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Kaplan vs Princeton Review MCAT
A detailed comparison of the Kaplan and Princeton Review MCAT prep courses
For students who have done their diligence in researching MCAT prep courses, their analysis often leads to a choice between Kaplan and Princeton Review. Both test prep companies offer robust curriculums, countless hours of study material, and proven results. So how do you choose which course is best when they are similar in so many ways? We give you all the information you need to make an informed decision in this side-by-side evaluation of the two MCAT prep offerings.
As discussed below, while Kaplan provides its MCAT course offerings on the basis of class format, Princeton Review’s MCAT prep packages generally differ based on level of instruction, accessible content, and associated guarantees. The four Princeton Review course options include:
MCAT 515+ Immersion
The Self-Paced course is Princeton’s value course, designed for those students on a tighter budget or who want the benefits of flexible self-paced study. It prices in at around $1,700, or $100 or so less than Kaplan’s directly comparable DIY Course.
Moving up the ladder, Princeton Review’s Ultimate course, which can be taken live online or in-person, is generally regarded as their flagship program. The Ultimate course typically costs around $2,800, which is a couple hundred dollars more on average than the most closely related Kaplan live courses (Online Course and In Person Course). Though I would point out that this price disparity is generally justified by the significant gap in hours of live instruction.
At the next level up, Princeton Review offers a special program that Kaplan does not – the MCAT 510+. This prep package, while very similar to the Ultimate course in terms of instruction, content and access, is distinguished by its guarantee. If you complete this program in its entirety, Princeton guarantees that you will score a 510 or better on the MCAT (assuming you meet some basic requirements). This is a unique offering and will run you about $3,400 – though we often see this course option on sale for less.
Finally, Princeton Review offers a course program directly analogous to Kaplan’s Bootcamp – the MCAT 515+ Immersion. This course is just like Kaplan’s Bootcamp, in that it condenses months of studying into roughly 5 weeks of intense daily prep. Unlike Kaplan’s course though, Princeton Review makes another guarantee that if you complete this entire course, you will score a 515 or better on the MCAT (assuming you meet similar baseline requirements). This 515+ Immersion course costs a whopping $7,000 and is meant for those students most serious about their MCAT prep.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Princeton Review Lessons and Coursework
Similar to Kaplan, Princeton Review provides a very robust and well-developed MCAT curriculum. Their coursework touches about every subtopic you could possibly encounter on the MCAT, and all in great detail. And with respect to structure of the curriculum, I actually preferred Princeton Review’s course setup to Kaplan’s. While the Kaplan content reviews jump from subject to subject across the first two major units, Princeton’s coursework structure takes a more grouped approach, which gives it a more natural flow and feel.
With respect to instruction, Princeton Review’s live classes are superb, while their video-based lessons don’t necessarily move the needle. Starting with the live classes (whether in-person or live online), the sessions are led by a a rotating team of 4 to 6 subject matter experts. This is a well-designed approach to ensure students get top notch instruction from masters in their field, rather than a generalist who may only have surface level knowledge on a topic.
I say that not to discount Kaplan’s teachers, who I think are great in their own right, but it just seems more natural on the MCAT to have a team approach with such a wide variety of scientific disciplines being tested. Further, you get an astonishing 123 hours of live instruction with Princeton Review vs 36 hours with Kaplan. It would be hard to imagine one instructor being able to manage teaching all of those hours.
With respect to video instruction, however, Princeton Review falls a little flat. While there are tons of on demand video lessons online (500+), they just lack the quality of production and content compared to Kaplan. From a format delivery perspective, the Princeton videos are pixelated and have a kind of metallic audio. And on the content side, they are dry and to-the-point, lacking any real engagement with the student. If you want all business videos with no fluff or frills, these videos definitely get the job done, though overall we rate them out as average.
Turning to practice material, Princeton Review offers 2,500+ practice questions and 16 full-length tests – both figures right on par with Kaplan. Beyond the simple quantity of material, the quality of the Princeton Review practice material is excellent as well. The questions are very well-written and replicate the official MCAT content nicely. This again places Princeton Review right in line with Kaplan. Both test prep companies offer superb practice material, both in terms of quantity and quality. That said, I think there is one differentiating factor between the two around practice material.
While I was not the biggest fan of Kaplan’s MCAT practice problem explanations (more on this below), I personally really liked Princeton Review’s practice question explanations. Their explanations are thorough and well-articulated, breaking down problems to their core components and clearly explaining why answer choices are right or wrong. They are just easy to read and understand, and provide the best actionable takeaways.
One aspect of the overall MCAT prep package where Princeton Review shines is the hard copy prep books that accompany the course. Every student who purchases a Princeton Review MCAT prep package gets 11 printed prep books. I know what you are thinking, and yes, that is a lot of books. This printed content alone probably adds 100+ hours of prep time to an already bountiful prep package. Of the 11 books, 7 cover content review of the major MCAT scientific subjects, while 4 are course-related workbooks.
The content review books are specifically noteworthy. Each is incredibly detailed and provides easily understandable reviews of otherwise difficult topics. They are truly well-written and provide awesome refreshers from your undergrad courses that you may have long forgotten. For students like me who learn particularly effectively via textbook, these books will be a blessing.
The point of this section is not to imply that the Kaplan prep books are not good. Not at all. In fact, I personally really like the Kaplan hard copy books that accompany the course and think that they are a very close to second to Princeton Review’s books. I would take the Kaplan books over just about every other MCAT prep course’s books out there. The point of this mention is simply to showcase the significant value offered by the Princeton Review prep books.
Kaplan provides students with a wide variety of MCAT course options from which to select. Specifically, they offer 4 distinct prep course offerings, which all vary based on format of delivery:
In Person Course
As explained above, this is generally different from Princeton Review’s MCAT course offerings, which generally differ based on level of instruction and total prep materials rather than delivery format.
The DIY Course is Kaplan’s budget option and targeted for students who want to do all of their prep online and at their own speed. There is no classroom component – just online video lessons and coursework, plus hard copy books. This option will run students around $1,800.
One step up from the DIY Course, Kaplan offers its Live Online course. This class meets at regularly scheduled times online via webcast where your instructor delivers your lesson. This is your fairly typical online course and will run you right around $2,500.
If you’re interested in meeting in-person for your class (as many students are, given the importance of the MCAT), Kaplan’s In Person Course offers just that. You will meet in-person in a classroom setting once or twice per week for 12 three-hour sessions. These classes usually meet on or near college campuses in rented classroom space and price out at around $2,700, though we often see this format on sale for a little less.
The final and most expensive offering in Kaplan’s arsenal is their MCAT Bootcamp course. This highly intensive prep course meets daily for roughly 5 weeks and compacts months of studying into less than a month and a half. This course, which is not for the faint of heart, will cost an eye-popping $7,000.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
The Kaplan Lessons and Coursework
When it comes to MCAT prep course curriculum, Kaplan is right up there with the best. Their course exhaustively covers every inch of the MCAT in painstaking detail. While the course isn’t designed in the most logical fashion, with a smattering of science subject content reviews across the first two units, it is unquestionably thorough. In total, all of the instruction (live and on demand), practice material and other study resources add up to over 700 hours of prep time. Put simply, that is a TON of MCAT prep.
Assuming you take one of the course offerings with a live class component (which we highly recommend), Kaplan’s live instruction is top notch. While you don’t get nearly as many hours of live classwork with Kaplan as you do with Princeton Review (36 hours vs. 123 hours), the instruction you do get is rock-solid. Kaplan’s instructors are very good at communicating some of the toughest subjects and are incredibly approachable.
Kaplan takes a slightly different approach to the live instruction from Princeton by having an MCAT generalist expert teach the course, rather than tag teaming it with a series of specialists. Whether this is the more effective approach or not, it is hard to say, but I do know the Kaplan generalist instructor I had was crazy smart and a great communicator.
Beyond the live class instruction, there is also an online module for every subtopic covered on the MCAT, each complete with interactive video lessons, reading assignments and quizzes. Kaplan’s video-based lessons are likely the highlight of their overall prep package and discussed in more detail below. In addition to this online instructional work, you will also get access to over 2,900 practice problems and 16 full-length practice tests.
The practice questions, which are very well-written and designed by Kaplan’s team of MCAT experts, are accessible through the Qbank. The Qbank is a tool that allows students to create custom practice question sets, narrowed down by question type, difficulty, etc. It is a very useful resource for targeting your areas of weakness that need improvement. And the full-length practice tests do an excellent job of mirroring the real MCAT.
If there is one issue with Kaplan’s MCAT course across both practice questions and practice tests, it’s that the text explanations that follow each question are a little thin. Ideally, I’d like to see some more detail around these succinct explanations.
With respect to content review and instruction, in addition to some top flight in-person teaching, Kaplan’s on demand video lessons are first-rate all the way. To start, the production value of the videos is excellent, with a sharp picture and crisp audio. Additionally, the videos include a very cool digital whiteboard, uniform webcam-style instructor intro to every video, engaging onscreen graphics, and a number of other factors that make the videos worth their weight in gold.
Looking past the video format, the content itself that is delivered via the video lessons is highly valuable. Each lesson dives into a deep review of the particular topic that it covers (such as electromagnetism or thermodynamics), and gives a great refresher from your undergrad classes. The Kaplan online instructors also provide some handy mnemonics and analogies to help you recall formulas and other required information. If you prefer learning through video over textbook, you’ll love the on demand videos. When used in conjunction with the live instruction, it is a very formidable instructional offering.
Verdict: Princeton Review vs Kaplan MCAT Comparison
With the MCAT being such a high stakes exam and prep courses costing a small fortune, there is little room for error in selecting the prep course that is best for your needs. The choice is made even tougher when you’ve narrowed your selection down to courses as similar as Princeton Review and Kaplan. Both offer top shelf MCAT curriculums and overall practice materials. While Princeton Reviews gets a slight edge in our rankings, and our team gives them the nod as the better course, it was a very close call. Hopefully this comparison guide has been helpful in making a call one way or the other based on your personal preferences, but if you’re still on the fence, here is our final point-by-point verdict:
Course Options and Price – Both companies have extremely similar prep packages, with each offering self-paced, live online, in-person and intensive bootcamp courses. While Princeton Review may be a bit more expensive on average, we also like their unique score guarantees.
Quality of Coursework – We mark this one as a dead tie, though each test prep company has its own individual strengths within the category. As mentioned, both Kaplan and Princeton Review each have extremely thorough and well-developed curriculums that cover every aspect of the MCAT. In terms of differences, Kaplan offers super high-quality video-based instruction, while the delivery of Princeton Review’s video lessons isn’t quite as good. On the other hand, Princeton Review offers better quality practice material and problem explanations, which have greater detail and deeper analysis than Kaplan’s explanations on the whole.
Classes – Edge: Princeton Review. Not only does Princeton Review offer nearly 3x the number of live class hours as Kaplan, but we also like their subject matter team approach to teaching the course. Rather than one generalist, you get a rotating team of subject matter experts leading each class. That said, Kaplan’s live classes are also of solid quality.
Books – Edge: Princeton Review. As discussed above, Princeton Review’s hard copy prep books are a highlight of their prep package. The books are thorough, well-written and convey difficult topics in an easy to understand manner that helps you to stay engaged as you read. But again, Kaplan is a very close second with some excellent and comprehensive content review books of their own.
Practice Tests – This category provides another dead tie, with both test prep giants offering 16 full-length practice tests. And not only do they tie in terms of raw quantity, but we also found the quality of their practice test questions and software to be of equal value.
User Experience and Interface – Edge: Kaplan. Assuming you count video-based lessons as part of the user experience, Kaplan is a clear winner here. The production value of their video-based instruction is head and shoulders above Princeton Review’s, offering a sharp picture, sleek digital whiteboard and high-quality graphics and audio. Beyond the videos, the Kaplan overall interface is also more modern and slightly easier to use.
Online Content Access Period – Edge: Princeton Review. This category comes down to simple duration, making Princeton Review the winner here. Princeton Review offers close to 9 months of access to their online content, while Kaplan offers 5 months of access. For most students, 5 months should be plenty of time to study, but if you have some special circumstances that cause you to need a longer study runway, make sure to pay attention to this fact.
Which MCAT prep course costs more, Kaplan or Princeton Review?
The Princeton Review MCAT prep offerings cost a bit more on average than Kaplan’s prep courses, but also carry some unique score guarantee features that you do not get with Kaplan, making the price disparity harder to judge.
What’s the biggest difference between the Princeton Review and Kaplan MCAT prep courses?
The primary difference between the Kaplan and Princeton Review MCAT offerings revolves around instruction. Kaplan provides better quality on demand, video-based instruction, while we tend to like the quantity and approach of Princeton’s live classes better.
Do the Kaplan and Princeton Review MCAT courses each come with hard copy prep books?
Yes. Both Kaplan and Princeton Review each provide sets of hard copy prep books with their MCAT prep packages. Kaplan provides 8 books, while Princeton Review offers a bundle of 11.