MCAT Continued

(Written before the 2015 change to the MCAT, so some information may be out of date/no longer relevant)

An omission from the last post was “how to study”.  I learn decently from listening to lectures, but I mainly take written notes and make small drawings then later make compressed notes from them.  Some people like flash cards, some like to study in groups for the MCAT, etc.  Everyone is different, so I can’t say much about the best way to do it.  If you can, find a quiet place with few distractions, take breaks as needed and focus on the material, not texting or listening to music while studying.

I also have no advice on mapping passages; I didn’t do any mapping or explicit stem analysis, just took a few notes on scrap while writing and doing practice tests.  If that is your way, I don’t have much to say, sorry.

Continuing from the last post, this one will cover each section in a bit more detail.

Physical Sciences

This section covers first year physics and general chemistry. Physics seems to give people a lot of trouble, even those with a background in the sciences.  I had forgotten most of it in the 7 years since my last course of physics.  Similar to organic chemistry, it disappears quickly, so the best time to write the MCAT in my opinon would be after second year (still fresh) or after third year (biochemistry is nice to have) if you’re in a life sciences program.

For physics I used Princeton Review and felt it covered the material well.  Just to be sure I looked over EK as well and then used YouTube videos to explore certain topics.  For Chemistry I found Audioosmosis good for reviewing periodic table trends and other information. I also used a combination of Barron’s (which I think is poor, doesn’t even cover galvanic and electrolytic cells) and Kaplan materials to make sure I was thorough in my review.  For difficult topics in both section I recommend going to YouTube, they have some great videos on circuits, PV work, Carnot engines and more.  Personally, I found electronic and magnetic forces to be the most difficult to keep straight (force/potential/difference).  Reviewing topics right from the beginning each study session seemed to work best for retaining information.

One thing I will say is that the PS section is less varied between practice tests compared to other sections, so once I got it, my scores were consistent. The passages throw a lot of unnecessary information at you, but once you learn to sift through it, I found that what you need usually isn’t too hard to get and the questions aren’t unreasonable.  Main lesson I found from practicing was not to freak out while reading, get the gist of it and find the useful information.

Verbal Reasoning

As stated above, I didn’t do any mapping, so it’s hard to give advice for this section.  In general, if you are a native English speaker you will have an advantage here.  You will likely be able to read the passages relatively quickly and not run out of time.  If you do run out of time, answer all the questions at least, since there is not penalty for guessing unlike on the SAT.

I only used the general advice from Audioosmosis and the EK 101 Verbal Passages book for this section.

My thoughts are that you should take a deep breath and wait a few seconds before starting each passage.  Read as if you are interested; don’t start scratching your head, humming or leaning back in your chair.  In answering the questions, don’t flag a bunch of questions and jump passage to passage, it will take you way too long to skim over the passage again to answer the question when you go back.  If you can, read the passage and answer all associated questions.  I know some people look over all the passages first before choosing which one to start with, it can be done, but the wording of the passage doesn’t always correspond to the difficulty of the questions, so I’m not sure it’s really an advantage.  In going over practice tests or the mini-tests in EK 101, look over all the answers and see where you went wrong or right.  For example, your definition of strong vs. weak evidence for a position may differ from how the test makers see it.  If you changed your answer, see if it was from wrong to right or the reverse.  I found that the majority of times when I changed my answer it went from correct to incorrect, so VR for me was really about not second guessing my answers.

Writing Sample

(No longer included on the MCAT)

As recommended previously, I think MCAT Strategy’s videos on YouTube are a great resource for the WS section.  In this section you will be given two prompts from the list provided by AAMC (or ones very similar) and expected to write two short essays in 30 minutes each.  Each essay is completed independently; you see one prompt at a time and can’t go back or work on both concurrently.  The two essays will be marked by a person and a computer and will be given a score out of 6 per essay (then converted to letters for some odd reason…).   Since a computer is marking your writing, proper grammar and spelling are important.  The standard formula for the essays is a three-paragraph structure with an initial “for” paragraph, a second “against/exception” paragraph and a closing “synthesis/conclusion” paragraph.  It is to see you consider things from more than one perspective and then make some insight or conclusion into the root issue.

Some advice I found useful is to try and get a forth paragraph either in the pro or con section to show more insight into the prompt and its implications.  If you can think of a good quote, feel free to use it to start the essay or conclude it.  The biggest piece of advice I received was to think of the synthesis first, and then the pro and con arguments that best fit.  Under stress you can just start writing, thinking of great points for and against, but then when it comes to a synthesis they aren’t compatible.

Online one can find lists of synthesis themes such as national vs. international, public vs. private, etc.  These synthesis themes are a real help if you get stuck trying to see how one would get a synthesis out of the prompt.  Furthermore, concrete examples are best for forming good pro and con arguments.  I found going over the prompts and seeing if I could come up with good examples pro/con and a synthesis theme for each one was a good exercise.  It takes some time, but you will build up a list of people/events that will strengthen your essay.

Biological Sciences

I have very little to say on the biology content of this section (80%).  I did an undergraduate and graduate degree and microbiology, so I mainly reviewed topics that I hadn’t covered since first your second year.  Some areas that are easy to confuse or be overly confident I found are genetics/evolution, hormones and transcription/translation.   It’s easy to forget your Punnett squares or what exactly is incomplete dominance… many other biology concepts are similar, you ‘know’ them if you did a degree in life sciences, but on a test under pressure review is advised.  The biology portion is one of the most varied I found, my practice grades varied more on this section than others.

Organic on the other hand takes a lot of effort to re-learn.  The audio lectures were a good start, but EK’s book was very useful when complemented by Kaplan’s material.  It is only 20% of the section, however, to score well you need to know it well.    Hybridization, SN1/SN2 reactions, electron withdrawing and donating groups, stabilities, aldol reactions, spectroscopy, etc.  There is a lot to cover.  As above, if you can line up your write so this is relatively fresh I would recommend it.  Relearning it after 7 years wasn’t fun to say the least.

Don’t think I have much else to say about the MCAT, other than good luck if you are yet to write.

Next some thoughts on different medical schools and applications.


One thought on “MCAT Continued

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