Help with PS

Hi everyone. So, I have decided to retake my MCAT to get my PS score up. My VR and BS were very competitive but PS not so much so while it’s somewhat of a risk I am going to take the plunge. June 20th in fact! Yikes! I have some solid time to devote to PS so I think I’ll be okay.

I have Kaplan materials and I plan on using Kaplan topical and section tests. I am also going to use Chad’s videos again for review. While I think I can get back up to speed with content pretty quickly, I am still concerned about what became a real problem on AAMC 11 and the real thing: TIMING! I found that calculation heavy passages (and a lot of them!) dragged me down. I had trouble with quickly doing calculations with sci. notation and physics problems that required me to solve for a variable using variables only which isn’t terribly difficult, but doing quickly and w/o the interference of nerves was an issue for me. I like algebra and can be good at it, but on the MCAT I often froze, just wasn’t quick enough, or fumbled around with scientific notation too much.

Anyone with strong PS scores have any advice? Anyone who retook and raised their PS score have any thoughts on how best to approach this? I am sort of unsure where to begin with my studying for this second go-round. To be clear, I am not really doing anything except basic review for BS and only close to the test date and my only real prep for VR will be through taking a couple full lengths.

Thanks in advance!

I haven’t taken the official test yet but I have gotten some good practice exam scores.

For the practice exams you did over the computer go over your score report. See what topics you struggled in and go over them. Go over, what they want you to know based on the AAMC Content outlines not the million things listed in exam prep books. If you haven’t done so already do the AAMC Self-Assessments on Physics & Chemistry. It will let you know what your weak areas are.

On simulated test, do discrete questions first then attack passages. Skip math problems! I don’t care if you know how to solve them, it is a time sinker! Mark those questions & come back later. I had to learn this the hard way. Exams I took with lots of calculations (exams 8 & 11) had significantly lower scores than exams with less calculations (exam 10). Being obsessive will lower your score.

Understand proportionality. Like if distance increases in Coulomb’s law the force decreases exponentially.

UNIT ANALYSIS!!! Electric field is N/C = V/m

A question may ask about Work which is a Joule unit. Even if you have no idea what you are supposed to multiply, divide or can remember what together would give you work, use unit analysis. J = VC and J = Newton*meter for example. There will usually be only one answer that will give you a joule.

I am throwing around random helpful hints but I don’t know what your weak areas are. You have to find them. I am sure it is not ALL of PS. Analyze your tests & see if you are changing from correct answers to wrong answers. If you are not understanding the question properly. If you are taking the exams thru e-mcat use their error analysis to do this. Once you see your mistakes you won’t repeat them.

FuturePedsDoc has really good points.

It sounds like your problem areas are your calculation speed and familiarity with scientific notation, and not necessary content review. Practice scientific notation calculation over and over again until you can do it without pencil and paper would be the best way to improve speed, and ultimately enhance your score. There are several scientific notation practice worksheets on-line available for practice.

Congratulations on your VR and BS scores. I especially envy your VR score. In my opinion, VR is the most difficult section, so job well done!Now you just need to focus on brining up the PS. Good luck and hope to hear good news around July 20.

Thank you both for your responses! The more I investigate retake statistics the more I worry as the odds are against me for raising my score in PS and are in favor of dropping my scores in VR and BS. Everyone seems to have advised against a retake, BUT, a school of interest recommends a retake to raise up my PS score to make me MOST competitive. Of course, in my view, my gpa and the whole of my application along with the VR and BS scores, of course, should make me pretty competitive, but I have to swallow my pride (what’s left of it, if any really was there in the first place!) and do what is suggested by the people in power.

That being said, this one school has score replacement which means my VR and BS scores are solid with them so in the case of this one school I just need to see a rise in PS (one point is really all I need, but even that doesn’t look good based on AAMC stats. yikes). However, that is just one school’s policy on MCAT scores. Other schools use other things like averages of all MCAT tests, most recent test only, and whatever else may be. So, I am taking a big chance here that I will make myself most competitive for one school (but perhaps others as well). Now, before anyone tells me the error of my ways, I must disclose that this is my top choice school for several reasons, I have met with the school and my advisor who knows this school well many times about putting myself in the best possible position to be competitive for this school. So, I’ve done my work on this and have had many deep thoughts over this.

So, back to PS! I’m soooo long winded!

I do not feel content was an issue with PS. It has always been the section I struggled most with, however. Though, in reviewing with Kaplan I felt super comfortable with GChem and physics wasn’t awful either. I did not have timing issues until the week of the real thing when I did AAMC 11 and got thrown for a loop, ran out of time and did the worst on it I ever did on any other practice test (I did all AAMCs and 4 Kaplan FLs). I think after 11 I was praying for a 9 in PS because I knew 11 was probably closest to the real thing. And, it was! The real thing was calculation heavy. Anyone that tells you that the MCAT is all about knowing the concepts on PS and not as much on testing your quick math is wrong! They sure as heck can and will test your quick math prowess. And they can do it all they want in one section.

So, my familiarity with scientific notation is not lacking, it is my speed that needs help! I did very well in calculus so I am not afraid of math, but I will admit that doing it quickly and many times over in one section got the better of me on the real thing. I also made a mistake by not doing all the discretes first and missed the entire last page of PS. I had about 30 seconds to just guess answers so nothing was blank there but I doubt much was right either! It burned, too, because some of the last questions were things I knew I could have easily answered.

So, I got hung up on the whole PS section, found it super calculation heavy to the point that just skipping those I found were taking me too long wasn’t going to do me much good because there seemed to be so very many of them! So, I really need some help practicing sci notation calculations with a focus on speed. I also need more practice on speed of calculations in general. So, I plan on going through EK’s Math. Techniques again, but I think I need more directed practice than that. I have many Kaplan PS section tests I can do, but if anyone has a link to some worksheets (like you mentioned Apple pie) that I could practice with that would be great, too!

Also, any tutorials or practice on getting really good at doing more of this stuff in my head would be awesome! If I can get quicker at this stuff, my confidence level alone on PS will go up and I think confidence is a big part of the picture. Mine was shattered with the first passage on PS on the real thing and I felt like I was scrambling through the whole thing, freezing up on simple things, second guessing, etc. It was a disaster and not indicative of my abilities. To my credit, I pulled myself up, decided I wasn’t going to void or anything, and proceeded to do very well on the rest of the exam. Why doesn’t this to seem to count for anything?! Perhaps it does, but I still have to get my PS score up by one measly point. I have tried looking into people in my situation who are retaking with an over 30 score with two solid scores in two sections and it seems most people have poor VR scores. I haven’t found many in my situation with great VR and BS scores, but a cruddy PS so I’m not finding much advice on retaking to improve PS alone.

Thanks for the posts thus far! Keep them coming if anyone else has advice! I have less than two weeks, but I have pretty much the entire two weeks thanks to a flexible work schedule and no summer school to work on PS so I am prepared to saddle up and get this done!

Have you used/tried the TBR series?

I scored uniformly between 12-15 on my PS FL’s (DISCLAIMER: I did NOT put up a “holy sh!t” PS score on the real thing, but it was totally solid nonetheless), and I attribute it to my use of TBR.

Alternatively, the old paper Kaplan FL’s tend to be super calc-heavy. You could just go through those and cherry pick the calculation questions, working them for speed.

How awesome for you to have such a strong a first choice school that has the best-subsection policy. I do not envy you having to continue thinking about that test, but you’re in a great position. GL!

I have not tried TBR. I won a Kaplan course so I used that, of course, along with a few EK materials. I haven’t gotten a hold of any TBR stuff. Fortunately, the PS section tests Kaplan has are notoriously tough and I haven’t exhausted them from my first go-round (maybe I should have, huh?). So, those should help me out. I’m doing some basic reviewing now using Chad’s videos on fastplay, my previous notes, my Kaplan stuff, but also interspersing questions and quizzes. I’m just doing the reviewing to get back up to speed. I was afraid I may have totally purged things as second nature as Avogadro’s number or Kinematics equations! Lol. Fortunately, it’s all still in my head somewhere and brief reviews are bringing it all back up to the surface. I should have my quick reviews and memories of equations refreshed enough by the end of the weekend that I can dive into serious directed practice from now until June 19th (day before test day).

If I had more time, I’d possibly hit Ebay for some TBR or TPR stuff, but I think I should be okay with the Kaplan stuff. The section tests alone should help a lot plus their FL’s (they have a lot and I only did 4 or 5 of those thus far), their Qbanks, topical quizzes, and topical tests should give me lots to work with. Hopefully there will be enough calculations heavy stuff in there for me to get good practice with. In the end, I really only need to improve by 1 point on one section (PS), so I think it’s totally doable. However, being who I am, improving more than 1 point is certainly something I am working toward, but we’ll see.

Score replacement is an awesome thing as it takes some of the pressure off. To know I don’t risk screwing myself out of a 13 and a 12 is very good indeed. I don’t want to blow those sections this time around, but I have to put all my energy into PS and let fate have it’s way with me on VR and BS!

I was pretty bummed yesterday about having to retake over one section, but today I have gotten over it and I am ready to move forward and do my best. I’ve come this far after all it would be pretty ridiculous if I didn’t take the advice of those in the know at this point in the journey. Plus, really with the subsection policy of this particular school, it makes good sense to try my hand at it again to get that PS score up to something acceptable that shows my abilities and shows that I am serious about this and willing to do what it takes to get to where I need to be and where I feel I belong. Cheers everyone!!!

  • shanport7300 Said:
Anyone with strong PS scores have any advice? Anyone who retook and raised their PS score

The key for me significantly increasing my PS score (by 5 points from the first score) was that I spent a good amount of time learning to do math quickly via the Cliffs Notes Basic Math and Pre-Algebra Quick Review.

And of course, I STRONGLY suggest the TBR books for both chem and physics too.

Thanks, pathdr2b!!! I just logged on while drinking my coffee and your post came at the perfect time. I just ordered the Cliffs Notes book. $4.00 on Amazon with Free 2 day shipping with my Prime student account! Woohoo. I’ll have it Wednesday. I feel pretty comfortable with math and algebra in general in classes and doing homework, but I am not that person that does it super quickly and knows all the tricks. On tests in school and the MCAT, of course, where I have to work quickly I just do not end up doing as well as I think I can given that I get the material and I get how to do it, but I cannot do this particular stuff fast. Give me a Bio exam and I’m done in record time and I do very well! Give me a physics exam and I’m one of the last ones to finish and do fine in the end, but it’s not usually a super high score. I have to really work to get my A’s in physics for sure. On physics homework I do very well. I can do the long drawn out multiple calculation physics problems just fine on the homework, but I’m not being timed and it’s not a test.

Plus, I have to get my confidence up with quick math or I find myself freezing up over very simple things (embarrassing simple things!)and then it’s a mess. If I can practice some tricks and get my confidence up that could really help. Let’s hope Cliffs Notes helps me out on this.

If I had the time and the funds I’d get a hold of some TBR materials, but I think if I keep going at a good pace and keep up my plan of action I will be okay with the materials I do have. I really do have a lot of materials I can utilize so better to just work with what I have in the time I have rather than attempt to pull in too many references that will have me jumping around too much. If I had decided on a late July retake I would possibly have just used one set of entirely new materials (like TBR), but that’s not in the plan! I’m going to get this done on June 20th and try to enjoy my summer!

Thank you again for the advice on the Cliffs Notes book, pathdr2b!


Another trick I found helpful is to always look at the answer choices first, and decide how precise you want your calculations to be. For example, some questions have answer choices that vary significantly, such as a) 1, b)10, c) 100, etc. In this case, don’t waste time on trying to get an exact answer. Let’s say if the question requires a calculation: 4.132.8/7.6, instead of doing a precise calculation, I would replace it with 42/8 which will quickly lead to an answer around 1. With this approach, you will get an answer that is close enough to the real answer and allow you to eliminate the other impossible answers. Remember MCAT is a multiple choice exam, and the ability to quickly “guess” and figure out the right answer will save time that can be allocated to other time-consuming or calculation-heavy questions.

Please let me know if this makes sense.

Thanks, Apple pie. That does help a lot. I do know that one of my issues has been trying to be too exact and then I find myself taking way too much time when I could have approximated and been done much quicker. I still get caught up in the school mentality of having to be precise.

I have been practicing my approximating skills more and looking at the answer choices first is also going to help me out a lot!

Thank you!