Three Proven Ways to Improve Verbal

Alright, unless you’re a comparative literature major, it’s likely that this will be your most dreaded section.  Why do people dislike this section so much?  There are a few factors including:

  • Passages are long and boring – verbal passages focus on the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.  One passage may be about Victorian etiquette, while the next can be about exploring Jupiter.  Very rarely will you find a passage in which you have a profound interest, and this can be problematic.
  • The section is stringently timed – you have 60 minutes to read and complete 7 passages.  That’s about 8 minutes and 30 seconds per passage, and you will need to answer all 40 questions.  It can be an intense hour.
  • Questions require you to know the passage inside and out – you will be zipping back and forth between the questions and passages to find most of the answers.  Unlike physical/biological sciences, there aren’t any stand-alone questions so your comprehension is vital to answering the questions.

Here are a few proven ways that you can get a solid improvement on your score.  The advice listed here is general, so it’s doesn’t discuss how to approach certain passages or question types.  It also may not be news to you, but can you really admit to taking all three points to heart?  If you really follow these three strategies so they become second nature, you’ll markedly improve your scoring potential.

1. Get as pumped as you can for the passage

This is one of the most key tips and is a paradigm-shift for most students.  This relates directly to the fact that most students will simply not find the passage interesting.  But sulking through the passage is not only annoying, it hurts your chances of doing well.

Suppose your MCAT passage relates to Rembrandt, the Dutch painter.  Even if you have no art background, get excited to learn about painting!  As you read each sentence, get excited about the fact that you are gaining new knowledge.  What were Rembrandt’s motivations?  What were the major themes in his paintings?  Keep your mind going throughout the passage.  For the 5-10 minutes you spend on this passage and questions, try to imagine that the topic is your major and you want nothing more than to learn more.

Obviously, this will take practice, but making these minor tweaks in your perspective will have huge added benefits.  Passages will fly by and you will keep your mind constantly working.  You will be impressed how much easier this will make the questions.

Quicktip: You can practice this strategy by going to news sources and magazines of scholarly value and reading articles that you would never otherwise read on your own.  If the thought of reading the article puts you to sleep, you’ve got a winner!  Read it an practice loving every word of it!

2. Practice reading dense texts well before the exam

Practicing verbal passages (either from official exams or from MCAT courses) is an excellent way to learn about what to expect and diagnose any issues you might have with reading comprehension.  But admit it – this is a legitimately tedious exercise!  When practicing physics, it’s easy to just blast through 10 or 20 problems and get quite a bit done.  Verbal requires full and undivided attention.

While you still have to put in the work and practice passages, there’s another way that you can easily prepare for the section.  Read outside texts!  The more dense, the better.  You need to train your eyes to be able to scan large amounts of text and comprehend quickly what the author is trying to convey.

Get a 6-month subscription to magazines like The New York Times or The Economist; they present complex subject matter and are perfect for practice.  As an added benefit, you’ll learn a lot by reading such journals.  This has been a huge factor in many verbal success stories, so don’t rule out reading for fun!

Quicktip: TMZ and E! don’t count as scholarly.

3) Timing is crucial

Each question is worth the exact same number of points.  So if you find yourself stuck on a particularly difficult passage, move on.  You can always come back to things.  There is no point spending 15 minutes on a passage and losing time to for passage #7.  You are on a mission to obtain as many points as possible – if you jump around, the computer grading system will never know.

Coming into the exam, have an average for how long you usually spend reading a passage and how long you spend answering the questions.  Gauge your speed and strategy based on these numbers!

Quicktip: While you can strategically jump around, be careful not to waste time being picky about the passage. Make your selection quickly and don’t linger. Your decision should be made based on a very quick assessment of the content and length of the passage, and not much more.

Overall, verbal is all about the practice and feeling comfortable reading and thinking critically for 60 minutes. It’s a marathon, but you’ll feel great when you finish the section. Now get out there and get reading!

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  1. Ryan Goodson

    Great tips…. The only question I will be left with – is why I do this to myself? Good luck everyone!!!! You can do it!!!!

  2. Layla

    I am going to take the MCAT soon but this dilemma will stay with me for the rest of my life: The test makers know that students pretty much guess half of those answers on the VR test, the questions can barely be understood, and the text is partially read, let alone understood and all this is due to the lack of time and not because students are stupid or not prepared. Is this a way of testing how a future doctor will chose the diagnosis for a patient? By skimming his/her one page medical history in 4 minutes and by choosing the correct diagnosis in 45 seconds? This test mainly tests the pure luck of each student as well as his/her capacity of guessing an answer which in my humble opinion is not what a doctor should do in the real life. I am not against the VR test, I just think it should allow more time for the student to properly read the passages.

    1. M Prep Team

      Layla, your sentiments are certainly echoed by many students out there. However, the purpose of the VR section is to test your comprehension and critical thinking abilities when presented with information that is completely novel. From our experience, student performance rarely (though certainly not never) improves with ample time; student decisions about an answer option are usually made quite quickly and decisions improve with more practice and skill, not with more time.

      Certain medical schools are learning that performance on the VR section tracks performance in medical school as a better predictor than either the BS or PS sections. At the end of the day, while some students have trouble with the timing, others do not. With 60 minutes and 7 passages, you have just over 8.5 minutes per 500-600 word (roughly one page of single-spaced text) passage plus 5.7 questions/passage on average. If you think about it, that’s a reasonable amount of time if you can learn to be efficient and proactive with reading rather than passively read like many people normally read casually. The Verbal Reasoning section requires skills which can be learned, so a student’s focus should always be on how to acquire those skills. This is one of the major benefits reported by students in our MCAT eCourse as well as other courses; the type of reading expected on the MCAT is not natural to most people but it can be learned and developed!

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