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MCAT Verbal Reasoning Strategies

MCAT Verbal Reasoning

This verbal reasoning section has a reputation for being the hardest section of the MCAT on which to improve one’s score. Ultimately, well-read individuals tend to fare better on this section of the exam, but there is also a very strong component of reasoning and critical thinking. In recent years, many medical schools have chosen to use the verbal score of the MCAT exclusively, or at least with an increased weighting. This is because research at some institutions has shown that the verbal score has the strongest correlation with a medical student’s success in their future career as a clinician.

Unlike the sections of the MCAT that cover the core sciences, the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT does not require any pre-existing knowledge (although general knowledge of science, history and arts will be useful). As mentioned earlier, the science sections each have a finite amount of material to know and concepts to understand which can be conquered with sufficient practice time. However, verbal reasoning tests one’s depth of comprehension and conceptual understanding of written passages and it does so under intense time constraints. This is much harder to study for, without a doubt.

Improvements in your scores on the verbal reasoning section can be achieved by practice, chiefly through being familiar with the format and question style of the questions. There is certainly an art to answering these sorts of questions as they frequently use open question stems like “The author of the passage is most likely to agree with…” as opposed to querying you about some finite aspect of the passage. It helps to read passages critically as though you are grading an essay, as questions may ask you about weaknesses in the structure of the author’s argument. Because there are severe time constraints on the exam, it also helps to practice reading the passage in its entirety and then answering the questions based on your cursory read, without going back to the passage unless absolutely necessary. By writing MCAT practice exams and/or practice verbal passages, with repetition, you can get used to the time constraints.

In fact, you need to answer 40 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes. There are 7 passages, each with 4 to 7 questions. You have just over 8 minutes and 30 seconds for each passage, but that includes the time to read the passage. This section is definitely a challenge!


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