Tests & Scores
August 27, 2013

Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts 7: Argumentation

In today’s Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts video from the Kaplan MCAT course, Dr. Jeff Koetje discusses argumentation from Verbal Reasoning 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
Tests & Scores
August 13, 2013

Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts 5: Key Words

In today's Kaplan MCAT Fast Facts video from the Kaplan MCAT course, Dr. Jeff Koetje discusses verbal reasoning key words 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 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!

  ...read more
October 25, 2012

MCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips: What to Focus On in Passages

I recently received an email from one of my Kaplan MCAT students: "Hey Alex, I have been doing practice exams and I am still a little confused on the most effective way on how to go about handling the Verbal Reasoning section. I have found out that it is near impossible for me to fully read the passage and answer the questions for each passage and have time for all the passages. Is there a more effective way to read each passage and understand them so that I have time to read each passage and answer all the questions?" So I figured I'd recap some of my advice and hopefully help you boost those Verbal scores.  Let me drive home one super-important point: Verbal requires diligent preparation, advanced critical thinking skills, and an attention to both the "forest" and the "trees" (pardon the cliché).  And studying requires time, practice, and very active review of your practices exams for patterns. Recognize that you'll never be able to read every word and understand the whole passage and answer the questions in the time required.  After having done ... well ... definitely over 1000 Verbal Reasoning passages in my life, I still definitely can't read, comprehend, and answer everything in the time.  That's why, strategically, there are certain things you are looking for.  Be comfortable with this!  (I know that's easier said than done). Remember that the majority of questions will boil down to one of a few concepts:
  • How does this author structure their passage?  You have to know why any individual paragraph is there, and know that the purpose of the other information in that paragraph is likely to support the main idea of the paragraph!  It is important, as a skill, to think about structure because when passages deviate from the expected structure there are likely points to be gained in your score (they're going on and on about advantages of something, and ... never mention disadvantages?  That's odd!  They must be biased.).
  • What is the author's opinion?  And -- for that matter -- if they mention other sources, what are their opinions?  Opinion is always rich with opportunities for questions, of all different types
  • What are the author's biases?  Similar to the opinion, but you have to judge how neutral (or fair) they are.  A whole passage defending a painter’s decline in status, for example, is filled with biases, opinions, etc. and you have to keep them straight!
  • What is the significance of such a passage?  The MCAT likes people who challenge the status quo.  That's why "traditional" views are often refuted and "new" views are touted.
This is a lot to focus on, outside of what the words are actually saying.  But the point here is that focusing on the structure of the passage and understanding the author's opinion will help you detect what is important.  Remember -- rhetorical questions (filled with opinion, and an interesting structural technique) are goldmines for MCAT questions.  And they tend to be easy to understand.  If something doesn't seem key to the structure, or doesn't seem full of opinion (maybe quoting statistics, or what just appears to be convoluted filler text) is unlikely to be important. What else have you found helpful for preparing for Verbal Reasoning on your MCAT? ...read more
Tests & Scores
April 25, 2011

MCAT Verbal Reasoning: This isn’t your doctor’s MCAT

By Sam Asgarian, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor

Physicians are mainly scientists by training. Ask a typical pre-med what classes they’re taking and they’ll probably name a slew of science classes that most undergrads would cringe at. The MCAT too is unique in the amount of science it includes; while most standardized tests are composed of a language section and a math section, the MCAT has very little direct math and lots of science instead. The exam does, however, have a language section. It might come as a surprise to many people that this section, Verbal Reasoning, is considered by many medical schools to be the most important section in determining an applicant’s potential to be a great physician.

One thing that makes the MCAT demanding is the sheer volume of content it covers; students spend a great deal of time in the classroom and at home pouring over the different topics, formulas, and pathways to learn it all. As a Kaplan instructor, however, I remind students all the time that knowing all that information is useless if you can’t recall it quickly and effectively. When a physician walks into an exam room, she has to be able to filter through the plethora of knowledge she has and diagnose the patient in a timely manner. Can you imagine how you would feel if your doctor told you she needed a couple hours to think about what you might have and that she’d get back to you once she thought of it?

The Verbal Reasoning section is crucial because it differentiates the test-takers who have no issue memorizing the content from the test-takers who are great at thinking critically. There are no formulas or molecular theories in the Verbal section - instead, you are presented with some information (a passage), asked to read between the lines and find the topic, the scope, and the purpose of the passage as a whole, and answer questions about that passage to ensure that you understood it. Does that sound familiar? It should, because each time you walk into a clinic to see patients, you’ll be expected to read between the lines of their history and use the fund of knowledge you have to treat them. The patient may tell you that he fell and hit his head (the topic). You’ll need to think critically and find out if he fell because he’s clumsy or because he may have an underlying illness (the scope). Then you’ll have to find out how much damage he sustained so that you can treat him and make him better (the purpose).

An MD is different from a Ph.D. in that an MD needs to interact closely with people to learn more about them, gain their trust, treat them, and ensure their health and well-being. While the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections are great at measuring a test-taker’s scientific knowledge, the Verbal Reasoning section tests an MCAT student’s ability to communicate with, understand, and relate to people through strong language skills. For this reason, the section is an extremely important part of a medical school application and cannot be neglected. At Kaplan, students are trained to look beyond the words for clues to what the test-makers are trying to convey in a Verbal Reasoning passage. Ultimately, our students learn to differentiate what is important from what’s just “filler” in a passage, and to predict where the questions are going to come from. This ultimately allows them to hone in on the correct answers and do extremely well in a demanding and vital section of the MCAT!

...read more
Tests & Scores
December 13, 2010

The MCAT Verbal Reasoning Section

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. This week, I am focusing on the section of the MCAT that is most often dreaded by test takers: verbal reasoning. After years of science classes, formulas, calculations and memorization, you are up against a section that flashcards simply cannot help you with. For some test takers, this section comes naturally; the English majors among you may not see what the big deal is. However, for many test takers, VR is the most challenging section. As a result some myths have developed regarding this section of the test, such as: “Med schools don’t care that much about the verbal score” Not true. They care a lot about each section. In fact, the verbal section gives the schools information about how you can analyze and interpret new information, whereas the science sections are about memorizing facts and applying those to various scenarios. “You can’t study for the verbal reasoning section. Either you are good at it or you’re not.” After years of having taught the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT course I can say with certainty that you can study for the verbal section. The preparation for this section is different than for the other sections, but it is very possible to improve your score. To achieve a great score on VR, make sure you do the following: Begin preparing early: If years of reading textbooks that contain mainly numbers and symbols has atrophied your ability to read anything comprised solely of words quickly and accurately, then you need to start practicing to regain that skill. Make reading a daily habit. Focus on good works of fiction, news articles, journals and anything else that is well written and complex. Go to your college library and pick up some journals on art history, political science, psychology or just about anything else and spend at least a half hour a day reading them. For science topics, look for articles geared towards a nonscientist. Dedicate time to the VR section during your MCAT studies. Reading each day is a good start for preparing for VR, but you also need to do many MCAT practice passages to be ready for test day. Set aside study time for the VR section just as you do for the other sections of the test. Too often, the days slip by and the study time gets split up 50-50 between the physical and biological sciences sections with the VR getting put off for later. Make a study schedule and block out times to practice VR. And don’t forget to actually stick to the schedule! Work on your timing – One of the most frequent causes of a low score VR is running out of time, leaving one, two or more passages incomplete or answered through random guessing. Time yourself and see how long it takes you to complete a passage. Then figure out the difference between that time and the time you should take to complete a passage. Now, slowly bring that time down. Try to knock 30 seconds off the time, then 60 and so on. Often, accuracy does not suffer as much as you would think by going faster, and the time saved will allow you to complete all of the passages, giving you a shot at a truly high score. Now you have a good excuse to break away from your chemistry book and read something else. Just don’t take it too far and spend your time perusing celebrity gossip sites on the Internet or checking scores in the sports section of the paper. That is not studying. Not even for verbal reasoning. ...read more
Tests & Scores
January 11, 2010

The MCAT Verbal Reasoning Section

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. This week, I am focusing on the section of the MCAT that is most often dreaded by test takers: verbal reasoning. After years of science classes, formulas, calculations and memorization, you are up against a section that flashcards simply cannot help you with. For some test takers, this section comes naturally; the English majors among you may not see what the big deal is. However, for many test takers, VR is the most challenging section. As a result some myths have developed regarding this section of the test, such as: “Med schools don’t care that much about the verbal score” Not true. They care a lot about each section. In fact, the verbal section gives the schools information about how you can analyze and interpret new information, whereas the science sections are about memorizing facts and applying those to various scenarios. “You can’t study for the verbal reasoning section. Either you are good at it or you’re not.” After years of having taught the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT course I can say with certainty that you can study for the verbal section. The preparation for this section is different than for the other sections, but it is very possible to improve your score. To achieve a great score on VR, make sure you do the following: Begin preparing early: If years of reading textbooks that contain mainly numbers and symbols has atrophied your ability to read anything comprised solely of words quickly and accurately, then you need to start practicing to regain that skill. Make reading a daily habit. Focus on good works of fiction, news articles, journals and anything else that is well written and complex. Go to your college library and pick up some journals on art history, political science, psychology or just about anything else and spend at least a half hour a day reading them. For science topics, look for articles geared towards a nonscientist. Dedicate time to the VR section during your MCAT studies. Reading each day is a good start for preparing for VR, but you also need to do many MCAT practice passages to be ready for test day. Set aside study time for the VR section just as you do for the other sections of the test. Too often, the days slip by and the study time gets split up 50-50 between the physical and biological sciences sections with the VR getting put off for later. Make a study schedule and block out times to practice VR.  And don’t forget to actually stick to the schedule! Work on your timing – One of the most frequent causes of a low score VR is running out of time, leaving one, two or more passages incomplete or answered through random guessing.  Time yourself and see how long it takes you to complete a passage. Then figure out the difference between that time and the time you should take to complete a passage. Now, slowly bring that time down.  Try to knock 30 seconds off the time, then 60 and so on. Often, accuracy does not suffer as much as you would think by going faster, and the time saved will allow you to complete all of the passages, giving you a shot at a truly high score. Now you have a good excuse to break away from your chemistry book and read something else. Just don’t take it too far and spend your time perusing celebrity gossip sites on the Internet or checking scores in the sports section of the paper. That is not studying. Not even for verbal reasoning. ...read more

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