MCAT Critical Thinking > Reading Comprehension
The reading problems on the MCAT are much different than just normal reading. You must be able to read the passage, understand the material and be able to apply it through the questions in a limited period of time. It is important during these passages to not focus on the content of the passage but understanding the structure of the passage and how it relates to the question.
The skills gained from the reading comprehension are the most important of all the MCAT. Being able to read passages and apply the content quickly to questions is a skill used on all of the other sections of the MCAT also.
- Do not aim for retention of content
- Do not try and actually learn content
- Use the knowledge contained within the passage to answer questions
Check your reading speed and make sure that you can read at least 200-300 words per minute with good comprehension. If not, take a speed-reading course. If you cannot finish the MCAT, you cannot do well on it. Many people who did not do well on the MCAT failed to finish the test or had to rush through it.
Understanding the Content
Being able to look past trying to remember endless amounts of facts is important because there is such a breadth of information that could potentially come up in the questions. This is why you need to look less at trying to bring in massive amounts of outside information and focus primarily on how to use the information given within the passage.
First, you need to try and find out what the author is trying to say, meaning look for the point the author is trying to make with the passage. Then look at the methodology and syntax of how the argument is constructed. Being able to differentiate between a weak and a strong argument is a key skill in interpreting and understanding the verbal reasoning passage questions.
The verbal reasoning section of the MCAT is looking for your ability to critically think and analyze a passage. The MCAT is looking to test your ability as a future physician to look at the big picture in order to make good judgements.
Reading on the MCAT is not always as straight forward as you may think. Writers often veil their intentions and view points so only the most keen can see them. This is often reflected in older styles of writing, as the test will not always yield contemporary passage samples.
Most passages will ask you questions about the writers content and ideas more than anything else. Most questions will either ask you to reinforce the authors ideas or refute them based on the content of the passage. This is why it is important above all else to see the theme that is being written along with the evidence to support the theme.
The most important thing when reading on the MCAT is to just read. Do not "skim" the passage and not read for comprehension. This will cause you to waste valuable time re-reading passages. You only have limited time for each passage and you need to spend every second trying to get all of the information you can out of the question in the shortest period of time. By being able to read effectively, you will be able to spend more time on the questions themselves and possibly get more points.
Time management skills are necessary for this part of the MCAT and every part of the MCAT for the matter. By spending more time on the questions and less on the content you will be able to get a higher score in this section which will help boost your overall score.
The questions are often simple re-phrases of the subject matter contained within the passage. If you are able to draw the points out of the question easily, it will also be even easier to answer these types of questions.
Again, being able to understand the theme, content and purpose are most of the common features you should need to know.
Here is a list of steps you should consider when tackling each question
First, analyze what the subject matter is that is being discussed. Weather it is 19th century philosophy, earth science or even history, you must be able to understand the general subject matter being discussed.
Next, find the purpose of the passage. Is this author describing an event? Stating an idea? Providing Political Commentary? Understanding the writing style and message of the author like discussed is the most important thing. You will be able to glean more good question material from these skills alone.
After finding the purpose of the passage, next you need to find the evidence that the author is using to support the point. This evidence could be either faulty or sound, but you must be able to determine this as the questions may often ask you to analyze the quality of the argument.
Keep in mind, when you are reading keep reading more for the "why" than the "what". The details are meaningless as you are often looking more for the purpose of the passage rather than the subject matter contained within. Remember, no reading for material learning, read for comprehension. This will net you more points than anything else.
Try and read only one time through. Do not get distracted so you can spend more time on the questions. You will get more points off of every question on the MCAT by being able to read the passages not for subject content but for point and purpose. The skills learned for this passage come with practicing MCAT style questions and can be applied to questions in the biological and physical sciences also.