Studying for the MCAT: Day 16

Just over two weeks into studying for the MCAT and I’m just a bit more than a week behind.  Part of that is because I was on the road for 7 days and got almost nothing done at all while I was gone.  The other part of it is that reviewing these passages from the Berkeley Review takes forever.  Half the time, the passage asks about material that isn’t in the passage or the content review and is well beyond the scope of anything that’s presented in freshman biology.  When I read the solutions, it will simply rattle off a fact that I have to look up in a physiology or biochemistry textbook.  I worked about 9 passages from the BR on Friday and it took me almost 8 hours to review them yesterday.  Seriously – did I just not get the memo that biochemistry, genetics, and cell bio were covered by this exam?

I have no idea what the hell I’m doing wrong – I’m a week behind after only two weeks.  I did a passage this afternoon on nicotinamide and vitamin B12 and missed every single problem.  Did I take the wrong biology class last year?


15 Responses

  1. You absolutely did not. I kept going on the bio track a bit, taking biochemistry and molecular biology in an effort to boost my BCPM GPA and prove that I was just a dumb 17-year old in Orgo I when I get a C, and it was a fluke.

    Basic biology (human + freshmen) will cover you 100% for the discrete questions. MCAT passages are designed to throw you off and see how well you are at reasoning on that passage (at least my 6/16 MCAT was like that, a lot of others reported the same). The passage questions tend to be: “answer this based on analysis on passage” or “this passage is esoteric, let the question stem tie it into your basic knowledge”.

    I mean, genetics and cellular biology are on the test, yes, but at very simple levels. (Hardy-Weinburg, Punnett, etc.).

    • Maybe I’m just getting the wrong impression (I admit to reading SDN a little too much lately) but it feels like I have to have a year of upper division coursework to see the material that’s going to be covered on the exam. The practice passages I’ve been going through have required a lot of background knowledge that I don’t have.

  2. Biochem, genetics and cell biology are all very much covered in the exam. Not in the intensive level that a full course would give you though. So it depends on how thorough and good was your basic biology course. A very well taught one will have you be very well prepared, a poor one will leave you utterly unprepared. The problem is that a lot of basic biology courses focus a ton on evolution, taxonomy and plant biology, none of which I remember being on any of the exams I took. A year of upper division certainly helps a ton, but isn’t necessary. I would actually recommend a basic human physiology course, that will cover a lot of the material (including some of the genetics and cell biology) that is in the biology section.

    • My intro biology course was pretty good – definitely focused on fundamentals and understanding over memorization. The second semester, which ostensibly was to include all the physiology, was beyond terrible. So, when I get to the physiology section, I suspect that I’ll have a lot more work cut out for me. But I suppose that part of the utility of exam review books is that they focus on the important stuff rather than all the trivia.

      On the brighter side, which I’ve largely been ignoring, I feel pretty comfortable with most of the physics that is covered on the exam and I think I’ll be pretty set on organic chem once I get to it since I just covered it this past year. The genetics, biochem, and cell bio are the tough parts.

      Part of the problem is that I’m not used to seeing a lot of the terminology or reading these complicated looking metabolic pathways with 10 different steps and arrows all over the place. Maybe that will become more natural as I spend some time doing it.

  3. That’s definitely one of the challenges that many people face when they begin studying for the MCAT. The first thing I always recommend is NOT to get discouraged as that quickly leads to higher stress levels and can impact your score. Keep in mind that you’ve just started studying and with exams of this kind a lot of it is about becoming comfortable and familiar with the way the exam is laid out. Of course if you felt that the questions were outside of your knowledge you may consider refreshing your knowledge on those areas. BUT again take your time and we’re excited to see how things move forward. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the encouraging words. I’m starting to think that you’re right – I’m probably just letting poor performances on really tough passages get to me.

      I’ve sort of decided that when I review a passage, I need to look at it with two different questions in mind. First, was there a basic science concept (keyword, basic) that I didn’t know but should have? For example, even though Exam Krackers says I don’t need to, I should probably learn the amino acids and the properties of their side chains. I have to learn them for biochemistry in the fall anyway, and it looks like it might help me on the MCAT. Second, and this is probably the harder one to identify, I should look at each question I missed and determine why I didn’t extract the answer from the passage. As I review these questions, I’ve started to figure that this is the part that I’m probably missing. I need to not get freaked out about the fact that the passage covers material I’ve never seen before, relax, and figure out how the passage answers the question.


  4. Just keep in mind that all those metabolic pathways and all that are actually at their roots incredibly simple, they just have a lot of fluff added to make it confusing. Practice narrowing down to what is the root of the essay, which should be something fairly basic. Also, a lot of the questions can be answered without having read the essay, it’s basic biology trivia. Also almost all of the MCAT biology sections are physiology or cell biology based. I’d throw out those review books and just look at a good physiology textbook. I recommend Stuart Fox’s Human Physiology.

    • I totally agree with this. Since I haven’t had a year of staring at biochemical pathways, I can easily lose my mind when I get one of these 10 step synthetic pathways. I had a passage the other day on beta-oxidation and I’d never seen that. I got creamed on the problems, but when I read the explanation, I realized that I probably could have answered most of them if I had read the passage more carefully or hadn’t blinded myself with thoughts of failure and destitution.

  5. fwiw, I was worried that I’d be handicapped by not having Genetics or Biochem before the MCAT- turned out the passages and discretes focused almost entirely on first year bio topics. The only problem was some questions tested details not in any of my prep books or in my classes.

    • They do that on purpose. There will always be that one question that is pretty much ridiculous and only a very small handful of people will get it right, and then probably half of them just got a lucky guess. You need to remember that the MCAT authors are also trying to test how well you do under pressure and stress. There are questions in there that are intended to throw you for a loop, to see if it’ll will freak you out enough to screw up the rest of the time. Be calm, if you’re spending to long on the question, or you have no idea, skip it. No one goes into the MCAT expecting a perfect score. Acknowledge that you will lose some and that it’s completely okay, there will be plenty you do know. Don’t let it ruin your confidence.

  6. I did biology last. My hugest stumbling block was physics and chemistry… well mostly physics. I truthfully don’t remember NOT being able to figure out something from a passage that I may not have known very well. Meaning, for the most part, unless it’s a flat out knowledge question, you should be able to deduce the answer from the passage. Unless you’re shooting for a 15, I would not memorize everything word for word unless you enjoy biology (which I do) and like learning it. In the big picture, it may save you like 3-4 questions max. I would focus a lot on trying to get most of your info from the passage. I agree that BR is hard – that’s what I used to study from my first time. I liked it a lot,but I didn’t do their bio – all others though came from there. I think Princeton review bio is really good and then Examcrackers is good for mnemonics and going through it fast to recap. 🙂 Good luck!

  7. MSO — I remember the biological sciences part of the MCAT being as much about reasoning, reading comp, and logic as it was about biology and ochem. I started off pretty high on that section, and my score barely budged. I am an excellent biology and ochem student, but those passages were tough. I remember a lot of interpretation of experiments and stuff. Western blots, elisas, stuff like that. I wouldn’t concentrate on memorizing things like the aa side chains. Focus on learning how to master the passages.

    • I used to think I was pretty good at biology and organic chemistry, but I’m getting wrecked on these passages. As in missing half the questions on the passages in the Berkeley Review. It’s tough to not feel frustrated when you’re missing half of the questions.

  8. I will say this though, if you feel that you really don’t know bio, I found the review books to be pretty helpful. They didn’t overwhelm you with material and it seemed to be at the right level.

  9. I stumbled upon your website while desperately searching for tips to study for the MCAT. I just want to let you know that you are so not alone! I just started to study for the MCAT about 2/3 weeks ago, and I am so behind already (I am assuming you are using the schedule from the SDN form?) . A big part of the reason is because I have a job, and anyone will tell you it is a crazy thing to study and have a job at the same time. The BR passages do take a really long to review, I find myself just skimming through the answer explanation quickly just to see why I get it wrong, but not really tracking my progress because I feel so stressed for time. Anyways, good luck with studying and the exam!

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