Having a strong vocabulary foundation pays huge dividends in a plethora of instances: when you’re writing your personal statement, reading medical journals or a book for pleasure, networking with professionals, attending fancy dinner parties, and so on. Oh, and it’ll pay off big time on the MCAT, too! Be sure to check out our free, MCAT vocabulary flashcards to start improving your vocabulary today.
Where will Vocabulary Show Up on the MCAT?
You’ll be able to put your vocabulary skills to the test predominantly on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT. Here’s an excerpt from the AAMC about the CARS section:
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills passages are relatively short, typically between 500 and 600 words, but they are complex, often thought-provoking pieces of writing with sophisticated vocabulary and, at times, intricate writing styles.
Don’t let the word ‘sophisticated’ intimidate you! Even if you don’t know a particular word at first, you can always figure out its meaning by the context it’s in, which we’ll discuss a little later. For more information about CARS, take a look at April’s Blog Post on How to Study for the MCAT CARS.
Is there an Official MCAT Vocabulary List I Should be Studying?
While there isn’t an official list to study from, you should get in the habit of reading every single day. And this includes reading books or articles you’re interested in: an autobiography of a basketball coach, an article about Scandinavian politics, or a short story about a boy wizard are all fair game!
You’ll naturally come across words you aren’t familiar with and see them used in a sentence instead of just memorizing a definition from the dictionary. Before you look the word up, do your best to guess what that word means based on the tone of the author and the other words in the sentence. This will make you a strong active reader and help you pay attention to the small details that you’ll be asked to pinpoint on the MCAT!
I can’t begin to emphasize how advantageous it is to study Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes, especially in the sciences! Think about words like hepatitis or intravenous. If you know your roots, you can figure out what these words mean without ever having seen them before. For example, hepato means liver while itis means infection, so hepatitis is an infection of the liver. And, intra means within while venous means vein, so an intravenous injection is one that goes in your veins! Check out this list and study the: Latin prefixes, Latin suffixes, Greek prefixes, Greek suffixes, and Greek base words. You’ll thank me later 🙂
Vocabulary in Context
Sometimes, knowing the definition of a word is not enough, especially if the word has multiple meanings. Let’s look at the following sentence:
“The medical school application process is designed to screen out less-qualified candidates and select for the best and the brightest.”
If this was part of a passage, a question might ask us, “Based on the passage, ‘screen’ most closely means:”
If you had skimmed the passage and did not know the context that ‘screen’ was being used in, you might choose ‘protect’ as your answer choice because you know that it’s a definition of ‘screen.’ In the context of the sentence, however, ‘screen’ means to filter. If you had read the passage and understood how ‘screen’ was being used, then you would have gotten the answer right, without necessarily knowing any of ‘screen’s’ definitions! Chris’s Blog Post about how to read Vocabulary in Context has excellent tips on how to develop this skill.