My recommendations come from the way that I studied. There are lots of ways to prepare, but I feel really strongly that the study method I used can work for a lot of people. I am not a natural test taker (although I did become much better with the MANY, MANY tests in med school). I didn't do that great on my SAT's, and was worried about not doing well on the MCAT. However, following my MCAT preparation, I only had to take the test once, scored a 33, and got in to med school on the first round.
I took 4 months to study, while finishing junior year coursework during undergraduate. I had a very strict deadline to take the MCAT, and was very firm with myself on sticking with it. To help with my studying, I took an MCAT prep-course (Kaplan) because I was really concerned about procrastinating (this was the in-person class, not the online one). That semester, I had a very heavy course load, research, a part-time job, and 3 extracurriculars that I had to balance as well. It was a stressful time, but the Kaplan course really made studying manageable.
The course helped particularly in 2 ways: (1) it forced me to have a really structured study schedule and (2) taught me some tricks that made the test easier to prepare for. The schedule was great because I would have assigned homework to do between MCAT classes. I did a mixture of practice questions with readings/exercises from the course books. This broke the material down into manageable chunks. I put notes into my course book related to the practice questions that gave me trouble. Also, the tricks taught by the instructor (including ways to approach and break down the verbal reading passages, math shortcuts, high-yield information, etc) made me study smarter, not harder. Had I been left to study on my own, I know I would have needed more time without those really great short-cuts.
I devoted 3 months to the course. Then, I spent one final month studying on my own after school let out. During the month of private study time, I went back to the course book and only looked over the parts that had given me trouble (I had highlighted these sections during the classes). Also, the Kaplan course comes with laminated high-yield fact sheets. I read over those many times during my final study month. However, the vast majority of that last month was spent doing lots and lots and lots of online practice questions. I would read through both the right and wrong answers, writing down key points that I had missed. From others that have taken the test, and my own reflections, practice questions are the most important part of the preparation. Before I took the MCAT, I completed all of the Kaplan questions 2 times through and did all of the official MCAT practice tests. There was only a ONE point difference in the score on the real MCAT vs. my final MCAT practice test.
Good luck with your studies!!
**** Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Kaplan... just an intern who feels that I wouldn't have gotten into medical school without it.
I'm looking at preparing for the MCAT soon. I was thinking about a course. I know you didn't take the online one. Do you know anything about it? This configuration would work much better for me, and I have taken online courses through my undergrad school with much success (especially when they're structured with deadlines). Do you think it would be just as effective? I've got several books, but am a big procrastinator...any structure helps me. I'd just be curious what you thought.
The online course options through Kaplan are well-structured, with lots of preparation material including instructive videos and multiple choice questions. You can go onto their website and see sample layouts, the descriptions of the packages, and the different costs. The online courses don't come with the course book, but have pretty much the same information in the end. You can also design your course to meet your needs... if you just want the questions, you can just buy those. However, the online course is pretty much self-driven. You can always extend your enrollment, which is not always helpful if you are a procrastinator. I am not sure about the set-up of Princeton Review or other courses, but I believe they have a similar set-up to Kaplan. However, I cannot speak for their quality or effectiveness.
Especially since you procrastinate, I think the instructor course is the better way to go for several reasons. Like I said above, the instructor courses push you to be in a certain place in your studies on a given deadline. You have the security of knowing you can make up courses (you can actually take the course multiple times without paying anything extra), but it helps to stick to the schedule they give you. With other people in the course, there is always that little extra push to prepare so that you can answer questions in class. Also, if you are having trouble with a specific areas you have someone to go to that you know will give you good advice or find someone who can (all of the instructors have to score well on the MCAT to even be considered for a position). Since structured environments tend to work well for you, I would suggest paying the extra money and devoting time to the instructor course. In the large scheme of things, it is well worth it.
Regarding books: in general, the best way to study for the MCAT is through online test questions. The books are a nice supplement, but should never be the sole source (even question books). You want as much practice doing the real thing, including timed exams and practice with the online format.