The Princeton Review is one of the most recognizable test prep companies out there. However, like all test prep companies, Princeton Review comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. When preparing for a test as important and challenging as the MCAT, there is little room for error. This article will break down exactly what you can expect with a Princeton Review MCAT prep course so that you can make the most educated decision possible about your MCAT prep.
Princeton Review gives its customers a definite timeline to complete its course: 12 weeks to complete all coursework, followed by 3 (or more) weeks to tie up any loose ends before taking the official MCAT. This is quite a bit different than Princeton Review’s competitor Kaplan, which offers optional assistance on when to schedule the MCAT, most often provided by representatives over the phone.
One benefit to Princeton Review’s transparency for its time frame is that customers know what the course’s demands are before they purchase a package. I know some Kaplan customers who purchased their course package online and therefore did not interact with a Kaplan representative. As a result, these people scheduled their official MCAT only one or two weeks after the scheduled completion date of their MCAT coursework, which was not enough time to fully prepare.
Princeton Review’s course outline makes it clear that test-takers should take (and review) a total of at least 5 practice tests throughout the course, with one every 2 weeks. However, although Princeton Review makes it clear how long it takes to complete the coursework and when to take a practice test, Princeton Review does not actually break down clearly how to split up the classwork over those 12 weeks for the MCAT Self-Paced course.
Another major issue is that Princeton Review’s sample schedule has zero days off of MCAT prep. I have learned from experience how crucial it is to have one day off every week to regroup, or at the very least complete any left-behind errands, chores, or self-care necessary for maintaining sanity.
Princeton Review also has enrollees take the official AAMC Test 1 early on—often as a diagnostic test to set a baseline score—which I do not consider the best idea because there are currently only 3 official AAMC full-length practice tests available. I would wait and be certain that these practice tests are the final 3 practice tests one takes.
Throughout the course, Princeton Review students are given short subject-specific diagnostic tests to help pinpoint what to study. These assessments are helpful, but plan on taking many of them. Princeton Review provides plenty of opportunities for additional, and optional, work. So, keep in mind quality over quantity to ensure you are maximizing your test prep time. For example, a class can have around 7 online passages and 10 workbook passages to complete.
One feature unique to Princeton Review is that there are designated practice tests to complete at specific points throughout the preparation process. These practice tests are designed to evaluate what you have already studied instead of overwhelming you with new information that you have not begun to cover yet, as most practice tests do.
Princeton Review’s online course includes access to 41 separate classes. Below is a breakdown of how many classes are for each major MCAT area:
Before each class, students are expected to read specified textbook chapters, which can range from a half chapter to 5 chapters. Students are also expected to answer some brief primer questions, complete one or more practice passage with questions, and, every few classes, take a section-specific diagnostic test, which contains around 30 discrete questions.
The classwork itself consists of between 2 and 3 hours of videos. These videos, sometimes referred to as “MedFlix,” convey key content and the occasional test prep strategy.
After each class, students are expected to complete drills in FSQ, or free-standing questions (“FSQ” is just another name for discrete question). Each set of FSQ drills will hit on key ideas and reiterate what you learned in the session. Additionally, after most classes, there are plenty of practice questions to complete.
All Princeton Review students are responsible for the Regular Course Homework. However, Comprehensive Students (i.e. those with weaker science backgrounds) are expected to also complete Subject Specific Homework. Advanced Students (with stronger science backgrounds) are expected to complete Top-Scorer Homework.
I’m not quite sure if Princeton Review’s MedFlix videos are as “binge-worthy” as advertised, but I can say they are quite good. The videos move at a decent pace and are fairly easy to understand. Students can also watch videos at any speed between 0.25x and 2.0x. In addition, videos are clustered to fit out each class’ key ideas.
Compared to Kaplan’s textbooks, the Princeton Review’s books are pretty bare bones; Princeton Review’s books do a good job explaining processes with text but lack the colorful diagrams and helpful mnemonics characteristic of Kaplan’s. If you learn best from simply reading text, then Princeton Review may be the right choice, but I would say Kaplan’s visual diagrams and quirky mnemonics would be more helpful to most people.
Additionally, Kaplan has wonderful overviews/summaries at the end of each chapter. I would recommend reading these before reading each chapter in full, just to get your bearings. The Princeton Review books do have chapter summaries, but they are much shorter than Kaplan’s (1 page vs. 2-3 pages). Kaplan’s summaries covered all of the major vocab terms in the chapter, whereas Princeton Review’s do not.
Princeton Review’s textbooks contain a practice passage at the end of each chapter, whereas Kaplan’s do not. These passages can be helpful for tying together and applying each chapter’s main ideas.
Like Kaplan, Princeton Review books have a robust glossary with definitions of key terms. However, one thing to note is that the Social Science vocabulary terms in Princeton Review vary significantly from those in Kaplan’s books. I would recommend that if you purchase a set of all of a company’s textbooks (whether it be Kaplan or Princeton Review), you purchase just the Social Sciences book from the other company to expose yourself to all the terms.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Princeton Review has a reputation for having more physics material than actually presented on the test.
One last thing to note: If you elect to just buy the Princeton Review MCAT prep books rather than enrolling in a course, purchase the books from Amazon. They are over $100 cheaper than the bookstore price.
Princeton Review practice tests have a reputation of being graded very, very hard. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as you keep in mind that official AAMC full-length practice tests are more reflective of your true abilities.
If you are considering purchasing a Princeton Review package with a score guarantee, be sure that you take the easier AAMC official full-length practice test first, as this will give you a higher starting score than any diagnostic test designed by Princeton Review.
Even though conserving AAMC tests until closer to test day is usually the best idea, taking the first test as a diagnostic test may be worth it to secure a better score guarantee.
I rather enjoyed the interface of Princeton Review’s online resources. The website is very organized for lesson plans and comes with some unique features like setting target scores and self-rating familiarity with specific topics.
The website contains a visual “Topic Breakdown” that shows how well or poorly you are scoring in specific topics, including question format (graph interpretation, understanding concepts defined in the passage, and analyzing data in passages), as well as content topics (viruses & subatomic particles, diffusion/effusion, photoelectric effect, attachment, and more).
For the MCAT Self-Paced course, Princeton Review gives you a Sample General Schedule, but the schedule lacks specific details. It would be helpful to see how different people can use Princeton Review’s materials in different ways based on their different schedules. The Sample Schedule does not include which classes to complete which week, although one can always take initiative to map out this out on their own.
The practice test interface is near identical to the official test (although the ctrl-F search function still works, which is not reflective of the official test). Note that the practice tests can be a bit awkward to navigate if your window width is not wide enough, so make sure your computer/device window is in full-screen mode when taking these tests.
The first chapter of each Princeton Review textbook suggests some test-taking strategies and techniques. For an experienced test-taker, this may suffice, but if standardized test prep makes you feel like a deer in the headlights, you would likely want some more robust help. I would recommend purchasing Princeton Review’s MCAT Elite coursebook.
The MCAT Self-Paced partially corrects this by having 3 additional books related to strategy. However, the classroom-based courses (whether online or in-person) would do the best job fully informing students about how to best apply test-taking strategies to the MCAT, as test-taking strategies are regularly covered during class time.
Concerning CARS specifically, the Princeton Review textbook give an excellent overview for the section. In fact, one of Princeton Review’s greatest strengths is its emphasis on CARS strategies and abundance of CARS practice. These great opportunities would make Princeton Review a strong option for someone who would struggle with the reading-based passages that compose the CARS section.
Before we dive into this list of practice packages, it’s important to note that Princeton Review often has discounts—usually ranging from $100 to $350 off—so actual package prices may vary from those listed here.
Available in-person or online, the 510+ Course is Princeton Review’s most comprehensive MCAT preparation package. Among other things, enrollment includes access to over 120 hours of live instruction, 15 full-length Princeton Review practice tests, AAMC question banks and practice tests, more than 500 MedFlix Videos, and 11 MCAT textbooks.
Princeton Review MCAT prep books purchased online or in a store include only 7 books. However, those enrolled in Princeton Review’s MCAT courses receive 4 exclusive books: the Science Workbook; Science Review, Questions and Solutions; In Class Compendium; and CARS Workbook.
The biggest appeal to the 510+ course is its guarantee that enrollees will score a 510 on the test, or improve by at least 10 points from their diagnostic test to their official one. I elaborate more on the pros and cons of this guarantee in the next section.
The Ultimate Classroom is the same as the 510+ package, just without the score guarantee. This would be the way to go if you are aiming for above a 510 and feel confident in your ability to achieve this.
In addition to the 11 MCAT books, MedFlix videos, practice tests, and AAMC material, students will have access to 24 two-hour sessions honing in on test strategies. The MCAT Strategy Course is a good option for those who think they can learn content on their own but lack experience with standardized tests.
This package includes access to 10 (not 11) MCAT books, MedFlix videos, practice tests, and AAMC material. In other words, this package is just like the MCAT Ultimate Classroom or MCAT Strategy Course, except without the class time (and minus one textbook).
The MCAT Self-Paced course also comes with a score improvement guarantee. This guarantee is more generous than other company policies, but it is still less generous than the 510+ guarantee (in most instances).
Overall, this is a great option for someone who knows that they can learn material well on their own. This option is also great for someone with an unpredictable schedule, or who wants to spread out MCAT prep over a timespan greater than 3 months.
Available online or in-person, this package is the same as the MCAT Ultimate Classroom, including the option to pay an additional $500-$600 for the 510+ Guarantee. The only difference is that the course is ultra-condensed and is designed to be completed over a winter break (i.e. between fall and spring semesters). The only days off during this 4-week (or shorter) period is for Christmas and New Year’s, so this package is not for the faint of heart.
Princeton Review does offer personalized tutoring for the MCAT. However, the price comes down to between $180 and $200 per hour. Also, the tutors themselves are only making around $30/hour, so Princeton Review is definitely getting their pockets deeper with this set-up. As a rule of thumb, tutoring quality usually improves with how much the tutor is paid, not by how much you are paying.
I honestly cannot see a situation where Princeton Review’s MCAT tutoring is worth the money. If you want personalized support while making use of Princeton Review’s resources, I would recommend seeking freelance tutoring from someone who has taken a Princeton Review MCAT prep course and scored well on the official test. Consider asking peers and searching WyzAnt or other websites for such a tutor.
Princeton Review boasts a 510+ Guarantee (available for an additional fee, usually around $600), meaning that students “could qualify for a refund” if their official MCAT score is below 509. This sounds like an amazing policy, but is it too good to be true?
Let’s think about the student that this guarantee would benefit the most. This would be a student who is starting with a relatively low score but hopes to jump up into the 510-513 range for a certain medical school. For students wanting to score competitively for schools with higher MCAT ranges, they would need to score quite a bit higher than a 510, so the 510+ Guarantee would not do them much good.
Princeton Review has some rigid stipulations to the guarantee that greatly limits its usefulness. First, the possibility of earning a refund after scoring below 510 only applies if students score at least a 500 on the initial diagnostic test. As a reference point, students who score a 500 or better on a diagnostic test, after no MCAT prep, generally have the potential to score a 515 or higher after several months of dedicated formal preparation.
Let’s revisit the student that the 510+ Guarantee would theoretically help the most. If he/she scores around a 500 on the diagnostic test, then he/she would likely have the potential to score above a 510 after months of dedicated test prep. However, the guarantee of scoring a 510 or better on the MCAT would be a nice safety net just in case test day goes worse than expected.
For students starting below 500, Princeton Review guarantees a 10 (or higher) point improvement. This may seem generous, especially compared to rival test prep companies. However, scoring a 509 or below does not make one competitive at many medical schools, greatly limiting this guarantee’s usefulness.
For the test-taker wanting to take full advantage of the 510+ Guarantee, I would recommend studying some before taking the diagnostic test to increase his/her chance of scoring above a 500.
There are quite a few stipulations to take advantage of the 510+ Guarantee. This includes taking the official MCAT within 2 testing windows (about 45 days) from the end of your last class session, attending all scheduled class sessions, Completing all diagnostic tests, and so on. You should visit the Princeton Review website and familiarize yourself with these restrictions before enrolling in a 510+ Guarantee course.
Overall, Princeton Review’s MCAT prep packages are strong options to consider. Princeton Review boasts strong CARS resources, an extremely organized online interface, high-quality content videos, and rich resources for additional practice.
While helpful, I have a hard time believing that the MCAT Ultimate Classroom and 510+ course are worth the money. Unless you have an extremely sparse science background, the MCAT Self-Paced course should do the trick. If you want additional support on how to use test-taking strategies, the MCAT strategy course is a happy medium.
Besides cost, Princeton Review’s biggest drawbacks are the dryness of its textbooks and the limited support on how to build a study schedule for the MCAT Self-Paced course. However, the quality of Princeton Review’s online resources are so strong that it may be worth it to sacrifice a little on textbook quality (or even purchase Kaplan’s textbooks while utilizing Princeton Review’s online resources). Either way. Princeton Review is, overall, a reliable MCAT review method, just so long as you as a test-taker know your learning habits and what works (or really, really doesn’t work) for you.