Berkeley review vs Kaplan for nontrad

This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.


New Member
2+ Year Member
Oct 20, 2020
Reaction score
Which set would be best for a nontrad with a weak science background?

I have 6 months to study, but wouldn’t mind taking it much earlier if possible. Leaning towards TBR, but I’m worried it will be too much for me based on the stuff I've read on here.

If I do go the TBR route, plan to get the AAMC materials for sure, but would Uplanet be necessary?

Members don't see this ad.
Which set would be best for a nontrad with a weak science background?

I have 6 months to study, but wouldn’t mind taking it much earlier if possible. Leaning towards TBR, but I’m worried it will be too much for me based on the stuff I've read on here.

If I do go the TBR route, plan to get the AAMC materials for sure, but would Uplanet be necessary?
Berkeley review is out of the MCAT review coaching business and their books have not been updated recently, so I recommend choosing a different study guide.
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
wysdoc nailed it. I want to add a little. When I first started studying over four years ago, the TBR books were already getting outdated. I know science doesn't change that much, but their passages were nothing like the two MCATs I took. It can only have gotten worse since then.

If for some reason you choose TBR in spite of this, here is my recommendation. I'll start with the negative first.

Their CARS book is trash. Don't even open it. It is the worst MCAT book ever written, and I don't believe I have ever seen anyone ever write something good about it. The handouts in their CARS class, ironic enough, are exceptional. However, those are separate from the book and as wysdoc pointed out, their class is out of business.

Their Psych book is wretched and out of tune with what the MCAT wants. It is cumbersome to read with unnecessary detail, like the biology books. It has no sociology or social psychology in it, which made up the bulk of my actual PS section. It hardly has any passages, and the ones that were there were nothing even close to the real MCAT.

The biology book is a scaled down textbook, which I personally didn't like. I needed a summary with test strategies. It has endless passages, but many of the questions were about memorizing a tiny little factoid, something the MCAT doesn't do. The explanations are long-winded and do not help you with testing. The biology teacher was super helpful, and he told us not to read the book. When the actual teacher recommends using something else, that says something. He served as a translator.

The physics book is okay. I felt like it was designed for the old exam, but at least it had test tips. I liked that there were hints and tricks in the passage explanations. The problem with using it as a stand-alone review book, is that the tricks are not always well explained. The way it's written makes it best to use with the class itself. But if they are out of business, then that's not an option. I would recommend not using the physics book for self-study.

The general chemistry is very good. I was fortunate enough to have the author as my teacher, so that helped. I got super lucky in that I took the last MCAT before COVID shut the world down, so I had their last in-person class ever. I hope I don't offend him saying this, but even this book was a little stale. The passages are sort of like the MCAT, but overall lack biology examples. The questions are the best part, because some integrate biology, and they emphasize test skills in the explanations. I get the feeling this book was not updated much when the test changed.

The orgo is superb. I felt like this was the only book that got the appropriate facelift when the test changed. Too bad there isn't much orgo on the MCAT, because I was completely ready for everything. This is the only book I would recommend.

So now to your situation. When I studied the first time, I had literally just taken all the classes, so I didn't need content from the books. The second time I took the MCAT (I f-ed up CARS real bad my first try) I bit the bullet and took the class. There were like fifteen of us, and we didn't really use the books except for the passages. Although I scored essentially the same in the CP and BS, I felt much stronger my second time around. I do better with instruction than reading, so in-person helped me. Videos, like AK and Chad, can fill that void if you need it. There are so many videos now, and I'm sure some other people can recommend good ones too. Books are obsolete, so you might want to build your study plan around videos rather than books. This will allow you to select what you need.

I'm honestly not sure if it even matters what resource you use for practice at first, because once you hit AAMC materials it's like starting all over again. You should plan to do all of the AAMC materials twice. Even if you've seen the answer before, it helps to try it again, after you have more insight. It's all about learning to think in the way they want you to. UWorld is the best resource out there, but even then, it's not the end-all, be-all that AAMC is.

In the end I wouldn't recommend either of the book sets you are considering. Study using videos and the AAMC materials. Get some free stuff on the internet, like JW for CARS and AK for science videos. If I were going to ever do this again, and I thank God I don't have to, I would not base my study plan on books.
Last edited:
Members don't see this ad :)
Thanks. I was not expecting recommendations against TBR. Thought they'd be perfect for me due to the textbook-like text that I think I'd need to refresh my knowledge.

I've tried studying with the KA videos; it's a pain to get through them. Will try the videos again, and if needed, explore other books.

If anyone else has any recommendations for book sets that would work for a non-trad with a weak science background, I am all ears!
M1 here. Took a Kaplan prep course making my own Anki cards the whole way and got a very high score (interviewed at NYU, Vandy, etc). I also took 10 full lengths (6 Kaplan, 4 AAMC).

So I can't speak for the other company but it seems Kaplan is fine.

The only note I'll make about Kaplan is that, when I took my MCAT, it seemed like the AAMC language for Psych/Soc was different than the words Kaplan uses. I don't know if that was a fluke or if the AAMC is trying to jab Kaplan by avoiding their verbage. But obviously it was close enough I did fine.
Congrats. How long did you study? Did you use any other materials for Bio/bio chem or chem/phys?
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
If it helps, I am also a current nontrad studying. I find Kaplan to be really good for content as I am a ways away from that basic content. There are some sections that are a bit on the niche side but the high yield stuff is pointed out which is nice. I like the pre-chapter assessment questions that help assess how much time you actually need spend on that particular section. Makes getting through the material much more bearable. The CARS passages are ok but the questions are on the weaker (more like SAT/ACT) side.

I 100% recommend the AAMC bundle for the question banks alone though. My score has jumped 10 or more points from my baseline practice tests simply by reviewing the high yield concepts and making Anki cards to keep up with.

Happy studying, we got this!
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user