1) There are MCAT study plans found all over the Internet, especially studentdoctor.net. Some of the plans call for the Berkley Review Books. I plan on taking a Kaplan review course and intend on using my Kaplan books instead. Your thoughts?
First, it is great that you are planning your MCAT schedule so far ahead of time. This will allow you to adjust fire well in advance from your official first day of studying. Here are some tips in regards to your questions.
Schedule: I downloaded a few of the suggested calendars from that same website. Based on our email traffic, it looks like you will be devoting a little more than two months of full-time MCAT studying. This is plenty of time. I started studying in mid-May and took my exam August 4th. It wasn’t until about 3 weeks into my routine that I felt I really had a groove going. I wonder how much better my score would have been had I acquired better study methods earlier. I suggest you use those schedules as reference but don’t let them dictate your daily learning. Use them as a guide only.
I found that having unscheduled days mixed in REALLY helped. They allowed me to do nothing but review past problem sets, go over notecards again and again, and go back to a chapter or two that I didn’t perform well on the Q & A’s that followed. It is one thing to learn the material and press on; it is another to be able to recall that material two weeks later with at least 75% proficiency.
Books: You will be fine substituting the Kaplan books for the Berkley books. I used Kaplan but have seen both and they are similar. My recommendation is to purchase the complete Exam Krackers book set (includes one book for each subject and an additional book on strategy and mental math), EK’s 101 Verbal Passages, and EK’s 1001 questions for each topic. Do problems, problems and more problems. If you incorrectly answer several questions on spring tension, pendulums, frequency, and time, make notecards of the formulas and concepts and then tab that page. Go back and do those problems as your warm up the next day and then do the online Kaplan test bank for those problems.
2) What resources did you use (books, study guides, group study, Kaplan online vs. in person)?
Keep in mind; all this is my opinion here. I found that the online Kaplan course was good for one thing and one thing only: online question banks. Everything from full-length practice exams, subject matter exams, small quizzes, stand-alone verbal reasoning exams, etc. can be found on their database. I wasted my time with the “online tutorials” for about a week and that got old really quick. It was a PowerPoint with audio that went along with the main learning objective text they issue you. Use that book as a paperweight and don’t waste your time on the “online lessons.”
I never attended the in-person Kaplan review course, nor did I have the cash flow for that. I’ve heard mixed reviews with the two following being the most common:
“Waste of time,” and “This is a good program if you are a procrastinator and need someone to keep you on schedule.”
See my answer to number 1 for my thoughts on the EK books. These are phenomenal! In fact, as was recommended to me and I’m recommending to you: review the EK subject matter books along with your undergraduate courses to see what the MCAT is testing. For example, for Chemistry 2, those equilibrium and I.C.E. charts take plenty of time and calculations that would be near impossible without a calculator (logs, natural logs, etc.) are abundant. There is no calculator use allowed on the MCAT so it is a good idea to learn the “mental math short cuts.” EK books will teach you this.
I studied alone. However, if I knew someone who was taking the exam around the same time as me, I would have preferred chalk talking some concepts every other night. Also, see my blog post in-regards to Coursesaver.com. I used this site as a supplement to my studies.
3) What Verbal Reasoning strategies worked best for you?
Ahhh, good old Verbal. This section is a beast and is NOT to be taken lightly in any way. The only way to get better at verbal is to keep doing verbal. You need to do all the passages in the 101 EK book, all stand-alone verbal exams through Kaplan online, and every verbal on the full-length practice exams.
Each company has their own method of success. I can’t remember the intricacies of Kaplan but taking notes and jotting down main points…you won’t have time for that. The pace is fast and furious and the questions will leave you guessing between the last two best sounding answers more often than not.
Not including the days that I took full-length exams, I did a stand-alone verbal test every other day. I started my morning off with them. The verbal exams should take about an hour. Then take ten minutes to relax and then review the entire exam. This review will take longer than an hour. I made notes of what types of questions I was getting wrong and why I thought I was missing information. Read the questions and all the wrong answers and WHY they are wrong. You will be able to learn what mistakes you are making and make an effort to correct this.
You’ll know what I mean when you start taking the verbal. By exam day, I read each passage with my feet flat on the ground, my left hand touching the side of the monitor screen (as if that was feeding some neurological connection between the passage and my understanding), and highlighting some key phrases using my mouse with my right hand. I sat with my back straight and had my face about 18 inches from the screen. This kept me as in-tune with the passage as possible. Anyone who hasn’t taken the verbal section and is reading this is probably thinking, “whatever dude,” anyone who has taken the verbal exam is laughing with agreement. This is not reading comprehension. The passages are challenging and the questions are vague, sometimes have double negatives, and are designed to make you second-guess yourself.