MSHQ 087 : 5 Things You Need to Do to Start Preparing for MCAT 2015

Session 87

The Premed Years In today's episode, Ryan talks with Bryan from Next Step Test Prep. He previously joined us in Session 59 as he talked about about retaking the MCAT.

Bryan is the Academic Director at Next Step Test Prep where he also serves as an MCAT tutor. Having been in the MCAT game for about 15 years now, Bryan switched over to Next Step to focus on one-on-one private tutoring.

Today, this episode will focus on the MCAT 2015, what to expect, how to prepare for it, and the resources you will be needing. As times are changing, the MCAT is also changing. Medical schools have recognized the need for aligning their expectations to incoming medical students and so they have driven such changes.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Bryan:

Why does MCAT stress people out so much?

It's outside the normal realm of what they're doing.

Can you take the old MCAT (until January 2015)?

Yes, there is a much more established baseline for it but always check with the medical school you're applying to first.

Can you take the MCAT with only half a semester of physics?

Self-study a single semester's worth of content.

What's added to the new MCAT?

  • 8-9 hour day
  • Unsettled landscape

5 Things You Need to Do to Start Preparing for the MCAT 2015:

  1. Buy and read the official guide from cover to cover.

Go to the AAMC website and buy a copy of the official guide. Find out what's on this thing, how it's scored, the duration of the test, what the practice passages look like. Read it from cover to cover.

Bryan shares a dirty, little secret: 99.9% of what webinars offer come straight out of the official guides. So read the guide yourself and you will know as much about MCAT as most MCAT tutors.

  1. Plan out your course work.
  • Bryan suggests taking 3 semesters of biology or 2 years of biology since the whole test now has a flavor of biology to it (and even chemistry and physics).
  • All concepts now have a biological systems feel to it. The more well-versed you are with bio, the better for you.
  • Take one semester of each of the following: biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.
  • Make sure to have at least one semester of class specifically devoted to experimental design or statistics course. Although AAMC does not require this, it would definitely help.
  1. Know when is the best time to take the test.
  • For April test dates, scores will be released after two months.
  • For April test dates, scores will be released after 1 1/2 month.
  • Do not take the test in April and May so as not to make yourself a guinea pig. since AAMC will only provide an estimated percentile score in 2-3 weeks.
  • Bryan recommends taking the test in June, July, or maybe August.
  • Ryan recommends taking the test when you are most psyched and ready to take the test.
  1. Use other resources such as prep books and practice test materials.
  • Prep books are a popular choice such as Kaplan and Princeton.
  • Consider picking a bigger set of prep books.
  • For practice test materials, the content is always straightforward.
  • The key is to go to multiple prep companies.
  • Do the one official test from the AAMC and at least 3 or 4 tests from 2 or 3 different prep companies.
  1. Join a good study group.
  • Get support from other people who are also going through it since they can provide you academic, emotional, and social support.
  • Run the study group like you're the teacher.
  • Give each other homework and cross-teach each other to help see how other people think. This gives you cognitive flexibility.
  • Your study group serves as your accountability group, not your competition.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

Best ways to prepare for the new humanities and social science subjects:

  • Verbal reasoning changed to critical analysis and reasoning skills but none is actually changing except for public health
  • Read everyday.
  • Pick up the philosophy textbook, Reason and Responsibility
  • Take a semester of Psych 101 and Socio 101
  • Buy a good set of prep books
  • You have to be comfortable with the language of the different psych and sociology terms.

About Next Step Test Prep:

  • Focuses solely on one-on-one private tutoring
  • High quality tutors
  • They offer tutoring services online and in-person.

Links and Other Resources:

The Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam (MCAT2015)

Get MCAT 2015 Books

One-On-One Test Preparation Tutoring | Next Step Test Prep

2015 for Students – Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Are you a nontraditional student? Go check out

For more great content, check out for more of the shows produced by the Medical School Headquarters including the OldPremeds Podcast and watch out for more shows in the future!

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Next Step Test Prep: Get one-on-one tutoring for the MCAT and maximize your score. Get $50 off their tutoring program when you mention that you heard about this on the podcast or through the MSHQ website.

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Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 87.

Brian: You can sometimes get tunnel vision, you can think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is such an impossible environment,' because you're surrounded by other incredibly smart people. But you want to remember that in the universe of MCAT prep there are a lot of folks who are not on the ball the way you are.

Intro: Hey, this is Z-Dog MD; rapper, physician, legendary turntable health revolutionary, and part-time gardener. And you're listening to the Medical School HQ Podcast, hosted by the irredeemably awesome, Ryan Gray.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Welcome back. I’m your host, Dr. Ryan Gray, and I believe that competition amongst your premed and medical student peers is detrimental to becoming a great physician. In this podcast we show you how collaboration, hard work and honesty are critical to becoming a superior physician in today's healthcare environment.

Thank you for joining us. After a couple weeks of having Allison in the studio with me, today I have an interview with Brian from Next Step Test Prep. And if you remember Brian, he was with us back in session 59 as well, where we talked about re-taking the MCAT and what you should do if you needed to re-take the MCAT. You can check out that podcast if you haven't listened to it yet. And if you have any comments or questions for today's podcast, we're session 87 which you can find at

Before we get into today's podcast I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by Go to today and download a free thirty plus page report all about the MCAT.

And all about the MCAT we are going to talk today. We're going to talk about the 2015 MCAT, or MCAT 2015 as AAMC calls it. And we're going to talk about five things that you should be thinking about in preparation for the MCAT 2015 and how to maximize your time between now and then. And the first one may even be what you can do to squeeze in that last one. So we're going to get with Brian, he's going to tell us everything he knows about the MCAT 2015, which is not a lot, and we go into depth- we talk about why the AAMC is withholding a little bit of information it seems like. So I hope you enjoy the podcast; stick around at the end of the podcast, Brian talks about a discount for our podcast listeners for Next Step Test Prep services.

Brian thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit briefly about yourself.

Brian: Alright, I want to thank you for having me back on the show again, it was a real pleasure chatting with your listeners back in the beginning of the year. My name is Brian, I'm the Academic Director here at Next Step Test Prep. I am myself an MCAT tutor, been in the MCAT prep game for coming up on fifteen years now, so it's been a good long while. My background is that I started with one of the big national companies and decided to make a switch over to Next Step because I really wanted to focus specifically on one-on-one private tutoring, which is what we do here at Next Step. I was a premed as an undergrad myself, I actually went to med school for a couple years, ended up deciding that medicine wasn't for me and now I use my 44 MCAT score to help other people do the same.

Dr. Ryan Gray: But you're not bragging.

Brian: Well you know I like to say in my business it's a credential so I do have to let people know.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, that's awesome. So 44 and you're a lawyer too.

Brian: In a fit of poor judgment I went to law school, and it was an interesting step outside the realm of science but I quickly fled back to my mitochondria and algal condensation.

Stress of the MCAT

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's awesome, alright. So today we're going to talk about MCAT. Obviously that's your realm, and something that seems to be stressing out many, many students. And I'll tell you, one of the first questions that a listener that subscribes to my email list, one of the first questions that I send them is, ‘What's stressing you out?' And 90% of them come back, ‘The MCAT. The MCAT, the MCAT, the MCAT.' Why do you think the MCAT stresses people out so much?

Brian: That's the big question, and it's actually a fairly easy one to answer. It's because it's so outside the realm of what they've been doing for the rest of their lives. And the simplest way to describe it is that you spend from the time that you're like six years old to, you know 22, in an academic environment where if you work 10% harder, you get 10% better grades. And if you work 20% harder, you get 20% better grades. And then along comes the MCAT and says, ‘Oh you think you're so smart 'cause you're 22 tough guy?' And you can work your butt off on it and not see any improvement if you're not working the right way. And that's a very weird thing for students, and so it stresses them out and that's why they need to come to either forums like Med School HQ or they need to go to professionally companies for the help; it's very, very outside their normal realm of experience and the novelty creates stress. So what we wanted to talk about today is really focusing on this big change. You know the MCAT's changing and so there are fundamentally a few basic things you can do literally today if you're thinking about the test change stuff, you can sit down for about an hour and ponder, and develop a plan for, and I thought that would be good for us to talk about. If you're thinking about the new MCAT, what should you sit down this afternoon and hash out for yourself?

MCAT 2015

Dr. Ryan Gray: So Brian let's talk about why they're changing the MCAT. Why all of a sudden a test that's been the same for- what, twenty or thirty years now? It was the early nineties it changed last right?

Brian: Yeah 1991. The current version of the MCAT is older than most MCAT students.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes.

Brian: Yeah. And there were a couple of different reasons. I think the primary one is basically what we just said. Frankly it's old, and times have changed. And the medical schools themselves have recognized that the MCAT is currently really out of line with their expectations for incoming med students. And we want to remember from the AAMC's point of view, you and I and our MCAT students are not their customers. Their customers are the med schools. So the change is being really driven by the med schools. They say, “Hey you want us to require the MCAT as an application requirement? Then you need to change it to align with today's expectations,” hence all these new areas.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome that's I think the best way that I've heard it being put. Because that's exactly right. I like it. Alright, so let's get into some nitty gritty about the MCAT 2015 and the current MCAT. When does a student have to start taking the new MCAT, and when can they take the old MCAT up until?

Timeline for New MCAT

Brian: Sure. So the first question is can you take the old MCAT, right? It's being given up until January, 2015, and we are very strongly recommending for all the students who are calling us now, you know potential tutoring students. We say, “Look is there any way that you can squeeze in the old test? It's a really good idea. There's a much more established baseline for you to know what you're getting yourself into.” So if you- for this upcoming fall semester, the fall 2014 semester, if you can be done with a year of Chem, a year of Physics, a year of Bio, and even half a year of Organic Chemistry, that's probably good enough; you can reasonably take the MCAT at the end of the semester. Take this upcoming January exam and you probably should. The scores are good for about two to three years, so you could be starting med school as late as 2017 or even 2018 depending on the school. A big, big, big asterisk on that, call your local med school, they're the final authority on what they'll accept so always check with the schools to find out what they're willing to accept. So that's the- I mean you could even be in theory half way through your sophomore year and still take the MCAT, apply the following summer, start the following fall, and not have to deal with this new monstrosity.

Dr. Ryan Gray: One of the classes that seems to hang up most people for jumping on the old MCAT is second semester Physics. What's your take on taking the old MCAT with only half a semester of Physics?

Brian: That really depends on each individual student. It can be a real tough row to hoe, you know it can be tough to do if you get the misfortune of having an MCAT that has a lot of electrostatics on it, a lot of buoyancy type problems. So stuff- electrochemical galvanic cells, although that's a little more Chemistry. If you end up getting bad luck on test day, skipping that second semester of Physics could end up being disastrous. Having said that, if you're really self-disciplined, if you have really good MCAT prep and you have the time to self-teach or teach with a study group, yeah you can get away with only a semester of Physics and Organic Chem. I wouldn't recommend that to my kid brother though, right? Like if I was just giving advice across the Thanksgiving dinner table, I wouldn't recommend- I would typically only want to recommend self-studying a single semester's worth of content which is why I usually say the second semester of Organic is the thing you can get away with skipping.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, that's good advice. So we know what the old MCAT's all about, let's talk about what the new MCAT entails, what's added to that new MCAT?

Additions to the MCAT in 2015

Brian: Sure, so the stuff that everybody notices is the big obviously flashy stuff. A semester of Psych, a semester of Sociology, a semester of Biochem, and every section is getting half again as law. So you're talking about including the check-in time and the lunch break, like an eight to nine hour day. That's what the universe is abuzz with, you know? Just chatting all about these big changes. The reality for people making this decision or evaluating the old versus the new, is actually a much more subtle kind of emotional difference. What I mean by that is if you think you can squeeze in the old test and you're trying to decide whether or not you should, remember that the landscape for the new test is going to be very unsettled. We're going from a universe in which the AAMC has literally thousands of official practice questions out there, into a landscape in which there will only be a single official practice test that won't even give you a scaled score. So it's going to be a very nervous, uncomfortable sort of environment to be in. Now some people thrive; they love change, they don't mind being challenged by something that's a little unsettled. So if you're that kind of gung-ho personality, then the new test might actually be good for you. You venture into the wild less, and if you're a really emotionally resilient person, you'll outperform others. That's not me though, and I don't think that's most MCAT students. We tend to be a little more obsessive, we want to organize, and categorize and alphabetize our socks, right? So we want a universe when there's eight tests we can take. So you've got to kind of make almost more of a psychological self-assessment about whether or not it's worth cramming in the old test. More than a kind of academic assessment about all this new content that's going to be out there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, there's so many changes and I think it's scary for most people. And as humans we fear the unknown, and it just seems like everything surrounding this MCAT for some reason, there's just the huge unknown and nobody seems to know why the AAMC is kind of keeping things close to their vest.

Brian: Yeah, I mean being generous you'd say they're being conservative with their information. Being a little more jaded you might say they're not telling us because frankly they don't know, you know? I definitely have the sense that they're in a little bit panic mode themselves, you know, that they don't have as much progress as they would have liked to have made by now. So it's a pretty scary landscape to be walking into where even the people defining the rules of the game aren't totally comfortable with how the game's going to be played.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's crazy. So what are some of the things right now that if I'm a student and I know that I'm going to be taking the test, that MCAT 2015, what should I do right now to start building on my knowledge and get ready for that?

Preparing for MCAT 2015

Brian: Sure, the very first thing you've got to do is go to AAMC's website and buy a copy of the official guides that just came out maybe like a month and a half ago. Brand new, it's got twenty full practice passages in it, so you can see what they're calling Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, but it's really just verbal. You can see the Psychology, you can see the Sociology, the new Biochemistry. That's the key thing you want to do immediately, is just what's even on this thing? How is it scored? How long is it? What do the practice passages look like? So you hop on AAMC's website- or even just Amazon, spend the $30.00, get the official guide and read it cover to cover. It's going to be breathtakingly boring, but you've got to do it to find out what's on the thing. I will let your listeners in on a dirty little secret of the MCAT prep industry, which is that the reality is when you call most of these companies or go to like a big fancy webinar being offered by some company, 99.9% of what you're going to hear comes straight out of these official guides. So read it yourself, and you'll know as much about MCAT as most MCAT tutors.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That is a dirty little secret, but it's true.

Brian: Yeah. So that's number one, right? The official guide, that's the biggie. Number two is something that you can do immediately but it will take a while to execute which is just planning out your coursework, right? So the core of your coursework hasn't changed; a year of Bio, a year of Chem, a year of Organic, a year of Physics. I'm recommending actually three semesters of Biology these days, or even two years of Bio. You know start right away, all of freshman year, all of sophomore year. Because the whole test now has a Bio flavor to it. Even the Chemistry, even the Physics. You might get a passage that asks you know, ‘What about torque? What about rF sin (theta)?' But the passage will talk about the elbow joint instead of like a seesaw. Or you might get a classic kind of titration passage just you know, understanding equivalence points and half equivalence points. But the way the passage is written will be about say the buffer system in the blood. That all the concepts now have this biological systems feel to it. Which means the more versed you are in biology, the better off you're going to be, and I think for most your listeners that's obviously good news. Right, we're all Bio majors or Bio double majors.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Not for me, I hated Biology. I'm more of that Chemistry mind. Biology seemed too kumbaya for me, like let's go learn about plants. Yeah, I loved Chemistry and the Physics and that kind of stuff.

Brian: Well there you go. Yeah it's still going to be there, just sort of in the context of biological systems. And then as we said before, right, one semester each of the new stuff; Biochemistry, Psychology, Sociology. So you want to sit down and look at where am I on my academic calendar, which courses have I taken already, what can I take coming up, what can I take as summer courses, and so on. That's definitely something you want, once you have your official guide you can sit down right away and plan out your academic coursework. I will add, we're also recommending that people make sure they have at least one semester of a class that's specifically devoted to something about Experimental Design, or maybe like even a Statistics course. Officially the AAMC is saying this isn't required, they're claiming that what you learn about how to design an experiment in like a good lab component of a class is supposed to be good enough. From what I've seen from the practice material though, it would definitely help. As an undergrad I had a class called Experimental Methods, it was required for Bio majors. Us Bio majors. And really it's a tremendously valuable experience if your college offers a class in Experimental Design or Analysis or whatever, and it will help for the MCAT.

Advisors as Resources

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. And I'm glad you just mentioned if your college or your college may include these courses. I think one of the biggest things- one of the best sources of information is your advisor. Because they'll understand what Sociology class, what Psychology class may be better for the MCAT versus another one. And so going to them as a resource I think is a good first step as well.

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. And of course depending on the way your college runs, at a lot of them they're the gatekeeper.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Brian: Right, you need to get that committee letter, you have to make nice with them. And the entire process right from the get-go is equal parts cognitive and frankly applied Sociology. You know, you've got to- that advisor has got to like you, the admissions committee has got to like you, so it doesn't hurt to get those wheels turning right away.

MCAT 2015 Test Dates

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes. So I was surprised to find out the other day that the test dates are out already for the MCAT 2015. Something that usually comes out in around October for next year, they're out now. Why are the- maybe you don't know why they're out so early, but let's start talking about when in the year people should be taking this test.

Brian: Sure, absolutely. Yeah so they're not- as far as I know there's unofficial test dates out, there was a webinar given a few weeks back we went to. I'd have to check the website to see if these are the actual official dates yet.

Dr. Ryan Gray: They're on there as if they are.

Brian: Yeah, well when registration opens we'll know what you can actually register for. Ironically that's the thing that's happening much later. You can't register for the new MCAT until February next year, way- that's pushed way back. So no more March, it used to be you could take the test at the end of March, so now we're talking April through September. Of course remember this year's a little weird, all these October / November dates this year are a one-shot only deal to get in the old MCAT. So we're talking April through September, fourteen dates, all tests are morning tests now. So if you're not a morning person, it's time to suck it up and get used to being up at 8:00 AM. And with- Ryan you mentioned like when to take it. So here's the big reveal from the AAMC a couple weeks ago during this webinar that they had. The April test dates, you will not get your scores back for two months. And the May test dates you'll not get your scores back for a month and a half; as opposed to the normal thirty day- you know 32 day cutoff. So the reality is now that taking the test in April is sort of like the equivalent of taking it in May, in terms of when you'll get your score back. And taking it May is the equivalent of taking it like half- like the beginning of June. So the reality is that anybody who's considering the new test, we're recommending do not take the test in April and May. Like unless you're like me, you're a test prep professional, there's no reason to take the test in April and May, do not make yourself a guinea pig. The air of desperation was pretty obvious when the AAMC said they're going to be offering a free $150.00 Amazon gift certificate to anybody who's just willing to take the test in April or May. And that shows you how much they realize that's not a good bet for normal test takers. So usually we say end of spring semester, junior year, you know March or April is a good time to take it. Now that becomes June or July. For this upcoming year only, you're really going to want to think about June, July and maybe August.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So let's for somebody who's listening that doesn't really understand why those test dates, and why it matters. You mentioned March and April and those are the months that I always recommend. Take it by March or April at the latest the year that you're applying to medical school because it takes about a month to get your score back, and by then you'll have your score if you take it in March or April, you'll have your score and you'll know whether or not you should be submitting your application. And you can submit it as soon as the applications open in June.

Estimated Scores

Brian: Right, exactly it's all about getting that AMCAS primary in right away. And what the AAMC has said about that is that they will- for people who take the test in April and May, and of course there's all these shenanigans just because of statistics, right? They need test takers who have taken it to be able to scale it properly. So it's going to take them a long time to fuss with the numbers from April and May to get some sort of bell curve they're happy with. What they've said they'll do is in pretty short order, a matter of two to three weeks even, they will provide an estimated percentile. So you won't get a score on the normal bell curve, like what we would normally think of as 3 to 45 on the current. You won't get that within two to three weeks, but they will tell you, “We think you scored about the 60th percentile,” on the notion that that's enough information to let people decide whether or not to submit their AMCAS immediately in June when it opens up. I'm skeptical, and frankly I tend to be kind of conservative about stuff like this. You don't want to take their guesstimate of your percentile as a basis for submitting your primaries.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So I'll play devil's advocate here and I'll give you my point of view when I hear that. When I hear that, I hear that the AAMC doesn't know what's going on. Medical schools aren't going to know what's going on. And so that's your prime opportunity to pounce. If you have a good GPA, go take that MCAT, get your estimated score, and the medical schools will go, “Well he's got a great GPA, we don't know what this MCAT estimated thing is, let's go ahead and invite him for an interview.” And-

Brian: That's an interesting way to think about it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, that's how I think about it. And everybody's going to be in the same boat because you're all kind of guinea pigs, and so in my mind there's no harm in taking it then.

Brian: Yeah, okay fair enough. I agree that in that sense everybody's in the same boat. I mean we would have to you know, get a med school admissions officer in here to get their kind of sense of how their university or institution. Remember these tests are not a vacuum, right? There are going to be kids applying with MCAT scores from one, two years ago. So if you're an admissions officer, I mean and let's face it, professors are conservative folks. And you say, “Okay well here's bucket number one full of kids with decent GPAs, got their semester in the clinic, got their semester in the lab. But a [Inaudible 00:23:41] we can't make heads or tails of. And here's another bucket of kids who took a test back at the end of 2013, and this kid's got a 34. Sure, you know let's interview Mr. 34 and we'll hold off on weird score.”

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yup, that could be a valid scenario as well.

Brian: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: There's so much.

Brian: Like you said it's the Wild West, and so everyone's in that same boat, but you're not competing just against the other kids who took the new MCAT. You are competing with kids who have old scores, old good scores.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Brian: You know they're not retaking the new MCAT because they rocked the old one. So you know.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Brian: I wouldn't want to- I'm not taking the test in April, I wouldn't want to.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright. So April- April, May you're saying June or July, maybe August. But then so that's another scenario that we can kind of hypothesize about is what are medical schools going to do because from interviewing a lot of the medical schools and admissions committees, they will typically sit on an application until that MCAT score comes back. So if you're taking it June, July, August, you can submit your primary and just have it kind of sit there, they can validate your GPA and all your courses, and then schools may or may not wait for your MCAT score to come back. So there's just so many scenarios that I think in the end you take the test when you are most psyched and ready to take the test, and most confident.

Brian: Yeah, and that's what I've seen before about so much of the game being psychological, that really that's it. I mean the fact of the matter is if you have a spring semester where you're only taking ten credits because you're going to go and knock this thing out at the end of April or May, then just do it. You know the extra month of June, especially if you've got like a killer summer internship lined up, is not worth waiting on that just to get the extra month in. You've got to make your own decision about your own timeline. You know I'm encouraging people to either push it real early, get the current one in by January, or push it late, do it at the end of the summer, just avoid this weird no man's land, the changeover. But in the end it comes down to each individual student.

Resources to Prepare For New MCAT Content

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, so one of the I think best- and I'll air quote ‘best.' But one of the most popular resources for the MCAT is a guide on Student Doctor Network that kind of lays out a- I think a three month study calendar, and gives pages and exam practice books, and the Barrons books, and Princeton Review books, and everybody seems to flock to that and use that. That's out the window now with all these extra subjects, and everything else that the new MCAT 2015 is built around. So how does one start to prepare for the content of the new test?

Brian: So as with the old test, it starts with your coursework, and we'd already talked about that. Plan out your semesters, your coursework and all that. The basic timeline is obviously going to dilate out a little bit. So your typical MCAT kid would prepare for about three months, now you think three and a half, maybe even four months would be your typical prep timeline, just to account for the additional material. The content again, you know go back to the official guide, right? Always go straight to the horse's mouth. You've got these fantastic 200 pages worth of outlines available from the AAMC, that's the place to start. Prep books have always been a real popular option, here that's still a good choice, right? Kaplan and Princeton; Kaplan's books are already out, I have them, they look great. Princeton's books will be coming out in another few weeks. The smaller companies, your Berkeleys, ExamKrackers, Gold Standards and so on, they'll come a little later to the game. So you're still going to want to consider picking up a big set of prep books. When it comes to practice test material, the one big piece of advice I'm offering people is that the content itself is always fairly straightforward. Between Wikipedia, Kahn Academy and prep books, it's not hard to review the basics, it's just now you're adding in operant conditioning on top of your glycolysis, right? The real trick is practice material. And that's where the number one recommendation I'm making to people that is now different, is you have to go to multiple prep companies; and I've never said this in the past, I always used to just say the AAMC has a ton of stuff, just go straight to them. Now the AAMC is not going to have that much stuff, so now you're going to need- you know Next Step is producing a couple of our own practice tests, you're going to want to use those, Kaplan will have theirs, you'll want to get one or two from them. You know look is- you know I don't know yet if Berkeley or Gold Standard or ExamKrackers, these little companies are going to have them. But you're not going to be able to necessarily trust kind of the editorial voice of a single prep company. Everybody's going to be just a little off in some way or another. So to be well prepped you'll want to do the one official test from the AAMC, and then at least three or four tests drawn from two or three different prep companies.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That sounds like a lot of work.

Brian: Yeah, it is a lot of work.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, that's a bummer. Again I keep going back to the AAMC; I wish they were a little bit more prepared for this transition. And this is my personal kind of opinion, but I wonder that there's this thought out there, that there's huge relationship with Kahn Academy. And so I wonder if they're holding a lot of things closer to their vest because of this relationship with Kahn Academy. They prefer to see the test prep companies a little bit further behind.

Brian: It could be, although I mean honestly from what I'm seeing right now, and I'm not going to knock Kahn Academy, it's a phenomenal resource, I currently direct my students to it. But they've got nothing on Kaplan. I mean Kaplan has already got three full tests out, they've already got a set of books out. I may not have nice things to say about Kaplan's teachers, but their materials are immediately available. That I mean when you've got a billion dollar budget, it's not hard to write a lot of practice tests. So it might little bit of a misguided notion on their part. Yeah, I'll tell you I don't really understand it either. I mean when you have a monopoly you could charge $100.00 a test, and people would pay it. I don't know why they're not offering more than just one practice test, but that's the hand we've been dealt for the new exam.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And for the student that's listening right now, I'm speaking to you right now. The- we keep talking about kind of the lack of information, and kind of everything is up in the air. That shouldn't stress you out because everybody is in the same boat. So don't worry about it, it is what it is, I'm sure these initial tests are going to be heavily curved until they figure something out to- they get enough data in like you were saying to have good statistical curves on these things.

Brian: Yeah, exactly. You know and everyone's in the same boat as far as the test itself, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I've got to say it ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times. Buy and read the official guide. Because I guarantee you when you go sit your butt down there in April and take this test for the first time, there will be 45 people in the room of whom maybe two have read the official guide cover to cover. It is shocking how often people will go take this thing and not be prepared for it. Every day my phone rings, “I took the MCAT, I didn't get the score I want, can your tutoring help me?” And the first question we ask is, “How did you prep the first time?” And unbelievable the number of people that will say, “Well you know I just read a couple of books. I didn't really do much. I had a buddy lent me his old ExamKrackers books and that was it.” And it's like, “Okay so let's do this the right way. Start by reading the official guide cover to cover.”

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah and I'll have a link to the official guide in the show notes specifically for this episode which you can get at Alright so we talked about when to take it, the materials that they should be getting, what's changed. What other kind of advice do we have for the listener as they're stressing out about this new MCAT?

Support from Other People

Brian: Sure, yeah Ryan- and I brought this up when I was on the show about six months ago or so. The number one best way to get through anything in life- and the MCAT is no different, right? Is support from other people. It's why support groups work, twelve step programs work, why churches and synagogues function so well as social support networks. They MCAT is no different. The number one way to prep for the MCAT is a good study group. And I know that sounds weird coming from a guy who runs a commercial test prep tutoring company. I'm not saying tutoring, I'm saying study groups. You need the support of other people who are going through it. Knowing that everyone is in the same boat is one thing, but seeing that everyone is in the same boat with two or three people in the life raft with you makes all the difference in the world. They provide academic support, they provide emotional support, social support, got to form a good study group. When it comes to that, I will address just a few points because these always come up when I bring up study groups. People go, “Well I don't really like those. I tried to do study groups in college, and I was the only one who did my homework and there was the three slackers and two stoners and no one ever wanted to do anything.” Remember the slackers and stoners aren't taking the MCAT, so you don't have to worry about the lazy kids. Second, don't be afraid to run your study group like you're the teacher. Give each other homework and if someone's not doing the homework, cut them out of the group, find somebody else. And it's that self-teaching that happens, you say, “Okay Mary we're going to- we're all going to take this practice test. You're going to review the Physics, I'm going to review the Bio, Joe's going to review the Verbal. We're all going to come back together and we're going to teach it to each other.” It's that cross-teaching between different people that helps you see how other people think, and helps you develop that cognitive flexibility that's necessary for success on test day.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So there's an awesome quote that I know I've mentioned on the podcast before. But it's the perfect quote for this in study groups. It's a quote by an author named Jim Rohn and his quote is, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.' And when you are in that study group with a bunch of overachievers, and you're all there for the sole purpose of collaborating and making each other better, then the whole group improves. And that's one of the biggest things that we preach here on the podcast, in my opening I talk about collaboration and hard work, and that's what it's all about.

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. You know and it's so much easier to work hard when you're in an environment where everyone is working hard and the study group is the way to do that, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Think of it this way, I would call it instead of a study group, an accountability group. When you- going to the gym is one of the hardest things for people. But when you have a workout buddy, then you know there's somebody waiting there for you, depending on you, and you end up going. And so this is the same thing. When you're tired of studying for the MCAT and you'd rather watch Grey's Anatomy because that's what you think being a doctor is like, and so you aspire to be like Meredith Grey, then there's that person waiting at the library for you and you pack up your backpack and go. So I think study groups are huge, don't think of those people as competition. They're there- you're all there to help each other.

Brian: Yeah, exactly. And surprisingly, you know I'll say Ryan I'm not sure if you had a similar experience, but when I was in med school the only competition is getting in. You know once you're there, it's entirely a collaborative environment. You know- well okay.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I don't know about entirely a collaborative. But-

Brian: But find a good study group and it's we're all going to be doctors, we have to work together, we're all going to get through is thing. You know and that interdependence is- you know it's essential to the MCAT, to med school, to practice medicine, you know?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Brian: No physician is an island, no MCAT student is an island, it's all about that interconnection.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So those are some of the things that we have prepared, and then I- before we jumped on I went out to the Twitterverse and I said, “Hey I'm about to interview Next Step Test Prep about the new MCAT, what kind of questions do you have?” And two people tweeted back with the same exact question pretty much asking, “What is the best way to prepare for the new humanities and social science subjects?”

Humanities and Social Science Subjects

Brian: Sure, yeah so the way that the verbal reasoning is changing is it's basically getting a new coat of paint, so it's being changed from verbal reasoning to critical analysis and reason skills. And currently on verbal you can actually get hard science, you can get Meteorology or Dinosaurs- like you can get natural science. They're taking that away. The new verbal is just humanities and social science. Having said that, it really fundamentally is not changing. An art passage, architecture, philosophy, none of that's changing. The only other big difference is they're adding in public health as like a place that they're drawing from. So out of the- they haven't really told us yet, we're guessing ten passages, almost certainly one or two are going to be public health related. The advice there hasn't fundamentally changed from the verbal reasoning section, which is read every day. What you will read on a lot of different places, chat forums, you'll even hear this from MCAT teachers, is they'll try to push you to read magazine articles, the Atlantic, the Economist are sort of the staples. I like to be a little more demanding with my own students. I say there's a philosophy textbook out there called ‘Reason and Responsibility,' it's a staple of Philosophy 101 classes, it was used- I double majored in Philosophy, I used it. You can buy a used copy for like $0.40 on Amazon, and it is really hard reading. I mean it's Philosophy, right? So if you can handle reading 500 year old philosophers analyzing the nature of the divine, then frankly reading a 500 word article about architecture is going to be a breeze on the MCAT.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So that's the new kind of verbal reasoning section. What about the Psychology and Sociology parts? Because there's- you can't really study Psychology equations. Now how is that going to be tested?

Brian: Sure, oh sorry that's what you meant. Yeah, I'm sorry I misunderstood your-

Dr. Ryan Gray: No that's okay.

Brian: You said social sciences, I was immediately thinking there will be social sciences in verbal. You know that's a good question. I mean it's really not fundamentally any different from the Biology, right? I mean there's no equation for the Krebs Cycle, you just learn oh okay, cytochrome oxidates, you learn the names of the things, you learn facts. So for Psychology and Sociology it's the same thing except now the fact you're learning is not- you know the difference between anomers, let's say in Organic Chemistry. Now what you're learning is the difference between classical and operant conditioning. Or in Psychology the difference- or in Sociology what's the difference between say prejudice, bias, and discrimination? Right? They're just words, right? You learn the definition and these words, and so in that regard take a semester Psych 101. Take a semester Soc 101, and then buy a good set of prep books. You know pick up your Kaplan, your ExamKrackers prep books and learn them. The thing that I've seen again from the official guide doing the practice passages, is that like everything on the MCAT, it is mostly about reading and analyzing the passage. You have to be comfortable with the language of stimulus and response, and neurotransmitters, and the different sociology terms; symbolic interactionism. You've got to be comfortable with those words, but it still comes back to the fundamental skill of read and analyze the passage, read and analyze the question, and eliminate your wrong answers; and that's no different in the Psych section than in the Bio section or the Verbal section or anywhere else.

Next Step Test Prep

Dr. Ryan Gray: Perfect, I love it. Alright Brian let's talk a minute about Next Step Test Prep, and who you guys cater to, and a kind of special for our podcast listeners.

Brian: Sure, absolutely. So we're a company that focuses solely on one-on-one private tutoring, that's the big difference between us and the other major test prep companies. So because our company was built from the ground up around the notion of tutoring, we like to think we deliver a much better tutoring experience. You know we've heard plenty of folks who come to us who say, “Look I bought tutoring with one of these other companies, and frankly I just got a one man version of their class,” because that's how they train their folks. The big place that we distinguish ourselves from a lot of the other prep options out there, is fundamentally the quality of the tutors that we're hiring. We're more demanding about scores, we require more previous teaching and tutoring experience, we require that they demonstrate not just experience and expertise but teaching ability. They have to explain to me really hard concepts so I see that they know how to break down things before we'll interview them. And it's that focus on one-on-one and tutor quality that lets us get the results that our students are obviously so proud of when they do well on test day. And of course we have specifically for our listeners here, arranged a special discount that if you mention that you heard about us here at this podcast, we'll give you a $50.00 coupon off of the tuition.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's awesome.And is it in-person tutoring, or how does that work?

Brian: Sure, yeah we do tutoring both online and in person. It depends on each individual student's location, preferences and needs, so I'll give you an example. Obviously we have tutors located in all the big cities; New York, LA, DC, Chicago, Phoenix and so on. And if we have somebody placed locally then we're happy to set you up with a local in-person tutor. If you have a specific need though, that wouldn't be addressed by somebody locally, we would recommend that you do the tutoring online. Just this morning I enrolled somebody who was actually located near me here in Tucson, and I mean I'm in Tucson and we had another tutor located here. But she wanted something very, very specific, somebody who was like a real expert at the Chemistry- the General Chemistry. And so I told her, “Look, I've got a guy out in Pennsylvania who's got a PhD in Chemistry. If you want someone who's the absolute master, you'd be better off doing the tutoring online.” So we do both, and it depends on each student's needs.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, that's awesome. So you cater very specifically to each person.

Brian: Mm hmm, absolutely.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, any closing last minute kumbaya words of soothing relief for the listener?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. You know I say this all the time to folks that we're talking to, and I think this absolutely applies to your listeners. You know if you're listening to this podcast, you're already miles ahead of other people. Because you're the kind of student who cares enough about the enterprise of being a premed to seek out a really high quality podcast like Ryan's podcasts. So you can sometimes get tunnel vision, you can think, “Oh my gosh, this is such an impossible environment,” because you're surrounded by other incredibly smart people. But you want to remember that in the universe of MCAT prep, there are a lot of folks who are not on the ball the way you are; checking things out, listening to podcasts, really learning what that landscape is. So that that you are even listening to us now is reason to be confident.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, Brian from Next Step Test Prep which you can find at If you have a hard time spelling that, you can always get the links in our show notes specifically for this page at And again, if you use their services, then mention that you heard about them here on the podcast and save a little bit of money.

If you want to reach out to me or Brian at Next Step, we're on Twitter. I am MedicalSchoolHQ. Brian and the rest of the team over at Next Step Test Prep is @NextStepPrep.

You can also shoot me an email, my email address is

Lastly, if you enjoyed today's podcast or any of our other episodes that we've released, I would greatly appreciate it if you went into iTunes and took a minute to leave us a rating and review. A nice honest rating and review. You can do that by going to, it takes a minute and it greatly, greatly improves our visibility in iTunes and we appreciate every second that you guys take to do that for us. We have over- we have 180 five star ratings which is amazing. Or 180 ratings. I appreciate every one of you that has gone and done that for us.

So I hope you got a ton of great information out of today's podcast, and as always I hope you join us next time here at the Medical School Headquarters.

So last week I mentioned that we're looking at possibly starting a new podcast. A question and answer only podcast where every week we do one question and one answer. And it may be more than weekly, depending on how many questions we get. But we're not going to launch this podcast unless we get at least ten questions called in to us or recorded for us, if you go to you can leave a recorded question there. If we get ten of them, then this podcast will be a go. Go there,

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