VR getting you down

Thought it might help.

MikeS 78
Senior Member
Deconstructing the MCAT Verbal: A guide for those who care to listen
It has become apparent to me that the MCAT Verbal is a quite perplexing portion of the MCAT, indeed the first time I took the test I made a 5 (Practice thank god). But knowing what I know about tests, I began to analyze the intrinsic qualities of the test, for no test truly tests what it says it test, unless you don't understand how it test that (try saying that 5 times fast). I spent the next 3 months studying the MCAT, with focus on the Verbal, and ended up with a 12. I have since worked as a verbal and physics teacher for both Kaplan and TPR, which has further molded my understanding on the topic. I'm not saying I'm the god of all things MCAT, however I have seen alot of it in my day.
It is my claim that anyone can increase their score (on all parts, but verbal especially) by merely understanding a few things about the test, and stategy on how to take it.
Thus as a public service (and a distraction from more important tasks) I present: Mike's guide to the verbal MCAT:
First let's begin with how the verbal is roughly organized.
-9 passages (they claim some have 10 but I've never seen or heard of one with 10)
-about 7 reading comp questions over each passage
-65 total questions
-77 minutes to complete it
-1st thing in the morning (someone needs to die for that logistical choice)
The first and most important Rule is
This does not mean random guessing per se, however, if thats what it end up being at first so be it. As you become more confortable with the test guessing will become unnecessary. The major thing here is, no one question is important enough to keep from finishing.
Why is finishing so important?
To earn a 12 on the verbal one must get around 60-62 questions right depending on the test. If you miss an entire passage you start at an 11 right off the bat
Also as we will see later, if you spend too much time thinking about this stuff you are almost definitely doing it
But mike, I know the rules of taking tests, but still I can't finish!
This is where strategy comes in:
The reason for this is the Bell Curve
In order for the MCAT to be considered a statistically valid test, it must fulfill 3 basic criteria #1- It must provide some form of differentiation (ie some kids have to get 15's and others 5's)
#2- It must provide some logical criteria for why a 12 is better than a 5
#3- People who earn 12's on one test should earn similiar scores on future tests, assuming no changes are made (consistency)
Thus in order to meet these standards, every verbal test must have both easy and hard passages, in predictable numbers and patterns, and this leads to an advantage on your part. Every MCAT I have taken, has had the following breakdown (in my opinion)
4-Easy Straightforward
3-Mildly difficult
1-Relatively difficult, requires some thought
1-Would anger Jacques Derrida (very difficult)
The strategy here is to figure out which is which, and to do them in order of increasing difficulty, thus leaving yourself more time to finish the harder ones.
This leads us to the problem of discerning which is which, to determine this I provide a another classification scheme for these passages
3-Natural sciences
3-Social sciences(poli sci,psych,soci,anthro)
3- Humanities- (english, history, philosophy)
The Natural science passages are among the easiest ones without exception, all are straight forward, and involve topics we are all atleast somewhat familiar with. I always find these and do these first.
The social sciences are a mixed bag, some are rather easy, others can be difficult, but they are never the worst passage
The humanities tend to occupy both of the hardest two slots, and at the very least the worst passage on the test is always in this group (philosophy being the most common, english lit the second. The reason for this is 3 fold
1) Science majors (a majority of kids taking the test) hate these passages and thus
2) Being a humanities major myself, I can testify that there is no end to the number of people contributing to the library of passages made unreadable by the authors attempt to prove their own intelligence
3) the passages tend to use rather large words without a definite need for these words, and thus tend to perplex and scare people at 9 in the morning
To deal with this aspect of the test, I devised what I termed the 4 pass system. This involves going through the test 4 times, looking for and doing passages of increasing difficulty in order to score the easy points early and to gain a lead for the tough ones
Pass 1-Nail all natural sciences, and any social science passage that is OBVIOUSLY an easy one (about 4-5 in this pass)
Pass 2- Nail anything that after glancing through one paragraph, you know the main idea...the key is to not be afraid to recognize that you are reading a tough one early, and to drop what your doing and move on
Pass 3- Finish all but the worst passage
Pass 4- hold on for dear life, score as many points as possible near the end
How to spot bad passages- Generally they are obvious, for they use large words, that though you may know the meaning, you have to dig them up from your memory bank, for they are not typically on MSNBC/CNN/Fox on a daily basis. Rule of thumb, if you read the first paragraph and really haven't a clue what the author is saying, move on
How to read...MCAT Style
There are only three things you want out of an MCAT passage...period
1) What the Author is talking about
2) What the authors overall opinion on this topic is (there is almost always an opinion somewhere)
3) What kind of information is located in each paragraph, in case you have to look something up
To find this info Read the first and last paragraphs. If at this point you do not know #1 and #2 repeat, and if necessary read the 2nd paragraph. Then SKIM the following paragraphs to find what is in which paragraph and head to the questions.
On the surface this would seem to be a bad way to read an argument,to essentially ignore all the backing for the claim of the paragraph, but this is the MCAT and not the real world and the method to this madness will become clear when we analyze the type of questions asked on the MCAT
Contrary to what is empirically obvious, the MCAT only asks two types of questions (these are my names for them), and they must be approached entirely differently
1) Find the fact
2) Touchy Feely
1) Find the fact-
These questions require you to answer a question based entirely on what is said in the passage (or a reasonable approximation of such) these tend to be the more straightforward and unfortunately for many less frequent. This is where your skim comes in: When prompted to find a fact, go to the area where the information is located and put the answer most similiar to what is stated in the passage, often times it will ask you to find out what type of evidence is or isnt located in the passage. I hope I don't have to continue stating the obvious, but I need to describe this in order to contrast it with the technique for #2

2) Touchy feely- These are the Harder questions, the more frequent, but once you know what your doing, they are the quickest questions. It is key that you first know the authors opinion on the topic for your entire stategy will hinge on this opinion second one must know what questions qualify for this category in order to know when to use the technique there are two types
1) Direct main idea questions- where the question explicitly asks for the passage's main ide
2) Ones with "touchy feely" key words in the question- these words include Probably, most likely, can be inferred, the author would most likely say....basically any question where it does not ask you to explicitly look for something in the passage, and which uses vague, indirect language
Here is the corner stone of your MCAT verbal attack
This Idea came to me while analyzing practice tests, to determine why I was missing the questions that I was. The questions I was missing were mainly of the second type, and after some thought, I decided to take an entire verbal test where I always answered the touchy feely questions with the most obvious answer (the gut answer). This was the first time I ever scored in the double digits. From this I concluded that on these questions I had been talking myself out of the right answers using a complex set of reasons based on factual evidence in the passage (like any good bright person would) and was talking myself out of the right obvious answer hence the following rule:
Blanket stupidity is of course not that way to go,but the following algorhithm took me far
1) Find the authors opinion (ie Beer is good)
2) Identify any questions which qualify as touchy feely (this is an art form) (ie what is the authors opinion on breweries near high schools)
3) look at the answers and eliminate any answers which either directly conflict with the authors opinion, or have nothing to do with that opinion (ie beer is bad or we should not sell cigarrettes to children)
4) when in doubt narrowing down the rest,follow these rules -the more general answers tend to be right on these
-Go with the gut
a small number of these questions do not conform to these (usually they happen in the bad 2 passages), experience will teach you how to spot these
Finally a word on the I, II,III questions a simple algorhythm for these
1) look at the I,II,III part (the real answers) and eliminate all obviously wrong ones
2) go to the answer choices and eliminate any ones affected by #1, then find out which answer (I, II Or III) is located in the most of the remaining choices
3) test the validity of that answer in the passage or if a touchy feely one go with the gut
4) repeat till other answers are eliminated
information on purchasing the AAMC stuff is on the back of the booklet included in the mcat registration packet
I would be willing to cover other sections if requested and any ?'s can be directed to Msughrue@hotmail.com

I have to disagree with Mike here about skipping around - I always did the passages in order and can think of no advantage to spending time trying to figure out some other sequence to complete them in = of course, YMMV.
One thing on verbal - you have plenty of time. really. the passages are not that long, not that many words. Even a slower reader can finish. Try this on a sample set of passages. Read the passages at a comfortable speed so you are not rushing but not dawdling. Take no notes. Take a 5-second break, eyes closed between passages. Don't look at the questions. When you are done with the passages, (use at least 3, preferably a full 9), check your time. How long did it take you? How much time do you have left for the questions? You'll probably find that it doesn't really that much time to read thoroughly.
Read the passage carefully, but read it completely, not distracting yourself looking for keywords, or evidence or statements of opinion, etc. Read it as if someone were telling you the story and you were listening carefully. Read the question stems - often the answers are in the stems not the passage.
13-15V, April 2002

you know verbal!

I did it that way because that is one of teh primary tenants of TPR is to rack up points early. Granted your verbal skills are better than 97% the takers, but most people can't do it that way, they need an easier formula to get the 9-11 score and live with it.

and I’m sorry if posting my score came off as arrogant or boasting at all - I debated whether or not to do it at all - but I know when I would read advice in the past, underneath I’d always be asking “yeah, but how’d you do?”
truly - I just tried to follow the EK rules for verbal and it worked for me.
I’m glad that your way/Mike’s way worked for you and others -I remember reading this when it was posted long ago - but for me it would have been too much of a change - I don’t read anything else that way (even textbooks)
I guess the bottom line is - if you are having trouble with VR - try a different approach until you find one that works for you. No one approach will work universally.

relax, I am not upset, although Caps lock on does tend to make that assumption.
I have not used the EK VR CD yet, since I was working on other stuff.
IF a method works…it works. No one can argue with that. I know people who have used the above method and scored the perfect score as well. I know others like you who did your method and did 13-15. It all boils down to what your personality and thought processing tells you to do that is comfortable.
The other day I pulled out a VR passage and scored a 10 on it without ever having really studied for it. I know what I can do there and what makes me comfortable. But getting DeGuerre on the first passage really will f^&* up my day and kill my score…and a 7 does not cut it on VR.

I’m getting my *&^% kicked with the Verbal, so I appreciate the different points of view. It seems so crazy having to figure out their logic in order to do well. I thought that this former English Lit person would be able to do well but I am really bummed when I sail thru a passage and get 2/7 or whatever. It seems so capricious and ridiculous their reasoning; I am willing to try anything to raise my score and am having trouble figuring out how to “change my thinking”. Our PR instructor is very vague and non-committal so that isn’t helping me much.
I wish I could be more like Lisa and to be honest, I thought it would be like that - very straight forward - but so far, Mike’s advice has been the best for me and I will just keep trying and practicing. I really appreciate these suggestions ALOT and this is where I find the OPM site so incredibly helpful. :O ???

Although Mike's suggestions on how to approach the VR section of the MCAT may work for some - his reasoning on the statistical advantage is confusing. Difficulty of question does not necessarily correlate with easy (or interest) in the passage. The questions following each passage will be a mix of easy and hard - with the VR's easiest and most difficult questions possibly following a single passage.
For me, my difficulty with the VR section (on both the MCAT and the GRE) is a direct result of my interest in a passage. Passages which I find more interesting and thought provoking are always the ones where I answer the most questions correctly. I would love to be able to do a pass through the MCAT, find the interesting passages, answer those questions first, then go back and bore myself with the remaining passages. However, I'm very anal, rather obsessed with order and deathly afraid of miss penciling the wrong circle. Hence, I continue to read the passages in order, and fill in the answers in order.
Questions that stump me or may require a reread of the passage get a tiny, very light pencil mark next to the question (I return if time remains), but I always fill in a circle before moving on. Getting the feel for when I'm wasting too much time on a single question has taken work and practice. Luckily there are many practice tests available.
– Rachel