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
September 30, 2014

Which MCAT Am I Prepared to Take?

In order to unlock your good life, you need a great score. One of the biggest questions facing premed students is “which MCAT am I prepared to take in order to get my best score?"

The MCAT is Changing

If medical school is in your near future, you probably know that, the new MCAT will launch in the Spring of 2015. The major changes to new MCAT are:

1. More Tested Topics

2. Almost Double the Length

3. Different Scoring Scale

4. New Question Types and Skills

5. A More Medical Approach

Which MCAT Am I Prepared to Take?

One of the big factors to consider when deciding on a version of the test is the list of required prerequisites. The August episode of The Pulse, Kaplan’s monthly online series for pre-meds, was titled “The Last Chance for the Current MCAT!” In this video clip from that episode, Amit Raghavan, MPH, full-time Kaplan MCAT Instructor, discusses the new pre-requisites and how you can evaluate your preparedness for each exam. [embed]http://youtu.be/zvMKMWa4jBk[/embed]
View more videos on the Kaplan MCAT YouTube Channel.
  The key takeaway is that if you haven’t completed the prerequisites for a particular exam, you should not be taking that test.

Preparing for MCAT Success

No matter which test you decide to take, Kaplan will have the appropriate resources available to help you succeed on test day. Remember, twice as many doctors took a Kaplan course to prepare for the MCAT compared to all other courses combined.* Get started on your journey to the good life with Kaplan. Use our decision tree on www.mcat2015.com to decide which MCAT you are prepared to take. Then check out our road maps to the good life at kaptest.com/unlock to see what the average score requirements are for your top schools. Just by visiting the site and filling out your info, you’ll be entered for a chance to win $10,000.  
*Doctors refers to US MDs who were licensed between 2001-2010 and used a fee-based course to prepare for the MCAT. The AlphaDetail, Inc. online study for Kaplan was conducted between Nov. 10 - Dec. 9, 2010 among 763 US licensed MDs, of whom 462 took the MCAT and used a fee-based course to prepare for it.
...read more
September 29, 2014

4 Reasons Why You Should Take a Kaplan MCAT Class

Hello my excited readers! Today I'd like to answer a question that I get a lot from interested students:

Why should I take a Kaplan MCAT class?

I've been teaching for 6+ years at this point, so clearly I believe in the benefits of the Kaplan MCAT program. I took a Kaplan MCAT class in 2006 and did well enough on the actual test to score-qualify to teach the class. If you aren't sold by that fact alone though, I have some four great reasons for you!

1. Flexibility

One of the best features of the Kaplan MCAT program is the class schedule flexibility. You can take an On-Site class with an in-person teacher that runs 1, 2 or 3 times per week. If you live farther from a big city, have a different work schedule or learn best online, there are two online class options: Classroom Anywhere (live, online classes with varying scedules) and On Demand (self-study via previously recorded lessons and 24/7 access to an online syllabus). One of the advantages of the Classroom Anywhere online option is the ability to learn in your bed with your PJs, while still receiving the same high-quality instruction you would in a traditional On-Site class! Finally, if you learn best in a one-on-one, face-to-face setting, Private Tutoring allows you to set your own schedule. All of our live options (On Site, Classroom Anywhere, and Private Tutoring) also include access to Live Flex Sessions: these optional, online sessions cover key science topics that appear frequently on the MCAT and they run on weekends, weeknights and at varying times throughout the day. My students are frequently blown away by how often they can log-on to their syllabi, hop into a live flex session, and work on some content with a Kaplan teacher. Speaking of teachers, that brings me to reason number 2!

2. Dedicated Teachers

I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor hundreds of Kaplan instructors. I honestly have never met a Kaplan teacher that I didn't like. Every instructor is a top performer on the exam (90th percentile or higher), undergoes a rigorous training program, and is constantly evaluated by students to ensure that you have a truly exceptional experience. They tend to be a great combination of smart, engaging and committed to student success. In fact, we had a panel discussion a few weeks ago in which brand new teachers could ask veteran teachers their questions. I was blown away by how thoughtful the questions were and how concerned the entire group was with making each class session successful and making sure each student gets the help they need to reach their best score.

3. Tailored for your needs

I've already touched on the flexibility of the schedule, but there are other aspects that ensure you get an experience that's tailored to your individual study needs. One of the best aspects to Kaplan's technology is the Smart Reports that are generated after each practice test you take. They help you focus your studying on specific content areas, question types and passage types. That way you can study smarter, not harder. There are also different aspects of your syllabus that allow you to practice timing, content, strategy, or full-length exams. Basically, I'm getting at my next reason- the abundance of resources!

4. Tons of resources

We have the most available official AAMC practice, including the newly released Self-Assessment Package as well as all eight officially released full-length exams. From AAMC and Kaplan full-length practice MCATs (19 full-length exams in total) to 11,000+ practice questions, in addition to MCAT Qbank custom quizzes, the resources in your Kaplan syllabus are set up to help you increase your score and destroy the MCAT on Test Day! The Topical Tests will help you battle through tough content. Section tests make practicing your timing a breeze. Beyond your online syllabus, you also get a Review Notes book for each content area: Biology, Organic Chemistry, General Chemistry, Physics and Verbal Reasoning. These books are also available on your online syllabus if you don't want to haul around actual books. The Review Notes are essential because they are a focused review of MCAT-pertinent material. Each section is rated based on the difficulty of the content and the frequency it appears on the actual MCAT. That way you don't spend too much time stressing about an infrequently tested, hard to understand topic!   So, what are you waiting for? There are so many great reasons to sign up for a Kaplan MCAT class today! I'd love to hear why you chose Kaplan in the comments. Let me know! Happy studying, Emily ...read more
September 2, 2014

Triaging as a Tool for MCAT Success!

Hello my hard-working MCAT Test Takers! Today I want to discuss an important tool for MCAT success: prioritization. In fact, one of the most important lessons in your entire healthcare career will be learning how to prioritize effectively, whether you're working with patients, studying, or taking a test. It not only helps you reduce your anxiety since you have a plan for every occasion, but it also helps you maximize your effectiveness. It is a concept officially known as Triaging (or as I think of it, MCAT Pokemon: gotta catch all the points!) The first question I always get when I discuss Triaging in class is- “but doesn't that take too much time?” The answer is emphatically, no! If done right, triaging can help you move through your MCAT quickly while making sure you get as many points as possible. Let's break down the strategy at different test levels. Section level- Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences The first thing you should do in the science section is go through the passages, looking to complete the discrete questions. By completing the discrete questions first, you're maximizing your potential points from discrete questions and gaining a great MCAT content warm-up. While you're flipping by the passages, take ten seconds or so to size them up and assign them a priority level. Passages that include your favorite content or you feel confident doing, have a high priority level. Passages that look less-friendly or time-consuming, have a low priority level. By the time you've completed all of the discrete questions, you have a map of the entire section! Go ahead and complete the high priority passages first and get those points where you feel confident. Section level- Verbal Reasoning The same strategy can be applied to the Verbal Reasoning section, just without the discrete questions. I know that time can be tight, especially in Verbal, but it's worth it to take a minute and map out the entire section. What if your absolute favorite passage type is last? By taking the time to triage through the section, you are making sure to maximize your ability to do your favorite passages and thus score as many points as possible on the MCAT. Trust me, it's worth the time. Passage/Question level Once you've committed to a passage, you still want to use your time effectively by triaging the questions. The MCAT loves to put heavy calculation questions and scattered detail questions as the first or second question with a passage. They're designed to suck up your time, so you're rushing on the quick, more friendly questions at the end. By rushing, you're more likely to make a mistake. Make sure you do your friendly questions first! Get as many points as possible! But Emily, how can I accurately identify my strengths and weaknesses? One exclusive Kaplan resource that is very handy for triaging is our adaptive learning technology, which we call Smart Reports.  Smart Reports tell you how you are doing and what you should do next.  You can review your most recent scores, review your performance over time, and see your strengths and weaknesses broken down by topic area. You'll see how much time you spent on each question and whether you changed your answer from right to wrong or vice versa. Using the information from your Score Reports to guide your triaging is a genius way to improve your speed and increase your score.  Check out our upcoming MCAT class schedules to unlock your Smart Reports. So, there you have it. Try triaging today and let me know how it goes! What other great MCAT strategies do you use to ensure MCAT success? Happy studying! ...read more
August 27, 2014

Am I Ready to Take the MCAT?

Hello my MCAT-loving readers! Today I want to answer a common question posed by students - “When will I feel ready to take the MCAT?” The short answer is that you may never feel ready to take the MCAT. It's an intimidating test and feeling 100% certain that you're ready to go destroy it, may not happen for you. That doesn't mean that you're not actually ready to take the MCAT. What you should really be asking is - “How do I know that I’m ready to take the MCAT?”

You're ready to take the MCAT if:

1. Your score on MCAT practice tests is within a few points of your goal score.

Realistically, you shouldn't expect your MCAT score to vary by more than 2-3 points on Test Day. On the safe side, you should be averaging your desired test score. If you're not within the range of your desired score, you may want to consider moving your test date.

2. You've moved from pure content review to practicing MCAT-style questions.

At this point you want to be focused on utilizing strategies and fine-tuning your test-taking skills. You should have the majority of the content memorized and be ready to spit out equations and concepts like a master MCAT machine.

3. You have taken at least 8-10 practice full-length exams.

You want to make sure that you've taken both Kaplan and AAMC MCAT practice tests. By taking both types of exams, you'll be well-prepared for anything the MCAT throws at you. After 8-10 exams, you should feel confident in the test structure, your timing and the general flow of the MCAT. The more practice tests you have completed, the more well-prepared you'll be for Test Day.

4. You've put in at least 300 hours of MCAT study time.

The AAMC recommends 300+ hours of study and practice time to be fully prepared for the MCAT. The number will vary based on how recently you've taken your pre-requisite classes, but you want to be within the 300 hour ballpark. Building a successful MCAT study schedule is key to achieving success on test day.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments! What other signs or diagnostic tools can we use to tell whether or not you're ready to take the MCAT? People who have taken the MCAT, how did you know you were ready? For those of you who have not yet started your MCAT prep, sign up for a free MCAT practice test with Kaplan and view upcoming MCAT class schedules. Happy studying! ...read more
August 14, 2014

5 Tips for MCAT Success

Some of you reading this may be planners. You may have color-coded binders with tabs and dividers, organized desktops and files; you may group your apps into folders based on category. Some of you may refuse to use any writing tool other than an ultra-fine point Pilot G2 0.38mm (yours truly). If this doesn’t sound like you, you might need to “fake it til you make it,” because doing well on the MCAT and getting into medical school is all about planning. And it starts now. 5 Tips For MCAT Success: 1. Start your MCAT prep early. Start immediately, in fact. The single best thing you can do for yourself for success on the MCAT is to plan. No one who gets a 42 on the MCAT wakes up the week before and decides they’re just going to wing it. (Actually I’m sure that guy or girl exists out there, but they’re the rare unicorn of the MCAT world). You need to plan early, and plan well. 2. Choose a MCAT date. Pick a date with plenty of time for you to adequately prepare ahead of time. The AAMC recommends at least 300 hours of study time before taking the MCAT. It’s up to you to decide how much time you need to spread out your study time, depending on course load, extracurricular activities, and other commitments, but in general, students can prepare adequately for the MCAT in about 3 months. Commit to a MCAT date and register early. Then whip out your calendar and put a big circle (color-coordinated, if that’s your thing) around the date you’ve chosen. 3. Build your MCAT study schedule. Building your calendar may be the most important step. Take your calendar, and work in anything you have to do in between now and your MCAT. Birthdays, family get-togethers, and personal days come first - stick to them: they’re what will keep you sane during your study. Next, build in your big blocks of study time. Build in your Kaplan MCAT class times, your full-length exams, and your test reviews. Build in extra study time, which you’ll inevitably need. Build in more time than you think you’ll need; that way when you can’t finish a section in the amount of time you allotted, you have the ability to spill over into “make-up days.” 4. Be honest with yourself. After your first pass through your schedule, ask yourself “Can I really handle this?” Sleep on your new schedule for a night, and ask yourself again in the morning. This is your one best shot at tweaking your schedule or starting over from scratch, so make sure to make changes now! 5. Stick to your test prep schedule. The MCAT is the doorway to becoming a medical student and fulfilling your lifelong goal, and your schedule is your roadmap for the MCAT. Stick to this schedule no matter what! If you’re disciplined and reasonable with yourself and your time commitments, you’ll be cruising for a competitive score that will impress your interviewer and get you in the door to a lot of medical schools. Tons of students I’ve worked with have determination and drive to spare, but they lack the direction and the planning to get into medical school. Both are needed to make it to your first day on the wards, and sticking to a plan is a sure-fire way to get you one step closer. ...read more
May 9, 2014

Burn, baby, burn! Avoiding MCAT Burnout!

Hello my stressed out readers! Today, I'd like to share one of the most valuable pieces of information that I give my students, one that I also find that students resist the most. If you're struggling, take a break! Chances are that you're experiencing MCAT burnout! It sounds like common sense, right? You can't function at optimal studying capacity all day every day without time to digest the material. Even if you're switching it up with different subjects, styles and locations, you're still at risk for serious study burnout. So, let's address some common questions about burnout. How do I know if I'm experiencing burnout? If you're reading the same three sentences on the page for an hour, you might be burnt out. If your practice test score dips dramatically like from a 30 to a 16, you might be burnt out. If you find yourself considering the virtues of attending law school instead of med school, you might be burnt out. How do I fix my burnout? Take a break! That means a real break- not a break to do laundry, study for your finals or grocery stop. Go for a nice, long, walk. Watch a movie or spend some times with friends. You'll feel refreshed and rejuvenated when you study. You'll be more productive and your studying hours will be used more effectively. Why are we so stubborn about taking breaks?  I think it has something to do with our strong work ethic and motivation. You've been working really hard and you care a lot about how you're to do on the MCAT. It's not a bad thing to resist taking a break, as long as you actually go ahead and take one. Will taking breaks help me in medical school? Yes. Absolutely. If you learn your signs for needing a break and know how to use your break time effectively, you'll be a happier, healthier, saner med student. So, take a deep breath and the afternoon off. Your MCAT score will thank you! Happy studying, Emily
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April 29, 2014

Solid Preparation to Reduce Test Day Stress!

I'm sure you've all heard the famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, "By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail." As it turns out, this quote is incredibly applicable to your MCAT studying! One of the best ways to reduce test day stress and ensure success on Test Day is to plan for both the best and worst case scenarios. What things can you do to prepare for success? I'm glad you asked!

Planning for the worst:

1. Drive the route to your test center at the same time of day that you'll be taking your test. You want to make sure that you don't run into any unexpected traffic or construction. It's also wise to check the news to make sure that your route won't have any closures on your Test Day. In any case, plan a backup route in case of emergency!

2. Bring more than one type of ID. In some states, your ID expires around your birthday and if you happen to be testing near your birthday, your ID might not be valid. Bringing a backup ID ensures that you won't run into any unwanted birthday surprises on Test Day.

3. Prepare for unexpected health issues. You don't want your test score to be negatively affected by a headache or sore throat. I advocate for packing a mini-pharmacy to store in your locker including Advil, Tums, Kleenex, Chapstick, Claritin or anything else you could conceivably need during your test.

4. Bring ALL the snacks. One of my fellow MCAT teachers likes to say that whatever he usually eats for a snack, he instantly hates on Test Day. I recommend bringing tons of snacks so that whatever you're craving, be it protein, carbohydrates, fat, or sugar, you have a snack to suit your needs.

Planning for the best:

1. Have a fun post-test plan! It's much easier to sit through a long, stressful exam if you have something fun to look forward to after the exam. That way you can pep talk yourself by saying, "I might be taking a test now, but in three hours I'll be (insert fun activity here) "

2. Spend time with your loved ones. They've been supporting you during your stressful MCAT studying and it's time to show your gratitude by spending time with your friends and family! Chances are they'll also find you a much more interesting conversationalist now that you're not tempted to recite MCAT formulas to them.

3. Stop stressing about the MCAT! Once the MCAT is done, it's over and you have 30ish days to focus on your application before you get your score back. You can also revisit your hobbies and fun things you've been neglecting while you were busy studying!

What things are you planning to do to ensure your success on Test Day? Happy studying!
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February 24, 2014

MCAT Success Starts Here!

The first topic that I address with a new class is always the same. You are going to take the MCAT. Repeat it with me guys! “I am going to be taking the MCAT.” Sounds kind of strange when you say it out loud, right? Not if you want MCAT success! One of the first things we acknowledge when we start a class is the MCAT can be a scary thing. In general, most pre-med students go through the pre-med track looking at the MCAT as an obstacle. The MCAT can NOT be seen as an obstacle – rather an opportunity. It is an opportunity to show medical school admissions committees how well prepared you are!

“Success is when preparation meets an opportunity!”

The admissions game revolves around 2 numbers: The MCAT score and your GPA. The great part about the MCAT is you can improve that number by taking the exam! This means with great preparation and looking to the MCAT as a great opportunity you can increase that number! Some of you may be reading this thinking “OK Pat, I get that, BUT I still have my self-doubts.” Well guess what?! We all do! Everyone has self-doubt. EVERYONE. Remember this, all doctors have to take the MCAT and apply to medical school. All of you already envision yourself as a doctor. This is just part of the process. Will there be some late nights and some times where it may get hard? Absolutely! But we are here to help! So are you ready? Let’s get started! Join me tomorrow when we talk about picking an MCAT Test Date! ...read more

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