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

by Gabe

If you don’t know yet what the AAMC material is for the MCAT, it’s the official practice material for the MCAT put out by the company that makes the test, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

There are practice tests, question banks, etc. And it’s all put out by the actual test-maker, so it more closely resembles the real test than anything else that’s available. That means it’s the best practice material you’ll find (by a long shot).

But you’ll hear a lot of different opinions on when and how you should use it. Some people think you should save it all until the end, some people think you should do it at the beginning of your studying, 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 score possible on the MCAT.

Question Packs

There are six total Question Packs: two for biology, one for chemistry, one for physics, and two for CARS. Each Question Pack has 120 questions, with a combination of discrete and passage-based questions.

The Question Packs are taken from the old MCAT (pre-2015), so for the sciences at least they’re not as representative of the current test. That means you want to treat them more like a tool for content review as opposed to a tool for realistic practice. That also means that you don’t need to save these until close to your test. You can do the Question Packs at any time during your studying.

The science Question Packs are good material, but because they’re not as representative of the new test, they’re not essential. If you were running out of time before your test and had to skip one piece of AAMC material, I’d recommend that you skip the science Question Packs.

Now, CARS is an important exception to what I've said so far. The CARS Question Packs are just as representative of the new MCAT because the style of the CARS section hasn’t really changed since the old test.

When you should do the CARS Question Packs depends a little bit on how good you are at CARS. If you’re really struggling with CARS, then you should do these passages—or at least some of them—relatively early on in your studying. If you’re pretty good at CARS, though, then you might save them until the last 4-6 weeks before your test.

Section Bank

The Section Bank comes with 100 questions from each of the science sections, and each section has a mix of passage-based and discrete questions. (There’s no CARS on the Section Bank, unfortunately.)

The Section Bank is easily the best MCAT material available apart from the full length tests. You should study it carefully and maybe even do it multiple times.

But, you should also know that the Section Bank is hard. The passages and questions in here are above average difficulty. So you shouldn’t try to make much out of your scores. Since the Section Bank is more difficult, it’s not very predictive of your score on the actual test.

Instead, you should treat the Section Bank as more of a content review tool. I recommend doing it about a month before your test. Alternatively, if you're feeling more ambitious you can do it twice: once earlier on in your studying and again a month before your test.

It’s especially useful as a way to find the gaps in your knowledge. You can safely assume that any content that shows up in the questions or answers is something the AAMC wants you to know (of course, you don’t need to know everything mentioned in the passages – just what shows up in the questions and answers). So, for example, if you were doing the psychology/sociology passages from the Section Bank, you should make flashcards for all the psych terms that show up in the questions and answers.

I have a couple final tips on using the Section Bank.

First of all, don't focus too much on timing. If you can finish the passages on time, that's great. But if not, don't worry about it. Take some extra time. Remember that this is more of a content review tool than a realistic simulation of the MCAT.

Lastly, don't do it all at once. Spread the questions out a little. Instead of trying to do one big set of 100 questions, do it in chunks. You can decide what will work best for you, but personally I did it one passage at a time and found that worked well. That gives you more time to review and improve your skills between passages.

Full Length Practice Exams

So far the AAMC has put out five full length practice tests: one unscored test and four scored tests. The unscored test (called the Sample Test) gives you percentage scores for each section but not your scaled scores (118-132 and 472-528).

The unscored/Sample Test is much less useful because it’s not as representative of the real test. The CARS section in particular on this test is too easy.

But the four scored tests are all great practice and are very representative of the real test. All four scored tests are approximately equal in difficulty. So in general they are very accurate predictors of your real score.

Since they’re so representative you should save these four scored tests until closer to your exam. I recommend doing 1 per week leading up to the test, taking the last one about 5-7 days out from the test. For example if your exam was on January 31st, this might look like:

  • January 3rd - Practice Exam 1
  • January 10th - Practice Exam 2
  • January 17th - Practice Exam 3
  • January 24th - Practice Exam 4
  • January 31st - Test Day

It’s important not to try to cram these four tests into too short a time, since you won’t have enough time to review them adequately. Typically a thorough review of a full length will take one to two days.

Since the Sample/unscored test is less representative you can do it at any point in your studying.

Finally, make sure to take all of these tests under realistic conditions. Take them timed, follow the breaks strictly, and if possible even take them somewhere out of the house.

Official Guide Questions

The Official Guide is a book that the AAMC puts out which has some practice questions in it, but you can also buy 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’re not quite as representative as the other AAMC material. So, it doesn’t really matter when you do these. You don’t need to save them.

You also don’t need to time yourself on these questions (though you can if you want to).

Since they’re not as representative, and there is a relatively small number of questions per section, you should take your score with a grain of salt. It isn’t necessarily very predictive of your real score.


The flashcards are probably the most overlooked AAMC material, and they’re a little strange.

Even though these are called flashcards, they really aren’t typical flashcards. They’re actually just practice problems that happen to be printed on flashcards. So if you’re looking for a set of flashcards that are going to help you learn science terms/concepts, these aren’t what you want.

But they are still good practice problems, and since they’re from the AAMC I recommend using them. The flashcards contain 150 discrete questions, all from the science sections. And there’s no need to save these until close to your test – you can do them any time.

Old AAMC tests (from before 2015)

If you don’t know, the MCAT format changed dramatically in 2015. The AAMC doesn’t sell the practice tests from before 2015 anymore, but there are PDFs of them floating around.

These old practice tests are somewhat useful, but you don’t really need to do 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 helpful to do these passages from the old tests (the CARS section used to be called VR or Verbal Reasoning). But if you do this you should be aware that the passages from the Question Packs are taken from these same old practice tests. And on the Question Packs some of the questions from these passages are modified a bit to make them more representative of the current test. So, I’d recommend doing the Question Packs first just so that you see these passages first in their most representative form.

If you decide to do these passages, check out my article Which Old AAMC Passages Are Still Worth Doing?

Overview of recommendations

Question Packs: Do these any time. The CARS Question Packs are the most useful. The science Question Packs are less important since they’re from the old test (pre-2015).

Section Bank: This is the best science material apart from the full length tests. Do this 1 month out. Alternatively, do it twice: once early on in your studying and a second time a month before your test. Don’t worry too much about your scores.

Full Length Practice Exams: The four scored exams (called Practice Exams 1-4) are great. Start these a month before your test and do one per week. The unscored exam (called Sample Test) is good too, but not as representative. Do that exam any time.

Official Guide: These are good practice but not as representative as the other material. You can do these questions any time.

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

Old AAMC Tests: Not as useful. If you do these, be careful of passages which overlap with the Question Packs.

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