Which is Better? MCAT Self-Study or Prep Course?

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MP 225: Which is Better? MCAT Self-Study or Prep Course?

Session 225

Today, I am joined by Hunter, a 520 MCAT scorer and MCAT prep veteran. We talk about self-study, MCAT courses, and take a look at Blueprint’s Live MCAT Course!

We’re joined by Armin from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to premed.tv.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:58] How Do You Decide Between MCAT Self-study Versus a Prep Class?

There are lots of options for you on your journey to MCAT prep. The far majority of students don’t use any third party prep. They just use the AAMC materials. Maybe they’d buy a book and they don’t use anything else. That’s according to the AAMC surveys where they ask incoming medical students.

But a lot of students do use MCAT prep resources, whether it’s a self-paced course, or a live online course which Blueprint now has. Or there are also those who just use Qbanks and full-length exams or anything else.

Today, Hunter and I are going to have a great discussion around – how do you decide that as a student?

[02:22] Hunter’s Journey to the MCAT Prep World

Hunter went through the whole premed route in college being a biochem major. Then when he took a gap year, he started teaching for a nonprofit in Arizona Science Center. He was having so much fun that the gap year turned into three years.

Seeing he had to get back on track, Hunter took the MCAT and did well. Then he also realized he loves teaching, specifically teaching the hard sciences and that’s how he ended up at Blueprint.

[05:07] Do You Need to Take a Course?

There is no secret formula among test prep companies because science is going to be the same. Obviously, except for the new things being discovered constantly. But the formulas and all those foundational stuff stay the same.

Whether you need to take a prep course or not is you need to be super honest with yourself.

You can totally go on Wikipedia or look up YouTube videos, and all those free resources available out there. Then quiz yourself on those by taking those practice exams and do all that other stuff completely independently.

'You have to be brutally honest with yourself.”Click To Tweet

Have a real hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have the personal accountability to stay on track for hundreds of hours. It’s almost like taking on a part or full-time job for three to four months in order to prepare for the MCAT adequately to get those high percentile scores you want. And then when you’re taking these exams and you’re looking at how you did, do you have the capacity to evaluate what’s working and what’s not?

Are you accountable enough? Do you have the expertise and the strategic capability to pivot as needed? And if you think you don’t have the accountability for any of those, then you might want to think about doing a prep course.

Test prep companies like Blueprint MCAT have the ability to essentially curate a student’s prep experience and show them exactly what to do. Ultimately, it’s a personal thing. 

[09:50] What the Prep Course is For

Let’s use the gym analogy here. There are people who are already very much in shape. They know how to work out and they don’t really need a personal trainer. But they wanted accountability. They wanted the structure and support of going to the gym knowing that someone was going to be there. And they’re willing to pay money to do that when they could have just showed up and did their thing.

This is similar to MCAT prep courses. Unfortunately, some people in the premed space say that anyone who spends money on MCAT prep is silly. They’re wasting their money. You don’t need it.

“Nobody needs the knowledge and information in a prep course, that's not what the prep course is giving you. A prep course is giving you structure and support.”Click To Tweet

For a lot of people, they only need to read books and that’s all they ever need. And then there are also those who need that structure and support. And so, if you’re someone who needs structure and support, then that’s what a prep course is for.

[12:00] What’s Your Next Step?

If you’re someone who can barely be disciplined to make your bed every morning. And you know for sure that you’re not going to be disciplined to sit down and study for three hours every day. And if you know that you need a course, then the next step is finding out what kind of course you want.

There’s the online, asynchronous, a “do it at your own pace” self-prep style where you get access to the course and all the resources – and it’s still a curated experience. And so, if you’re struggling with so much going on and you don’t know where to start, this is a good way to begin with. The good thing about self-paced online anytime is the convenience factor of it. 

“The MCAT is a mile wide, but it's only an inch deep. You need to know a little bit about basically everything – four years of undergraduate science all crammed into one test.”Click To Tweet

[14:01] Blueprint’s Study Planner

Hunter highly recommends taking advantage of Blueprint’s Study Planner and get a free trial of it. It tells you what to prep for, what to study, and when to do it based on your personal schedule.

For instance, if you’re going to take the MCAT at this date, you would know how long to study for once you plot out those days you can’t study. Its algorithm will generate your study schedule for you. It just plugs out everything that you need to study. And being able to turn your brain off when it comes to that because you have a system that tells you what to do at least takes some of the burden off.

'You don't have to prep your prep.'Click To Tweet

[14:51] The Accountability Factor

Even an in-person class, sometimes, lacks accountability, especially when your professors don’t care if you attend the class or not. But it’s different when there’s a human being that is expecting you to come to class and do your homework. And this is another one of the best things Blueprint provides. Especially if you have already established rapport with your instructor, there’s that sense of personal accountability because you feel bad letting them down.

The percentage of students who can sit down and self-prep, and get 523 all by themselves is super small. And those are not even the Type A students, but the Type AAA, if you will. And so, a prep course isn’t that bad.

[18:45] Blueprint’s Live Online Course

Launched in April 2020, Blueprint’s live online course has taken the traditional MCAT prep model and turned it into a modern prep course.

Instead of the typical PowerPoint lectures, they break everything up into around 150 content modules, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long each. They have videos with animations and little content quizzes.

It breaks them into these digestible chunks that are 10-15 minutes long, and then you move on to the next one. And then add in the live in person element to it.

They’ve also introduced 40 hours of brand new content that isn’t available in the self-paced one. It’s taking the content you’ve learned from the modules and applying it to MCAT-like passages and questions. They get into the nitty gritty of the strategy behind it, how to approach certain questions, and how to think like the MCAT. 

'One of the best things that you can do to help your score is to learn to think like the MCAT.'Click To Tweet

The MCAT is not just a content exam. It’s not just memorization and regurgitation. It is strategic thinking and understanding the test itself. And that’s the focus of Blueprint’s in-person classes.

[22:24] Becoming an Expert Test-Taker

Hunter takes pride in how Blueprint is training their students to become really good at taking the MCAT and become expert test takers by the time they leave the course. And that’s an invaluable aspect that you can’t just pick up from looking at Wikipedia or watching videos.

They target those different little nuances with the MCAT that’s hard to pick up on when you’re super stressed. They have lived and breathed the MCAT for a long time. They have spent so long with the MCAT that they’re now familiar with how you need to approach it.

[24:37] The Flexibility Factor

Life can always get in the way and Hunter explains how this is one of the big things they thought about when they made their self-paced online course. And it’s also something that they carried over into their live online course as well.

Flexibility is one of the cornerstones they wanted to preserve in order to instill accountability.

Their live online students are able to reschedule all of their live classes for an unlimited number of times. They can just adjust their schedule and they could hop into someone else’s class. Or maybe they want to try out different instructors. Blueprint has dozens of awesome instructors, and all go through things in a little different way and who have different personalities.

They let people have the ultimate flexibility while still having this accountability factor. Hunter says it’s a “Students First” thing.

'It makes it super difficult for us on the backend for scheduling and programming all of this, but it's worth it because the students absolutely love the flexibility factor of it.'Click To Tweet

[29:10] A Brief Walkthrough Into Their Course

Hunter walks you through how their interface works. Once you hop into your live online account, you will see your study plan. It is the crux of all of your prep – what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, etc.

Crafting Your Class Schedule

They ask you a series of quick questions like when are you going to start your preparation? The next thing they’re going to ask is what is your 16-lesson class schedule? And this is the live portion of it.

You will see the primary and secondary instructors for all of their live courses that you can choose from. During the class, they have two instructors live on camera. One person is lecturing and another person is typing in the chat every five minutes. So there’s a dynamic conversation happening.

Target MCAT Test Date

Tell the algorithm machine when you’re taking the MCAT and how many hours per week are you free to study.

For instance, you have 30 or 40 hours to study. And then which day of the week do you want to take your practice exams. Then you get a nice, little reminder that you probably shouldn’t schedule your full-length on the day you’re meeting with the class because that’s a lot of MCAT in one day.

Non-Study Days

Next, you’re going to choose what days you are not going to study. Maybe you have obligations happening or special occasions you want to be blocked off. Then the algorithm is going to take into account everything you’ve said so far – i.e. when you’re taking it, etc. – and come up with a study plan for you.

Study Plan

You will find some things you can do to get started and get warmed up. And once you’re diving into your prep, you will see all the different learning modules broken down into different lessons. And if you click on any of the lessons, it tells you the pre-work you have to do. Everything is spaced out over everything else that you’ve done.

Pre-Work Modules

The pre-work modules tell you what homework you’re going to have afterwards, lesson handouts you can download, or the PowerPoint presentation you need to follow along. They take students’ schedules into account so they never overload you with eight hours worth of modules in one day. 

Easy-to-Use Interface

It has the easiest interface as well, where you can just drag and drop everything. And you can also import it to your Google Calendar or iPhone calendar.

Final Assessment

There are quizzes and a final assessment at the end. And if you pass your final assessment, you’re done with this module, and you can move on to the next one. By the time you get down to your MCAT date, then you’re ready to pass it.

[36:22] How to Reschedule with Ease

You can reschedule and retake all of the classes as many times as you want. It’s not like you take it once and then you’re done. For instance, if you want to retake Lesson Four, you can retake it four, eight times, or as many times as you want.

You can reschedule as many of your classes as you want. You may also reschedule your entire session. For instance, Tuesdays are off-limits for you for the rest of your life, then you can unschedule or unregister for all of your Tuesday classes, and sign up for Wednesday classes instead.

[39:53] Final Thoughts

Hunter strongly advises students who are planning to take their courses to attend the classes. Not only do you get to hangout and ask questions, you learn a lot of strategies and ways to apply them into the test and how to attack a particular type of question.

'The MCAT is not a memorization and regurgitation test, you don't just memorize the science.'Click To Tweet

Blueprint’s live online course is focused on the strategic aspect within the context of the MCAT and through the lense of an AAMC test maker.

Finally, if you’re a little unsure about whether you can commit yourself or have personal accountability, and whether your content is where it needs to be, it’s always better to err on the safe side of things.


Meded Media

Blueprint MCAT

Blueprint’s live online course

AAMC materials

Blueprint’s Study Planner

Premed Hangout