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Deconstructing the Verbal MCAT: A guide for those willing to listen

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by MikeS 78, Jul 7, 2000.

  1. MikeS 78

    MikeS 78 Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    May 29, 2000
    east coast
    It has become apparent to me that the MCAT Verbal is a quite perplexing portion of the MCAT for many, 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 tests, 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


    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:

    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 too 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 on the bad one

    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
    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
    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 most likely 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 until other answers are eliminated

    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 [email protected]
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  3. nmehta211

    nmehta211 Member 10+ Year Member

    Jan 26, 2000
    Windsor, CT USA
    Thank you so much for your very in-depth and thorough analysis of verbal strategies. I am going to go try it right now on a verbal section and then tomorrow on my practice MCAT. I feel more confident already. I would certainly be curious and interested in what you advise concerning science passages.

    Thanks Again!
  4. moo

    moo 1K Member 10+ Year Member

    Jul 4, 2000
    You teach many of the same strategies that TPR teaches. I have been doing a lot of practice passages lately. The ones I seem to have the most trouble with are the psychology ones. Maybe it's the vocab that intimidates me, but these are the ones I screw up the most. I always leave these last. Anyway, my strategy is somewhat different from what TPR teaches. I always start with passage 1, but if that turns out to be a psych passage I skip it and leave it to the end. If it's easy, or medium, I do it right away. Then I go to passage 2. If that's hard, I skip it, if not I do it, and so on. I actually read the entire passage quickly, but actively. That way, I usually get the author's main idea, his tone, and his stance on the issue. I make a "mental map" of where everything is... where the examples are, where he defines key concepts, etc. (I find it too slow to circle key words and concepts. It interrupts my flow of thought.) Then, when I encounter a question that is not a main idea or tone question, I quickly, but actively read the answer choices. If one of them makes sense to me, I go back to the passage and check it out to confirm it. But usually there will be two answer choices that sound similar. This is when you have to go back to check out what the passage says or implies. THIS IS WHAT I FEEL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. You may remember approximately where in the passage something was said about something, but YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT WAS SAID. Therefore, you must go back to check and confirm that indeed it is the right answer. The MCAT likes to throw you off, and give you answers that sound right (were mentioned in the passage) but do not apply to the current context of the question.

    One more piece of advice to you all. If you are scoring very low on verbal, I suggest you start restudying by doing one passage, and give yourself all the time in the world. Most of you should be able to score almost every question correctly if you do this. I believe that the verbal section is all psychological. If you start having confidence in yourself, you can start doing passages quicker, until you're down to the optimal speed, 1.3 minutes/question.
  5. RKK

    RKK Junior Member 10+ Year Member

    Jun 12, 2000
    Hey, Mike, any advice for the physical sciences would be GREATLY appreciated!!! [​IMG]
  6. Medschooldreamer

    Medschooldreamer Member 10+ Year Member

    Jul 12, 2000
    Thanks for all the advice. I feel more confident now.
    You mentioned that we should try to get our hands on AAMC practice exams. I personally can't afford them as I just spent $260 Canadian to register for the MCAT. I checked all the libraries in Vancouver and they don't have them. Actually, the only material I have is the Gold Standard MCAT manual with 4 practice exams. Any advice on what I should do?

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