Tips on managing time spent on each MCAT passage!

By: Omer Ali.

Sometimes, the most difficult aspect of taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is time management. With long passages followed by throught-provoking questions, it is easy to fall behind and render a section incomplete. However, rushing through the entire exam in the interest of time can also hurt your score. Below are a few tips on how to manage your time on each passage to ensure that you move swiftly without compromising your answer selections. 

The strategy that seems to work best in any test is to pace yourself and move through the test at a rate where you will have had the chance to examine each question and attempt to answer it ONCE before time is called. This is a highly beneficial technique because it gives an equal opportunity for each question in the section. Consider this: what if there is a simpler passage at the end of a section? If you spend too much time on the previous passages and were still not 100% sure on your answer selections, you may not get the chance to answer the questions from the easy passage and thus have doubled your losses. This applies to all exams, including ones you will take in medical school. So consider implementing a timing strategy on all of your tests.

For the MCAT, the amount of maximum time you can spend on each passage depends on the section. For the physical and biological sciences sections there are each 52 questions/7 passages (4-8 questions per passage) + discrete questions/70 minutes total time and for the Verbal Section there are 40 questions/7 passages (5-9 questions per passage)/60 minutes total time. The breakdown for timing could go two ways: one is breakdown per question and the other is breakdown per passage. From personal experience and from speaking to other students who took the MCAT with competitive scores, timing per passage was much more effective than timing per question.

Most students who pace themselves by passages generally gave themselves about 8-9 minutes maximum per passage in the physical and biological science sections and roughly 8 minutes maximum per passage on the verbal section. This allows for adequate time to get as much of the passage completed as possible and allowed for some time to review questions/answers at the end. Specifically for the physical and biological sections, 8-9 minutes per passage allowed for enough time to complete the passages, discrete questions, and still have time to review questions at the end.

Keep in mind that these are maximum time limits per passage. If you run over, it is in your best interest to move on to the next passage. When you reach at the end of the exam and have extra time left over, go back to those questions you skipped or may have rushed through. You will notice that some passages do not require the entire time allotted (i.e. You may finish a passage in a few minutes), so whatever time is saved at the end of your exam you can use to answer some of the tougher questions in other passages or review.

Try placing these time restrictions on your next practice exam. Another tip is that during your practice exams, really give yourself less time that you might have on the real exam! Put yourself under stress, give yourself maybe 7 minutes per passage instead of 8. By training yourself to work under the time crunching stress of the MCAT, you will be ready for anything they may throw at you on the actual exam day. Essentially, you should experiment with timing to find what is optimal for you. If your scores do not improve from here, try timing per question. Good Luck!

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