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Many pre-medical students consider the MCAT verbal section the most daunting section on the test. It is also arguably the most important. The good news is that preparing for the MCAT verbal section can be fun! As an experienced online MCAT tutor, I’ve distilled my knowledge into a series of step-by-step questions. In this post, I’ll explain the challenges surrounding the MCAT verbal section and show you how you can prepare while not explicitly “studying.” Let's dive in:
Why is the MCAT Verbal section so important?Medical schools look at the MCAT verbal section to assess whether applicants, particularly science majors, are well rounded and can understand and assess non-scientific topics. Even though your MCAT biology tutor in New York can help you ace the Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences sections of the exam with a 14 in each section, if you receive an 8 on the verbal section, medical schools will be less inclined to accept you than if you had received a score of 12 in each of the three sections.
Why is the MCAT verbal section so challenging?
Preparing for the verbal section is often considered more challenging than the science sections because rote memorization will not help improve your score. In a very short period of time, you have to skim a passage about a topic you may know nothing about, understand the author’s argument, and then answer tricky questions about that passage. These skills were not taught or needed in your college biology course.
How can I improve my score for the MCAT verbal section?
Now that I’ve scared you adequately, I have good news for you: preparing for the MCAT verbal section can be fun! To drastically improve your score on the MCAT verbal section, you can do lots of preparation without explicitly studying. One of the best ways to improve your verbal score is to read. This sounds incredibly simple, but reading short essays and articles that are approximately the same length as the passages in the MCAT verbal section will help you improve your score. Plus, reading interesting articles can be relaxing and fun! Especially during the winter flurries when you’re homebound, your MCAT review in New York can just consist of kicking back with a cup of coffee, and some thoughtful reading material. Who knew that MCAT test prep could be so leisurely?
What should I read to prepare for the MCAT verbal section?
The best things to read to help you get used to the types of passages you will see on the MCAT include newspaper op-eds, magazines (no, People Magazine and Sports Illustrated do not count!), and medical journals. In particular, I recommend The New York Times op-ed page, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Economist, JAMA, and the New England Journal of Medicine. Reading medical journals and other articles that include tables and graphs will feel unfamiliar and may be challenging at first, but they will help you learn how to interpret graphs and tables, a skill which will be tested on the new MCAT starting in 2015. (Here’s a blog post another online MCAT tutor wrote about the new MCAT)
Don’t just read articles that are about topics you’re interested in; it won't do much as vigorous MCAT test prep, as it won't help you expand your horizons and prepare you for the breadth of topics that will be tested. Read about Art History if you’re a Chemistry major and Evolutionary Biology if you major in English.
Is just skimming these articles enough?
No! Don’t just skim these articles or pay attention to the facts and details. Instead, try to follow these tips:
- Look up vocabulary words you don’t know. Do not just skip a word, sentence or paragraph you don’t understand, take this as an opportunity to expand your vocabulary. Look the word up in the dictionary and keep a list of the new vocabulary words you learn.
- After you read an article (especially an op-ed or New Yorker piece), try to summarize the argument the author was making. What were they advocating for? You may get the most out of this activity if you get a friend, sibling, or parent to read the same article. When you’re done, assess the argument the author was making. Talk about sections that were confusing. This will help both of you better understand the article and prepare you for the challenging questions that will be asked of you on the MCAT. As you’re mastering your reading routine, you can also check out this blog post for tips about the verbal section.
When should I start doing this?
Now! Whether you’re taking the MCAT a month or three years from now, the sooner you start this, the better.
Your online MCAT tutor will give you techniques and skills vital to scoring high on the MCAT verbal section, but your choice to read the newspaper each morning now will help improve your score even further. Not only will reading more help your MCAT verbal score, but it will also help broaden your vocabulary, give you more to talk about during your medical school interviews, teach you more about the issues in the world, and make you a better-informed – and thus overall better – physician.
And if you need it, Cambridge Coaching offers in-person, private MCAT tutoring in New York and Boston, as well as online MCAT tutors anywhere in the world. We like to boast that our MCAT biology tutors in New York are some of the best in the industry -- and they’re great readers and writers, too!