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Guest IRM

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Hi guys,

I studied almost everyday for about 6 weeks diligently in hope of writing the last MCAT, however, decided not to write it on Friday as I kept scoring 5-6 out of 15 in the verbal section of AAMC III,IV, and V [but did well on PS/BS (10-13)]. I had access to Kaplan/Gold

standard/AAMC practice items and the 5 practice tests.

I went through all of it over the past 6 weeks. It was very dissappointing not writing it - but I am pretty certain, I wouldn't have gotten an 8, which is what I need to get. I know VR is probably the hardest part to train for - but I have about 8 months to do all that I can.

So the question is how do I get there?


I usually have trouble finishing the exam (only get to about 7 passages)- so I know I need to work on that. I've started to read the Economist as per few earlier suggestions for speed and comprehension. Does it really help? Since there are numerous reading materials, where would I go for appropriate additional reading materials: philosophy/psychology/art journals? Some people have suggested reading sections of encyclopedia?

Do you think taking either Kaplan or TPR might help (Please note, I don't need their help in sciences, only VR). If I end up taking their course, which one is better ie. who emphasizes VR more. In addition, whose verbal questions are going to prepare one best for the exam.

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Guest Kirsteen



That's unfortunate that you didn't feel confident enough to write this past weekend. When it comes to scores, it's so difficult to predict how you'll do--it so very much depends on how everyone else did along with you.


I wrote the MCAT last year after taking the Kaplan course and did well on the science and WS sections, but managed to pull off only a nine in VR. While it's a mark that will make the cut-off at some schools, it doesn't at others, so I decided to be subject to the same ordeal and write it again this year, but with Princeton Review's help instead.


Obviously, I cannot comment on how well I did this year compared to last due to the large number of factors that inevitably contribute to your final VR mark, but I was more confident and happier with my VR approach. I would recommend Princeton for the emphasis that they place on VR as well as the level of difficulty of their materials, but in your case, it's an expensive venture if you're already doing quite well on the science sections. However, the materials provided by Princeton were not only numerous, but good training fodder. The "In-Class Compendium" that we used for each class contained passages of a pretty high level of difficulty, so it seemed that they really tried to stretch your capabilities--in all three numerical sections of the test. Also, the mock exams that they provided (of their own creation) were probably a bit more difficult, or at the same level of the AAMC IV, V and past two MCATs that I wrote--except for their PS section which has been tougher than both official PS MCAT sections that I've written--which have remained weirdly simple.


Among some of the things learned that you may wish to try whether or not you actually go to take the course:


a) When you're reading materials such as The Economist, the newspaper and other journals, try to concentrate on your reading skill. That is, if you find yourself reading and re-reading sentences then you are using up precious VR time. It may help you read a little more efficiently if you can force yourself to push your eyes forward as you read, and as you do so, make sure that your comprehension whilst reading that sentence is bang-on. In short, try to get as much out of reading a line the first time, as you can so that you do not feel the necessity to go back and re-read it.


B) I don't have to tell you that you really need to work on your timing if you're only managing to complete seven of the nine passages in any given test. First off, if you don't already own one, buy a timer! Roots sells a great wee one for ~$15 which I picked up about six weeks ago. You may want to start out by breaking the passage down into discrete units. When "training" for VR, it may be helpful to begin by scrupulously allotting a maximum of twelve minutes to read the passage and answer its questions. From there, try to whittle the time down to 8.5-9 minutes per passage. You may want to try reading the passage within four minutes and then using the remaining amount of time to answer the questions. However, again, do not allow your level of comprehension to become a slave to the necessity of finishing each passage within nine minutes! You've got to try to keep that level of comprehension up as well as get your time down. Just keep practising.


c) One thing that dramatically enhanced my scores this time around was making sure that I did not move from one paragraph to the next without having a good understanding of what the author was saying in that paragraph. That doesn't mean memorizing the details, it means just understanding what they were trying to get across. If I didn't clearly get the gist of his/her argument in that paragraph then I'd re-read it before moving on. This sounds a little contradictory given what I was mentioning above, but it's a little different than simply allowing your eyes to run over a line without actually let any of it sink in. Sometimes you'll encounter a paragraph where, at its end you're saying, "Um, what did they just say with that?"; often the language or ideas presented may be complex. Often, also, those ideas are necessary to complement the understanding of the following paragraphs. So take a little more time to focus understanding that complex paragraph. It will speed things up in the end given that the following paragraphs should slot in more nicely to your holistic understanding of the passage, and you may have a better grip of the material which will help when eliminating wrong answer choices. All too often I found that if I did not reread the murky paragraph, the next bunch of paragraphs would become even more murky and many of the questions would seem alien if this was not done.


Initially, this process may seem lengthy and wasteful, but you may be surprised to find that as you practice, you'll manage to do all of this within the four minutes and you'll have an excellent idea of what is going on with what you've just read. By doing this, when you get to the questions (although it's a good idea to always check the paragraph to reinforce that the answer you are choosing is correct and not simply a misleading choice) you should find that 30-40% of the answers will be much more obvious than before. Not only does this increase your accuracy, but it also decreases the amount of time that you spend on each question section and the passage, overall.


d) When "training" and using VR passages, try to work on one or two at a time, initially. Also, Princeton provided us with an excellent analysis sheet that allowed us to analyze our passages with respect to time, question type, etc., and highlight the areas that needed extra work--I used this sheet for every full length verbal section that I did (many) as well as each 3-6 passage section that I completed. If you can construct something like this for yourself, where you can go back and diagnose the areas that are tripping you up, e.g., which questions are constantly giving you problems, or other such patterns, that will help.


Overall, with respect to VR it's a matter of repeated practice. You've got to keep at it to build your confidence to the point where you can spot a passage that will give you trouble, or intuitively know when you may be running long on time and have to pick up the pace without increasing your level of panic. By doing so over and over again, you'll get to the point where you are adaptable and flexible within the section, and even when you know that you've spent ten minutes on a tougher, longer passage, it won't phase you and partially inhibit your chances of being successful on the later passages. You can do it.


Give these a try for starters and see what happens and best of luck.




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In my opinion, the level of difficulty of the passages and questions in Kaplan's material is no match for the real MCAT.



I am not sure about Princeton Review, but a friend of mine who took it felt that the questions are somewhat closer to the real thing, but still not as difficult compared to what he saw last weekend.



Probably the best thing is Practice IV and V, and I think they'll probably release Practice VI sometime this year... since educational material is such a lucrative business



... totally understand what you feel, verbal sucks in that there is no clear approach that guarantees improvement. As far as pacing is concerned, I agree with Kirsteen that you have to somehow get to a point where you can understand the entire passage on the first read, perhaps only allowing some re-reading on very complex sentences, and some pause to think and reflect after reading a paragraph.



See if you could finish reading any passage under 5 min with relatively good understanding, and you should be able to finish all the sections. On average, there are 7 questions. Let's say you take 5 min per passage, and 30 sec for each question, it'll take you about 8.5 min to finish a passage. So that should do. But again you'll have to find a balance between speed and comprehension that you are comfortable with.



When I was studying somehow, I made some changes in the way I read passages. I mean the mindset and psychology. And then I was able to finish all the passages. I wish I could put them out in words and clearly defined steps, but just like making improvements on verbal - it's elusive.


Good luck.

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