May 2, 2013

An Ode to Verbal Reasoning

When preparing for the MCAT, most people can see the reason for needing to know Biology and General Chemistry because they are considered essential for practicing medicine. A case can also been made for learning Organic Chemistry and Physics since they are the basis for biological molecules and the processes which run the body. Hands down the biggest complaints that I hear are about the Verbal Reasoning section. Everyone wants to know: “How does my Verbal Reasoning score show my ability to be a good physician?” or “How does analyzing a passage about poetry make me a better doctor?”

Well, I am here today to defend the Verbal Reasoning section against the onslaught of criticism and general distaste that it receives from many MCAT test-takers. Here are a few reasons that you should love Verbal Reasoning-

1. Your score on the Verbal reasoning section is the factor that is most closely correlated with your success on the USMLE or board exams. Now, why is that? The skills needed in Verbal Reasoning involve taking in a large volume of information, processing that information and deciding what is relevant to answering the questions. Incidentally, those are the exact same skills which are needed in a clinical setting. Patients will provide a large volume of information through which you will need to sift, decide what’s important and make your diagnosis. Every day you spend struggling with a Verbal passage helps prepare you for your boards!

2. When practicing medicine, you will need to deal with people, customs, and beliefs which are unfamiliar to you. You will need to treat them much like you would treat the poetry passage. Both will provide you with novel information to process and challenging information to reason through to find a solution. By working with unfamiliar topics now, you are dealing with the frustration of not understanding a topic long before you ever work with a patient whose views are entirely foreign. So, yes, that passage about Chaucer will help make you a more understanding and empathetic physician in the long run.

3. We all know that the curve on Verbal Reasoning section is one of the least generous. This makes it a section that is ripe with opportunity. Each point that you increase on your Verbal score is putting you ahead of thousands of other applicants. Yes, it is hard to improve. However, when you do improve, it is a substantial accomplishment.

Hopefully this inspires you to take a fresh look at the Verbal Reasoning section! more
Tests & Scores
February 20, 2012

How to build the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule, Part 3

In our last two articles, we’ve introduced several tips and schedules to help you find study time in your packed premed schedule. Now, in our final entry of the Ideal MCAT Study Schedule series we are going to discuss the best way to approach your study materials to get the most out of those precious study sessions. Looking back on the sample schedules we discussed last time, you should note that we are trying to get in at least 20 hours of studying a week; at some point during those 20 hours, you should try to fit in at least: Now, I know that later in their courses a lot of students feel relatively comfortable with the science content on the MCAT, but become frustrated when their practice test scores seem to plateau. The key to improving on the MCAT is figuring out your greatest areas of opportunity – that is, the things you can study that will result in the biggest increase in points by test day. Tellingly, these areas of opportunity aren’t always specific subjects that need to be reviewed, but are often test taking skills or strategies that need to be addressed before you can move forward. One solution to this problem is to build the WHY I MISSED IT CHART; here’s an example of a template:
TEST Q# Passage/ Discrete Subject Topic Why I missed it?
For each question you miss, you’ll want to fill in the appropriate information on a chart similar to the one above. The goal is to focus on the items that reoccur time and time again in the last three columns; what are the mistakes that you keep making that are leading you to miss a large number of points. In my experience I’ve found that the better a student fills out this 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 so that you can keep track of your progress.
  • Q# - 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, although splitting it by section (Physical Sciences/Verbal Reasoning/Biological Sciences) may also be appropriate.
  • Topic – Was this an electrochemistry question, or thermodynamics? Filling in topic allows you to identify the specific topics of a subject you don’t know as well as you should. I find the best approach is to go back to the Review Notes and organize your topics by chapter and relevance to the MCAT, then study accordingly.
  • 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?
USAGE The point behind this entire exercise is to concentrate on efficiency. While it may take you only a ½ hour or so to complete a Topical Test, it should take you almost double the time to go back and review your mistakes (this will be even more apparent in full-length exams). By the end of that time you should be able to fully UNDERSTAND and CONCEPTUALIZE the questions that you missed, and that’s the first step towards a better score on the MCAT.  Happy Studies! more

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