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The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Preparing For The Mcat

It can be categorically stated that your performance on the MCAT will be better if you prepare for it in an organized manner. This means that a structured study plan should be developed before initiating your review process.

Developing a study plan involves (1) setting a realistic starting date to begin your study program (such as one and a half to three months prior to the test date, depending on your ability, time available for study, etc.); (2) requisitioning fixed blocks of time on a weekly basis to be used exclusively for study (with alternate time-blocks if you cannot keep to your schedule); (3) proportioning your study time relative to each of the sub-tests, in direct proportion to your strength or weakness in each area; (4) arranging your study schedule to allow for completion of preparation for taking the exam a few days before the test date. This will reduce the chance or need for cramming, which would be counterproductive. Moreover, a brief interlude available just prior to the test will afford you a chance to relax physically and mentally in preparation for the examination. You can then better meet the very demanding challenge for a 5¾-hour test.

General Study Guidelines

The following nine suggestions should aid in your preparation for taking the MCAT.

  1. Your first step should be to familiarize yourself with the major topics that must be mastered for each of the subtests (see pages 143–144). This will give an overview of areas that may require greater or lesser emphasis in your study schedule.
  2. It is probably desirable to begin your study with the subject that you are most knowledgeable or comfortable with. Thus the learning process, which under the circumstances should be a productive one, will also serve to reinforce your self-confidence as you prepare for more challenging segments of the exam.
  3. Consider utilizing a study plan that involves a preliminary review of the material, before initiating intensive study. If areas of weakness are identified during the initial review, seek to fill in the void without excessive delay. This will lessen your anxiety due to concern over your knowledge gap. Excessive worry over your deficiencies can seriously impede preparation for and attainment of your goal.
  4. Determine the inherent sequence of the information you seek to master. Try to master it within the context of a logical “framework” rather than as isolated data.
  5. You should try to determine your most successful study techniques (such as repeated reading of material outlining the subject, written summary of the text, or verbalizing the highlights of the information being studied).
  6. Before you commit information to memory, be certain that you comprehend it fully. It is more difficult to unlearn erroneous material and replace it with a correct version than to learn it right in the first place.
  7. The length of your individual study session should be reasonable and adjusted to the state of your physical and mental well-being. If fatigue sets in during your learning period, take a break or terminate it. Pushing yourself beyond your limit will be unproductive because of inefficiency, and consequently potentially frustrating.
  8. The major determinant of success on the MCAT (like any other exam) is retention of the material learned. Meaningful information — that is, knowledge associated with principles or concepts — is retained longer than nonmeaningful information — this is, isolated facts. In both cases, however, repetition at spaced intervals after initial learning will enhance retention. Thus, frequent, short, intense review periods will definitely enhance your incorporating the material for an extended interval.
  9. Getting a good night's (REM) sleep after an initial intense study session in the evening is important, because (dream) sleep has been shown to consolidate long-term memory, thus enhancing retention.

Specific Study Guidelines

One can and should prepare for each of the four specific subtests. Preparation for these should be an integral part of your overall study plan.

Science Subtest Preparation

As indicated in the preceding section, a preliminary review of the major topics in the physical and biological sciences will provide you with a general assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This can be done using well-written college textbooks or reading the Science Review chapter in Barron's How to Prepare for the Medical College Admission Test by Hugo R. Seibel and Kenneth E. Guyer (Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 2006). Your goal should be to refresh your memory with the general concepts and principal facts in each of the three science areas you will be tested in.

It is best that you begin intensive study only after you have completed your preliminary survey.

The major topics to be covered are summarized in the chart on pages 143–144, which is consistent with the contents of the MCAT.

Verbal Reasoning Subtest Preparation

It should be recognized that reasoning is a skill and requires practice. Some basic rules for proper reasoning are the following:

  1. Strive to ascertain the meaning of the central theme of the passage under consideration.
  2. Try to identify the premises upon which the passage is based, both explicit or implicit.
  3. Evaluate critically the premises in terms of how strongly or poorly they support the conclusion.
  4. Seek other relevant arguments to support the conclusion.
  5. Be alert to being led astray in your thinking.

Newspaper or magazine articles, especially editorials, provide source material to test your verbal reasoning skills.

In responding to the paragraph under consideration, you can chose to read it first, then take note of the questions next. Conversely, you may wish to read the questions first, then read the relevant paragraph. In either case, underlining appropriate key words or phrases in the paragraph should prove helpful in your analysis of its contents.

Writing Sample Subtest Preparation

This subtest will, for some applicants, represent the greatest challenge. Meeting this challenge will depend on how successfully you have mastered the art of essay writing. Given a statement, you will have to respond to three writing tasks pertaining to the statement.

First, you must determine the meaning of the statement and do so in an orderly, thorough, and coherent manner. Second, you will have to translate the meaning of the statement in the context of some example that illustrates an opposing attitude. The third task will be to reconcile the conflict between the statement or interpretation (task 1) and its opposite viewpoint (task 2). While you may respond to the three tasks in any order, all three tasks must be met in order to maximize your credit potential.

In responding to the challenge of the writing sample, the following guidelines should prove helpful.

  1. Carefully read and analyze the statement presented before you initiate your response.
  2. Determine specifically what you are really being asked to do.
  3. Prepare a brief outline of how you wish to respond, using key words, ideas, facts, or examples.
  4. Write legibly and in direct response to the task under consideration. Focus your responses as specifically as possible.
  5. Present your ideas clearly and in an organized rather than haphazard fashion.
Biological Sciences
Note: While organic chemistry is covered in the biological sciences subtest, its topical outline here is given in its traditional position under chemistry.
Microbiology Mitosis
 Viral structure  Process
 Prokaryotic cell  Structures
 Fungi  Movements and mechanisms
Molecular Biology   Nuclear envelope
 Cell metabolism   Nuclear structures
 Enzyme structure
 Enzyme function Human Body Organization
 Glycosis  Basic tissues
 Epithelial tissue
The Cell  Connective tissue
 Plasma membrane  Muscle tissue
  Ultrastructure  Nerve tissue
  Membrane transport Respiratory System
 Cytologic research methods  Gas exchange
 Cytoplasmic organelles  Thermoregulation
  Mitochondria  Components
  Golgi apparatus   Rib cage
  Endoplasmic reticulum   Diaphragm
  Lysosomes and peroxisomes
  Annulate lamellae Digestive System
Skeletal System  Digestive glands
 Organization  Functional control
 Bone characteristics  Nutrition
 Joints Urinary System
Muscular Tissue  Structure
 Classification  Function
 Terminology  Hormonal control
 Gross and fine structure
 Function Nervous System
 Control of activity  Components
 Central system
Circulatory System  Autonomic system
 Structure Immune System
 Circulation path  Bone marrow
 Blood  Thymus
 Oxygen transport  Function
 Lymph system
  Spleen Neuron
 Classification and groups
Cytoskeleton  Supportive cells
Special Sensory Organs Reproductive System cont.
 Eyes  Gametogenesis
  Structure  Meiotic cycle
  Sensory reception  Menstruation
 Ear  Embryogenesis
  Structure   Early stages
  Mechanism of hearing   Germ layers
 Chordate body plan
 Nose  Vertebrate body plan
  Mechanism of olfaction Genetics
 Mendelian concepts
Endocrine System  Sex-linked features
 Major glands  Mutation
 Mechanism of action Evolution
 Natural selection
Reproductive System  Formation of species
 Organs  Origin of life
Physical Sciences
Inorganic Chemistry Organic Chemistry Energy cont.
The Atom Alkanes  Temperature calculations
Components of the atom Cycloalkanes  Temperature measurements
Energy levels Alkenes  Heat
The Periodic Table Alkynes  Thermodynamics
 Gases Aromatic compounds  Electrostatics
 Liquids Grignard reagent  Electricity
 Solids Alcohols  Electric circuits
 Phase changes Amines  Electric energy
 Chemical compounds Amides Machines
 Bonding Aldehydes  Advantages of machines
 Balanced chemical equations Ketones  Harmonic motion
 Solutions Carboxylic acids Waves
 Acids and bases Esters Sound waves
 pH and buffers Ethers Light rays
 Electrochemistry Mirrors
 Thermodynamics Physics Lenses
 Rate of chemical reactions Atom composition
Accelerated motion Radioactivity
Biochemistry Forces and motion Nuclear energy
Projective motion Photons
Enzymes Friction Atomic energy units
Amino acids Work and power
Proteins Energy
Carbohydrates  Momentum
Lipids  Uniform circular motion
Nucleotids and nucleic acids  Fluids at rest

Additional topics

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