How To Understand MCAT Questions Easily

June 26, 2024

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So you’re ready to crack on to another practice question. You’ve got your beverage, your pencil, your notebook.

You’re committed to doing some studying. And you’re reading through the passage, the first question, and the first question again, and the first question again because…

None of it makes sense!! 😩

This is the point you might be thinking about giving up - for the day, or the week, or forever. It might feel like it’s you, but it’s not. Questions on the MCAT are rarely straightforward…

They are not designed to be easy and are packed full of information that isn’t relevant.

One of your MCAT Mastery Mentors, Austin, is here to help you with techniques to navigate these tricky questions and find out what they are actually trying to ask you.

He struggled with this a lot during his own MCAT prep but he came out of his MCAT journey successful with a 518! Check out his video above or keep reading to learn how he managed to succeed. We'll pass it off to Austin from here! 

Imagine you're in the middle of the bio/biochem section. You just read a super lengthy and dense passage about how a specific enzyme works, and you finally get to the questions.

That first question is about six lines long. There are three sentences in it. The first one is about an experiment that's unrelated to what you thought you just read. There's a double negative involved, and you don't even really know what the question is asking.

You go to the answer choices, and you're still confused, you don't even know what you're looking for. And then you have to go back to the passage.

I imagine for many of you this isn’t hard to envision because if you were like me, that happened a lot. 

One thing I was able to leverage was to really focus on the questions and identify, what am I being asked here? And that is super important because this is a multiple-choice test. So knowing what you're being asked can help you eliminate some easy answers.

How To Decode Passage Questions

I know there are some different views on whether you should read the questions before passage first, and see what you're going to be asked. But I personally believe it's better to read the passage first and then go to the questions to establish context for the questions.

When you are reading the questions, the first thing that I would do is just read it through one time just to see what's going on and get a basic understanding. 

Now, most people would then go into the answer choices and try to reason through them. 

What I learned is that this is not a very effective way to go through the questions and answers, because if you're not sure what the question is asking, how do you know what the answer is going to be? 

That's one thing that a lot of people really get stumped on the MCAT. Sure, there are a lot of answer choices that sound good. Maybe they are true facts, but most importantly, they need to answer the question.

Keys To Look For In Your Questions

What I would do is read the question through once and then go back to it and really break down what you're being asked. There is usually an introductory sentence that sets the scene or maybe introduces something that you'll need in the answer choice. Pay attention to that.

But then what you really want to focus on is where is the actual question located. In some questions, there will be keywords that indicate that the answer can be found in the passage.

Additionally, you want to look at all of those double negative type questions. Take note of keywords and phrases such as "least", "not" and double negatives that are designed to trick you when trying to reason through the answer choices. Then with this information, you will be able to identify a category of a type of question that it falls in. These will vary depending on what section you're in.

For example, in one of the science sections, you might be able to identify the question as pseudo-discrete. In this case, you don't necessarily need to go back to the passage. Or maybe this is something about an amino acid that I need from the passage. Or they introduce a new experiment, and I need to see how this be different from the experiment they showed.

With the CARS section, you can easily identify what the question is asking for, such as the main idea. This is really helpful because then you can filter through the answer choices and know what you should be expecting. Not necessarily what the answer is going to say, but what it should be related to.

So for a main idea, you know that if they give you a super specific phrase that's only in one paragraph, that's too limited. Or if it's about most supporting an author's view and the answer choices aren't even related to the author's view at all.

Again, that's an answer choice you can easily cross out.

That's why, regardless of which section you're in, it's super important to know what your question is really asking, because then that's the only way you can get the right answer choice.

I found that just by slowing down, going back to the question again to find where is it that question that they're really asking now before I go to the answer choices will help me to at least knock out one or two answer choices easily and then confirm that I know my answer is right.

What If I Can’t Decode The Question?

Decoding questions and passages for the MCAT to achieve a competitive score is a challenge we have all faced. Sometimes you might not know what the question is asking. You might still be confused. And then that's where you can just use the answer choices to your advantage.

Again, this is a multiple-choice test. You're not coming up with the answers on your own. It's not like a fill in the blank written response. And so sometimes you can go through answer choices and see if  there is a common thread or maybe go back to the question and that can help you. 

Obviously, this is something you only want to do as a last resort when you don't know what the question is asking, but in some questions, you can even eliminate and narrow down answer choices without needing to fully understand the question.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Definitely, I would encourage you to practice just as many questions as you can. Take it slowly. Don't worry about the timing. Just focus on – am I able to reword this question and then get the answer choice right?

Through plenty of practice, you will be able to go through these passages faster and more accurately. When it comes down to the real exam, if you’re able to use these tips and tricks, you will succeed.

Thank you for listening. I hope you found this helpful as you embark on or continue on your MCAT journey. If you want to hear more from me and my fellow mentors at MCAT Mastery, you can check out this link.

Making Sense Of The Riddles In The MCAT

MCAT questions can make you feel like you’re stuck in a maze, but with Austin’s strategies we think you’ll have an easier time navigating your way through the journey!

Making sense of the MCAT is a common headache for many of us. And maybe it’s because you’ve had a long day, or you just got out of bed, or you’re not feeling 100%. But there’s a good chance you’ve probably already run into questions that feel more like riddles than questions.

And what better way to make sense of the complex riddles of the MCAT than with your own personal MCAT Mentor?! Our affordable 1:1 private tutoring options will make sure that you understand the MCAT better than the AAMC themselves and give you what you need to get your goal score on test day!

Remember that difficulty and frustration with the MCAT is something that has plagued many future doctors (including us!) and if they could get through it then so can you!

The MedLife Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors

Your MCAT Success Mentors

About the Author

We're a team of future doctors passionate about giving back and mentoring other future doctors! All mentors on the team are top MCAT scorers and we all are committed to seeing you succeed in achieving your physician dreams ????To help you increase your MCAT score to the competitive mark quickly, we have collaboratively created these self-paced MCAT strategy courses and are also available for one-on-one tutoring!

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