Mastering MCAT Math without a Calculator!

Session 165

Good news! The MCAT isn’t a math test. On test day, it’s all about units, simple relationships, and reading the question carefully. Next Step Test Prep’s Phil joins us once again for another interesting topic to help you score better on your MCAT.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:10] Math Without a Calculator

People are freaked out by having to do math without a calculator is because they’re used to using a calculator in college. So for the last four years of their life, they never have to do a math question where they didn’t have the equations for them.

Students have this tactic where they have all the equations memorized at least for the 10 minutes before going into the exam. And as soon as you sit down, you write it down very quickly before you begin. You can do this if you’re able to, but you really don’t have to do this.

'The MCAT is not a math test.'Click To Tweet

The math on the MCAT is not mind-blowingly difficult. You can just round them off and pay attention to certain stuff and things will become a lot easier. It’s multiple choice so you can do crazy rounding and still come close enough to get to the right answer.

[05:40] Units & Relationships

You have about a minute per question on the MCAT. So they’re going to test on what they’re interested in, which is whether you understand what the equation is for. Do you understand when it applies? They’re more interested in relationships.

'Units are insanely important.'Click To Tweet

Additionally, around 30%-50% of calculation questions on the MCAT can be answered without knowing the equation.

If you just know the units, you will get the right answer. If you pay attention to that, you have a backdoor to every question. The first thing is to be aware of that.

Again, this is totally different than undergrad where equations are always needed. The MCAT is not like that. There are a couple of questions where you need to know the equation. But the majority of questions are not calculation questions. We’re talking about the minority of the minority.

Think about what’s going on. Keep an eye on what you can use in the answers. Understand what values are possible. 

For instance, the index of refraction always has to be greater than 1. So if you see an MCAT question and asks:

Which of these is the index of refraction of this unknown substance?

(A) 1.5

(B) 1.8

(C) 0.4

The answer here is A. If light slows down, it’s got to change the index of refraction so it can’t be less than 1. So we’ve done no math here. We just know the index is going to change from 1 and it can’t go smaller.

[11:18] How to Understand Relationships

Take exams and go through QBanks. The more you do practice questions, you’ll start to understand the rules and what applies, and more importantly, what the MCAT actually cares about. The more questions you see, the better it goes.

'Don't just sit with a pile of equations trying to memorize them but actually apply them.'Click To Tweet

Look for the units and be aware of that. Phil recalls doing a passage from the AAMC where there were three calculation questions and ell of them don’t require an equation if you just look at the units.

When you’re using Next Step Test Prep, the platform can tell how long you spent on each question. Click the Review button, scroll down, and see how much time you spent on each question Then you can just click on the question and they’ll take you to it.

Look for different ways to answer a question. Even if you get the question correct, if you spent 2-3 minutes on it (instead of 1 minute), then stop and ask yourself if there’s a better way to answer it.

Unfortunately, the explanations given by the AAMC can be confusing for students. If you get the Next Step Test Prep course, they have videos explaining every single passage and every single question from the AAMC exams. They walk you through how to deal with the passages and questions. This is something the students who have taken their course appreciate a lot.

[16:42] Tips for Moving Decimal Points

If you have fractions, just multiply the top and bottom by 2. For example, 117/5 is 234/10. This is way easier because it’s just going to be 23.4.

You can also use the MCAT answers against themselves. For example, their answer choices are:

(A) 2×1013

(B) 9×1087

(C) 6×10-14

(D) 11×103

Pay attention to the coefficients. Instead of looking at the exponents, look at the 2, 9, 6, and 11. No conversions needed. Just worry about if you multiply and divide the coefficients, do you end up with 2, 9, 1, or 6? But you can do that if all your answers have different coefficients. If the answer comes out to be 2, 20, or 2,000,000, whichever answer has the 2 is the correct answer.

'Ignore the orders of magnitude and that saves students a lot of time.'Click To Tweet

Units, units, units! Units will get you the answer 40% of the time on any given MCAT.

Round numbers off. For instance, gravity is 9.8, you can round that off to a 10. It’s important to look at the answer choices as well. If your choices are 2, 50, 800, and 6,000 then you can round off.

[22:00] Overcoming Your MCAT Fears

If you’re looking for some more fear-easing, check out The Premed Years Session 337. Find out ways to overcome test anxiety and take back control. I have Dr. David Puder on the show. He is a psychiatrist who deals a lot with test anxiety and ADHD in students.


Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Years Session 337: How to Overcome Test Anxiety and Take Back Control

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