I often get asked how to do better on the critical reading portion of the MCAT. So today I wanted to take time out to talk about practicing better for this section, the one that most people think is the hardest section of the MCAT.
The first tip for this section is to read the passage. People may say that it’s easier said than done, and the MCAT passages are long and arduous. However, this can be overcome by doing lots of practice. Only by timing yourself over and over will you get the hang of how much 5 minutes, 7 minutes, and 9 minutes feels like. The first pass of the passage is the most important, and learning how to retain things you read is important. The first thing is that passages are usually on boring topics, and they’re usually not on the latest Kanye West Album but rather on why a certain plant is only found in Nepal. Secondly, they can be a bit confusing because they use uncommon words or they use weird phrasing. Finally, you may be distracted by other passages in your section.
Before you start every passage, you should take a quick break. I read the passage first, and I highlighted relevant portions in order to keep me engaged. Second, I did at least 4 passages every day from The Princeton Review CARS Book. The second thing to combat reading passages that you don’t understand or sentences that you don’t understand is to skip them—they don’t matter to the larger point of the essay anyway. Learning new vocabulary or sentences is not important, and reading comprehension of one sentence isn’t going to help you answer questions about the main idea of the text. You’re not supposed to understand every single part of the passage because they are testing you to see if you don’t get bogged down in the details. It is called a test of reading comprehension because the test makers want to see if you can eliminate the fluff of the passage to get to the critical sections which you need to answer questions right. If you see enough passages, you will see enough questions about main ideas that you will understand how to get through each section.
Now, moving on to answering the questions. Most of the questions will concern the author’s point of view, so you need to understand what they are trying to mention to you. Without understanding their point of view, then you will never be able to answer their question. You can eliminate the distractor choices as well as those which do not support the claims that the author was making because you spent a lot of time reading the passage. You can also flag questions and come back to them and look at them with a fresh perspective, which can help you answer the question right. Another tip that I have is whenever you see a word like always, never, usually, I would pay particular attention to it because it is an assertion which the author is saying and they are calling your attention to that specific word. They want you to make sure that you look at that particular word because it is important to what the author cares about. You should ask yourself whether you agree with that or disagree because it will probably be an important question later on in the passage. Whenever you practice, make sure that the passage completely supports your answer choice. If all of the claims of the answer aren’t supported by the answer choice, then it will probably not be the right answer. It’s important to make sure that all of the claims are supported with the author’s views, even if that view isn’t “right.”
Another important tip is to make sure to target your improvement on your weak areas. I wasn’t a fast reader, but I comprehended the passages right away so I worked on my timing. If you’re working on answering questions better, take more time for that in the beginning and work up to the timing that you need on test day. You should craft a plan which is best for you in order to improve on the MCAT. In order to get better at CARS, it just requires focus on getting the main idea of the author and learning more about how to answer the question before looking at the answer choices. I read the passage first, then look at the answer choices. You have to make sure that you practice because every person has a different method on how to increase your reading comprehension. It seems like you cannot improve at this section, but that is definitely wrong. I was able to improve my score by using specific techniques to improve, and I think that it is possible for every person to improve as well. Also, outside of the test, make sure you’re exercising and keeping up with family and friends, because you definitely need breaks and without them you’re going to find that you hit a ceiling with the MCAT.
If you want to hear more about my thoughts about healthcare or have a question which you want answered, feel free to sign up for my newsletter.