Passage help on MCAT

I’m having an incredibly hard time just understanding what I’m reading in passages. I feel like I have a solid grasp of the basic science, then I read these passages and it turns to hieroglyphics.

I tried mapping out some of the passage (because I’m finishing sections with plenty of time to spare) to, for example, follow the cycle when a peptide hormone binds to a receptor and the cascade it causes inside the cell. I did worse on that passage!

I’m really frustrated because obviously the MCAT is mostly passage-based. I’m doing fine, almost 100%, on the stand alone questions, and this isn’t an issue for CARS or psych/soc either, just the bio and physical sciences section.

People who have taken the test in the past just keep telling me to keep doing practice tests. There is only one and people don’t seem to get that!

Anyone having/had a similar problem who found a solution?

Hi there

Now, what do you mean there is only one practice test, are you talking about the new format? I took the MCAT a few years past. I think the science is the same, so try to get those old practice tests for science and give it a shot. It is practice. Now granted that it may be very different from what you will see on test day, but the “hieroglyphic” nature of the test remains the same nonetheless.

I do understand your frustration. The good news (at least I do think), is that you can improve your science score by the highest margin (not true for Verbal, and I can’t say about psych/soc).

Remember that this is a game. Test writers try to confuse you. I kept remembering two important things

    • STICK TO THE BASICS! You know the stuff (as per your standalone question). There is no reason why you cannot answer
    • BELIEVE in YOUR ABILITY TO ANSWER. Attitude goes a very very long way on a test like the MCAT, because of time constrain and the pressure you are under. If you panic after the second sentence of the passage, it is pretty much over. Even very simple additions can become very difficult to perform under stressing conditions. So take a deep breath and STICK to the BASICS.

      Other than that, and if you can answer your standalone questions, then there is absolutely no reason why you cannot answer questions from a passage. Again, I firmly believe that for BIO , PHYS and OCHEM, old MCAT passages should still help a lot. So I would try those. I think there are about 10 or 12 tests going around on the internet…

      Good luck.

OK, thank you – there is only one practice test from the AAMC. My test prep company has a couple, but who knows how valid they are? AAMC isn’t putting out a second test until the fall.

I saved some of the old AAMC tests before the access went away so I’ll just keep plugging away on it. I’m trying really hard to be super confident because I think it does make a big difference, but …

Actually they have substantially changed the MCAT including the science sections. They are no longer really split into disciplines like they used to be. In other words, you have to be able to integrate biology and Biochem for example.the old questions will not necessarily help you on the new test.

I suggest at a minimum you get the Kaplan books and study independently. If you sign up for a Kaplan course for example there are more than a dozen practice tests in the new format and a ton of online resources to assist you. I am currently going through one of these myself.

I don’t know if it’s the same as the old test, but on the old test it was a waste of time to try to fully understand the passages. Get the gist of what they’re talking about, map out where you can find info if you need it, then go back to those paragraphs if the questions warrant it. Sometimes questions require a deeper understanding of what the passage is saying, but more often than not the above strategy worked for me.

I’m doing Examkrackers, so I do have access to practice passages and their tests – a couple of my classmates are doing Kaplan and it seems to be the same type of material offered. Neither company knows for sure how the new test is set up, so it seems like a draw.

I think for some passages, I try to get the main ideas, and go back to the passage to answer the questions as needed. For others I’ve tried to slowly and careful read every word and map out any biological or chemical processes they’re talking about. Neither approach is working right now. Maybe I need to pick one and stick with it and just practice it to death.

Just venting at this point. I really can’t let my confidence get shot because then it’s all just downhill.

Just remember that the passages aren’t designed to teach you anything. It’s really how well you can sort through the information and apply it as necessary (old test anyway).

I can’t be specific as I paid a crap-ton of money for Kaplan but I will tell you this:

knowing what’s in each paragraph quickly, and mapping that, is key.

Don’t spend tons of time on the paragraphs and internalizing the details, just know where to find the details if needed.

Sorry I can’t be more specific but I don’t want to get into trouble with Kaplan.

Edited to add: remember, this is really a reading test… you can also skip passages that are more easy and return to the ones that were more difficult. MCAT is based on curve (done before we ever sit) and was meant to trick people into going through the passages as they come up.


You can also answer the discretes first and then go to the passages (build confidence). You can skip around in the section …

As a person who tutors students taking the MCAT, along with my current preparation for the new exam, the single most important piece of advice I can give you is to never, EVER change your answers to a question no matter how certain you are of the change.

Second, leave whatever “outside” knowledge you have about a subject out of consideratin when answering questions. For example, I have a very strong background in cancer disparities reearch, but I wouldn’t use it to analyze any passages about it.

While I would agree that the science passages are about the integration of information and not just the discrete info found in stand alone questions, I don’t agree that the science passages on the new exam are all that different from the most recent exams available to students, from what I’ve seen so far. If I had to pinpoint one significant change between new and old, the new exam seems to more heavily emphasize how seemily disparate themes (ideas, concepts, ect) work together. And that sounds a lot like what Docs do, take 1 or more unrelated “symptoms” in totality, to decide on a final diagnosis. So I think it’s a highly useful exercise.

Finally, I find it very helpful to read the answer choices before reading the passages, so that I can key in on what the author thinks is important (as opposed to my personal feelings/thoughts/ideas about the passage). However, there’s a lot of opinions on whether this is helpful or not. Just keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another and that there are probably a few good methods to use to prepare for an exam like this.

Good luck!!