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
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
November 8, 2013

2013 Kaplan Medical School Admissions Officer Survey: Social Media

Hey guys! I am back this week with a great question that came at the PERFECT time! What do medical school admissions have to say about the use of social media by applicants? In our recent 2013 Kaplan Medical School Admissions Officer Survey we found some interesting results! If you are looking for more answers to questions like below come join us for this month's pulse event!  Thursday November 14th at 8pm EST Admissions Officers Tell All! REGISTER TODAY!       [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
October 30, 2013

Kaplan Patrick Q&A: Efficient MCAT Studying Part 1

Hey guys! Following up on my student question from yesterday reminded me of a blog post I wrote a while back about proper MCAT studying. In order to help my students become more productive in their MCAT studies I always start with a question back! The first question to ask is how long should we be studying for?  Right away many say "9, 10 hours? All day even?" I am here to tell you that is simply not the case.  Remember that the goal for total hours studied for an MCAT should be around 300 hours on average. Keeping that in mind, a good number to start at is 6.  Just 6 hours is the max many study in a given day, often less. The important thing to note about these hours is that it is NOT 6 hours in a row.  Ideally, you want to break those 6 hours over 3 different sessions in the day.  Could you study for 6 hours in a row? Yes, absolutely you could, however, we find that students study more efficiently and put in more quality time when they limit a "study block" to only 2 hours.  This allows them to stay focused and work hard during that time frame and then back off and take a break. Below is a list of common daily schedules used by our students. I, once a Kaplan student, used the 'Early Riser' Schedule many days during my MCAT studies. This allowed me to accumulate a lot of study time that I otherwise would not have found. Early Riser If you can become an early riser and schedule some of your classes for the late morning/ early afternoon you can really utilize your mornings for MCAT study.   This is a very similar schedule to what I personally did in my own MCAT preparation. 8am - Wake and Breakfast 9am - First Study Session 10am - Workout 11am - Second Study Session 12pm - Classes 6pm - Dinner 7pm - Study for Classes 9pm - Rest/ Relax The "Not-a-Morning Person" Schedule Simply put some of us are just not morning people and that is totally OK! With the MCAT offering the 1pm start time on select dates this shouldn't cause any concern.  The trick to not being a morning person is to try and squeeze a study session in between your classes. 11am - Wake and Breakfast 12pm - Classes 2pm - First Study Session 3pm - Classes 6pm - Dinner 7pm - Second Study Session 8pm - Study for Classes 10pm - Workout 11pm - Rest/ Relax The Weekender As you can see in the two sample schedules above I always recommend time for a workout or at least some break that involves physical activity.  This can be the trick for keeping yourself focused and alert during long study days. Remember for most of us we are trying to balance class work with MCAT work! When you fall behind the best thing to do is to use your weekends to catch up! Most importantly you want to use at least one of your weekend days to take a full length exam. 10am - Wake and Breakfast 11am - First Study Session 1pm - Workout/ Lunch 2pm - Second Study Session 4pm - Break/ Errands 5pm - Study Session 7pm - Enjoy your time off. Remember it's the weekend! Stay tuned! More to come on what goes into those 2 hours of a "study block".  Remember a happier more efficient you in #MCATdomination!   [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
October 14, 2013

Finding Your Perfect Spot for Studying

Hello my diligent medical school hopefuls! Today I would like to talk about something that can make or break your studying success: how to find your perfect MCAT study spot. A couple of things to consider: 1. Do you study better around people or by yourself? 2. Do you like noise or quiet while you study? 3. How will your study spot contribute to your success on MCAT Test Day? I'll start with #3 first as it's the most important. Research has shown that your environment can actually have a large impact on your ability to remember information. Basically this works through a process called encoding. You use clues in the environment such as sounds, smells, lighting and mood to help you remember information. This can be beneficial if you're studying in the location where you're testing, but can be problematic if you're studying somewhere else. Essentially, if you're testing in a quiet location, you should study in a quiet location. If you're testing in a room full of people, you should study in a room full of people. The best place to study is actually the room in which you will be testing. If you're taking the MCAT, you won't be able to study in your testing room, but a quiet library will work just as well to mimic testing conditions. Now, I can hear the objections already. But Emily, you say, I can't possibly study without my iPod pumping Bruno Mars and Kesha into eardrums. In response, I say, if you're not going to get to listen to music during your exam, don't listen to music while you study. Unfortunately, you'll associate the information with the songs, instead of truly knowing it. You can see pretty quickly that #1 and #2 are lower priority when actually picking your study spot. It's also important to note that mixing up your study spot is essential to studying success! That way you know the information regardless of the room in which you're sitting and be assured that you'll be able to access that information during your test. So, feel free to spice it up and try a new study location. What's your favorite study spot? How does it help you on your test? I'd love to hear! Check out our article on Efficient MCAT Studying, which has sample study schedules for the "early riser," "not-a-morning-person," and "the weekender." Happy studying! [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
Tests & Scores
October 1, 2013

MCAT Fast Facts: Predicting Reactivity

In today’s Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts video from the Kaplan MCAT course, Dr. Jeff Koetje discusses how to predict reactivity 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….… ...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
Applying to Med School
September 18, 2013

What Will Med School Interviewers Ask You?

A review of Kaplan's The Pulse, experts join us as they discuss what you need to know about the Med School Interview and what things med school interviewers will ask you! In this video, Alicia Carlson-Bryant, explains what an interviewer is looking to ask an applicant! For more great videos, check Kaplan's MCAT YouTube Channel! [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] ...read more
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