Let’s Simplify the MCAT: by EATing it
How do you simplify the MCAT?
How do you condense a 7.5 hour test – or 5.75 hours until late 2020 – that covers Reading Comprehension, Statistics, Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physiology, Neurobiology, Psychology, and Sociology?
You take an X-Ray.
You look past the flesh and into its bones.
You simplify the MCAT… by eating it.
A previous post on this blog would correctly disagree with my above statement. The MCAT isn’t one large exam. It is four manageable meals.
Simplifying the MCAT is like eating a four course meal.
All courses share the similarities of food, and are spaced to avoid overindulgence. (For those taking it during the current crisis, it is a bit more like fast food). To best enjoy a fine dining experience, you need a quiet atmosphere, focus, and palate-cleansing.
Let’s dive into the appetizer:
An appetizer focuses on simplicity: isolating food’s building blocks for maximum gustation. Enter the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (C/P) section:
C/P tests your knowledge on life’s building blocks: physics and chemistry equations, organic compounds, and some biochemistry.
In fact, it is a great appetizer.
If you memorize and know how to use a list of equations, dust off chemistry fundamentals, know bare bones organic chemistry, have basic napkin math skills, and know your Amino Acids – you have the arsenal to win the war.
Pretending we can budget fine dining: let’s imagine you are an expert taster.
Such a food critic can discern each ingredient within an appetizer.
This is who you need to be.
The C/P section may have passages: but they are the least important to comprehend within the MCAT.
In all honesty, the passages are excuses to list out question-fodder ingredients. As a food critic, your job is to simplify the MCAT meal and go straight into the question.
Just like a food taster, you need to discern what ingredients the question is looking for.
How do we do this?
Simplify the MCAT C/P Section:
Week 1: Start with a list of all necessary equations next to you. Go through the AAMC question bank, untimed and work through three passages a day using the equations.
Week 2: Repeat without the list of equations and flag the questions where you didn’t remember the equations. Work them at the end with your cheat sheet. Memorize them. Focus on the “lost sheep”. Spot clean your content review.
Week 3: Go cold turkey. Again, focus on lost sheep. Repeat, and voila!
Your taste buds have been refined.
CARS is a salad.
The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section (CARS) is either hated or loved.
Want a pro tip?
EAT your salads. JUST EAT them.
They are purposeful. They can be enjoyable, but that isn’t the point.
With the correct presentation and attitude: CARS can be the equivalent of another MCAT break.
There are a few items to notice about salads: they are composed of sometimes painstakingly healthy fruit and vegetables, their ingredients are easy to spot, they are light, and their quality largely depends on the dressing.
While I argue all apply to CARS, the last point is essential.
Don’t sneak in your own salad dressing into the MCAT.
What I actually mean is that CARS is incredibly evidence based. What you see is what you get and have to work with. Aside from reading, the only skills you need are patience, comprehension, reasoning, and above all: argumentative love for the truth.
Don’t bring any outside bias into CARS. It will ruin the salad.
It is NOT about what you thought you knew about the CARS passage topic.
Look at the bright side: no memorization!
Honestly, CARS is my favorite section once you get used to it. Instead of stressing over what you might have forgotten, you get a passage nicely broken up into paragraphs for you.
Keep it like a court drama: on your right are a series of courtroom questions that test your ability to reference and interpret said testimony.
Simplify the MCAT CARS Section:
Week 1: Without the timer, do 1 AAMC passage a day – using your fingers to reference the passage with what the question is asking. Practice your keyboard shortcuts: especially the highlight and strikethrough.
Week 2: Repeat, except time yourself and flag the questions that eat away the most time. If you lag due to certain passage topics, you aren’t eating your salad.
The third and main course – the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (B/B) – is stew.
All the ingredients from C/P predictably simmer together with the extra spices of physiology and biochemistry.
This is what you came to the MCAT for.
Stew is a wonderfully deep dish. The flavor can go further than expected – bringing an unprecedented depth to the same ingredients you tasted before.
Why is this?
B/B largely tests the SAME TOPICS as C/P, except in a context you actually care about.
Thus: B/B is far more conceptual – relying upon your ability to read research passages.
Don’t get carried away in the complexity of the stew. See what the question wants, navigate straight to the table/graph and identify the units of analysis. Every graph/table is comparing something – be it protein factor fse849dm90000 or flying squirrels.
Link this gargedly goop name to a basic topic keyword you memorized in the content review (i.e…DING DING DING: protein structure!)
Then answer the question. Need more context? Read more surrounding the passage.
Easy money are the Amino Acids – sure to be on the MCAT – on which we published the simplest guide to memorizing them.
Don’t worry too much about overcomplicated metabolic pathways. Eat your stew first, then pick the bones. You’ll get into pathways as time progresses:
Simplify the MCAT B/B Section:
Week 1: PRIORITIZE C/P. Read the Amino Acid Legend book. Learn to read a research paper, especially the graphs and tables.
Week 2: Attempt a passage every other day, still prioritizing C/P. Get a hang for the concepts covered. B/B is the easiest to correct: instead of memorizing a grueling formula, you just Google the topic or watch a Youtube video. Armando Hasadungan has an amazingly entertaining website. Start a dinner conversation about a topic. Teach a younger sibling.
The Biological, Social, and Psychological Foundations of Behavior Section (P/S) is dessert?
Dessert is nothing like the courses before it.
Aside from passages and increased emphasis on statistics, P/S is the black sheep of the MCAT.
Thankfully, it’s predictable.
The AAMC partnered with Khan Academy – which has a video on every keyword you are likely to see on P/S. The skill you need to develop here is context. In WHAT CONTEXT is the passage?
The dabbles in neuroscience are delicious cherries atop of the dessert.
Simplify the MCAT P/S Section:
Week 1: List out all the Khan Academy topics here. Associate the concepts with one another and stimulate your curiosity. Perhaps memorize them or look up words you didn’t know before.
Week 2: When burnt out from the other four topics, eat some dessert. Chocolate is good, but I’m talking about Khan Academy videos. Have that list you made on hand and watch at 2x speed.
Week 3: Work through a few passages a week, emphasizing the statistical skills you have insofar neglected. Practice using the strikethrough key to cut out non-contextual “what is that?” answers. The first few passages, reference your list. Wean off of it. Repeat.