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Your Expert Guide to Self-Preparation
For LSAT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, and PCAT
By Jay Cutts
Lead Author, Barron’s LSAT and MCAT Prep Materials
REMEMBER: The 3 Keys to Self-Prep Success:
- A well-planned study schedule
- High quality prep materials
- Peer support
If you’re still not doing well enough, look for a qualified tutor!
THIS MONTH: Let’s take a quick look at where things stand for you.
MCAT: Hopefully you took your test already. If not, you’ll need to wait another year to apply. This month you need to complete all of your other application materials.
PCAT: Some schools will accept the January exam. If you haven’t scored your best, keep studying!
LSAT: Most schools require an official score no later than the December test. However, it’s to your advantage to also retake the test in February and submit this as a supplemental score. You’re probably already sick of studying but a few more months of prep will make a significant difference. If you feel like you’re not improving, try something different. See our hints on test prep options.
GRE/GMAT: Depending on where you’re applying, your deadlines could be early December to March. If you have to take the test in November or December, it will be to your advantage to retake the test in late January or early February. Let the school know you plan to do this.
Let’s talk more about math. It’s on the GRE, GMAT, and PCAT. It’s not on the LSAT or MCAT.
Last month we talked about developing intuitive tools for organizing math information and math relationships. It’s helpful to understand that the exams test the same patterns of math over and over. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of patterns that they can test. But the better news is that you can learn most of the main ones by carefully studying the problems from previous tests published by the testing company. The GRE and GMAT have a lot of old practice material available. The PCAT is stingy with its old exams. However, this probably means that they don’t vary the test a lot.
Notice that we’re talking about tests from the test makers themselves. Simulated practice questions from commercial prep books very often do not accurately capture the patterns of the questions. Avoid practicing with simulated material.
The GRE and GMAT have some unusual formats for math questions. The GMAT has an entire section of Data Sufficiency, in which you have to determine whether there is enough information to get to an answer. Be sure you understand the instructions. Many errors on this section are just from getting confused on the directions. The GRE has a Quantitative Comparison question type. It’s not as tricky as the GMAT questions but you still need to study the directions carefully.
Here’s another hint. If you find yourself using algebra, don’t. Algebra is very abstract. It’s usually the least accurate way to solve a problem. Go back to organizing the information so clearly that you can see how to get to the solution.
And a final math hint. Work each problem untimed, taking up to 20 or 30 minutes on it if necessary. You’re trying to learn new ways to work with the math info. Try to solve the problem in several different ways. This will help you develop your math intuitions.
Next month we’ll talk about the verbal sections of all the exams.
Jay Cutts is the director of the Cutts Graduate Reviews and lead author of the Barron’s LSAT Prep Book, Barron’s MCAT Prep Book, and Barron’s MCAT Flash Cards. He has helped thousands of students get into graduate and professional programs since 1990.
He is the creator of the STEPS to the LSAT self-study support program.
Mr. Cutts offers free admissions planning help at: