Khan Academy for the MCAT Professional Review
Khan Academy Overview and Structure
Khan Academy has one of the more established MCAT courses available to students. This is especially true since they are partnered with the AAMC themselves, the administrators of the MCAT. As a result, their structure follows the AAMC Foundational Concepts, which are concepts that the AAMC outlines as foundational to the MCAT itself. This is unlike other MCAT prep resources which are structured around MCAT topics or subjects such as Biology or Chemistry. Khan Academy has about 20 practice passages for each MCAT section and covers each AAMC Foundational Concept with an in-depth instructional video. In addition, their Psychology/Sociology section is very well regarded by students and has often been cited as something that one must watch or read in order to prepare for the P/S MCAT section. Now that we’ve reviewed what Khan Academy offers in terms of MCAT preparation, we should ask: is it a helpful and useful resource to study for the MCAT? Well, that depends…
What is Your Learning Style?
A lot of success with any preparatory material or learning environment comes from your personal best method of learning. Generally, there are visual/auditory learners and kinesthetic learners. If you are a visual or auditory learner, you are someone that actively utilizes visual objects such as graphs or charts to visualize information, repeats material out loud, and learns better overall by watching or listening to lectures or lessons. If you are a kinesthetic learner, on the other hand, you will learn and retain information better when physically engaging with your learning. A kinesthetic learner is someone who wants to demonstrate their learning by solving problems instead of verbally repeating the material, and generally takes a hands-on approach to learning someone like this may especially benefit from 1-on-1 MCAT tutoring.
If you identify as a visual or auditory learner, Khan Academy’s videos might be perfect for you, as they are well made, in-depth, and as personable as an online learning experience can be. However, they lack much written content, or content that will engage students in solving or learning problems through the topics. That is not to say that Khan Academy will hold your hand through the content, but rather that it will always guide you. If you do not learn well through visual or auditory pathways, it is recommended to instead use a resource that is more like a textbook, such as Kaplan or Exam Krackers.
Content Review vs. Content Learning
Something to keep in mind when deciding whether to use Khan Academy as an MCAT prep resource is whether you will be using it to learn topics for the first time or using it as a review. The videos available on Khan Academy are very detailed, maybe even much more so than the MCAT would require. However, for first-time learners, they can be incredibly useful and will leave almost no gaps in your knowledge base of the material. If you are learning a topic or concept for the first time, Khan Academy can be very helpful in building your understanding of your weaker subjects. However, if you are simply looking for a content review while studying, Khan Academy may not be your best bet. As previously stated, the videos tend to be exhaustive- generally, too exhaustive. Although many students laud Khan Academy as a great and complete resource, they also mention that both the time required to go through the videos and the depth of the material was a problem. While using Khan Academy, you might find yourself overwhelmed with information, learning things that may or may not be necessary for the MCAT. This may cause early burnout and is something to avoid at any point in your MCAT preparation.
The best suggestion that many students have found helpful is to use Khan Academy for challenging topics, and for topics that your other MCAT prep materials do not cover or do not adequately cover. For example, when using Kaplan’s books as a primary resource, you might find it lacking in a few places- perhaps the biology cardiac section. When watching Khan Academy videos on the same subject, however, you might find yourself developing a much better grasp of the content.
But even for learning content, is Khan Academy important to use as your primary resource? Probably not.
Passive Tendency and How to Engage
Whether you are visual learner or not, or whether you are using a resource for learning or review, you need to actively engage with the material to truly learn it. And herein lies the issue of using Khan Academy as your only resource, or as your primary resource. The biggest pitfall that comes with any video-based learning environment is passivity. While watching videos, students tend to passively engage with them, and oftentimes mistake note-taking as a form of engagement. To stay active and engaged with your learning when using video based tools, it is important to either make flash cards and test yourself, or to create your own questions and answer them using spaced repetition. By doing so, you actively engage your brain in the review process and make connections to the material instead of passively acquiring information. Unlike Khan Academy, other prep materials (especially text-based ones like review books) often have questions spaced before and after material and periodical chapter reviews, which consistently test your knowledge.
On the other hand, you might find it mentally straining to stay focused and retain information efficiently when going through a text-based prep material. Khan Academy’s videos might capture your attention more and allow you to practice test questions separately. In addition, while watching videos and making your own flash cards, you may benefit more than using a premade flash card deck, and can even screenshot pieces of the video for use in flash cards
So… Is Khan Academy Helpful for MCAT Prep?
Absolutely! Khan Academy’s thoroughness and level of detail is exceptional and can most certainly teach unknown concepts and low-yield MCAT topics as well as, if not better than, other resources. Their partnership with the AAMC also exemplifies their level of adherence to what will be on the MCAT. Khan Academy’s videos are also perfect for visual and auditory learners. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Engaging purposefully with the content will be something to keep at the forefront of your mind while using Khan Academy; it is too easy to start watching videos passively and thinking that the information will just flow into your brain to be retained for test day.
In addition, it is not recommended to use Khan Academy as a primary content review source. Instead, use it to supplement a text-based material or fill a content gap. The biggest issue with using Khan Academy as a primary resource is practice. Many students tend to focus on reviewing content, and do not engage with practice material meaningfully. Khan Academy practice material leaves much to be desired; their content is either remarkably easy or something you will never see on the MCAT. Therefore, using some other MCAT prep materials to practice problems and passages will help you retain the content and feel better-prepared for test day.
In the end, it is suggested to use Khan Academy as a resource to solidify knowledge, learn new material (not for review), and for their exemplary Psychology/Sociology material. Khan Academy functions best and is most helpful when integrated with another resource, and when used as needed – or per topic – and not as primary MCAT prep resource. It is too easy to make the mistake of interacting with Khan Academy passively, and to get burned out from the exhaustive content. However, if you work to engage properly with the material (whether with questions or with flash cards), and use another prep material, you cannot go wrong with using Khan Academy for MCAT prep.