I promised that I was going to do this after I got my score back, and now I am following through. I did not take a class, mostly because I didn't have the money, but also because I don't study well in groups. I think most motivated pre-meds can get a 30+ on the MCAT through self-study, although that is definitely a sweeping generalization. I used both ExamKrackers (EK) and Kaplan books for my study purposes. Personally, I liked EK the most. I got the study books, and they were easy to follow. However, I found that the physics review book was lacking, so I purchased a Kaplan review book as well (came with 4 practice tests too!). Physics was my weakest section going in, so I also got EK's 1,001 Physics Questions, which I completed in its entirety. My favorite book was EK's 101 Verbal Reasoning Passages, it was great practice, and the passages were actually interesting for the most part. VR is a tough section to raise scores in, but I think it really helped me get a 13. I list all my study purchases at the end of this post, so check that out.
I took about 4 months to study, averaging 2-3 hours per day, until the last month where it was probably closer to 4-5 hours a day. My study plan was simple. For the first two months I did all content review. I read everything once through without taking notes or highlighting. The next time through I took notes, in-depth notes, especially on biology (ended up typing over 34 pages of bullet-point facts). I wanted all my notes in a binder, so that I didn't have to lug around tons of books everywhere. I also made my own "equation-memorization" sheet, with all of the relevant and important equations I would need to have down pat. By the end of the content review, I had a binder worth of my own notes, which I would try and read through once every other day. This binder was constantly being updated with more random facts, or missed practice test questions, etc.
After content review, it was time to take practice tests, and do problems in physics as well as the VR passages. It is important to be completely comfortable with the way the MCAT asks questions. I took practice tests from Kaplan, ExamKrackers, Gold Standard, and of course the AAMC. Do a ton of practice passages, they will point out your weak areas. The most important purchases are the AAMC practice tests. My average on them was almost exactly my real score. They will indicate how ready you are. In my opinion, AAMC > Gold Standard > Kaplan > EK. The Gold Standard tests are hard (and sometimes frustrating) but they really show you what you don't know. I didn't care for Kaplan or EK practice tests at all. Take the last few AAMC's under real test conditions. Do them somewhere without distractions, and don't take more than the allotted time for each section and breaks. Also, take the time after the test to review every single question and answer.
My overall recommendations are simple. Don't take practice tests (especially the AAMC's) until you are done with content review. Work your butt off, but don't get burned out, you shouldn't take this test more than once. Use any and all resources. I thought the Student-Doctor network was helpful, as well as Wikipedia for clearing up any misconceptions. It is more important to understand concepts and how they interrelate rather than memorizing everything. The MCAT is a beast, but it feels so good when it is over; don't leave anything in the tank. You should have no regrets about your studying after taking it. I would be happy to answer any questions in the comment section, I hope I didn't leave anything out.
My MCAT Study Budget:
- Examkrackers Complete MCAT Study Pkg: 5 Book Package
- Examkrackers 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning
- Kaplan MCAT Premier 2011-2012 (Kaplan Mcat Premier Program)
- Kaplan MCAT in a Box
- AAMC Practice Tests #3-11
- Gold Standard CBTs #1-10
- MCAT Registration ($235)
total estimated price for my preparation and the test: $791.39