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Deconstructing the MCAT Verbal: A guide for those who care to listen

Discussion in 'MCAT Discussions' started by MikeS 78, 07.07.00.

  1. MikeS 78

    MikeS 78 Senior Member

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    It has become apparent to me that the MCAT Verbal is a quite perplexing portion of the MCAT, indeed the first time I took the test I made a 5 (Practice thank god). But knowing what I know about tests, I began to analyze the intrinsic qualities of the test, for no test truly tests what it says it test, unless you don't understand how it test that (try saying that 5 times fast). I spent the next 3 months studying the MCAT, with focus on the Verbal, and ended up with a 12. I have since worked as a verbal and physics teacher for both Kaplan and TPR, which has further molded my understanding on the topic. I'm not saying I'm the god of all things MCAT, however I have seen alot of it in my day.

    It is my claim that anyone can increase their score (on all parts, but verbal especially) by merely understanding a few things about the test, and stategy on how to take it.

    Thus as a public service (and a distraction from more important tasks) I present:
    Mike's guide to the verbal MCAT:

    First let's begin with how the verbal is roughly organized.
    -9 passages (they claim some have 10 but I've never seen or heard of one with 10)
    -about 7 reading comp questions over each passage
    -65 total questions
    -77 minutes to complete it
    -1st thing in the morning (someone needs to die for that logistical choice)

    The first and most important Rule is

    FINISH AT ALL COSTS

    This does not mean random guessing per se, however, if thats what it end up being at first so be it. As you become more confortable with the test guessing will become unnecessary. The major thing here is, no one question is important enough to keep from finishing.

    Why is finishing so important
    To earn a 12 on the verbal one must get around 60-62 questions right depending on the test. If you miss an entire passage you start at an 11 right off the bat

    Also as we will see later, if you spend too much time thinking about this stuff you are almost definitely doing it wrong

    But mike, I know the rules of taking tests, but still I can't finish

    This is where strategy comes in:
    NEVER, EVER EVER DO THE PASSAGES IN ORDER

    The reason for this is the Bell Curve
    In order for the MCAT to be considered a statistically valid test, it must fulfill 3 basic criteria
    #1- It must provide some form of differentiation (ie some kids have to get 15's and others 5's)
    #2- It must provide some logical criteria for why a 12 is better than a 5
    #3- People who earn 12's on one test should earn similiar scores on future tests, assuming no changes are made (consistency)

    Thus in order to meet these standards, every verbal test must have both easy and hard passages, in predictable numbers and patterns, and this leads to an advantage on your part.
    Every MCAT I have taken, has had the following breakdown (in my opinion)
    4-Easy Straightforward
    3-Mildly difficult
    1-Relatively difficult, requires some thought
    1-Would anger Jacques Derrida (very difficult)
    The strategy here is to figure out which is which, and to do them in order of increasing difficulty, thus leaving yourself more time to finish the harder ones
    This leads us to the problem of discerning which is which, to determine this I provide a another classification scheme for these passages
    3-Natural sciences
    3-Social sciences(poli sci,psych,soci,anthro)
    3- Humanities- (english, history, philosophy)

    The Natural science passages are among the easiest ones without exception, all are straight forward, and involve topics we are all atleast somewhat familiar with. I always find these and do these first.

    The social sciences are a mixed bag, some are rather easy, others can be difficult, but they are never the worst passage

    The humanities tend to occupy both of the hardest two slots, and at the very least the worst passage on the test is always in this group (philosophy being the most common, english lit the second. The reason for this is 3 fold
    1) Science majors (a majority of kids taking the test) hate these passages and thus
    2) Being a humanities major myself, I can testify that there is no end to the number of people contributing to the library of passages made unreadable by the authors attempt to prove their own intelligence
    3) the passages tend to use rather large words without a definite need for these words, and thus tend to perplex and scare people at 9 in the morning
    To deal with this aspect of the test, I devised what I termed the 4 pass system. This involves going through the test 4 times, looking for and doing passages of increasing difficulty in order to score the easy points early and to gain a lead for the tough ones
    Pass 1-Nail all natural sciences, and any social science passage that is OBVIOUSLY an easy one (about 4-5 in this pass)
    Pass 2- Nail anything that after glancing through one paragraph, you know the main idea...the key is to not be afraid to recognize that you are reading a tough one early, and to drop what your doing and move on
    pass 3- Finish all but the worst passage
    Pass 4- hold on for dear life, score as many points as possible near the end

    How to spot bad passages- Generally they are obvious, for they use large words, that though you may know the meaning, you have to dig them up from your memory bank, for they are not typically on MSNBC on a daily basis. Rule of thumb, if you read the first paragraph and really haven't a clue what the author is saying, move on

    How to read...MCAT Style
    there are only three things you want out of an MCAT passage...period
    1) What the Author is talking about
    2) What the authors overall opinion on this topic is (there is almost always an opinion somewhere)
    3) What kind of information is located in each paragraph, in case you have to look something up

    To find this info Read the first and last paragraphs. If at this point you do not know #1 and #2 repeat, and if necessary read the 2nd paragraph. Then SKIM the following paragraphs to find what is in which paragraph. and head to the questions
    On the surface this would seem to be a bad way to read an argument,to essentially ignore all the backing for the claim of the paragraph, but this is the MCAT and not the real world and the method to this madness will become clear when we analyze the type of questions asked on the MCAT

    Contrary to what is empirically obvious, the MCAT only asks two types of questions (these are my names for them), and they must be approached entirely differently
    1) Find the fact
    2) Touchy Feely

    1) Find the fact-
    These questions require you to answer a question based entirely on what is said in the passage (or a reasonable approximation of such) these tend to be the more straightforward and unfortunately for many less frequent. This is where your skim comes in: When prompted to find a fact, go to the area where the information is located and put the answer most similiar to what is stated in the passage, often times it will ask you to find out what type of evidence is or isnt located in the passage. I hope I don't have to continue stating the obvious, but I need to describe this in order to contrast it with the technique for #2
    2) Touchy feely- These are the Harder questions, the more frequent, but once you know what your doing, they are the quickest questions
    It is key that you first know the authors opinion on the topic for your entire stategy will hinge on this opinion
    second one must know what questions qualify for this category in order to know when to use the technique
    there are two types
    1) Direct main idea questions- where the question explicitly asks for the passage's main idea
    2) Ones with "touchy feely" key words in the question- these words include Probably, most likely, can be inferred, the author would most likely say....basically any question where it does not ask you to explicitly look for something in the passage, and which uses vague, indirect language

    Here is the corner stone of your MCAT verbal attack
    The STUPIDITY MANUEVER
    This Idea came to me while analyzing practice tests, to determine why I was missing the questions that I was. The questions I was missing were mainly of the second type, and after some thought, I decided to take an entire verbal test where I always answered the touchy feely questions with the most obvious answer (the gut answer). This was the first time I ever scored in the double digits
    From this I concluded that on these questions I had been talking myself out of the right answers using a complex set of reasons based on factual evidence in the passage (like any good bright person would) and was talking myself out of the right obvious answer hence the following rule
    THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS RIGHT ABOUT 90-95% OF THE TIME...STUPIDITY RULES THE MCAT, IF YOU HAVE TO SPEND A LONG TIME JUSTIFYING ONE ANSWER OVER ANOTHER, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG
    Blanket stupidity is of course not that way to go,but the following algorhithm took me far
    1) Find the authors opinion (ie Beer is good)
    2) Identify any questions which qualify as touchy feely (this is an art form) (ie what is the authors opinion on breweries near high schools)
    3) look at the answers and eliminate any answers which either directly conflict with the authors opinion, or have nothing to do with that opinion (ie beer is bad or we should not sell cigarrettes to children)
    4) when in doubt narrowing down the rest,follow these rules
    -the more general answers tend to be right on these
    -Go with the gut

    a small number of these questions do not conform to these (usually they happen in the bad 2 passages), experience will teach you how to spot these

    Finally a word on the I, II,III questions
    a simple algorhythm for these
    1) look at the I,II,III part (the real answers) and eliminate all obviously wrong ones
    2) go to the answer choices and eliminate any ones affected by #1, then find out which answer (I, II Or III) is located in the most of the remaining choices
    3) test the validity of that answer in the passage or if a touchy feely one go with the gut
    4) repeat till other answers are eliminated

    One final word, buy any practice thing from TPR AND KAPLAN YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON, PRACTICE IS IMPORTANT AND BUY EVERYTHING FROM AAMC....NOTHING BEATS THE REAL TEST AS FAR AS ACCURACY
    information on purchasing the AAMC stuff is on the back of the booklet included in the mcat registration packet

    I would be willing to cover other sections if requested and any ?'s can be directed to Msughrue@hotmail.com
    Hadi7183, imran1011 and Rose1Line like this.
  2. fiatslug

    fiatslug Senior Member

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    EXCELLENT advice, Mike. Do you think the "gut feeling" thing is true with the sciences, too? Ah, I'm just glad I never have to take the bloody thing again!
  3. Sunnyleo

    Sunnyleo Junior Member

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    As a post-bacc who's tackling the science requirements and studying for the MCAT and working, I was thrilled to read your post. So often I read posts that serve one person or a singular interest. Yours was a motivator and I think useful information. I'll be taking the MCAT next April in Munich Germany and am glad to get the wicked verbal done earlier. I'll definitely tip a cold one in a German Beer Hall when I'm done.

    Thanks again for the advice...

    Karen
  4. cet

    cet Member

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    for the writing sample (i got an R, O or better is fine) they are looking for a simple formula:

    it should be 3 paragraphs, ~1.5 pages

    the first paragraph supports the statement using an example: personal, literary or current events.

    the 2nd paragraph counters the statement, using an example against it.

    the 3rd paragraph ties them together and you give and support your view.

    1, 2, 3 it is a snap!
  5. 2beornot2be

    2beornot2be Junior Member

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    MikeS

    Thanks for your analytical analysis of the verbal section. I think that you are right. There is definetly a pattern in the MCAT.

    One other observation. I think that the answers are designed to "trick" your memory of the passage so for the specific detail, or "find a fact" question you need to refer back to the passage to get the right answer. It also seems to help to eliminate the "trick" answers.

    Whatever you do DONT PANIC! That is what the test designers are counting on.

    Thanks again.
  6. alankar

    alankar Member

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    MikeS78 , Thankyou for decoding the impossible. I absolutely detaste the thought of those passages [​IMG] . But with your technique it seems achievable.I would love to hear more of your problem solving skills. [​IMG]
    Thanks a lot. [​IMG]
  7. Also, I have found that in the Natural Sciences passages bringing information that you may know from your science courses only HURTS you. If the passage says Hydrogen gas is monatomic, then regardless of what you know, pick the answer choice that agrees with the passage! Many times I found myself choosing answers that were beyond the scope of the passage (the bastards include answers that anyone who has taken advanced science courses would know). Don't bring in outside knowledge, the passage is your ONLY source of information! Hope this helps, it was hurting me initially (at least 5-10 questions each time). Good luck to everyone who's taking the August MCAT, I'll be joining you guys as well!

    -imtiaz
  8. wsingh

    wsingh Member

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    Good Advice! I can now look back and laugh at the MCAT bitch. I got accepted. As far as I am concerned, MCAT is the mother of all standardized tests. Its like being in labor for 8 hours with no pain meds. Good luck to all who are going in to face the beast!!!
  9. Street Philosopher

    Street Philosopher freebird

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    "don't bring in outside knowledge"

    that's easy for me. :D
  10. MD-bound

    MD-bound Member

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    Hey guys,

    Thanks for posting this thread again--I saw it during the winter but didn't send it to my friends as I planned. I think it really is the best advice you can give to someone struggling with the MCAT verbal section.

    So I am totally sending it to my crew for the August test!!!

    Peace ;)
  11. MD-bound

    MD-bound Member

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    Yo Wsingh,

    wuz up??? I recognized the Punjabi last name and thought I would send out a shout. Congrats on getting into med school--it's gonna be great!!!! :D

    Where are you going?
  12. Amy B

    Amy B I miss my son so much Moderator Emeritus Lifetime Donor

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    Thanks for the advice. I would like to hear your take on the PS and BS as well. I'm sure lots of other people would as well :eek: :p
  13. EricCSU

    EricCSU Senior Member

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    Check the date on the original post. Mike does not post regularly anymore, I'm not sure why. You may get a response, you may not; just a warning.

    Eric
  14. MikeS 78

    MikeS 78 Senior Member

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    i do post occasionally, however between the end of first year, and this summer's research internship at MSK I just don't have as much spare time, how ever I will write up something about ps/bs some time soon.....prob while running a gel or waiting for virus to grow

    mike
  15. Spang

    Spang SDN Angel

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    I used mostly the same strategies Mike suggests and scored from 10-12 on the practice tests (Kaplan and AAMC) and an 11 on the real deal.

    Although I only got 10's on the PS/BS I used similar strategies. Definitely use "The Force" and your gut.

    Spang
  16. EricCSU

    EricCSU Senior Member

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    Good to hear from you Mike. I had wondered what became of you. I have been recommending this thread to all the people asking about the verbal section. Have fun watching viruses grow.

    Eric
  17. Tweetie_bird

    Tweetie_bird

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    I wanted to bump this up for our Aug MCAT Kiddies.

    so..BUMP
  18. Doctor Octopus

    Doctor Octopus Shameless

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    one small correction to an otherwise awesome post.

    <you have 85, not 77 minutes to finish the verbal section>
  19. Femtochemistry

    Femtochemistry Skunk Works

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    </font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Originally posted by Tweetie_bird:
    <strong>I wanted to bump this up for our Aug MCAT Kiddies.

    so..BUMP</strong></font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Thx!
  20. Mudd

    Mudd Charlatan & Trouble Maker

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    TWEETIE: You are awesome! Thanks for the bump... this is the best post I have seen here.

    If you weren't the moderator already, I'd nominate you for it!
  21. Tweetie_bird

    Tweetie_bird

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    <img border="0" alt="[Laughy]" title="" src="graemlins/laughy.gif" /> Thanks Mudd!! :) It's good to know our efforts are appreciated.
  22. vixen

    vixen I like members

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    I remember when I first joined sdn, mike always had some good advice...thanks for the bump (and the old memories...) some people didn't like him cause they thought he was too cocky...
  23. agent

    agent agent, RN

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    great information! LOL
  24. CoffeeCat

    CoffeeCat SDN Angel

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    I think someone asked for this thread - up to the top you go :)
  25. BushBaby

    BushBaby Nipplelina

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    Just bumping this one up so it doesn't disappear.
  26. Sharky

    Sharky Shark

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    Mike, I think that's good advice for the verbal section however I took TPR and they would always tell us accuracy over speed. Perhaps, you are naturally a fast reader but for those whose reading speed is not as quick, it would be bad to finish the whole thing since they would most likely be missing alot per passage. For instance, if a person does 7 passages missing one question per passage, that would be on average around 42 correct with 7 questions per passage. Since, each letter is represented an approximately equal amount of time, it is fair to say that guessing one letter for the next 2 passages that have 14 questions altogether will give you about 4 to 5 more right with a total of around 47 correct give or a take a point. If you happen to miss none on some of the 7 passages you did, that would improve your score further giving you basically a score of 9 to 10 which I would say is a good score on the verbal section.
    On the the other hand, for the average reader going faster will inevitably cause you to lose accuracy. Say you were to finish all 9 passages but because you rushed you missed on average 3 per passage. This would give you a total of 38 correct, which is about a score of 7. In other words, it all depends on speed as well as accuracy. For those average readers, I would say it is better to take your time and really do well on 7 passages rather than rushing and doing 9 because mathematically you would probably get a better score even though on the surface it wouldn't seem so. Of course if you were able to finish 9 passages with great accuracy you will score higher, but for some people that just is difficult to do.
  27. Gamma Ray

    Gamma Ray Member

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    bumpperoo, excellent information!
  28. DW

    DW Fix me some sandwiches Moderator Emeritus

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    bumping this guy up for those prepping for april 2003 :D
  29. dph201

    dph201 Senior Member

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    Great Thread and DW thanks for bumping it
  30. DAL

    DAL no thank you

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    Bumping this puppy up due to the infux of questions about the Verbal section.
  31. Aptamer

    Aptamer Senior Member

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  32. meanderson

    meanderson Senior Member

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    This advice seems to totally contradict what EK says. And really, I don't see the point of skipping around passages. For starters, it takes time to actually determine what passages are easy and hard. That's time that could be used to answer questions. Also, Mike makes a point in stressing how important it is to read every passage and answer every question. This is good advice because everyone knows an 11 cannot be obtained with a passage skipped. But how does he reconcile giving that advice and then telling test takers to find the easiest passages to do first? He already told them they needed to do every passage, so why does it matter if you do the easy ones first or last? You're going to have to do them all anyways.
  33. ctv1116

    ctv1116 Member

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    meanderson, it matters because a lot of us need to warm up when taking the verbal. We usually aren't in total concentration at the beginning of the test and its nice to get into the groove of doing the verbal with the easy passages as opposed to the impossible ones. Once you get in the mood of taking the verbal, then you'll be ready to tackle the harder ones. Plus, if you get behind, you want to guess on the impossible passage as opposed to an easy passage.
  34. efex101

    efex101 IM Resident Moderator Emeritus

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    First of all you will not know which are easy or hard based on reading a few lines. Sometimes the easier questions came with the most obtuse passages and you could get all of them correct. To get 11's on any section of the MCAT you *must* read all passages and attempt to give your best answer to every single freaking question period. Going on a hunting expedition will be of no use, you loose precious minutes by doing this....
  35. HIIC

    HIIC Removed

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    I hate the MCAT

    If I ever find the sick sons of bitches who write those humanities passages, i will.......

    i mean, who the F*CK can ramble on and on for 6 paragraphs about the difference between intuitionism versus unisomethingism

    sh*t i dont even remember that word any more


    thank god i aint takin that sumbitch again!

    peace out my nizzles

    the HIIC
  36. farleyisgod

    farleyisgod you big dummy

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    sexy post
  37. Corey

    Corey Member

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    Mike, GREAT post. I know it's a little dated but i'm sure the strategies you explained still work. I guess i'll have to wait to find out next april/aug.

    Still waiting for those strategies for ps/bs.

    Thanks.
    Corey.
  38. silent

    silent Junior Member

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    Dman, I gotta say that Mike rocks. I was sort of doing my third EK 101 passage half-heartedly cause it was on my schedule of things to do today and I sort of remembered Mike's advice to pick the easiest choice. So, lacking the energy to put as much energy as i did into the first two tests i took i said what the heck, I'll just choose the stupidest answer that comes to mind - dang it if its wrong. And holy crap, i not only finished with 10 min to spare I totally aced that test.

    Use as few brain cells as possible. Choose the stupidest answer. I was thinking. And Mike was right. It works. At least on EK #3. lol

    Makes me think what all that wasted effort went to on my first two crappy ek 101 tests.
  39. lyragrl

    lyragrl Mold-a-rama fan

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    Somebody referred to this in another post. It's fantastic verbal advice.

    So, bumpity, bump. Read Mike's advice.
  40. ASDIC

    ASDIC The 9th Flotilla

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    I used Mike's advice on reading the first and last paragraphs and skimming the rest...it saves a lot of time.

    However, I dont understand how "stupidity" works because I eliminated the choices that are not supported by the passage...
  41. fun8stuff

    fun8stuff *hiding from patients*

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    Okay, well I must be the odd one. This method does not work for me at all. I get between 10 and 12 with reading the whole passage. I used this method for 3 passages and missed half of the questions. It just does not make any sense why you would not want to read the whole passage when the questions require an overall understanding of the whole passage, which I do not think you can always get from 2 paragraphs.

    Am I the only one?
  42. ASDIC

    ASDIC The 9th Flotilla

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    well this method will help you pace urself. If you can read the entire passage and understand it in about 2 and a half minutes, then you are in fine shape.

    I am currently practicing "rapid reading" skills with the NY times...so Mikes method is working for me. Once I become a sprinter in reading the passages, I will not skim them.
  43. Cerberus

    Cerberus Heroic Necromancer

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    I found the part about categorizing passages based on difficulty to be incredibly useful as timing is my weak point. I also found the bit about choosing the stupid answer on "touchy feely" questions to be pretty accurate.
  44. ssman

    ssman Member

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    your strategy is crap, yet I'm posting to bump up this thread so more of my competiion will waste their time doing 4 reads of the verbal section, spending precious moments of their brain fully functioning on "mapping out" the section.... which passage where/ how hard?/ trecherous humanity or easy science/long or short....

    why such a focus on the "section" (bellcurve normalized standardization to the (n+5th india discovered zero))-what counts is the questions and answers... for this I recommend EK. You'll find a RELEVANT strategy that proves why to focus on the questions and answers even Without the passages!! If you find this ridiculous you should buy their verbal strategy book and look at what they've done with questions from a real MCAT passage.
  45. Cerberus

    Cerberus Heroic Necromancer

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    my score went from 10 on 3R to 13-15 on 4R via this method....
  46. ssman

    ssman Member

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    wow works like magic. It's proven true. You've got a pagelength strategy that can move someone's score into the top percentile. this is more valuable than selling rights to a 100% wank-inducing porn. Anyone with half a brain would delay their medical studies and persue the financial prospects of this..even if it ends in dirty-charity hands. Do I hear a challenger to the Kaplan method? How much dollar did TPR stock lose?
    If you're looking for a reliable, affluent partner please PM me (strictly business please... none of the "touchy feely" you're fond of)
  47. Cerberus

    Cerberus Heroic Necromancer

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    :rolleyes: :rolleyes:
  48. zepplinfan

    zepplinfan Senior Member

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    I have to say that after looking at this method and at the EK method I have been studying, there aren't THAT many differences.

    The main differences seems to be the reading of the passage which would also seem to really only make differences when one has timing difficulties as cerebus did. I don't really think it matters how you get your timing as long as you get it (as in Cerebus's case).

    But both methods seem to emphasize the "main idea" idea and the author's opinion. I really believe that the method posted here (other than the reading method, is just a general form of EK's method. EK's verbal in which they show how to answer questions based on stems and how the relate to the author is well laid out no doubt. However, the only way it becomes releveant is IF AND ONLY IF you practice it quite effectively. I think that the method posted is quite similar......it's just not as specificlly laid out as EK.

    In the end, I think both methods would work (I'm doing EK), but either way, PRACTICE is most likely the only thing that will make either work effectively.

    I can only take Cerebus's word in that this method worked.

    Just my 2cents.

    ~ Zep
  49. Childe

    Childe Senior Member

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    Trust ek where it differs from this advice.
  50. 34140

    34140 Senior Member

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    Wow, your strategy sound very similar to kaplan, or maybe their strategy sounds similar to yours!!!!!!!!

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