Improving Your MCAT VR Score - Part 1 - Misconceptions about Verbal Reasoning

I hear the same complaints from classmates, friends, and random people on the internet about the Verbal Reasoning (VR) section of the MCAT. In this first part of my series I want to disprove some of these negative impressions. I promise that VR does not have to be the death of your future medical career.  Let's run through some of the complaints followed by my rebuttals. "I always run out of time."

How many people have you heard gripe about timing issues on VR? It is the most common problem, but there is no reason it should be. The magazine Slate ran an article entitled, "The 1,000-Word Dash," by Timothy Nash. In this piece Nash wrote, "95% of all college-level readers read between 200 and 400 words per minute." This agrees with all my other research showing the average adult reads at between 200 and 250 words per minute.

According the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are 7 VR passages and each passage is approximately 600 words. This means that there are roughly 4,200 words that must be read and comprehended in the entire section. If we assume a reading speed of 200 words per minute (the most conservative estimate), then reading all of the passages should only take 21 minutes. This leaves 39 remaining minutes for you to concentrate on the questions.

Can you do 40 VR questions in 39 minutes?

"I'm bored by the passages."

This is the MCAT! One of the major hurdles between you having two, nice capital initials after your name. I don't think this one  is a legitimate problem, but I have personally heard from two individuals that they can't concentrate because the passages aren't interesting. The cure for this is simple...suck it up. You have to use active reading. I don't care if the passage is about what types of indigenous butterflies are eaten by Himalayan squirrels. Pretend your life depends on the furry details and get to it!

"I'm surprised by how difficult Verbal Reasoning is.."

To be honest, you should have a pretty good idea about what your MCAT score is going to be before you ever take the real exam. If you are scoring under 10 in VR on practice exams, than guess what? You are probably not going to break 1o on test day. Maybe VR doesn't come easily to you, but there are no excuses for being "surprised" at a low score or by the difficulty. My guess is your practice scores weren't so hot either.

"I end up guessing on like half of the questions."

MCAT Verbal Reasoning uses the same types of questions in every passage. After reading the passage you should 1) know the author's thesis, 2) have a feel for the tone of the passage by "reading between the lines" 3) be able to find details, facts, and information from the passage quickly, and 4) apply the main ideas, tones, and specifics of the passage in different ways. That is pretty much it.

Another quick test taking should never "guess." I guarantee that on every question on the MCAT there is at least one terrible answer choice. On most there are two. Use the strikethrough function to immediately shut the door on bad answer choices.

Also, go with your gut. Always. If you think it is right, don't change it.

"No matter how much I try, I can't improve my score."

We have all heard that VR is the toughest section to improve upon. However, I think that with enough practice, anyone can score a 12-13.  Use every resource you can. Examkrackers 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning is amazing. You have access to fourteen VR practice tests and they simulate the real MCAT's difficulty. I also think that Gold Standard has really good practice MCAT exams.

If you are practicing and seeing no improvements, than you are probably too rigid in your methods. You have to change what isn't working. My dad always used to tell me, "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I truly believe this; you have to use a simple, method that works for you. In part II, I will discuss my particular approach to VR.

In the meantime, please take the time to share your personal beef with VR below...I will try and respond with suggestions.