Kaplan's "MCAT Advantage - Anywhere" COURSE REVIEW, Part 4: Online Classes

In this continuous review of Kaplan's online MCAT course, so far, I have talked about Kaplan's packages, materials and resources available to students taking the online class, and diagnostics and technical support. This post, from my point of view, is probably central to the entire review, though: as I have just finished the course itself (although I still need to go over the supplementary materials and practice tests - to be covered in following parts of the review), I would like to talk about the live online classes this time. Without any further due, therefore, let me answer one of the main questions you have been asking about this course:
What is it like to take Kaplan's online classes?

First of all, as I mentioned before, access to classes is very easy and straightforward - you simply find the point at which you left off last time (which you can tell by green check-marks you can put behind every finished assignment) and can easily continue from there.
Before each class, you need to do the mandatory reading from the lecture books (see more about the physical package), which covers the material for the next class - without doing so, the class experience is much less meaningful. The amount of reading, along with practice questions, amounts for roughly 100 pages of material on average. Along with these, you are usually also prompted to go over some practice workshops. Each class is, moreover, accompanied by a set of related follow-up homework. (All of which is noted down in your online lecture schedule and in the Lecture Book.)
Classes have their firmly pre-set weekly regular schedule, which is when you and all your classmates meet your lecturer in a virtual classroom (with the exception of flexible sessions and "on demand" classes, described below). All you need to do is make sure you will be able to sit down uninterrupted in your room for the next 3 hours with your computer not running out of battery and being reliably connected to the internet. Don't forget your Lesson Book (also part of the physical package)! As soon as 15 minutes before the lecture, you can click the appropriate link that will take you to the virtual class.

What you see

First thing you notice is a rather complex interface prepared for an online presentation that will always stretch to fit your entire screen. In the upper left corner, there is a live video (sound included) of your teacher (one-way: he nor anyone else can see hear you), below which there is a chat window accessible for everyone: whatever you write in there will be visible to everyone connected to the classroom. In the middle, you can see the main screen of the presentation and lecturer's notes: they can write (type) and draw into this space at any time, as if it was their blackboard. In the top right corner, then, there is another, personal chat window. Here, however, you are able to ask your own, personalized questions at any time during the class; only TAs (teaching assistants) can see these and they will respond (also in text) promptly . In the bottom right corner, then, you can see class notes being taken for you by TAs or the teacher himself so that you don't have to write down anything and can focus on class itself - all of these will be available (and sent via e-mail) to you after class.

What happens

Once you are in the classroom (i.e., you can see the interface), there is usually a poll for students with a question relevant to the material of that day's class. On the top of that, my teacher (you have one teacher assigned for the entire course - with exceptions described below; I was taught by Dr. Josh - therefore, note that this review is based on a very specific experience with this teacher) also always played some ambiance music (in fact it was the same two [three?] songs over and over again, I know them by heart by now!), which created a nice atmosphere before the class started.
The class usually starts on time, as there is a lot to cover and even 3 hours might not be enough. Teacher welcomes everyone and presents the overview of the class. Then he asks a warm-up question (usually a personal rather than a knowledge-based one) so that everyone gets used to being responsive in the chat window - and sure enough, soon you can see responses written by your classmates and by yourself.
Teacher then proceeds to presenting the material - the prepared presentation rather strictly follows your blank Lesson Book, where you can take notes from whatever the teacher says (although you don't have to if you would rather like to pay attention - remember, review notes will be sent to you after class). The teacher, however, enters his own notes on the screen that usually complement the Lesson Book and reinforce the material that you read for the class in advance. Often, though, the teacher adds their own tips, tricks, mnemonics, and interesting information to help you remember better.
If the class is not running out of time (usually due to extensive explanations or questions by students), every hour is followed by a 5 minute break.

As I mentioned above, during these classes, teacher goes over the material, but also over some studying and test-taking strategies that are crucial for the Kaplan classes. Therefore, besides the principles covered, each class also always contains two or three MCAT-like sections followed by the appropriate number of questions - this ensures constant practice of the material, transformed straight into the MCAT-format questions, which is very helpful. Personally, I see mastery of the MCAT format as half the success, if not more.

If you miss your class or would rather like to take your class at a different time than scheduled, you have several options: first of all, you can pick a different live online class, so called a flexible session. This way, you will not be deprived of the live-online experience, while still taking your class. (Also, note that all the Organic Chemistry classes are scheduled as flex sessions - you always pick these on your own.) There is always a lot to choose from and sometimes seeing different teaching styles of other lecturers might be interesting.
If none of the available ones work for you, however, you can take an on demand class. This is simply a recording of one of the previous live online sessions. Thus, it is very similar to a regular live online class, minus any interaction (compare the first and second print-screens in this post: they are on demand and live sessions, respectively).

On Site vs. Live Online

Note: taken from a FREE Kaplan online
event, no personal chat window available
Obviously, I have never taken a Kaplan On Site class, and so it is hard for me to compare it the Live Online one. On the other hand, as I student, I can imagine how such class might run - and I also talked to several friends who actually took Kaplan's On Site MCAT course.
First of all, many people are afraid that in the online format, they are deprived of the personal contact with the teacher. I do not agree. Not only can it be a very interactive experience (this very much depends on the teacher, I noticed - but Dr. Josh was brilliant in this respect), but by not being distracted by other students (other than in the chat window) who are not being physically present, it actually feels like a 1-on-1 session: only you and your professor. This, therefore, makes the online class even better than the on site version.

Personal Contact

0 : 1

     On Site : Live Online

Ability to ask questions is another concern that potential MCAT course takers might have. And again - if you think about a physical class, many students are intimidated to ask questions in front of others - and so often, even if the topic is very hard or poorly explained by the professor no one raises their hand "to look stupid" (in psychology, this effect is called group conformity). In the online course, however, this effect is completely reduced: your questions are seen only by TAs who are present to write the review notes and assist the teacher in answering the questions. There is, therefore, nothing easier than typing your question in your personal chat window and getting an instant answer. Moreover, asking questions this way, unbeknownst to the rest of the class, does not interfere with the smooth flow of the lecture; no one is bothered by questions of students who are not paying attention. This is a clear advantage of the online course.
(Besides, if one has a question that they would like to ask outside of the classroom, they can send an e-mail to the teacher and TAs, who will answer them. This, however, is probably no different in On Site courses.


0 : 2

     On Site : Live Online

From the technical point of view, there are two issues to consider. The obvious one is that there is always a possibility of technical issues. As long as your connection to internet is good and stable, you should be fine. Rarely, however, Kaplan's links do not work the way they should, the presenting interface might have some technical issues (although I believe there was a major update recently that should have resolved most of these), or your own computer might go through some unforeseeable difficulties (I myself realized I was installing a major update, which forced my computer to restart in the middle of one of the classes, and it took me 10 minutes to log in on another computer) all of which might make you miss a part of a class. While you can always catch up on this material by watching an on demand class, it might be sometimes annoying.

Ease of Access

1 : 2

     On Site : Live Online

The other technical point is, though, that you can attend a class at any time - and as the classes strictly follow the Lesson Book, they are more or less consistent across different lecturers. This looks like an apparent advantage - which, however, might turn into a disadvantage once you realize that this way, you can pretty much shift around your entire schedule. If you are disciplined enough not to do so, great. If you are a busy student, however, you might be inclined to postponing your MCAT prep assignments to later times, which defies one of the main purposes of taking such course in the first place - that is, taking a scheduled class that will simply make you do the necessary preparation. This, therefore, is both an advantage and a disadvantage of online courses.



     On Site : Live Online

All in all, if you are considering whether to take an On Site or a Live Online course, I would recommend the Live Online course, for all the reasons described above. Not only that you are not deprived of the personal interaction experience, but the online interface has several significant advantages to it. Moreover, who wouldn't like to be taught by MCAT professionals while sitting in their favorite chair (or lying down in bed?) back home?
I still haven't talked about Kaplan's practice exams, my experience with their supplementary materials, and my overall impression about Kaplan's "MCAT Advantage - Anywhere" course - all of which is to be covered in the following parts of this ongoing review.

Acknowledgement: This is an independent review. Materials and course enrollment were provided by the Kaplan company; the author is in no way or form affiliated with this institution.
If you would like to write a review of an MCAT prep course or study materials and have it published on this blog, please, contact the author!!


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