won’t end up mattering.
The Best MCAT Practice Tests (Ranked In Order)
As I’ve alluded to, some practice tests are better than others.
While there is a clear front runner, other practice tests have their strengths and weaknesses.
In general, AAMC > everything else. It is truly a case of the best and the rest.
However, some students need (or would like) more practice. So, depending on your goals and budget, we’ll cover all the other options as well.
AAMC (The Best)
I cannot emphasize enough how important the official AAMC material is. You need to treat it like absolute gold and not waste it.
Here’s how I rate it:
- Cost: 4/5
- Accessibility: 5/5
- Quality: 5/5
- Total: 14/15
What does that mean to not waste it? Does it mean to not take it before you are perfectly ready?
If you paid attention to what I said earlier, you’ll know the answer is a resounding no!
However, you should review these so thoroughly that any single word, visual, concept, or connection that is made on the test is something you understand so well that you actually feel excited to get those topics on the test.
A large percentage of my students only do AAMC products and score 510+.
I’m not joking. There is so much gold that is in these products in terms of preparing you for the real exam that you really need to treasure it and soak it all up.
The students that don’t usually see improvements in their MCAT scores stagnate as a result.
This makes it harder to find good practice later on since their retake has already been used in a poor way.
So make sure when you start using these you have a post-game analysis process you trust, and that you refine each week.
Because these are so important, I’m going to go into each of the different products AAMC provides.
As of early 2020, AAMC has released the following products:
- Sample Test (technically a full-length practice test but with no score)
- AAMC FLs 1-4
- Online Official Prep Questions from the Official Guide
- Section Banks
- Question Packs
- Online Flashcards
- A bundle for all of the above
Because these products are so valuable, I’m going to break them down in depth.
The Most Useful AAMC Products
My favorite AAMC products are the Section Banks, FLs 1-4, and the Online Official Guide Questions.
These will give you great insight into how the MCAT is going to test you. If you learn every little detail on these, you’ll feel very comfortable on test day.
The Sample Test has a few drawbacks. It was the first product released for the new test, so some parts are a little strange. When they made it they were still trying to figure out how the new test was going to be set up.
Should you still take it? Absolutely.
But, you will notice it feels a little different. Also, and this is a total bummer, don’t get too excited by your CARS performance on this one. It is known to skew a bit easy.
As for the Question Packs, these are hit and miss. There are technically six of these: two bio, two CARS, one chem, one physics.
The reason I am not a fan of these is that the science ones use questions from the pre-2015 test and are often too easy/basic for the current test.
For those of you who want basic practice, these are a great place to start, but for those of you short on time or would rather have a challenge, you can skip these.
However, the CARS practice is solid! However, you really need to use these right. Make sure you’re learning from them rather than churning through and wasting them.
The reason the AAMC CARS is so precious is no other company has a practice test that comes close. Due to the lack of fallback options, you need to be cautious with how you use these.
Many people burn through it because they think taking a bunch of CARS practice will improve their score. But this is rarely the case.
Here’s some advice from a 132 scorer:
The secret to CARS is finding a way to review the passages so thoroughly that you understand the way each passage style is set up and how it hints at the author’s viewpoint.
The Combination I Recommend
I normally have students buy all the AAMC stuff minus the question packs to save money. I’ll have them purchase the two CARS question packs if they need it, but skip on everything else.
This ends up being a little cheaper than the overall bundle. However, don’t be afraid to get the bundle if you want all the products!
Again, since there’s only so much AAMC practice be smart about how you use it and make sure you learn from it as much as you can.
The Other Practice Test Companies
The remaining MCAT practice tests/full-lengths really don’t compare to the above products. Simply put, they aren’t nearly as good.
They just feel “off” when it comes to their approach (this especially goes for the CARS sections).
They test content that’s not really focused on the MCAT, or in ways the MCAT wouldn’t, and they get too detail or math-heavy.
The real MCAT has a certain finesse and elegance to how it conducts itself. It’s refined.
These other tests are rough around the edges, trying to get by on brute strength.
But sometimes we need more practice to hit our goal score, or simply need new practice tests when retaking.
My go-to test after AAMC is Blueprint (formerly known as Next Step Test Prep or NSTP). Here’s how I rated them:
- Cost: 3.5/5
- Accessibility: 4/5
- Quality: 3.5/5
- Total: 11/15
Because they give you 1.5 free tests, the tests are decent (although again not stellar), and they are at a solid price point. The cost is slightly lower than the AAMC products and gets more affordable the more you purchase.
You do have to jump through some hoops to review without the right answer showing up, but their interface is good enough that it’s not too difficult.
Their psych sections aren’t bad, but their science is definitely harder than the real test in an overkill sort of way. However, they do try to curve their test accordingly. I still don’t find their scale to be fully accurate, but it’s a start.
All of these complaints will apply to the other tests as well. Blueprint just does a better job of being serviceable than the others. When you combine that with the free stuff, I’ll usually have students start with this before I move them into some EK and Altius.
Side Note: In full disclosure, I worked at NSTP when they first started making these tests. However, I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in. And my preferred choice for my students is still to mainly use AAMC products only when I can get away with it.
With that being said, a big reason why I think they ended up being most student’s favorite non-AAMC test is that they put themselves 1-2 years ahead by starting to create products for the 2015 test from scratch, while most companies were trying to cut costs and reuse old materials.
This first-mover advantage has helped them separate themselves from the pack. They seemed to have staked their business on the new MCAT, and it looks like it worked out for them. I’m curious if others will catch up.
No free products here! You’re looking at $40/test too.
However, they have some serviceable tests that you can get value from if you use them correctly.
- Cost: 1.5/5
- Accessibility: 3.5/5
- Quality: 3/5
- Total: 8/15
When using non-AAMC MCAT practice tests, I’ll have students do EK 3 and 4 after they have done a handful of Blueprint/NSTP exams.
Why? Mostly to get a variety of practice.
Plus I like the way EK focuses more on critical thinking and experimental concepts. But their CARS can get very ambiguous and difficult. Not to mention the format of the test can be strange and not always reflect the set up of the real test.
I would stick to FL 3 and 4 since they are the best ones.
Oh, and don’t get rattled by your score. 60% is okay. 70% is in great shape. And if you are hitting 80% plus on these, you correlate with all my highest scorers!
A lot of what can be said about Blueprint/NSTP can be said here. However, they only give you a free half test, and their tests are $40/test if buying individually.
- Cost: 2/5
- Accessibility: 4/5
- Quality: 3/5
- Total: 9/15
Additionally, even though Blueprint CARS isn’t great, it seems that Altius is even worse.
But I do feel their science sections are a nice change and, although very difficult, have you thinking more about the experimental setups (this is crucial).
Again here, I would use the free one and if you like it, maybe add a couple more so you have a few from each of Blueprint/NSTP, EK, and Altius.
But do NOT think you need all of these. This is where having someone who can look at your overall study plan will be key.
If you plateau, it has less to do with the tests you’re taking and more with the way you’re using and reviewing them!
The Berkeley Review (TBR)
Sigh. I hate rating TBR this low. If you’ve read my MCAT prep books article, you know I am a major fan of this little company.
But here’s how they stack up:
- Cost: 1/5
- Accessibility: 1/5
- Quality: 3/5
- Total: 5/15
However, just getting access to their tests is such a pain that with the other options out there, I can’t recommend them. Only consider these if you’ve exhausted the others and want a decent quality set to run through. Pretty simple.
Kaplan/Princeton Review/Gold Standard
These are the worst of the rest.
I use these as a diagnostic at times because they at least get a brand new student to know the format of the test (I’ve even compared two of them). But I can only pull this off because I know how to interpret the score, difficulty, and differences of these tests.
I wouldn’t consider these except for the following reasons:
- You are in their class and get them for free
- You need something really cheap – each company gives you one free test and you can buy one of their books to get up to three free tests.
- Lastly, Gold Standard sells all their tests for $10/test
However, I would really suggest avoiding these and only using their free products. For the extra 20-40 dollars per test, the products I listed above are way better.
What Tests To Buy(In A Nutshell)
You need to think quality over quantity with these.
If you purchase all the AAMC products that will give you five full tests and enough practice for two more. This is my vote for the best MCAT practice test, so start here.
Then you can get a free 1.5 tests from Blueprint/NextStepTestPrep.
Then you can add on a free one from TPR and GSA, plus a free half test from Kaplan. This adds up to ten tests alone.
And then based on what you’re working on, I would purchase EK tests 3 and 4, a couple Altius, and perhaps the package of 3 NSTP.
Outside of AAMC, DO NOT rely only on one company. They each have their own styles (unfortunately all are kind of “meh” at best and awful at worst when it comes to CARS).
This is why it’s good to take the variety.
I suggest also rotating AAMC products around these tests so you never lose the feel for the real thing. I often have my students finish off the last few weeks with only AAMC, but this strategy sometimes changes depending on the student.
My Philosophy About The Usefulness Of MCAT Practice Tests
As I said earlier, using full-lengths the right way can and will make or break your score.
And it isn’t just about how many you take. I have retakers come to me who took 1-2 practice tests and have others who took 10-15, and yet they both come in with the same score!
The students who haven’t taken very many tests usually don’t have a good plan in place and often self-studied or took a group class.
The students who took a bunch of FLs often have a decent plan in place.
So why did they end up with about the same score?
You might think it was because of individual differences, which is sometimes the case. But most of the time when I look at their starting and ending scores, they had almost the same improvement.
Here’s the answer:
Usually, the students who took a bunch of tests did so because they heard that you need to take as many FLs as you can. So naturally, they raced through as many MCAT practice tests as possible.
This is a HUGE problem.
Why? Because they didn’t actually learn from all that practice.
You may not improve every single test, but, if you review them well, you should be on an upward trend the whole time.
Clearly the student who took more than 10 FLs didn’t take this to heart.
However, neither did the person who only took a couple!
So this goes to show it isn’t just about taking tests, but rather HOW and WHICH tests you take!
When You Should Start Taking Practice Tests: A Quick Story
One of my favorite students, let’s call her Jodie, was working with me on the toughest premed class at the University of Michigan (Pchem, Chem230) when she gave me a nervous look.
I was confused because we just nailed her understanding of the dreaded vapor pressure.
She looked down and said, “I didn’t know you were going to be such a great tutor and that you did MCAT work too.” Then she blurted out that she had signed up for a Kaplan class.
As she burst into tears, I reassured her that this happens all the time. I have students who come to me in the middle or even before they start these classes.
This is because they have you take a diagnostic test to start.
Here’s what happens:
Either students think (often inaccurately) that they bombed and come to me asking if there’s any hope.
Or, knowing they have to take this diagnostic test invites massive panic moves. Students want to “prepare” for a test they’ve never taken and wonder if they should brush up on 8 semesters worth of science classes (you shouldn’t by the way).
However, you definitely should not be afraid to take a diagnostic test. In fact, it’s the first thing I recommend that you do.
There are two reasons why:
Reason 1:You need to know what the test is like. I have yet to meet a student who took this diagnostic test and told me it was exactly what they expected it to be like.
It is really a strange test at first, and quite different from any of your science classes.
But don’t worry, you will come to love it. Or maybe that just takes ten years of tutoring 🙂
Reason 2: It will help you realize the importance of a well-crafted and customized study plan. Otherwise, you’ll study how you did for your normal classes and that just won’t cut it!
How can we make you a kickass plan to get your dream score if we have no clue where you are starting!?
You might be scared, or just don’t want to look stupid.
But don’t worry about it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. You need this!
Then forget about it completely once you make a study schedule to attack your weaknesses. There’s no point in thinking about it until it’s time for you to start taking more.
How do you know when you are ready to take more?
Traditionally students get through all their content review over 2-4 months and then take tests for another 1-4 months.
With my students, it really depends on the student, their background, their start, and where I feel like they stand in terms of their critical reasoning.
These factors also determine which tests I start them with and which ones I use overall.
But let’s get back to Jodie for a moment.
After she had a good cry in the middle of Whole Foods, I told her what you just read above.
Fast forward through our intro session and a few weeks of one on one tutoring, she came back to campus and started her Kaplan class.
I had already set her up to take her next FL a few weeks after she started MCAT with me, and it would be in the early stages of her Kaplan class.
Her Kaplan instructor advised her against it and told her to wait until May to take them when the class was over.
I was honestly in shock as that would give her three weeks of tests and just be a total waste of the time before then.
Luckily she trusted me, took her second FL, and scored a 513 (she started with a 496).
She never went back to her Kaplan class and ended up scoring 520s months before her test date. We had her taking a test every two weeks.
This was a good balance with how many classes she was taking.
She did great and now goes to her dream school. And she also tutors for me!
So what is the lesson here?
- Take a diagnostic test before you start studying – don’t worry about the result!!
- Make a good plan
- In that plan, start taking full-length MCAT practice tests as soon as you can (but no sooner)
- MAKE SURE you systematically dissect and review your tests. This cannot happen in a day. It is more like a week or two. AND CERTAINLY NOT WITH RIGHT ANSWERS SHOWING
Still Don’t Feel Ready To Take Practice Tests? That’s Normal.
Okay so you believe me that you should just get the first MCAT practice test out of the way, call it a diagnostic, make a great plan, and just forget about it.
But what happens when the next test shows up? Or what if you are making a plan yourself?
How can you convince yourself you are “ready” and that you’ve learned enough of your content?
There may never come a point where you feel ready. Likely if you’re doubting yourself, that point likely won’t come.
And that is okay.
As I said earlier, the MCAT fundamentally wants to test how you apply your knowledge, how you read, how you think, and how you cope with the stress of it all.
These are all skills that studying content can’t get you. At least half your time studying should be spent taking and reviewing practice. So if you have four months to study, you need to be taking tests for at least two.
That second test may not go better than the first. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
At the end of the day, it is hard to interpret your score unless you’re looking at the right test or unless you know someone who has worked with all of them and can compare.
If you are really unsure. Start taking tests sooner rather than later. But whatever you do, make sure you actually LEARN from your tests. Otherwise, it won’t matter if you take 100.
Dissect them like crazy, and learn every single bit of content that you feel at all uncomfortable with.
Repeat with the critical reasoning aspects and the same with the mental and emotional blocks you may have.
Use the tests as insights into what they want you to do and where you struggle. Learn what they want you to do until you no longer struggle. It will always be challenging, but after a while it actually becomes fun!