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! 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! more
August 25, 2014

What is Changing on the MCAT 2015?

[caption id="attachment_1534" align="alignright" width="313"] New topics and areas of study will be covered on the MCAT 2015[/caption] If medical school is in your near future, you probably know that, as of April 2015, there’s a new MCAT in town, appropriately termed MCAT 2015 to differentiate it from the current exam. While much of the popular conversation has centered around the new content areas of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology, we think it's important to understand not just how the MCAT is changing in 2015, but why the MCAT is changing, and why now.

Why is the MCAT changing?

Science and medicine have advanced at an exponential rate in the past 23 years, and so has medical education, but the MCAT has not kept pace since its last update in 1992. The new MCAT is designed to resolve this discrepancy and help address and improve the preparedness of future medical students. While the new subject areas will add a significant amount of prerequisite content knowledge, the new MCAT structure will also more accurately evaluate a student’s ability to apply this content.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

This section, much like the current MCAT's Verbal Reasoning section, will test no prior knowledge. In fact, none of the passages will contain any hard science. The topics will be limited to the humanities and social sciences. They will explicitly test a student's ability to reason.

Application of the sciences on the new MCAT

The other three sections on the MCAT—Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior—will test students in the content of biological and living systems. Gone are the questions requiring you to calculate how far a ball is going to travel when thrown at a certain initial velocity and angle; here to stay are the questions that ask how much force must be generated by the muscle doing the throwing.

Is organic chemistry really gone?

While organic chemistry is the bane of many a pre-med’s existence, it is the backbone of biochemistry (literally and figuratively), and it is still going to be a content area students must know in order to do well on the MCAT. The buzz about organic chemistry has to do with the direct amount of explicit questions on the new MCAT. While there will be fewer of these, the test will still emphasize the biological application of organic chemistry.

The human element of medicine and medical school

Our current pre-medical curriculum places almost zero importance on the human element of medicine. Sure doctors know a lot about science and the human body, but they also interact with patients, who are humans with emotions and backstories. For this reason, psychology and sociology will be introduced on the new MCAT to help students better understand and heal their future patients. No transition comes without its challenges, but the new MCAT 2015 is an overall win for the future of medicine. With students entering medical school with a stronger biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology background, schools can place greater emphasis on teaching the art of medicine. Tell us which MCAT 2015 topics you’d like to see covered on Kaplan’s Med School Pulse by commenting below.  For more insider news on the future of medicine, getting into medical school, and the MCAT, register for our monthly, online pre-med series: The Pulse. more
July 25, 2013

What Makes For a Good Test-Taker?

Hello my devoted MCAT students. For those of you who are taking a July or August test, you may be losing steam in your studies. I encourage you to not lose hope! You're almost to the finish line, so give it your all for these last few weeks or days. Today I want to talk about something that you may not have thought about while you're studying for the MCAT, but it will hopefully be useful both in your MCAT studies and ideally someday in your medical school studies: What Makes for a Good Test-Taker?
What separates people who are naturally good at test-taking from those people who are not naturally as good at test-taking? There are lots of theories about what separates the two groups. In fact, you may have some of your own theories, especially if you're one of the people for whom the idea of taking a test sounds less fun than spending a day in a 100 degree metal box incessantly scooping ice cream with flies stuck with fly paper glue to your elbow and knee. Sidenote- this is decidedly not fun. I know from experience (Thanks high school summer job!).
The theory I want to talk about today is the idea that people who are naturally better test-takers have a habit of looking for the overarching pattern that unifies the details rather than memorizing the details themselves. They understand the WHY behind the WHAT of what is actually happening. Great test-takers can see the big picture and unite ideas under a common theme. Now what do I mean by that? For example, I had a moment when I was studying for a Physiology exam. The nit-picky details of the nephron were eluding me. Na+ goes where? Cl- does what? Then I had a moment when I realized that all of the intricacies of the nephron all made sense if I simply viewed them all under the over-arching goals of the nephron. The flow of ions and water makes sense if you know WHY it is happening.
How can this help you while you're studying? Instead of mindlessly memorizing each step in a reaction or the flow of ions in the nephron, take the time to ask yourself WHY things are happening. Look for the patterns to help both with memorizing information, but more importantly understanding information. The MCAT is a critical reasoning test. It's to your advantage to practice critical reasoning while you're studying in addition to using it on the test itself.
Using this rockin' strategy, you too can study for the MCAT like those naturally excelling test-takers!
Happy studying! more
Applying to Med School
April 29, 2013

Medical School Insider is here!

Kaplan Test Prep will host our fourth annual Medical School Insider tonight, Monday, April 29th at 8pm ET.  This is our biggest event of the year for pre-meds and you absolutely don’t want to miss it! The insights revealed at #medInsider are incredible, they’ll really change the way you look at the admissions process!  Be sure to mark your calendar now for this year’s live streaming event. Save your spot by clicking here now!  

Medical School Insider more
Applying to Med School
April 22, 2013

7 Days Until Med School Insider 2013!

Kaplan Test Prep will host our fourth annual Medical School Insider on Monday, April 29th at 8pm ET.  This is our biggest event of the year for pre-meds and you absolutely don’t want to miss it! The insights revealed at #medInsider are incredible, they’ll really change the way you look at the admissions process!  Be sure to mark your calendar now for this year’s live streaming event. Save your spot by clicking here now! A sneak peak from one of the questions last year:

Do medical schools have a cutoff for GPA and MCAT scores? more
February 22, 2013

MCAT Re-booted: Sleep

Sometimes I think dogs have it best, they can just sleep all day.  It brings to mind the age old question, how long can you burn the candle at both ends? A typical pre-med week is jam packed with activities, classes, studying, and if it is that time in your career, MCAT studying! With so many things going on in and out of the classroom, many pre-meds start waking up earlier and going to bed later.  Dangerous habits can form with constant abuse of coffee, energy drinks, and medications.  While those can have their place, nothing can replace a good night’s rest. Sleep is vital to the body and the body is vital to the mind.  Recently a fellow colleague of mine forwarded a few articles over to me on how important sleep can be.  I couldn't resist bringing this topic up in the MCAT Re-booted series. First off, I must say sleep is highly individual on how much is truly required, but we all know when we get to the point where we are tired, irritable, and just generally sleep deprived. Now this won’t be a long drawn out blog entry on how to sleep better, but more a heads up to think about the things that can happen due to loss of quality sleep. (Yes, quality, sleeping in the library does NOT count!)  According to Harvard Health Publications here are 6 prime reasons to get enough sleep:
  • Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  • Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
  Remember the original challenge of MCAT Re-Booted is to be HAPPY in your MCAT studies. This IS possible, we need to remember that taking care of ourselves physically leads to better mental health! Coming up next week: nutrition! In all things #MCATdomination! more
February 21, 2013

Innovation and the AMA

It’s no secret that the world is constantly evolving, with new resources and technology being developed each day.  The medical field is no exception to the tides of change, and as a reflection of the rapidly changing nature of medical education, the AMA recently announced a grant initiative to jump-start the medical school revolution. You can read all about the grants and the request for proposals from the AMA, but it sounds like they are off to a roaring start. In the AMA’s post, they mention some specific areas for improvement such as including lessons on the “business” of medicine, emphasizing team-based care, and designing curricula which reflect technological innovations as well as the increasingly diverse patient population. They acknowledge that all of these areas will be of increasing relevance as medicine continues to evolve and not adjusting the medical school curriculum would be detrimental to both students and patients. Since I will be entering medical school this fall, I often find myself daydreaming about what I will be learning at this time next year.  With my public health background, I am curious to see how public health issues like the obesity epidemic, increasing resistance to vaccinations in certain communities, and large-scale changes to the medical system such as the Affordable Care Act will be incorporated into the medical school curriculum. I also wonder how medical school will prepare me to provide comprehensive care to people from all cultures and work with insurance companies. Which leads me to my question of the day- As MCAT test-takers and, ideally, future medical school students, what do you hope to learn in medical school? I mean, clearly you hope to learn about working with patients, diagnosing illnesses/injuries, pathology of disease, etc. Beyond the essentials, though, what is something that you are really hoping to learn during your time in medical school? more
February 18, 2013

MCAT Re-booted: Study Block Part 2

Continuing our discussion from ‘Part 1 of Study Blocks’ 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! more

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