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They feel useful (especially to less informed customers), remind people of college textbooks, and don't do any active harm. Plus it's the safe option from a corporate standpoint—very few people complain about these questions being there, but people would complain about it if you took them away. Trying to transform them into something more MCAT-like would be an uphill battle involving energy that could be better spent elsewhere—in other words, hypothetically, if I'm a content person at Xxxxxx and I'm trying to pitch my boss on the idea or transforming the end-of-chapter questions, the follow-up would be (1) why fix it if it's not broke in terms of customer complaints, (2) if we are going to invest in creating new, MCAT-like questions and passages, why not put them somewhere with a greater payoff, like in a QBank or something? To be clear, I don't and haven't worked at Xxxxxx specifically, but in previous job roles in MCAT prep I've had very, very similar conversations, and I can tell you that the inertia can be strong when it comes to issues like this.

At this stage, it's about progress, not perfection. Use your judgment. Some discrete questions relate more to core concepts, other relate more to little details that you might only get around to memorizing later. It can't hurt to review the questions—that'll help make the content more familiar when you see it again later in your prep process. But don't let these questions grind you to a halt. Learn what you can, do your best to make sure that you understand the material well enough to be able to tackle a related passage, and move on so that you can focus more on practicing with realistic materials to solidify your knowledge.

I read this comment in another thread and figured it would be better to start a new thread than diverge from the topic in that one.

This is one of the most well articulated posts I've seen at SDN in a long time. I'm really impressed by your insights and thoughts Andrew. I want to propose a different theory on what shows up in books though, and my gut feeling is that in the end we are both partly right.

I'll start by saying that I have no insights whatsoever into to how others write their materials, but changing (improving) questions is one of the easiest things to do in a book, especially if it is reprinted frequently. I completely agree that some companies aim to create a scaled-down text book so that their customers have a comfort level transitioning from their college study habits into MCAT preparation. My personal opinion is that such a book style is a huge disservice, because one of the top priorities in preparing for the MCAT is to get used to and ultimately master how to approach the unique passage-based style of the MCAT. The MCAT may cover what you learned in college, but their questions are asked in a noticeably different way.

In the case of our books, and we are a mom-n-pop as opposed to corporate, we change some questions with every print run (we reprint about every two years, with each book on its own reprint timeline). We are the second oldest MCAT company, so we have watched many new companies start up, some blossoming and some dying out within a short span of time. The harsh reality is that as a start up company, one of the natural tendencies when creating materials is to look at what is already out there. As an older company, that makes our materials a model.

Thirty years ago, we were very protective and worried about this, so we only released our materials to students in our actual classes. We constantly updated (twice per year, matching the number of times the MCAT was given back then). The really cool strategies and shortcuts were not in a printed format. The newest and best shortcuts, mnemonics, and tricks were only written on the board in class. When we finally decided to make our books available to the general public about twenty years ago, we were very concerned about our questions, and more importantly our unique strategies, being stolen. Little by little, with each new printing, we added more of our tricks into them. Admittedly though, there are still some tricks (mostly the more recently developed ones) that only show up in class, but the vast majority are in the books. We ultimately concluded that we needed to make them available to students using our books for home study. I still remember when our famous (make that Todd's famous) hand trick for glucose was printed, because that one is a bit controversial and it was discussed heavily. Twice we voted to not include it until finally saying "what the glucose!"

My point in all this is that there is a chance that a company may be choosing to put less-useful questions in their books so that their best ones don't get pilfered, be it by a start up company or the pdf pirates. We gave up on this approach years ago and just accepted that you can find knock-offs of our questions elsewhere. We chose to combat this with volume, figuring that releasing nearly 7000 questions in our books would be too much for someone to model them all. I'm convinced that some companies may keep their materials in a way that others companies cannot see them in an effort to protcect them, but there is the real possibility that it is to prevent the original company from seeing that this new company had modeled them.

There's no way to know what the motives are, but the resistance to change you describe is likely rooted deeper than inertia.

I will say that I disagree with the notion that there is no harm in doing questions that are hyperfocused on details. While it can be justified that they are helping with content recall, the reality is that the harm they cause is using up precious study time. That time should be spent on more realistic questions. Content is not the issue for most students; learning to approach questions more systematically is the bigger issue and that is only done through exposure to and practice with realistic questions.

Thanks again for posting such an articulate message.
 
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I read this comment in another thread and figured it would be better to start a new thread than diverge from the topic in that one.

This is one of the most well articulated posts I've seen at SDN in a long time. I'm really impressed by your insights and thoughts Andrew. I want to propose a different theory on what shows up in books though, and my gut feeling is that in the end we are both partly right.

Thank you—it's appreciated, I've always been a fan of TBR's resources and of your presence on SDN (my current account is new, but back in 2017–2018 I posted a fair amount on SDN from another company).

I would agree that we're both partly right on this, simply because to some extent the dynamic is going to vary from company to company. I do think, though, that the larger a company is, the more likely inertia and corporate politics are likely to play a role in materials development, especially in anything perceived to be legacy or traditional like books (I'm not saying that perception is necessarily fair, just that it exists and is fairly common). In particular, the idea of taking something away (like end-of-chapter questions) would be threatening to anyone who either has to field questions from people just starting to explore materials and doesn't feel very confident about why such a choice was made (i.e., salespeople/marketing staff) or whose livelihood depends on explaining their choices [or the choices of their direct reports] to people who don't know and don't care about the details of the test (i.e., upper management at larger companies, especially those with a more complex ownership structure).

I'll start by saying that I have no insights whatsoever into to how others write their materials, but changing (improving) questions is one of the easiest things to do in a book, especially if it is reprinted frequently. I completely agree that some companies aim to create a scaled-down text book so that their customers have a comfort level transitioning from their college study habits into MCAT preparation. My personal opinion is that such a book style is a huge disservice, because one of the top priorities in preparing for the MCAT is to get used to and ultimately master how to approach the unique passage-based style of the MCAT. The MCAT may cover what you learned in college, but their questions are asked in a noticeably different way.

In the case of our books, and we are a mom-n-pop as opposed to corporate, we change some questions with every print run (we reprint about every two years, with each book on its own reprint timeline). We are the second oldest MCAT company, so we have watched many new companies start up, some blossoming and some dying out within a short span of time. The harsh reality is that as a start up company, one of the natural tendencies when creating materials is to look at what is already out there. As an older company, that makes our materials a model.

Thirty years ago, we were very protective and worried about this, so we only released our materials to students in our actual classes. We constantly updated (twice per year, matching the number of times the MCAT was given back then). The really cool strategies and shortcuts were not in a printed format. The newest and best shortcuts, mnemonics, and tricks were only written on the board in class. When we finally decided to make our books available to the general public about twenty years ago, we were very concerned about our questions, and more importantly our unique strategies, being stolen. Little by little, with each new printing, we added more of our tricks into them. Admittedly though, there are still some tricks (mostly the more recently developed ones) that only show up in class, but the vast majority are in the books. We ultimately concluded that we needed to make them available to students using our books for home study. I still remember when our famous (make that Todd's famous) hand trick for glucose was printed, because that one is a bit controversial and it was discussed heavily. Twice we voted to not include it until finally saying "what the glucose!"

My point in all this is that there is a chance that a company may be choosing to put less-useful questions in their books so that their best ones don't get pilfered, be it by a start up company or the pdf pirates. We gave up on this approach years ago and just accepted that you can find knock-offs of our questions elsewhere. We chose to combat this with volume, figuring that releasing nearly 7000 questions in our books would be too much for someone to model them all. I'm convinced that some companies may keep their materials in a way that others companies cannot see them in an effort to protcect them, but there is the real possibility that it is to prevent the original company from seeing that this new company had modeled them.

That's fascinating, I really appreciate you sharing TBR's experiences with that issue. My impression is that many companies don't necessarily consider end-of-chapter questions to be the highest priority, which may reflect IP concerns as you mention, but also perhaps a desire to pioneer other modalities of instruction than books—and other modalities than print when it comes to passages. For instance, there's the opinion that practicing within a precise replica of the AAMC interface is inherently much more valuable than doing pencil-and-paper passages. (FWIW, I don't have an extremely strong opinion in this regard; all things being equal, better representativeness would be preferable, but I suspect the difference is largely outweighed by the quality of the materials and the mindset of the person doing the work.)

There's no way to know what the motives are, but the resistance to change you describe is likely rooted deeper than inertia.

I will say that I disagree with the notion that there is no harm in doing questions that are hyperfocused on details. While it can be justified that they are helping with content recall, the reality is that the harm they cause is using up precious study time. That time should be spent on more realistic questions. Content is not the issue for most students; learning to approach questions more systematically is the bigger issue and that is only done through exposure to and practice with realistic questions.

Yes, opportunity cost is absolutely an issue, and the magnitude of that issue depends on how much time those resources eat up.

Thanks again for posting such an articulate message.

And thank you for your detailed response!
 
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