October 23, 2014

Finding the Right Medical School For You: Your Questions Answered

[caption id="attachment_1688" align="alignright" width="335"] The next episode of The Pulse is scheduled for Monday, November 17, 2014 @ 8pm ET, where we'll discuss post-bacc programs.[/caption]   We had a great Pulse event on Monday night where we talked about finding the right medical school for you. The Pulse featured admissions and MCAT experts and most importantly, lots of interaction from viewers like you! Here's a sample of the wonderful questions we received on Twitter via #kaplanpulse and our answers:  
Emily: Absolutely! If you're planning to apply to a D.O. school, most require you to shadow a D.O. and have a recommendation from a D.O. as well. You'll want to highlight your knowledgeability about osteopathic medicine via these requirements. If you're applying to an M.D. school, most don't require a specific M.D. recommendation, but it definitely can't hurt. Also, you'll need to have experience shadowing and volunteering in medical settings regardless of which school you apply to. This leads us to our next set of questions. [embed]https://twitter.com/the_quotinator/status/524354554801180672[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/Triple_Ess_/status/524356279259893761[/embed]
Emily: Finding opportunities to shadow and volunteer can definitely be a struggle as a pre-med student. Volunteering opportunities can be medically based, but don't have to be. For medical volunteering, contact your local hospitals and clinics since most of them will have established volunteer options. I actually just began calling clinics in my area that I thought could use my help and the first one I called said yes! You can also contact any non-profit in your area as they're likely to need volunteers. Schools, libraries, and religious institutions are other non-medical places that LOVE having smart, responsible, pre-med volunteers. Since most of medicine is focused on helping others, volunteering in any capacity gives you substance for your personal statement and interviews! Volunteering abroad is a great way to get exposure to another culture and help you stand out in the applicant pool.
I actually found my shadowing opportunity through volunteering at the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis. After volunteering there a while, I asked the providers if I could shadow them and they agreed. The key here is to not be shy and don't be discouraged when physicians say no. There are lots of physicians in the world, so find one who wants a med student and ask them!
Emily: This is a popular question because pre-med students are always thinking ahead about the best ways to use their time! Volunteering, working and shadowing are great ways to stand out. To use your time effectively, you may consider studying abroad during the summer. That way you can get all the benefits of studying abroad without losing important time during the school year that you may need for your pre-requisite classes
DM @KaplanMCATPrep MD school asks why I did not apply to DO or vice versa. Appropriate way to answer or place to find my answer?   — LoLo (@DocHopeful1)
Emily:  I'm glad you brought this up! I got asked a similar question in an interview I did for medical school, so this is an important question to have an answer prepped for. The best answer is a truthful answer. If you don't believe in the overarching philosophy of either the osteopathic or allopathic medical school, that's an easy place to start. You can speak specifically to a program or opportunities which you're excited about and is offered by the school at which you're interviewing. The most important piece to answering this question is to be knowledgeable. Know the differences between the two programs so you can speak intelligently about your answers and have a reason why you choose one over the other.
Emily: This is a common experience for lots of pre-med students. You go through an entire admissions cycle only to find out that you didn't get in to any schools. Most importantly, don't despair! Contact the admissions offices to see if they can give feedback on specific aspects of your application. Often they're willing to give you an idea of where your application could be strengthened. With that knowledge in hand, go ahead and fix those aspects! If your GPA is low, take more classes or consider a Masters degree or Post-Bacc program. If your MCAT score is low, plan to re-take the MCAT. If you need more shadowing or volunteer hours, see the response above and get out there and get those hours!
Emily: Earlier is always better since there are more spots available in the class. This is why we suggest turning in your primary and secondary applications as soon as you possibly can. If you have a later interview date, make sure that you're extra prepared to stand out. Your interviewers know that you've had more time to practice and they've seen a lot of interviewees already. Make sure you're prepared!
[embed]https://twitter.com/DurdenThomas/status/524355095740555266[/embed] Emily: Fortunately the tides are turning and certain programs are favoring the D.O. specific skill set. While historically, there may have been issues, healthcare is rapidly evolving on this front. If you're interested in becoming a D.O., check out AACOM.org and see all your options!
Emily: Yes! D.O.'s who go into primary care are eligible for NHSC loan repayment and tuition programs.
Emily: The AAMC has already begun crafting the percentiles using the scores from the optional practice sections that current MCAT students take at the end of their exams. To learn more about how the new MCAT is scored, check out the AAMC site.
Emily: Caribbean schools can be an option for most students. The difficulty comes with trying to get a residency spot in the match process. Some schools in the Caribbean don't have as high of a placement rate as most U.S. medical schools do.
[embed]https://twitter.com/JaniceTjeng/status/524362213226594304[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/yismael/status/524362305656459264[/embed]
Emily: You can start as early as today! You can read about different schools on their admissions websites or through AACOM's Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB) or AAMC's Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR). The information there will give you specifics about applicants average scores, acceptance and other admissions data. They will also list important information like tuition, fees and how many of their students receive financial support. You definitely want to start thinking about schools a few months before the application cycle opens in June. That way you'll have enough time to find specific people to write your recommendation letters and ensure that you'll have completed all the prerequisite coursework. Of course, you'll want to consider all the factors that determine which medical school is a good fit for you.
[embed]https://twitter.com/ThatGuy_Scotty/status/524357918137671680[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/Triple_Ess_/status/524357928481218562[/embed]
Emily: There are lots of different options for Masters degrees and Post Bacc programs! Our Kaplan Pulse episode on November 17th at 8pm Eastern time will also focus on all of your different Masters and Post Bacc program options. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn all about the nuances when choosing between Masters programs and Post bacc programs. They are definitely a good way to bump up your GPA and show medical schools that you can handle working through tough classes. If you're going to get a Masters degree though, I suggest picking a field in which you actually have some interest since you're going to be studying it pretty intensely!
Emily: You can find out more about the MCAT Foundations program and upcoming schedules online or by calling 1-800-Kaptest. The next class starts on 10/28! We'd love to have you!
So, that's it for our reKap of questions from Monday night's Pulse event. We'd love to have you at the next Pulse event on 11/17 at 8pm Eastern time! Reserve your seat today.
Until then, Happy studying!
...read more
October 23, 2014

Creating Diversity in Your Medical School Application

Through Kaplan’s exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Daniel Gomez – Ohio State University   [caption id="attachment_1684" align="alignright" width="225"] Daniel studying abroad in Copenhagen.[/caption]

Studying Abroad

It can be expensive and sometimes even overwhelming to participate in a study abroad trip, but it can also be one of the most memorable decisions any college student can make, and one that immediately creates diversity in your medical school application. Searching for a study abroad program that tailors its courses to a pre-medical track can be difficult and requires a certain degree of patience. Your pre-med advisor, your school’s Office of International Affairs, and the American Medical Student Association’s International Health Opportunities tool will provide the proper guidance in order to find the appropriate program.  

How Will Studying Abroad Look to Medical Schools?

Not many students study abroad; in fact, only a little over 1% of college students attend a study abroad program. A question that may be going through your mind is “should I really attend a study abroad program and would it actually impress medical schools?” The answer to that question can have multiple responses. Today I’d like to share the reasons why I chose to study abroad, and why I strongly recommend that you do too. As a fourth year pre-medical student at The Ohio State University I was trying to find a way to spend my summer vacation by taking a break from all the rigorous academic work, but to also be involved in some form of extracurricular activity (medical or non-medical) or unique experience. The opportunity presented itself when I read a poster on my college campus promoting an information session on studying abroad. After attending the session, I spent every week in the Office of International Affairs attempting to seek out additional information. As a result, I studied abroad in the capital of Denmark for two months learning about European clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. This gave me the chance to immerse myself in a new culture and to learn about how foreign healthcare systems function.  

What I Took Away From My Study Abroad Experience

Experiencing Cultural Differences:

For the two months I was in Denmark, the Danish students were friendly and showed me their lifestyle. The differences were quite noticeable in both living and academic studies. Having the opportunity to interact with individuals from international countries allows you to sharpen skills such as becoming more culturally aware of different demographic populations and their traditions. This also helps in understanding key differences in medical practice. There can be views on medicine, which differ from the United States, and knowing these differences can be beneficial when aiding these patients as a physician. There’s also the chance to learn a basic level of the language, which can be challenging and very exciting. As a result, you will be able to engage with several groups of people with completely different backgrounds and ultimately become a better-prepared and culturally diverse physician.  

Shadowing Foreign Physicians:

Not only did I get the opportunity to experience a different educational system, but I also got to learn more about the European healthcare system, more specifically of Denmark’s. Physicians in Europe are flexible with permitting students to observe them in their practice, so this allowed me to shadow a neurologist and a podiatrist. By doing this, you can learn so much about key differences and similarities between how physicians practice medicine in the US and other countries. Shadowing a physician is essential to show medical schools that you are aware of how a physicians practice functions, but to also present that you have been involved with medical experiences. This also serves as a great topic to speak about during a medical school interview, if asked about your study abroad program.   Creating Diversity in Your Medical School Application: A student who studies abroad can return with a higher grade point average (which is something that most pre-medical students like to hear). The reason I say this is because I found it to be less stressful when having the chance to study in different areas around a foreign city. It still takes effort and time to achieve a high mark on the grading scale, but a good grade is not the only benefit from studying abroad. This topic can come up anywhere: applying for a job, the medical school application process (during interviews, in your personal statement, and within the application itself), and in conversations at school. This is truly a special experience that can separate an applicant from a large pool of competitive students. This is not to say that studying abroad will guarantee anyone acceptance into medical school, although it can definitely be a topic of interest during an interview session. There are many ways in which studying abroad will make you a better pre-med student, medical school applicant, and physician. These were the primary reasons as to why I decided to study abroad. If it’s possible for you, then I would strongly suggest that you start talking to your pre-med adviser and Office of International Affairs today.   Now that you’ve read about Daniel Gomez’s journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams. ...read more
October 22, 2014

Pros and Cons of Taking the New MCAT 2015 in April

[caption id="attachment_1681" align="alignright" width="300"] For more information on the MCAT 2015 Dates, visit https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/administration/[/caption] As a society, we tend to remember the trendsetters—those who break the mold, pave new pathways, boldly go where no one has gone before. We think of Tenzing Norgay & Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest or Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. If you’re a med student, maybe your mind jumps to the cloning of Dolly the sheep; or Watson, Crick, and Franklin solving the structure of DNA. These figures in history are heroes, no doubt. But we don’t often think of the fact that being the first one to do something, to break new ground, can also be a little scary. You might feel this way about taking the new MCAT, which will first be administered in April 2015. Since there’s a lot of chatter out there about whether or not you should sign on to be part of this vanguard group, we thought we should discuss a few pros and cons of taking the new MCAT in April.  

Pro: You can apply early in the primary application cycle.

To begin with, remember that, regardless of the test change, the application cycle for medical school admissions is the same. That means if you want to submit your primary applications at the start of the cycle in June and be one of the first candidates that schools evaluate, you will need to take your exam by April or May of 2015. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has stated that preliminary percentile ranks will be offered about two to three weeks after testing so students can decide whether or not they want to retest. However, examinees in April and May will receive their MCAT scores later than the usual 30-35 day window, so that AAMC can "verify and conduct analyses required to establish the new score scales and to make the necessary adjustments to correct for the anticipated idiosyncrasies of the group of early examinees." According to the AAMC, MCAT scores from the April and May exams will still be reported prior to the opening of the 2016 AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application cycle, so there will not be a disadvantage for the first group of examinees.  

Con: You will not be able to get advice from peers who have previously taken this exam.

This might seem like a disadvantage, but consider this. First, the new MCAT is a normed exam. Second, the AAMC has been very transparent about the changes to MCAT 2015; therefore, there would be no real advantage to listening to peer reviews in the first place. As for expert advice, you can rest assured that Kaplan has spent the last three years creating a whole new MCAT 2015 program to prepare for the exam, so there are plenty of resources available. Listening to friends and former test-takers, frankly, might not be the best strategy anyway.  

Pro: There is a financial benefit to being among the first to take the new MCAT.

The AAMC will be offering Amazon gift cards up to $150 to examinees who take the early April exams. This incentive is almost a direct response to a worry that students might feel compelled to wait and see how the new MCAT plays out. But, keep in mind that the AAMC will be spending considerable time ensuring that the results of the new exam are statistically valid, so there is little to worry about.  

Con: New content means more prep … right?

The fact that the test is changing is important for many reasons. You need to make sure you have developed the right critical thinking skills and acquired the appropriate content knowledge for the new MCAT. In 2015, the MCAT is adding three additional semesters’ worth of content to the test, not all of which are required for med school admission: biochemistry and behavioral sciences (psychology and sociology). If you're worried about fitting these three additional semesters into your schedule, check out our MCAT Foundations program. This is the only course available that focuses specifically on the additional material covered by the new MCAT. But the test change should not be a determining factor for choosing your test date. You’re better off putting your mental energy into creating and sticking to a personalized study plan that's efficient and gives you the practice you need for the MCAT 2015.  

Conclusion: ignore the chatter and take the exam when you are most prepared.

When you take the MCAT, you want to put your best foot forward, so structure your plan around your personal needs and schedule, just as you would if the test were not changing.   Visit Unlock the Good Life to see what MCAT scores will get you into your top schools, get resources, read interviews, and enter to win our 10K Good Life Sweepstakes. The good life is closer than you think.   ...read more
October 21, 2014

Why do I have to take the MCAT?

Hello my hard-working readers! Today I want to address a question that I hear frequently from my students and even more frequently from my classmates: Why do I have to take this standardized test? My students are complaining about having to take the MCAT and my classmates are complaining about the USMLE, or Step 1, as it's commonly known. It's popular to bash on standardized tests, but today I'd like to talk about why they're actually awesome!  

1. They're standardized

Your GPA can vary greatly depending on your school, your schedule, and the difficulty of your classes. That makes it difficult to accurately assess the validity of your GPA and use that to compare students across hundreds of schools. The MCAT, on the other hand, is completely uniform. It's designed to be representative of your ability regardless of undergrad institution. Medical school admissions can use your MCAT score independently to compare you to other students. That's super! If you had a bad semester that pulled down your GPA, that deficit can be partly made up by an awesome score on the MCAT. The same is true of the USMLE; residency programs know what your boards score means. It is completely independent of your school performance and can be used to set you apart from the pack of applicants. Turns out that most medical school students are smart, overachievers. It's nice to have a number to help separate yourself and stand out.  

2. You can study for them

There are tons of ways to prepare to take the MCAT and the USMLE, including great options such as Kaplan classes, tutoring, and books. There are practice tests, review materials and hundreds of available passages and questions that cover all the material that you're likely to see on your exam. So unlike your undergrad or medical school classes, where it's up to the professor what questions and material is on the exam, on standardized tests, there are specific topics that have to be covered and in a certain predictable proportion. With the addition of three new subjects to the MCAT 2015 test, Kaplan has created the only course that provides prep specifically for this new material: MCAT Foundations. [embed]http://youtu.be/3TDIrCB49wM[/embed]  

3. Your initial score doesn't determine your final score

During your undergrad classes, if you bomb your first exam, it can pull down your grade for the semester. That's not true on the MCAT! While it can be incredibly defeating to take a MCAT practice test or your Kaplan MCAT diagnostic exam and score in the single digits, your initial score does not determine your success on Test Day. The reason that all of these resources exist in the first place is that is definitely possible to study for and increase your score on any standardized test! I have seen students go from a 4 to a 28. I have had students who struggle with Verbal Reasoning email me when they get their scores back to tell me about their 12 on the VR section. You just have to make sure to invest enough time and effort into studying. With the help of the right resources and guidance, you can absolutely increase your score. This is wonderful news for you the test-taker!  

4. You have a clearly defined goal

Sometimes over the course of a semester-long class, you lose sight of your overall learning goals for the class. Instead it becomes a death march to finishing the semester and escaping with best grade you can reasonably achieve. Turns out that this feeling doesn't end when you're in medical school. My class is currently limping towards the end of our Neuro block after a particularly vicious third exam. Every now and then, it's hard to remember why you're learning the material. Having a numbered score to strive for can be very motivating. Each question that you get right moves you towards your 37 (or your 268 on the USMLE). You always have a goal in mind and you can lay out practical steps to achieve that goal.  

5. Taking the MCAT prepares you to take the USMLE

The Verbal Reasoning section of the MCAT is the most strongly correlated with your USMLE scores. If you learn the skills needed to succeed on the MCAT, those same skills will be used again when you kick butt on the USMLE! Plus, there are many ways that studying for the MCAT benefits you as a med student. You might as well get started on your medical school success now! With those facts in mind, happy studying! If you took the MCAT right now, how would you score? Find out with a free Kaplan MCAT practice test! You will not only get an idea of how you’d score on the exam, but you’ll also receive a full breakdown of your strongest areas, and those in which you need more practice. ...read more
October 20, 2014

Fast Facts to Help You Target Your Ideal MCAT Score

[caption id="attachment_1673" align="alignright" width="171"] Want to aim for a good MCAT score? Check out these fast facts![/caption]

With autumn comes the white coat ceremony

When autumn arrives, so do lots of people’s favorite things—football season, pumpkin-flavored everything, crisp weather that makes you want to cozy up to a mug of hot chocolate. On medical school campuses across the country, autumn also brings with it the white coat ceremony—that time-honored tradition in which family and friends gather to watch you don the symbolic garment of the medical field and the singular identifier of you as a fledgling student doctor: the short white lab coat. After three months of constant wear in your third year, you'll likely grow tired of the thing, but wearing that white coat for the first time at the ceremony is a feeling you’ll never forget. If you are just deciding to apply to medical school, the white coat ceremony may seem a long way away, but—believe it or not—you, too, are well on your way to receiving your own white coat. The process of getting into medical school inevitably leads you to the MCAT and all of its mysteries: how long is the MCAT, when should you take the MCAT, what do you need to do to prepare for the MCAT, and, finally, what is a good MCAT score to shoot for? No need to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to start breaking down the process into digestible parts. Start with these fast facts about MCAT scores so you can secure a good one!  

1. The average MCAT score is rising for students getting into medical school

I can't tell you how many attending physicians I've worked with who all say the same thing (though hopefully not in front of patients): "I'm not sure I could even get into medical school if I were applying today." Generally, this is a hyperbolic statement, but it carries some truth: the average MCAT score of those getting into medical school is on the rise. According to the AAMC, the average MCAT score of those matriculating as an M1 is a 31, while the average MCAT score of those applying is 29. You do the math. Sure, some applicants with a score 29 are getting into medical school, but the majority of matriculants have a slightly higher MCAT score. On the one hand, this is good news. Now you have a realistic and tangible goal to work towards. On the other hand, the fact that the average score of those just taking the test is down around 26 means that there are a lot of MCAT test-takers out there who end up not even applying. Could insufficient prep be one possible reason for the attrition?  

2. Securing a good MCAT score requires serious prep—about 350 hours’ worth

Another interesting fast fact: the recommended number of study prep hours for the MCAT is 350. That's over 14 full days—or two weeks—straight through, not factoring in the necessary breaks for eating, sleeping, and otherwise being a normal person. Phew. That’s a daunting task to undertake—too daunting for many. Which is why many people end up taking the MCAT after insufficient—or unstructured—prep, scoring poorly, and consequently not applying. Luckily, Kaplan has a proven track record of providing students with excellent MCAT test prep. With 350 study hours to fill, it's easy to see how you could get overwhelmed, or even lost. The beauty of the classes Kaplan offers are in their structure: the schedules are designed to make every minute of your MCAT test prep count. From in-class sessions to full-length practice tests, the hours add up quickly, and in the end you'll be grateful for putting in the extra time to score well on the MCAT.  

3. Practice makes perfect

In no way does this statement become more evident than when preparing for a big test like the MCAT. The best way to simulate Test Day is to take practice tests. You can't know how far you've come without knowing where you started. Take the first step by registering for one of our free MCAT practice tests to see how you’d do right now if you were going into the exam today. After taking the test, you’ll get:
  1. A detailed score report: We’ll figure out what kind of test-taker you are and let you know your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Complete explanations to every question: We’ll show you what mistakes you made and how to guard against them in the future.
  3. Strategies for improvement: We’ll give you ideas for raising that MCAT score!
Sign up today to get started on the path toward your own white coat ceremony some future autumn not so far down the line. ...read more
October 16, 2014

Tips For a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Student

Through Kaplan’s exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Stefanie Smith: University of Missouri   [caption id="attachment_1668" align="alignright" width="300"] The busy life of a non-traditional pre-med. Stefanie is pictured here working in the lab.[/caption]

The Busy Life of a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Student

Violin lessons, dance, parent teacher conferences, a test, two conference calls, multiple doctor appointments, and a full-time job; this is a pretty average week for me. Being a pre-med can be overwhelming at times; when you add the intricacies of a non-traditional pre-med (e.g. family and work), it can seem downright impossible. Whether you are going back to school to pursue medicine or you have taken anything other than a straight path into medicine, here are some things that I have learned along the way that have helped me balance all the stresses of life, while also actively pursuing all those pesky medical school admission requirements.  

Tips for Balancing Your Personal and Pre-Med Life

 1. Find a way to volunteer that involves your family and/or friends.

A good way to gain volunteer and leadership experience without sacrificing your personal life is to find things that your friends and family are interested in and become more involved in those kinds of activities. For example, my daughter loves to run, and has recently started participating in Girls on the Run, an afternoon program that teaches young girls about self-esteem, healthy relationships, and positive body image while also training to run a 5K. The coaches are all on a volunteer basis, and it has been a great experience for me to take on a leadership role in my community. I really enjoy volunteering at community events that involve children; it lets me interact with the community while also letting my kids explore interests that they may not have otherwise been exposed. There are a ton of medical and non-medical extracurricular opportunities in your community, so start exploring and get involved!  

2. Incorporate your work.

I am lucky enough to be employed at a hospital histology laboratory, so I get to see how the health system works from a different vantage point. Everyday I see the amount of teamwork and the many health professionals that help to make it easier for doctors to focus on their job. Medicine is a team sport and learning to work well with coworkers is an essential skill that can be acquired in any profession. If you are employed (or volunteer) at a hospital, talk to the physicians that you interact with. I have found that they are more than willing to provide excellent advice and opportunities to shadow and learn from them. If you haven’t yet gained clinical experience, talk with your pre-med advisor or pre-med club officers today.  

3. Take advantage of the resources available to you.

While it may seem daunting to continue doing pre-med prerequisites while working, it’s important to realize that it’s okay to take it slow. If your schedule only allows you to take to one or two classes at a time, make sure you have enough time to focus on the classes and do well in them. While in school, talk to your pre-med advisor. They are familiar with the schedule of classes and can help make sure that you stay on track for graduation and the medical school admission timeline. If you’ve already graduated, it is still a great idea to go back and talk to the premed advisors on campus because they can help you fill in any gaps and provide some great advice. Many employers also offer educational funds for employees who want to continue their education. Take full advantage of these! In order to find out if your company offers these benefits, talk to human resources. In hospitals, you can also talk to nursing education departments: they may have some classes, such as Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), that you can take for free. My hospital provides $1500 a year for classes that contribute to your growth in medicine; this is allowing me to take an emergency medical technician course and gain more hands on patient experience.  

4. Give yourself plenty of time to study for the MCAT.

The MCAT is one of the most important parts of the medical school application, so you want to make sure that you are as prepared as you can be. Making sure that you plan extra time for studying means that you won’t need to stress out when you don’t study because of a family emergency or a looming work deadline. You need to maintain your flexibility and recognize that things will rarely ever go according to plan. As a non-traditional pre-med student, your experiences and insights are different than a traditional student, but they are just as valuable. Remember that we all have great qualities that made us desire a career in medicine. When we chose this career path, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I believe that it is definitely worth all the hard work!   Now that you’ve read about Stefanie Smith’s journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams. ...read more
October 15, 2014

5 Tips for MCAT Verbal Reasoning Success

[caption id="attachment_1663" align="alignright" width="300"] To master the verbal reasoning section on the MCAT, follow these great tips.[/caption]

Verbal reasoning on the MCAT

It’s the bane of many an MCAT test-taker: the dreaded verbal reasoning section of the med school entrance exam. Most see the verbal reasoning section as a wordy jumble of dense information followed by questions that make you think, “Wait, did I just read the right passage? Are these questions to a different section? Did I lose consciousness there for a little while?” Fear not! While the verbal section of the MCAT can be the most challenging to tackle—especially considering the time constraints—the following five tips will have you slicing your way through verbal reasoning practice with the coolness and calm of a seasoned professional!  

1. Don’t make it harder than it already is

Okay, so the verbal section is hard. Really hard. There, it’s out in the open. Now let’s move on. Here’s why: Once you’re honest with yourself about verbal reasoning being a cruel beast, you can start systematically learning how to take it down, despite it’s might. Don’t give the verbal section an inch—don’t give it the satisfaction. Realize it’s hard, accept it, and learn how to master it. Instead of dreading the end of the biological sciences section because it heralds the appearance of verbal reasoning, be pumped that you get to grapple with the biggest villain in the game. Go into it with a positive attitude, and picture yourself beating the section. You’d be surprised how getting into the right brain space can alter your performance.  

2. Triage

The concept of triage, borrowed from emergency room parlance in the medical field, can also be applied to the verbal section of the MCAT—and it just happens to be a cornerstone of the Kaplan method, in general. Triage in the ER means assigning levels of urgency and severity to patients’ conditions. Triage in the verbal reasoning section means doing the same thing when evaluating passages. With unlimited time, you might apply triage to the MCAT’s verbal section in an unhurried manner, casually skimming each passage and deciding which to tackle first based on which you feel most comfortable with. In the real world of the verbal section, with its strict time limits, this is obviously not possible. Instead, triage has to be fast and dirty.
  • Skim the first passage in five seconds. Glean the topic and type of passage. Is it natural science or humanities? Is it long or short? Does the topic seem easily understandable or more abstract?
  • Play to your strengths. Are you a baller at humanities passages or are you more of a natural science person? If the passage at hand falls within your strengths, full steam ahead, Capt’n.
  • Continue reading, marking, and mapping the passage, and then tackle the questions.
If the passage is something you know you’ll struggle with, save it for later. Come back to it in the middle or towards the end. Start with your strengths and collect some points while you’re fresh.  

3. Don’t bring in outside information

Another big trap MCAT test-takers fall into is casting their own preconceived notions on the passage. Say it’s a topic you actually know something about. Perhaps you took a class on the subject or wrote a paper on it at some point. Forget all of that. Really. Get it out of your mind. The correct MCAT answers are all contained within the passage. Don’t let your own knowledge get in the way of your success. As far as you’re concerned, the only information that exists on the subject in the entire world is presented right there in front of you, and you don’t need anything else.  

4. Mark it and move on

Every second is precious when it comes to verbal reasoning, so wasted time is the enemy of the MCAT test-taker. There will inevitably be tricky questions on the verbal section. You can pretty reliably expect to encounter two or three really difficult questions per passage, but you can also almost always narrow them down to two answers. The alternative—debating and fretting and going back and forth and worrying, all while the timer ticks closer to zero—is unacceptable. Don’t let this happen to you! Sure, there will be questions you answer in two seconds and move on immediately, and there will be questions that will keep you guessing—possibly well after the test is over. But, during test time, don’t let those longer questions eat up too much time! If you feel yourself spending more than 30-45 seconds on a question, mark it, choose an answer, and move on. Go with your gut. Chances are, you’re right. Plus, if you have time at the end to review the marked questions, you may look at the question in a totally different light and be able to answer it in seconds.  

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

As with anything MCAT-related, real, reliable improvement only comes with practice. If you struggle with the verbal section, practice the verbal section. Here are some quick, easy things you can do anytime to sharpen those verbal reasoning skills:
  • Map a newspaper article while you wait for class to begin.
  • Read every day to improve your critical reading skills and your speed-reading.
  • Skim articles and see how much you can gather without reading every word.
The more exposure you get to reading and thinking critically, the more comfortable you’ll be by test day. These five tips for verbal reasoning make up the list that I give all my students and future MCAT test-takers. Adjust and add to them as you see fit, but stick with these basics for MCAT success and you’ll be one step closer to your first day as an M1! If you took the MCAT right now, how would you score? Find out with a free Kaplan MCAT practice test! You will not only get an idea of how you’d score on the exam, but you’ll also receive a full breakdown of your strongest areas, and those in which you need more practice. ...read more

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