When and how to use all the AAMC material (a complete guide) (2023)

If you don't already know what the AAMC material for the MCAT is, it is the official practical MCAT material published by the testing company, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

There are practice tests, question banks, etc. And everything is presented by the creator of the real test, so it's more like the real test than anything else available. That means they're the best practices you'll find (by far).

But you'll hear a lot of different opinions about when and how you should use it. Some people think you should leave everything until the end, some people think you should do it at the beginning of your studies, etc.

So I've laid out in this article exactly when and how you should use all of the AAMC material to help you get the best possible MCAT score.

question packs

There are six question packs in total: two for biology, one for chemistry, one for physics, and two for CARS. Each question pack has 120 questions, with a mix of discrete and passage-based questions.

The question packs were lifted from the old (pre-2015) MCAT, so for the sciences at least, they're not as representative of the current test. This means you want to treat them more as a tool for reviewing content rather than a tool for realistic practice. It also means you don't have to save them until you're close to your test. You can ask the question packs at any time during the study.

Science question packs are good things, but since they're not as representative of the new test, they're not essential. If you were running out of time before the test and had to skip a portion of the AAMC material, I recommend skipping the science question packs.

Now CARS is an important exception to what I've said so far. The CARS question packs are so representative of the new MCAT because the style of the CARS section hasn't changed much from the previous test.

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When you should take the CARS question packs depends a bit on how good you are at CARS. If you really have problems with CARS, you should read these passages, or at least some of them, relatively early in your study. However, if you are really good at CARS, you can save them until the last 4-6 weeks before the test.

bank of sections

The Section Bank comes with 100 questions from each of the science sections, with each section having a mix of discrete and passage-based questions. (Unfortunately, there are no CARS in the Section Bank.)

Section Bank is easily the best MCAT material available, barring extensive testing. You should study it carefully and maybe even do it several times.

But, you should also know that the Section Bank isto stay. The passages and questions here are above average in difficulty. So you shouldn't try to do too much with your scores. Since the section bank is more difficult, it is not very predictive of your actual test score.

Instead, you should treat Section Bank more like a content review tool. I recommend doing this about a month before your test. Alternatively, if you're feeling more ambitious, you could do it twice: once before your studies and again a month before your exam.

It's especially useful as a way to find gaps in your knowledge. You can safely assume that whatever content appears in the questions or answers is something the AAMC wants you to know about.(Of course, you don't need to know everything mentioned in the passages, just what appears in the questions and answers). So, for example, if you are doing the Section Bank psychology/sociology passages, you should make flashcards for all the psychology terms that appear in the questions and answers.

I have a few final tips on how to use Section Bank.

First, don't focus too much on time. If you manage to finish the passages in time, great. But if not, don't worry about it. Take extra time. Keep in mind that this is more of a content review tool than a realistic MCAT simulation.

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Lastly, don't do it all at once. Spread the questions a little. Instead of trying to ask a big set of 100 questions, do it in chunks. You can decide what will work best for you, but I personally went through it step by step and found it to work well. This gives you more time to review and improve your skills between passes.

Comprehensive practice tests

So far, the AAMC has conducted five full practice tests: one non-scoring test and four scored tests. The non-scoring test (called the Sample Test) provides percentage scores for each section, but not the scaled scores (118-132 and 472-528).

The unscored/sample test is much less useful because it is not as representative of the actual test. The CAR section in particular in this test is very easy.

But the four-note tests are all excellent practice and are very representative of the actual test. All four scored tests are approximately the same difficulty. So overall they are very accurate predictors of your actual score.

Because they are so representative, you should save these four graded tests until closer to your exam. I recommend doing 1 a week before the test, doing the last one about 5-7 days before the test. For example, if your exam was on January 31st, it might look like this:

  • January 3rd - Practice Test 1
  • January 10th - Practice Test 2
  • January 17th - Practice Test 3
  • January 24th - Practice Test 4
  • January 31 - exam day

It's important not to try to cram these four tests into too short a time, as you won't have enough time to review them properly. A complete overhaul of an entire piece usually takes a day or two.

Since the sample/no score test is less representative, you can take it at any time during the study.

Finally, make sure you perform all these tests under realistic conditions. Take them on time, strictly follow the breaks and, if possible, take them somewhere outside the house.

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Official guide questions

The Official Guide is a book published by the AAMC that contains some practice questions, but you can also purchase just the practice questions separately.

There are 30 questions from each section of the MCAT, for a total of 120 questions.

The Official Guide questions are definitely good practice, but they are not as representative as the rest of the AAMC material. So it really doesn't matter when you do it. You don't need to save them.

You don't have to waste time on these questions either (although you can if you want to).

As they are not as representative and there are a relatively small number of questions per section, you should assess your score carefully. It's not necessarily very predictive of your actual score.

flash cards

Flashcards are probably the most overlooked thing at AAMC, and they're a little weird.

Although they're called flashcards, they're not really your typical flashcards. They are really just practice problems printed on flashcards. So if you're looking for a set of flashcards that will help you learn scientific terms/concepts, this is not what you want.

But these are still best practice issues, and since they're from the AAMC, I recommend using them. The cards contain 150 discrete questions, all from the science sections. And there's no need to save them until you're close to the test; you can do them anytime.

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Former AAMC tests (pre-2015)

If you don't know, the MCAT format changed dramatically in 2015. The AAMC no longer sells pre-2015 practice tests, but there are PDFs of them out there.

These good old practice tests are quite useful, but you don't really need to take them. The test has changed so much that there are probably better uses of your time.

The only exception to this is CARS. The CARS section hasn't changed much, so sometimes people find it useful to take these passes from previous tests (the CARS section used to be called VR or Verbal Reasoning). But if you do, you should be aware that the passages in the question packs are taken from those same old practice tests. And in the question packs, some of the questions from these passages are tweaked a bit to make them more representative of the actual test. Therefore, I would recommend doing the question packets first so that you see these passages in their most representative form first.

If you decide to do these passes, see my articleWhat old AAMC passages are still worthwhile?

Summary of recommendations

Question Packs:Do this anytime. The CARS question packs are the most helpful. The science question packs are less important as they are from the old exam (before 2015).

Bank section:This is the best scientific material plus full evidence. Do this 1 month out. Alternatively, take it twice: once at the start of your studies and a second time a month before your exam. Don't worry too much about your score.

Comprehensive practice tests:The four scored tests (called Practice Tests 1-4) are excellent. Start a month before the test and do one a week. The unscored test (called SampleTest) is also good, but not as representative. Take this quiz anytime.

Official guide:These are good practices, but not as representative as the other material. You can ask these questions at any time.

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Flashcards:These are just discrete practice problems, not normal flashcards. You can do this at any time.

Former AAMC tests:It's not that useful. If you do, watch out for passages that overlap with the question packets.


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