Best 2020 MCAT Prep Books, Free Materials & their Pros/Cons

The best MCAT prep books come from 3 major publishers: Kaplan, Princeton and ExamKrackers.

There are a bunch of other publishers out there, however their weaknesses greatly overshadow their strengths. As a result, test goers and the MCAT prep community in general has gravitated to the 3 big names mentioned previously.

For the most part, those three publishers are comparable in overall quality. However, none of them are sufficiently good enough to be your single, one-stop shop when it comes to MCAT preparation.

For one, they have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of the content they cover. For instance, Kaplan is strong in Biochemistry, Princeton in Psychology/Sociology and ExamKrackers in Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.

Fortunately however, any content weak spots these MCAT prep books might have can be easily filled with the free practice materials and tests included in this article. In other words, you don’t need to buy multiple book sets just to cover everything.

Next, they often have different philosophies in how they approach the subject. Kaplan and Princeton Review are dense and have a lot of information, while ExamKrackers favors a lighter approach and gives you only the strictly essential information, at the risk of having gaps here and there.

As a result, choosing an MCAT prep book set is mostly a matter of personal preference, depending on your learning style, how much time you have, what are your content strengths and weaknesses.

Best MCAT Prep Books

The Princeton Review MCAT Complete Box Set

Princeton Review’s strengths lie in its great attention to detail and very in-depth coverage of every subject that will likely appear in the MCAT. They also break down the information into very small, digestible parts so you can basically learn the subjects almost from scratch.

On occasion, the Princeton Review also discusses subjects which do not appear in the MCAT exam, but can be used to support and provide better context to understand MCAT subjects.

Overall, the rich information in Princeton Review can be both and advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your needs.

It is an advantage if you enjoy having more details, depth and believe that you have some bigger content gaps that need to be filled, including the basics.

It is a disadvantage if you’re short on time and want your prep books to be to-the-point, focused on essential information, and not distract you with too many details or extra information.

As for the content itself, the Princeton Review is solid all around, especially its Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills sections.

It does however have some weaknesses in its Biochemistry section. The actual information present in the Biochemistry sections is great, however there simply isn’t enough content to fully cover the Biochemistry part of the MCAT.

Fortunately however, this content gap can be easily filled with the free materials listed later on in this article, such as MileDown’s Anki Deck and the 92 page Biochemistry notes.  

When it comes to testing, Princeton Review provides questions at the end of each chapter as well as three full length tests.

The full length tests in particular are quite good, but considerably harder than the official AAMC ones. For instance, if you scored 495 on a Princeton test, you could reasonably expect to obtain a 505-507 on the official MCAT.

Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review

Similar to Princeton, Kaplan is also an information rich MCAT book set. Overall, the biggest difference between the two is that Kaplan tends to be more concise in how it presents information, and discusses far fewer non-MCAT topics as Princeton.

Kaplan often relies more on charts, diagrams and tables instead of text. This works most of the time, but on rare occasions you may come across a topic where neither the chart, nor the text are enough to fully clarify the information. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often and a simple Google Search and YouTube video should be enough to clear things up.

One extremely useful feature of Kaplan books is the “high yield badge” it uses on many of its chapters. This indicates that those chapters are more likely to produce actual questions on the AAMC exam, when compared to “low yield” sections. For learners who want to be more efficient in their study time, this can be a decisive advantage.

Content-wise, Kaplan is a great choice especially for sciences since it provides all the information you need, with a focus on the high-yield topics. In fact, out of all the book sets, Kaplan has by far and away the best biochemistry book.

Kaplan’s weakest point however is the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section. Fortunately, this weakness can be completely filled with the free, 300 page Khan Academy video notes in the “Free materials” section of this article.

Another thing to keep in mind is that their Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section is not as good as Princeton’s or ExamKrackers. While workable, it does not capture the logic and flow of the official MCAT CARS section as well as the other two major competitors.

In terms of testing, Kaplan ends each chapter with 15 questions so you can test what you’ve just learned. It also includes 3 online only tests which can be accessed on by registering your books.

Another useful thing Kaplan doesn’t properly communicate, is that each book in the set unlocks a corresponding online question pack. All you have to do is register each book individually on the same Kaptest link above.

Examkrackers MCAT Study Package

ExamKrackers has a different philosophy when compared to Princeton or Kaplan. It purposefully includes only the essential information necessary to pass the MCAT with 520+, and nothing else.

As such, it is a much smaller and focused book set and is primarily designed for two categories of people:

  1. Learners who are short on time and don’t want to get bogged down in fluff.
  2. Learners who already have a decent grasp on the MCAT content, and just want a book set to keep things fresh and go back to while practicing.

Out of all the major book sets, ExamKrackers is the one that relies the most on visual elements to convey information. Generally, it is the most easily readable and digestible MCAT prep book set.

The downside to ExamKrackers is that you may have to fill in some of its content gaps from other resources or Google / YouTube. This affects all of the sections in the book set, from Physics to Biology to CARS.

When it comes to actual content, ExamKrackers is the most well rounded out of all the book sets. It does not have any glaring weaknesses, such as Kaplan in Psychology/Sociology or Princeton in Biochemistry. The science books are solid overall, while the Psychology/Sociology section is stronger than Kaplan’s, and almost as good as Princeton’s.

As for Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, both Princeton and ExamKrackers are on roughly the same level, and choosing one over the other is mostly a matter of preference.

Another good point in terms of content are the useful test taking tips and strategies included the books, that can help a learner improve their scores.

Testing is a mixed bag for ExamKrackers. The good part is that it includes 24 questions after each lecture as well as 32 mini-exams of roughly 30 minutes each.

However, both the questions and the mini-exams are of very high quality, and capture the feel of the MCAT by focusing more on rationally understanding the questions, rather than simple content regurgitation as with the Kaplan or Princeton questions and tests.

Unfortunately, ExamKrackers does not come with any full length tests included in this package. They do have full length tests, but these are online only and each costs 40$.

AAMC full length exams (and maybe question packs)

All of the book sets listed above contain full length tests and/or question packs to test your knowledge.

However, when it comes to fidelity to the actual MCAT, nothing can beat the full-length tests and question banks from AAMC, the people who actually organize the MCAT.

If you have the budget, consider buying their entire Official Prep Bundle. It does cost some 300 dollars but it contains the following:

  • 4 full length exams.
  • Question packs for biology, chemistry, physics.
  • Flashcards.
  • 2 volumes of questions for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section.
  • Guide to the MCAT exam.
  • Other useful tidbits.

If your budget does not allow this expense, then focus only on the 4 full length exams, which will set you back some 170$ in total.

Also, if you feel CARS is your weak point, consider purchasing the two Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills question books (here and here)

While ExamKrackers and Princeton Review have solid books for this section of the exam, they still can’t quite capture the exact reasoning and feel of the actual MCAT exam like the AAMC materialis can.

Another important note is to not burn the AAMC full length exams needlessly. Do not use those exams as a diagnostic, especially since many of the other MCAT publishers offer their own (sometimes free) diagnostic exams.

Keep the AAMC exams for when you’re done, or almost done, with your content review and want to see well prepared you are.

Free MCAT prep materials, tests, and more

Khan Academy MCATBros 300 page Psychology/Sociology Doc  

When it comes to Psychology/Sociology, none of the three major MCAT prep book publishers listed above fully explain the material in a satisfying and complete way.

Princeton does come very close. ExamKrackers is solid, but still not quite there. Kaplan lags behind significantly and simply isn’t good enough for a high score.

By far the best resource for Psychology/Sociology are the Khan Academy videos on the subject. These were made in tight collaboration with AAMC and the result is an excellent resource that is held in very high regard by top MCAT scorers and test goers in general.

Thanks to MCAT Bros, these videos are also available in a completely free document format, usually called the 300 page P/S notes doc by the MCAT prep community.

This document is so good, it completely fills in Kaplan’s weakness in this department and will be all you need to score a 132 on this section of the exam.

If you choose Princeton or ExamKrackers, things will be even easier since you have two more good resources to cross-reference.

In any case, here is the link to the free, 300 page P/S doc:

Jack Westin CARS practice passages

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT is perhaps the most important in the entire exam. Mastering CARS can lift up your scores on the other sections simply be helping you logically understand the question and deducing the answer in a rational manner.

An advantage to CARS is that it’s not a content section, meaning you don’t have to spend time learning and memorizing new information.

All you have to do are practice passages so you can improve your reading comprehension, problem solving skills, timing, thinking methods and general approach to the CARS section.

Fortunately, all three major MCAT prep book publishers have an acceptable CARS section. However, if you would like to supplement these, then consider checking out Jack Westin’s free CARS practice passages.

They are not perfect and sometimes have errors, but the practice passages are generally comparable in quality (or even slightly better) to the big publishers – Kaplan, Princeton and ExamKrackers – and make for great practice until you transition to actual AAMC question passages.

That being said, there is no CARS resource that can capture the feel of the MCAT as well as the official AAMC materials. Scoring highly with Jack Westin or other publishers is no guarantee that you will do the same with the actual MCAT.

For this reason, you should always center your CARS expectations based on the results you get on AAMC related CARS material.

Here is the link to Jack Westin’s free CARS passages:

MileDown’s Anki flashcard deck

For the uninitiated, Anki Flashcards is a free smartphone and PC/MacOS app (except on iPhone where it costs 25$) that is centered around the concept of spaced repetition using flashcards.

As an example, here is what an unsolved flashcard from MileDown’s Anki deck looks like.

The solved flashcard looks like this:

Spaced repetition means that your Anki software will periodically feed you Anki cards, with the frequency based on whether you answer the Anki flashcard correctly or not.

For example, if you answer a flashcard correctly, Anki will push the same card again in 30 minutes. If after 30 minutes you answer it correctly again, it will push the same card after 2 days, then 5 days, then 7 days, then 15 days, then 30 days etc.

However, if you fail the card the frequency sequence resets. Thus, if you fail the 15 day flash card, Anki will push the same card again after 30 minutes, then 2 days, then 5 days and so on.

The frequency is adjustable within the app, so you aren’t limited to just the timetable mentioned in this article.

The app itself doesn’t come with any MCAT decks, so you’ll have to either make your own flashcards or simply upload a premade deck.

The Anki deck of Reddit user MileDown is probably the best free Anki deck you will find. It’s not something you’ll see mentioned on commercial pages simply because it’s free, but our own readers as well as learners on MCAT related communities vouch for its quality.

As a brief overview of this deck, it contains:

  • All cards include a reference link to a relevant video on Khan Academy or, in some cases, YouTube.
  • 2,900 cards organized in 7 subdecks (Behavioral, Biochemistry, Biology, Essential Equations, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics and Math)
  • Every equation, unit, and constant needed for the MCAT is included.
  • Every item in the 300 page Khan Academy Psych/Soc document is included.
  • All cards include a graphic or picture to help you understand the topic.
  • Each card is written as a “fill-in-the-blank”.

Overall, this deck is of a very high quality and a great way to practice your content and go over the material.

That being said, it does have some very, very minor disadvantages:

  • It is very comprehensive, but not 100% so. There may be a few subjects that aren’t sufficiently covered in this deck.
  • It does have a handful of errors. These are few and far between, but they are there, so if a particular flashcard does stand out as not making sense, be sure to double or triple check it.

Download links:

92 page biochemistry notes

This is a document by a Reddit user called Lazy OCD, who has created a beautiful looking, 92 page document that contains useful notes on Biochemistry.

By his own admission, these notes do contain some extra information that is not on the MCAT, but could be useful as context info.

They pair well together with the Anki cards and any other book set, especially Princeton Review where it complements its somewhat weak biochemistry book.

Download links:

Free MCAT Practice exams

Below is a list of free MCAT practice exams:

Good luck on the MCAT!