MCAT Tutoring Approaches with Dan W.

Posted by Kening Zhu on 1/25/16 9:00 AM


This week we're spotlighting Boston-based MCAT tutor, Dan, who is currently a research analyst at the Broad Institute of Harvard & MIT. He’s taught the MCAT, Biology, Chemistry, and the ACT. He scored on the 99th percentile of the new 2015 MCAT! Interested in working with Dan either in-person in Boston, or online? Check out Dan's tutor page here

What’s beneficial about working with a private MCAT tutor?

There are numerous benefits to working with a private MCAT tutor.

One of the challenges of generic MCAT courses is their one-size-fits-all nature. While some students are strong at physics, others may excel at chemistry or psychology, and generic courses are unable to acknowledge these differences. Private tutoring moves at a single speed – yours. Private tutors provide expert knowledge that complements that of the student.

Secondly, one of the challenges of studying for the MCAT is creating structure. There is an immense amount of material to study, and an equally great number of practice passages and test to take. A seasoned tutor creates a flexible, personalized syllabus to optimize learning and test day performance.

Finally, studying for the MCAT is an emotional, exhausting journey, likely spanning the course of hundreds of hours over a series of months. A private MCAT tutor is a coach who understands the human element of preparing for the test, able to provide support and guidance every step of the way.

What’s your overall philosophy to teaching the MCAT?

I believe the MCAT is an assessment of three competencies, and my teaching philosophy emerges from these areas.

First, the MCAT is a test of knowledge -- you won’t do well on the test if you don’t know the facts. Doing well on the MCAT means spending the time to memorize both facts – the structure of amino acids, the phenotypes of psychiatric illnesses – and concepts, such as the physiological techniques to adjust blood pH or how inequality affects health. As a teacher, I emphasize the importance of spending the necessary time and energy to master this content. I work with my students to develop study tools (flashcards, concept check questions) that create rapid content acquisition and retention through repetition.

Secondly, the MCAT is a test of critical thinking skills. The majority of questions on the MCAT emerge from large passages of text and figures, and your job as the test taker is to extract the relevant information and to apply it to questions quickly and accurately. Critical thinking is especially important for the CARS (verbal reasoning) section. Critical thinking also appears in your assessment of answer choices by avoiding trap answers and quickly narrowing down answer choices. I teach my students the MCAT-specific critical thinking skills, from common wrong answer “pathologies” to triaging passages.

Finally, the MCAT is a test of endurance. At roughly 7 hours in duration, the new MCAT is about 50 percent longer than the previous version. No matter your preparation, you won’t do well if you become exhausted half way along. The only way to have this endurance is to practice, practice and practice again. I work with my students to develop a study plan that gives them ample time to take the practice tests and to improve from each one.

What are some common misconceptions about the MCAT?

I think the most common misconception about the MCAT is that it is a test of scientific memorization. Certainly, you must come to test day with a strong grasp of science content. But the MCAT, at its core, is a test of critical thinking and of endurance. Far from a slew of questions about amino acid structure or cardiovascular structure, the MCAT presents test takers with novel biomedical scenarios and asks them to think critically, applying outside knowledge to the information presented in the passage. Successful test takers apply this knowledge at a high level throughout the 7-hour test, a type of endurance only available to those who have spent the time to take practice test after practice test.

How much can I expect to improve?

While the MCAT is a challenging test, students can have great success with the proper course of study. No single area of content is particularly difficult – the difficulty arises from the sheer amount of content. This challenge can be overcome through devoting the necessary amount of time to content. Developing critical thinking skills and test taking endurance emerge naturally from practice and review. Again, no single aspect of the MCAT is difficult, it is just a matter of spending the time to master the three elements of the MCAT – content, critical thinking, and endurance.

How do I get the most out of tutoring?

Students who benefit the most from private MCAT tutoring are those who are transparent with their tutors about all aspects of the test coaching process. Cambridge Coaching tutors are an intelligent bunch, but we aren’t mind readers. We won’t know if you are anxious about a particular subject or section on the test unless you tell us. We want to know about the wedding scheduled a year ago on the same day we want you to take a full-day practice test, not so we make you stay home from the wedding, but rather so that we can adapt the course of study to these types of inevitable conflicts. This type of open dialog is the foundation for a healthy and productive relationship with your tutor.

How much time should I dedicate to studying for the MCAT?

While there is no definite answer to the question of how long a student should study for the MCAT, I think a foundation for success starts at roughly 8 weeks of full-time study, with the first month devoted to mastering content and the second month to taking practice test and consolidating knowledge. I think full-time study (40 hours a week) allows students to fully focus on the test without distractions such as school or a job.

How do you recommend dealing with MCAT test anxiety?

The most effective way of dealing with MCAT test anxiety is being well prepared for test day. If you have spent the time preparing the content, spent the time on practice tests, spent the time on test taking techniques, you will feel confident come test day. It is impossible to eliminate all testing anxiety, but the best way to keep it to a healthy level is investing the time to prepare for the test.

Besides studying, what recommendations do you have for how I best prepare for the MCAT?

While I recommend preparing for the MCAT by studying full time (40 hours a week), it is also crucial to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Everybody is different – some people exercise, others make a gourmet meal, while others socialize with friends. Whatever it is that keeps you physically and emotionally balanced is well worth the investment of an hour or two per day. This investment will pay off when you can study more effectively and for weeks on end without burnout.

View Dan's tutor page


Tags: MCAT