Six Tips For Prospective Medical Students To Conquer The MCAT
MCAT: The Medical College Admissions Test, a test that is required of all applicants to medical school in the U.S. and Canada. The MCAT is “a standardized test used to assess applicants’ science knowledge, reasoning, and communication and writing skills.”
Though they aren’t the only important factor that medical school admissions take into account, your MCAT scores are obviously incredibly important for securing your spot in the medical school of your choice. Survey results have shown that at least 75% of medical schools consider MCAT scores to be the first or second most important factor for admission.
Just about every medical school has an MCAT cutoff score where they will not consider applicants with scores below that point. Though this cutoff will vary from school to school, you will probably need at least a 24 to get into any medical school at all. The good news is that a high MCAT score can compensate for other aspects of your medical school application, such as a less-than-ideal GPA.
The MCAT seeks to test not only basic scientific knowledge, but also problem solving skills. One of the most feared sections of the 6-hour long exam is the verbal reasoning section, which requires the ability to quickly process large amounts of information to come to a correct conclusion – a valuable skill both in medical school and for practicing physicians. Unfortunately, this section of the test does not really require a base of scientific knowledge, making it difficult to really study or prepare for.
Here are six basic tips to guide you through the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT:
- Know what to expect
The verbal reasoning section is the last section of the MCAT. You will have 90 minutes to answer 53 questions about 9 different passages. Each passage will have about 5-6 related questions, giving you approximately 10 minutes to read the passage and answer the questions. These passages and questions probably won’t be explicitly science-related: about 50% of the material has to do with humanities subjects, and the other half is related to understanding social sciences.
- Practice speed-reading
To answer the questions in this section correctly, you must read each passage and be able to recall the information quickly and accurately. Each of the 9 passages in the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT will be about 600 words in length, so it is absolutely essential for you to be able to read and process the information quickly without losing any comprehension. Fortunately, you can improve your reading speed with practice – try reading an information-heavy source (such as The Economist or The New Yorker) for about half an hour every day, while focusing on improving your speed by a little bit each day.
- Process of elimination
This general test-taking strategy can most certainly be used in the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT, since all the questions are in multiple choice format. After reading (and understanding!) the passage, focus in on the answer options that have been directly contradicted by the information given and cross them out as options. This practice of ruling out incorrect answers with process of elimination will improve the odds of your answering correctly.
- Go forward, not back
Try to answer all the questions from each passage before moving on to the next one – the less you can backtrack during this section, the better. You have a better chance of answering questions correctly if you have the information you just read freshly in your head. You are also more likely to be able to answer all questions within the time limit if you don’t need to switch your brain between several different topics and back.
- Practice, practice, practice
This tip is fairly obvious but still important: take as many practice tests as you can before the MCAT. Doing so is particularly important for the verbal reasoning section because this section does not require studying and memorization of facts, but rather tests you on skills and abilities. The best way to improve this is by taking as many practice tests as you can so you can analyze your own strengths and weaknesses and test yourself for improvement.
- Stay relaxed
The worst thing you can do during the MCAT is to freak out for lack of time or rush yourself too much. Both of these will compromise your mental abilities to read and process information. Try to avoid actively rushing, and stay focused on the material in front of you instead of becoming distracted by the fear of running out of time.