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Developing the Skills to Do Your Best on Standardized Exams Gayle R. Slaughter, Ph.D. Sr. Associate Dean of Graduate Education & Diversity.

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Presentation on theme: "Developing the Skills to Do Your Best on Standardized Exams Gayle R. Slaughter, Ph.D. Sr. Associate Dean of Graduate Education & Diversity."— Presentation transcript:

1 Developing the Skills to Do Your Best on Standardized Exams Gayle R. Slaughter, Ph.D. Sr. Associate Dean of Graduate Education & Diversity Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Director SMART (college), SMART PREP (post-bac), Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (Ph.D. students). REACH IRACDA (post-docs) Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX

2 GRE versus MCAT Very different tests General GRE tests general reading, vocabulary, quantitative, writing and reasoning skills MCAT - science specific content, reading (heavy component) and writing

3 GRE versus MCAT Reading, writing and logic skills Important skills for career success Both assess strategy and characteristics Ability to assess status and face reality Ability to develop, revise a plan to improve skills Discipline to enact the plan

4 MCAT Facts MCAT is developed & administered by AAMC Association of American Medical Colleges click on MCAT Fee assistance (decrease cost from $225 to $85) need approval before register

5 Review of the MCAT MCAT is being reviewed for changes Make it more relevant to knowledge needed for med school Changes expected in 2015

6 Admission and MCAT Scores 70,000 US students take MCAT each year More than 43,000 applied to med school in 2010 130 US schools take 18,000 students/year Chances of getting in are approximately 1 in 3 MCAT scores are a major determinate of admission Not everyone will get their choice of school

7 MCAT Score Relevance + correlation between MCAT scores and performance in classes Will take MANY standardized tests as a med student & physician Are people who graduate from med schools that don’t emphasize MCAT scores, who fail licensing test Average MCAT for all US schools in 2008 was 28 Top schools want MCATs in the 30s; some mid 30s MSTP MD/Ph.D. student average in mid 30s Hard to get in anywhere with MCAT in the low 20s

8 MCAT Facts Computerized test 5hrs, 20 minutes with breaks Questions on details of basic, not advanced knowledge Physical sciences (chemistry, physics) Biological sciences (biology and organic chemistry) 52 questions in 70 minutes (includes 7 reading passages) Can figure out some questions from passages Need outside knowledge to answer 13 others; organic chem

9 MCAT Verbal Reasoning Test A lot of medical school involves learning by reading Important score for many schools Tests comprehension and speed Tests evaluation, application, incorporation of new material 7 reading passages ~600 words/passage Can see the passage and the questions ahead of time 40 questions in 60 minutes

10 MCAT Writing Test Writing sample 2 questions 60 minutes Develop an idea, bring together your ideas, present them logically, write clearly Advice on preparing for writing essays Take courses where your writing will be critiqued Use sample prompts on AAMC site to practice writing Practice discussing essay topics with friends

11 MCAT Advice Take a review course Almost every student I know who made a good MCAT score… has taken a review course Start months in advance Take one less course than normal when study for MCAT Use the summer before you take the test to start preparing If you need major MCAT prep, don’t do a challenging research program at the same time

12 MCAT Review Courses Why take a review course? People study the MCAT; develop material to help you do your best Your college courses many not have emphasized what MCAT tests You need an organized plan of study You need to review effectively You need to do some study with others; help you see things differently

13 Alternate MCAT Prep MCAT Exam Krackers $110 from Review materials (less fear based than Kaplan or Princeton) 10 real 5 hour MCAT tests $35/test- get answers Take a practice test Saturday; review answers on Sunday

14 MCAT Diagnostic Tests Why take practice/diagonostic tests? (Use old tests; AAMC practice test) Need a realistic appraisal of your status Carefully review test results Need to practice the skills and check on mastery of knowledge May need to change your review plan based on 2nd or 3rd diagnostic Need to practice taking the test Manipulations, dealing with stress, building muscles

15 Developing Skills to Do Your Best on the Graduate Record Exam Gayle R. Slaughter, Ph.D. Sr. Associate Dean of Graduate Education & Diversity Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Director SMART (college), SMART PREP (post-bac), Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (Ph.D. students). REACH IRACDA (post-docs) Laurie Connor, PhD. Instructional Manager for Grad School Diversity Programs Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX

16 Graduate Record Exam This PowerPoint will be posted on next week, Nov 15

17 Graduate Record Exam GRE is developed and administered by ETS (Educational Testing Service) Check frequently for updates on changes Select General GRE details; News; Revised test

18 Graduate Record Exam Skills you develop in preparing for the GRE can be crucial to success as a scientist Reading skills More sophisticated vocabulary - new vocab in field Logical, quantitative skills Writing skills - analyze issues and arguments

19 Why Do GRE Scores Matter? Graduate school applicants’ majors, courses, difficulty and currency of courses differ greatly A 3.6 GPA is not equal from all schools GRE scores are the only data that are consistent between schools

20 Why Do GRE Scores Matter? GRE scores have limited predictive value in identifying talented scientists, but graduate schools and fellowship committees use GRE scores to varying extents to make decisions regarding selection of students. Very low GRE scores do have predictive value in identifying deficits in skills and knowledge.

21 How Much Do GRE Scores Matter? Varies with school; ask dean at school Only one component of your application Research/practical experience very important Letters of recommendation from people familiar with intellectual ability familiar with research potential Strength and breath of courses

22 General Graduate Record Exam Given year-round currently Testing centers (listed on web site) On computer, unless special circumstances May take multiple times in a year 15 day delay in getting official verbal & quantitative scores; unofficial scores when take test Results on writing sent later

23 What is a good GRE score? Analytical writing is scored 0-6; 6 is best 5 is a good score; solid scientific writing 5.5-6 is a great score, but 6 is not necessary Scale for verbal and quantitative have changed Now 130-170, so schools will use percentiles 70th percentile is strong A few schools want 90th percentile scores

24 Can I Raise My GRE Scores?

25 Many students who use the SMART GRE Prep strategies gain points on the V,Q, writing components by increasing test familiarity and skills Some students gain many points on verbal score: some only study 20 minutes/day, but study for weeks

26 Resources for Preparing for the GRE ETS website: Changes, i nformation, sample questions, diagnostic tools GRE PowerPrep software: free download Take tests and get scaled and percentile scores ETS Diagnostic service ($15): ~85 questions No scaled score; feedback on strengths and weaknesses ScoreItNow! ($10) Online Writing Practice for two essays Review books: many with CDs of practice tests ETS, Cambridge, Kaplan, Princeton, Cliff’s Notes Prep courses: commercial or on-campus

27 Preparing for the GRE Rule # 1 Understand the test; know what to expect Check-out the GRE web site (updates on changes) Understand the structure and rules of test Take diagnostic test(s) Make a personalized study plan: work on weaknesses Build your skills and knowledge Take practice tests - some on a computer

28 Effective Use of Scratch Paper You cannot take calculators into the test You cannot take paper into the test Testing center will provide 6 p scratch paper You may write anything you can remember on the “scratch” paper, even before the test starts (math formulas) You must turn in your “scratch” paper

29 Effective Use of Scratch Paper Need to prevent confusion about your decisions Make a “grid” before the test starts Mark out each answer that can’t be right abcde XX?X? Choose If answer is obvious, don’t need to review all choices abcde X yes

30 Rules for Answering Questions Answer the questions in any order Confirm each answer Can skip a question and come back to it, but need to keep straight what you skipped; list Can change answers anytime Best Strategy Answer the easiest ? first, then harder

31 General Strategies for Improving GRE Scores You can improve your GRE scores with study Skills you develop preparing for the GRE will benefit you Use results of diagnostic exams to focus study -- analyze your test results Create a personal study plan Some individual study, some group study

32 General Strategies for Preparing for the GRE Use multiple review books, CDs: share Take as many practice tests as feasible Learn the directions Learn how to recognize answers you can eliminate (Power Of Elimination) Train physically as well as mentally Strengthen back, neck muscles and stamina

33 Diagnostic Testing for the GRE Take a diagnostic test; study your responses Do not freak out and give up if your first scores are disappointing Need more than just a score, need to know what areas to strengthen; analyze what you missed - geometry?, author’s perspective? Develop a plan designed to strengthen your weaknesses

34 Diagnostic Testing for the GRE Computer tests From GRE web site or PowerPrep, CDs From review books (old tests OK) Timed pencil and paper test Untimed pencil and paper tests

35 Why take paper and pencil diagnostic tests? Types of questions are the same Easy to check your answers Timed pencil and paper test follow same rules for computer test Untimed pencil and paper tests tests knowledge base no “I ran out of time” excuse

36 Comparing Diagnostic GRE Scores Compare computer, timed and untimed test results If computer is lower than timed paper… need practice on computer test taking If untimed is much higher than timed… need to improve test taking skills If untimed is not higher than timed or computer… need to focus on skills building If scores <30% on all test forms: need skills building

37 CAT Verbal Test A test of verbal reasoning skills. This test requires knowledge of vocabulary words, the ability to use them appropriately in context, and knowledge of the relationship of words. This test requires reading about topics and ideas and answering questions about them.

38 Components of the GRE Verbal Test Sentence/text completion Sentence equivalence Reading comprehension Much more focus on reading (10 passages) Use computer to highlight some answers No analogies or antonyms

39 Components of the GRE Verbal Test Sentence completion has been structured to decrease guessing Sometimes 9 choices, not 5 Reading comprehension has been emphasized more: read a lot as a scientist

40 Doing Well on the GRE Verbal Test Build vocabulary Practice reading passages

41 Improving Verbal GRE Scores Building Vocabulary Learn the most commonly encountered words Learn root words, prefixes, suffixes Learn relationships of words Make flash cards! It works!! Practice your new words; speak GREse Read at a more advanced level (dictionary in hand)

42 Improving Verbal GRE Scores If you start with a low verbal score (<30%) …read Tooth and Nail by Charles Elster and Joseph Elliot Mystery novel set on college campus Written for helping students improve SAT verbal scores (glossary in back) Order from or other site

43 Vocabulary Building for the GRE Learn prefixes, suffixes, root words mis- (wrong) mistake, misplace, misappropriate, misconstrue, miser Create tree relationships of words - use flash cards store Similar relationship (nouns, verbs, adjectives) stock reposit accumulate hoard depository Opposite relationships waste consumption deplete exhaust ephemeral

44 Vocabulary Building for the GRE Encourage each other to use their new words with each other - in regular conversation or just come up and say a sentence with a new word. Use more sophisticated vocabulary in talking, but explain what the word means. For example, the erudite scholar often presented explanations that were so obtuse that no one understood them.

45 Sentence/Text Completion Goal: Find the best word or set of words that completes a sentence based on the context cues Vocabulary building is still the key Can read the sentence(s) Look at choices given to select answer(s)

46 Sentence Completion Need to focus on “signal “or “cue” words similar: and, comparably, likewise, similarly, therefore, thus correct choice will be like words contrasting: although, but, despite, however, in contrast, or, on the other hand, rather, unfortunately, unless, while, yet correct choice will be words that differ in meaning time frame: afterward, heretofore, previously, subsequently versions of no: no, not, not ever, never, under no circumstance

47 Sentence Completion For two or three blank sentences you may need to start with one answer and see if it fits, then see if the other fits Can eliminate some choices because first obviously doesn’t fit May fill in the second or third blank first Careful, some choices make sense for one half of the sentence, but not the other

48 Sentence Completion Some questions have two or three blanks Some questions may have a chart from which you click on the right answers The -----scholar presented-----that were so ------that no one understood them. eruditerationalessmart persuasiveexplanationsclear dispiritedinformationobtuse

49 Sentence Completion Think about “good” versus “bad” words Even if you don’t remember the meaning of a word exactly, you may know if the word represents something good or bad The tone of the sentence will give you clues as to the right “emotion” If you don’t know the meaning of some of the words, eliminate any choices that you can; use prefixes, suffixes, root words for clues

50 Reading Comprehension Test appearance The GRE reading sections will be passages of different length; most are short Some will be too long for all of the passage to appear on the screen at once. You may have to scroll up and down on the screen the see parts of the passage. The questions will appear one at a time.

51 Reading Comprehension 1. Be an active reader Most of the time people read passively, that is they don’t pay enough attention to grasp what they are reading. You must comprehend – not learn - what you are reading. You must be a very active reader. Think about what you are reading. Paraphrase confusing or complicated parts. Ask yourself questions as you are reading. When you do these things, you don’t just absorb the passage, you attack it. Jot down what seem to be important points – often names - with a line number.

52 Reading Comprehension Making notes - no you can’t write on the computer screen - use scratch paper You need just enough of a reminder to find something in a long paragraph. Working out a system of abbreviations and numbering ahead of time as you review material and take practice tests will be very valuable.

53 Reading Comprehension 2.Identify the main idea of the passage Almost every passage has a main idea. Keep the main idea of the passage in mind while reading or answering questions. Wrong answers will often be inconsistent with the “big picture.”

54 Reading Comprehension 3.Recognize the sense of each paragraph Long passages are organized in paragraphs. Jot down phrases and a main idea for each paragraph on your scratch paper with a nearby line number denoted, for example, “25 faunal migration” for information that starts on line 27 about faunal (animal) migration. If you need to refer back to the passage for details to answer a question, you will know how to find the information without rereading the entire passage.

55 Reading Comprehension 4. Don’t try to “learn”/remember the passage On standardized tests you only need to retain information long enough to answer the questions. Many of the details in the passage are completely unnecessary for answering the questions. It is ineffective to read the passage for detail. You can, and should, go back to find the detailed information that is needed to answer a specific question.

56 Reading Comprehension 5.GRE tends to avoid overly emotional language and absolute statements Eliminate answers based on words like never, always Eliminate phrases that are derogatory to groups of people unless the passage contains statements like… “according to the author…” “it is generally believed…” “at that time some people thought…”

57 Reading Comprehension 7.Use the passage to select your answers Everything that you need to answer the questions is provided by the passage. Be cautious in using outside knowledge. The author of the passage may have a very different perspective from views with which you are familiar. Remember some questions ask, “According to the author…”

58 Reading Comprehension Make outlines of the points in practice passages Encourage friends to create study groups and discuss passages with each other Encourage friends to play “games” in which they pretend to have different viewpoints Get a list of books that educated people should read

59 Quantitative Test Test of quantitative reasoning skills Key knowledge areas include basic concepts, procedures and reasoning related to: arithmetic, algebra, geometry (less), probability, statistics General exam does not include problems that include trigonometry or calculus Exam includes interpretation of graphs and reading problems

60 GRE Quantitative Test Most important score for science programs To do your best on the quantitative test Use math reviews; ETS, Kaplan, Princeton Take practice tests Limit calculations, use logic when appropriate, scratch paper

61 GRE Quantitative Test Four choice quantitative comparisons Choose relationship of choice A to B Possible answers, =, cannot be determined Five choice problem solving, some reading problems Interpreting different types of graphs and charts Some exact calculations; calculator on computer Decreases guessing

62 GRE Quantitative Test Most of math is a review for science majors Math reviews are very helpful Practice problems - word problems Geometry emphasizes logical thinking Need to review formulas for area and circumference, sides of triangles, etc. Graphs and charts - review types, practice

63 GRE Quantitative Test Geometry emphasizes logical thinking Weird figures are composites of circles, triangles; break them into forms for which you can calculate sides, etc All of the data you need is really there May need to calculate shaded when all data is for unshaded area

64 GRE Quantitative Test Review math symbols: =, ≠,, ≤, ≥, ∑ Review formulas: a 2 + b 2 = c 2 y = mx + b Math: square roots, exponents, decimals, fractions, factoring, consecutive integers, positive X negative, primes, ect. Memorize common values: π, square roots, common triangle sides (3,4,5)

65 GRE Quantitative Test Don’t be panicked by variables, even strange ones Some questions require you to input answers; calculator on computer For many questions you approximate; give choices Learn to approximate without lengthy calculations You can eliminate many answers quickly Use common sense; check the units Most common errors involve decimal points

66 GRE Quantitative Test Always simplify; this is sometimes all that is needed to determine the correct answer. Break down your computation into workable steps. 15/45 = 5x3/15x3 = 5x3/5x3x3 = 1/3 4x 2 (y 4 )/16x(2y 2 ) =

67 GRE Quantitative Test Always simplify; this is sometimes all that is needed to determine the correct answer. Break down your computation into workable steps. 15/45 = 5x3/15x3 = 5x3/5x3x3 = 1/3 4x 2 (y 4 )/16x(2y 2 ) = x(y 2 )/4(2) = xy 2 /8

68 GRE Quantitative Test Read the entire question carefully before embarking on the math Don’t assume the figures are drawn to scale unless specifically stated. Draw! A picture is always worth a thousand words. You can work backwards from answer choices if necessary. Try starting with the middle value. Assign values to variables if time allows.

69 GRE Quantitative Test Mostly pie, bar and line graphs. Practice with them. You may not see all of the graphs needed on the screen at the same time. May need to scroll. Don’t assume graphs are drawn to scale. Don’t assume graphs start at 0; are a continuous scale. Check the units on the axis versus the info given, question

70 GRE Analytical Writing Assessment The assessment consists of two analytical writing tasks, graded 0-6 (draft, not final, writing) Scoring guide is the same - 5 good scientific writing “Prompts” for each task are published on the GRE web site ( “Analyze an Argument” task: 30 minute time limit More directed response “Analyze an Issue” task: 30 minute time limit Changed from “Your Perspective on an Issue”

71 Analyze an Issue Since August, 2011 - one issue topic “Analyze an Issue” task Prompts are on the GRE website 30-minute time limit Given instructions for focus for your essay One of 6 sets of directions

72 Analyze an Issue Changed to be more specific in the type of response Instructions on specific focus for your answer Agree or disagree, but must address focus (3 examples) “…consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position” “…specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position” “…in developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position”

73 Strategies for the Issue Task Pick a position; any position Agree, disagree, partially agree or disagree Showing complexities of issue is good Must follow instructions given in directions Clearly state your position Make logical, well organized statements Need multiple examples

74 Strategies for the Analyze an Issue Task Have discussions about the prompts; in class, while you wait for class to start, over lunch or while walking with a friend Use Criterion ( to submit essays that can be computer graded ($15/person, minimum 50 people)

75 Analyze an Argument “Analyze an Argument” task: 30-minutes You will NOT have a choice of “Argument” topics, but will be given an argument to analyze. The “Argument” task presents a different challenge from that of the “Issue” task. It requires you to critique a given argument by discussing how well reasoned you find it. You will need to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than to agree or disagree with the position it presents.

76 Analyze an Argument This task requires you to critique someone else’s argument by assessing its claims and evaluating the evidence it provides. Argument Topics: are based on a range of familiar subjects and situations. Argument topics draw upon the desired critical thinking and analytical writing abilities. No topic requires specific content knowledge, need general knowledge.

77 “Analyze an Argument” Assessment “Analyze an Argument” task: 30 minute time limit Read a brief passage and analyze it with specific instructions Website lists 7 possible kinds of instructions Review this and study the types of instructions (3 examples) Examine stated or unstated assumptions What questions would need to be asked to … Provide alternative explanations Study sample scored responses on the GRE website Practice writing responses using the prompts on website - each set instructions - get scored, if can

78 Psyching Up -- Pumping Up for the GRE Treat the GRE like you’re training for the Olympics Assess your mental frame of mind during test taking Learn to alter your mental attitude; experiment with mental images; find those that work; practice Don’t forget final preparation; week before, test day

79 Maintaining Motivation Envision your dreams life, career, contribution to community, world

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