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

2012 April 17
by Aaron

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 tip….you 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.

21 Responses Post a comment
  1. prinee permalink
    April 20, 2012


    I am a retaker and verbal has been my weakest section of all. I just cant seem to improve much….my scores range from 7-10, its so inconsistent. I am currently using EK 101 passages, GS tests and TPR online passages. I think TPR passages were the hardest of all because sometimes I just don’t get the main idea. I finished all the online passages and also did most of TPRH workbook. Also, completed 9 EK tests so far (5 tests remaining). I only did 2 GS tests but I am starting to do more of them this whole week. I really need to improve my verbal cuz its ruining my score and I am getting frustrated.
    My range of scores
    Ek tests – 8-11

    And for GS full lengths
    PS 8/9
    I cant break a 10!

    And aamc scores
    ave – usually high 20’s
    except last week aamc 10 – scored 30 (PS-12/V-7/ BS-11) verbal ruined me again….
    I still have 3 aamc’s left. I am planning to take them after I finish bunch of GS tests.

    My MCAT is in one month and I need desperate HELP!! …if you have any tips for verbal, that would be great.

    Thank you so much!!

    • April 22, 2012

      Tomorrow I am posting my recommendations about how to approach VR. Tune in tomorrow and hopefully there will be somethings that can help you out!

      • prinee permalink
        April 22, 2012

        hey thanks!! …am eagerly waiting for it…hoping i can improve my score!!

  2. testtaker permalink
    June 3, 2012

    How consistent were your VR practice scores? Compared to the PS and BS sections, my VR score varies and ranges from 10-15 (AAMC). No matter how closely I read I cannot consistently score 12+. Even given unlimited time, I doubt I could score perfect on some passages. In my opinion this section is impossible to master because much of verbal relies on prior exposure to the topics. The data below show percentage of re-takers attaining certain VR subscores, as you can see in the 12-15 range most drop in score. If you compare this table with those for PS and BS you’ll find that a much larger proportion of re-takers score the same or better at this range. My question: Do you think your verbal method works, or is it possible that you were more comfortable with the passages on test-day?

    • June 3, 2012

      My AAMC scores ranged from 10-13. However, I have to disagree with your assertion that VR is impossible to master. It is not possible to “expose” yourself to all of the topics that Verbal Reasoning passages can be about. The test is not examining your educational or reading history, but rather how effectively you understand new material. In fact, I am usually quite interested in the passages because they are about topics I know nothing about.

      I do think that my method works (I know it worked for me). Though obviously I was also comfortable with VR in general because I had taken so many practice tests. I think that if you are in the 10-15 range on AAMC tests, you are probably just about ready for the real deal. Maybe tweak a thing or two, but the whatever you are doing seems to be working.

  3. January 6, 2013

    this section is friggin impossible, mainly due to the convoluted nature of the passages, and also the people who wrote the questions are obviously on a completely different wavelength than any rational sane person. I cannot understand how anyone can decipher the complexity of the questions and understand some of the most difficult passages that I have ever tried to read.

    it takes WAY MORE TIME THAN that to get through something that you do not understand. Unless you are supposed to pretend that you get it. This test is designed for people that somehow are able to get the mentality of the people writing this stuff

  4. January 6, 2013

    another point why does it have to be online. it is hard enough trying to understand this sh!t, let alone doing so while reading online, which any site that covers the issue will tell you it is slower than reading from paper
    another 10 minutes would really be helpful, seriously would it kill them to do that. I guess it would.

    All of the questions are these obscure detail questions, which ARE detail questions, but are not, in that they also require you to ‘get’ where the guy or woman who wrote the questions is coming from; it is very hard to explain what i am trying to say; all i can say is read the questions and I think you might understand what i am saying better.

    You are probably better off just doing 6 passages at 10 minutes a passage, then s-canning the other and guess a letter.

  5. Talin permalink
    February 26, 2013

    Listen Bro. I really Don’t think its as easy as you say it is.
    I just checked my reading speed, its 150 words per minute. BUT I always end up getting atleast 1 or 2 mistake per passage. Do you know what this means? It is an automatic 10. and If I happen to be unlucky and get longer passages, or get a hard passage where i get 3 or 4 mistake on that passage, and then I am automatically down to an 8 or 9.

    I took the mcat twice, Got a 7 on VR the first time and then got an 8 on VR the second time.
    If you are telling me that its so easy, then why exactly am I not getting the 11?

    You tell me.

    • February 26, 2013

      Bro, I would say the reason you aren’t getting an 11 is because you are making “at least 1 or 2 mistake per passage.”

      • Talin permalink
        March 5, 2013

        It is unavoidable.. I don’t see how I can get through a passage without making a single mistake.

  6. Anon permalink
    April 14, 2013

    Your rebuttal for running out of time is mistaken. The exam isn’t about reading speed. It’s about comprehension and reasoning. A 10 year old could read the passages in the allotted time frame. BUT would he understand them?

  7. Jay permalink
    May 16, 2013

    You’re a pompous dick! I feel sorry for your future patients

    • May 21, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Jay! Have a good one.

  8. June 1, 2013

    I like this perspective of the VR. Breaks down how easy it really is if you practice and actually focus while taking it. If you read explanations to the questions it just shows you that it’s really not hard. Even though your tone in this is pompous (MCAT-style analysis right there), it’s definitely motivating! Thank you.

  9. Allen Wang permalink
    July 3, 2013

    I took the MCAT on 3/30/13 got my score yesterday. Kinda sad now, I got a 11 / 6 / 11, I was aiming for a 20 plus. I have done all of the AAMC exams and scores roughly 30 to 32, average was 12 / 7.5/ 12.
    I have done all of the Ek101, I just can’t improve in verbal can anyone please advise me what I should do? Should I buy gold standard verbal and real mcat test?
    My EK101 was ranging form 4 to 8, I have done some of the Kaplan exams, and they were running around 4 to 6.
    I have also done TPR hyper learning, which i scored 8 to 9.
    I realized that while doing the TPR hyper learning, it has confused me on how the real MCAT verbal is oriented. I found that TPR answers could be found in the passage for exact word to word, which is now how it really is on the MCAT
    Any feedback will help. I am planning to redue some EK101 test and see if it gets better but before that I will like to try to do the GRE verbal, since it only has paragraph instead of a passage.
    But my main concern is, should I buy Gold Standard 10 exams and 10 verbal exams? Has it helped anyone?

  10. February 9, 2014

    when I first encountered a VR section, I thought mm… very straight forward.
    Indeed many cry and wine about the MCAT. but then again what don’t the majority of the public complain about?Taxes?HW?Test?Life?parents?work?weather?

    I think the VR requires decipiline, I am thankful that it is only 1 h-o-u-r. not 1 day. 1 hr of concentrated decline. USe the analogy of work. would you want to work for one hr or 24 for the same pay if you had the choice?

    I know according to my tone I seem confident, with this good advice.

    But I am scared shitless. I will try to take my own advise. For god knows I NEED IT. Good luck to all.

  11. Anna permalink
    April 18, 2014

    Hi A!! I persistently follow your blog for guidance and I am currently overly concerned with my verbal reasoning progress. Sometimes I’ll get 1 wrong, rarely 100%, or 4/7 questions wrong per passage. I am having a considerable amount of trouble with comprehension of the passages, which is where most my errors lie. What did you do to help enhance your comprehension of the passages? I know you said reading a lot years before the MCAT is helpful but unfortunately that won’t do me any good as of now. I was hoping for some recommendations to books/techniques. Thanks :)

  12. JeremyJ permalink
    June 2, 2014

    VR is not that hard. I scored 13/10/12 . Im really happy. Just read every day and automatically you are going to score high in VR,

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  1. Improving Your MCAT VR Score - Part 2 - The Right Way to Approach It - The Hero Complex | The Hero Complex
  2. The Short List-July 2012 | PracticalPremed

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