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
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
...read more
January 27, 2014

Inside Kaplan MCAT with Patrick: MCAT Study Schedule!

In part one of “MCAT Re-booted”  I want to cover what is going to make the ideal MCAT study schedule. The AAMC recommends on average 300 total hours to study for the MCAT.  They also have a “Creating a Study Plan” listed on their web-page. With all of this information out there and the rumors that run rampant in the pre-med community on “secrets” of MCAT studying, where does a student go to get the real answer? Well right here of course!

Now how long is 300 hours in reality? You could easily break that into 10 weeks or approximately 2 ½ months of 30 hours of studying a week.  I know what you must being thinking… 30 hours a week?! I already have class, research, clubs, activities, and that long lost social life! How can I possibly fit 30 hours into a week? Well simply put, you can’t and you aren’t expected to.  The majority of students start studying well beyond the 2 ½ month mark.  On average students need to think about breaking that time up into somewhere between 3-6 months, depending on their schedule, how many of the pre-med required courses they have already taken, and their confidence in the material.

After getting a rough idea on when to get started, where do we start? Many students have come to me after getting their Kaplan MCAT materials and feel overwhelmed. Don’t fret! You now have the best material for the MCAT and over 11,000 questions to aid in testing your comprehension of all things MCAT. What you need to do first is establish how much time you have during the week and create “study blocks”.

  • First you need to account for the things that take up time in your week. For example:
    • Personal obligations
    • Professional obligations (school, work, Kaplan class, research etc.)
    • Extracurricular (volunteering, clubs, shadowing)
    • Social time with friends and family
    • 1 day/ evening off/ week
Now after you have successfully jotted this down in a notebook or added to your online calendar you will get a better idea of how much time you truly have to study during the week. With the time left (ideally around 10 -15 hours) we are going to create 2-3 hour “study blocks”. This is going to be the time you are going to use to start tackling all those great Kaplan resources. Many people ask, “Only 2-3 hours?! I can study longer than that!” You are right you probably can, however, your assignment this week is to write down your weekly calendar, and in my next post I will answer why only 2-3 hours and what goes into a successful “study block.” Stay tuned! More #MCATdomination coming at you!   ...read more
December 5, 2013

Maintaining MCAT Momentum through the holidays

Hello my hard-studying readers. It's that time of year again! You're probably slogging away through your finals studying, waiting for that wonderful period of the year known as winter break. I'm also sure that you have lofty goals of getting lots of MCAT studying done during break. I have seen many an ambitious student, with the best of intentions reach the middle of January and think, "Oh my goodness, where did the time go? How did I get zero studying done during break?" Fortunately, I'm here today with some tips to help keep your MCAT momentum during the holiday season! 1. Make a schedule! If you make a schedule, you can plan your fun around practice tests and studying. If you simply just say that you're going to do three practice tests in the next few weeks, you're more likely to keep procrastinating and not get those practice tests done. Make a schedule and hold yourself accountable! 2. Plan to always get less done than you expect. If you schedule five hours of studying, chances are that you'll get three done. The reason for this is that fun things happen during break. Friends and family from out of town will stop by, movies need to be watched and winter activities (skiing, skating, general frolicking) need to be accomplished. All of these things are infinitely more fun than studying and will eat away at your study time. Make sure you're over-shooting your study time so that even if you don't get as much done as you plan, you're still staying on track for success! 3. Involve your family and friends in helping you study. Studies have shown that weight-loss programs are more effective if the person trying to lose weight involves friends and family as allies. I can only imagine (without a fully funded study) that the same effect is true with MCAT studying. Use your friends and family to motivate you! They can cheer you on after your practice test, help you with flashcards or you can practice teaching them the information! 4. Get out of the house. During the school year, you may usually study in the library, a coffee shop or somewhere on campus. If you head back to your family's house for the holidays, it may negatively affect your studying groove. Find an open library or coffee shop so that you can study in MCAT-like conditions and spend some time away from the temptations of home (cable TV, cookies, sleeping). Hopefully these tips help you stay on track for MCAT success after the holiday/winter break season! Happy studying! [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
November 21, 2013

FREE MCAT Sample Class!

Happy Studies! The school year is in full swing and that means pre-meds everywhere are starting to think about the 2014 MCAT dates and their MCAT prep! Have you ever wondered what a Kaplan class is like? Now is your chance to see one of our own MCAT teachers in action, dissecting the MCAT and introducing the proven Kaplan strategies that will allow you to excel on Test Day.   Best of all, it's free! All you need is a computer and a reliable internet connection - you can attend from the comfort of your own home (or computer lab, or coffee shop...) Click to reserve your spot now. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Upcoming dates:

Tuesday, December 17th 8:00 pm EST

Sunday, December 22nd 2:00 pm EST

Sunday, February 2nd  7:00 pm EST

Thursday, February 13th  7:00 pm EST

  Need a little taste of what you'll see in our MCAT Sample Class...     [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
November 1, 2013

Kaplan Patrick Q&A: Efficient MCAT Studying Part 2

Continuing our discussion from 'Efficient MCAT Studying Part 1' we ask what is the most efficient way to study during our block. Looking back at the sample schedules, note that we are trying to get in at least 20 hours of studying a week at the very minimum, included in that time would be 1 full length examination a week.  At the minimum you should be trying to get in at least:
  • 2 Topical Tests
  • 1 Verbal Section Test
  • 1 Science Section Test
  • 1 Full Length Test
I understand that a lot of the content people are comfortable with. The key to approaching the MCAT is figuring out which information you can study that will result in the biggest increase in points. During your study block, just pick one thing to do... i.e. a Section Test, maybe 2 Topical Tests, or some Review Note Chapters and their corresponding quizzes. The key to finishing up the block strong is filling out the WHY I MISSED IT CHART.  An example of a template:

We find the better a student fills out the chart the more they get out of the exercise. For example:
TEST - For this column just fill in which topical/ section/ or full length test you are working on Q# - Just the question number of that specific test so you can look it up later Passage/ Discrete - Was this a discrete question or was it associated with a passage? Subject - Some people like to fill this in different ways. I have found the best way to do this is to make your subjects just Physics/ General Chemistry/ Verbal/ Organic Chemistry/ Biology Topic - The reason I have students fill in topic is so you can look at what specific topics of a subject you don't know. I find the best way to do this is to take out the Review Notes and organize your topics by the chapters in the books. This is how to figure out what you need to review so you can go directly back to that specific chapter in the book. Why I missed it? - This is the KEY to making the whole chart. You need to honestly ask yourself why you are missing a specific question. Are you missing it because you don't know the concept? Did you misread the question? Did you simply make a calculation error? Did you not understand what you read in the passage? Now remember when you are taking FL exams you are going to study longer than 2 hours. That is the only time you are really extending your studying much beyond that time frame. The key here is understanding and recognizing patterns along the way! Remember we want to turn those weakness into STRENGTHS! Stay focused! The hard work pays off!   [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
Med School Experience
September 23, 2013

Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts 10: Genetic Mutations

In today's Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts video from the Kaplan MCAT course, Dr. Jeff Koetje discusses genetic mutations as tested on the MCAT. Note that the MCAT tests critical thinking, not just science recall, mastery of certain science concepts is a prerequisite for the test. For more great videos concerning Fast Facts, Current Events, and more, head over to our MCAT YouTube Channel.... [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
May 7, 2013

Time for MCAT Bootcamp!

So, you have been preparing for a late May or early June MCAT by studying hard and taking practice tests. Are you looking for something to give you that extra studying edge? Or perhaps you’re eyeing an MCAT test date later in the summer? Are you looking to get jump-started on material?

Either way, you’re in luck! Kaplan is running an MCAT Boot Camp event on 5/20/13 at 8pm ET!

This intensive MCAT Boot Camp event will feature questions on advanced content to give you an excellent idea of where you need to focus your MCAT studies. It will feature timed drills to solidify concepts and get in some excellent practice! The questions will all reinforce important MCAT content knowledge as well as critical thinking. It’s a great way to spice up your study routine or infuse it with content.

This event promises to be a great opportunity for any MCAT student and I strongly recommend registering today! How do you enroll? Simply click here and hit the “sign up” button next to MCAT Boot Camp. You’ll be challenged and engaged and gain great insight into the MCAT – what are you waiting for?

  ...read more

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