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Are Calculators Allowed on the MCAT?
One of the things that make the MCAT a challenging exam is that the AAMC does not allow students to use a calculator on test day. However, this is not a reason for concern.
The MCAT requires candidates to solve mathematical problems that are based on their knowledge of physics, chemistry, and statistical reasoning, amongst others topics. The exam can be completed without relying on a calculator with some tricks and practice.
Why are Calculators Not Allowed on the MCAT?
The MCAT is not a mathematical exam; rather, it is more of a reasoning test. The purpose of the exam is to assess if students have the potential to join a medical school and have the ability and the will to prepare for it. The exam tries to evaluate how well students can read the given information, comprehend it, and then approach the problem without succumbing to the pressure of an exam environment. It tests their ability to approach intimidating looking problems and passages and to use their skills and come up with an appropriate solution for each question. The ability of students to type in numbers into a calculator does not have a significant impact on their reasoning and problem-solving skills.
People often believe that calculators are not allowed on the MCAT because it does not include difficult math questions. However, this is not entirely true. There are many questions that require strong mathematical skills. For example, in acid-base questions, students are sometimes asked to find the pH of a solution. This may need them to take the square root of their answer or perform a calculation that would be much easier with a calculator.
However, the MCAT wants students to come up with a better and perhaps even a simpler solution for such problems. The primary assessment is not to panic when a large amount of numerical information that may seem intimidating is given to them. Thus, learning specific and relevant mathematical tricks and knowing when to use them makes the math section on the MCAT very doable even without a calculator. Also, allowing calculators would not help the test-takers to challenge your ability to approach conceptual questions.
What Does This Mean for Test Takers?
The MCAT is another one of those exams which require you to do calculations without allowing a calculator in the test center. But for students, this means that their work becomes simple enough that they can do it on their own. It means that when they see a particular math problem in the exam, there will be a short and straightforward way to solve it. Moreover, it also means that the numbers given on the question are easy to manipulate with hand and can be converted into simpler forms to make the calculations much easier. For example, they can be converted into simple fractions, decimals, or other scientific notations, etc. Basically, if students practice enough, they are likely to be able to solve all these questions without significant hardships.
Moreover, another reason why MCAT does not allow calculators is that it is simply not focused on the mathematical ability of students. So why put in the extra energy and effort to create difficult math problems that require complicated equations and large numbers. The makers of the MCAT can simply rely on simple and basic math since the underlying purpose is to test student’s potential for medical school, not mathematical school!
How to Attack the MCAT Without a Calculator
Doing math without a calculator may seem like a daunting task, but it is not that difficult to master. You can still use mental math or use rough paper to work out problems during the exam. If you do not feel confident in your mental math abilities, it is time to start doing some practice questions. After all, some of these things were taught to us in elementary school, and a lot of time has passed since then!
To score well on the Math section of the MCAT, the key is to practice the simple tricks and tips to manipulate complicated problems and turn them into simple ones. Since you are not allowed to use a calculator, you are not expected to perform any lengthy calculations to get to the final answer. At first glance, the numbers may seem complicated and messy, but they can always be made simpler using some simple tricks.
What Type of Questions Might Require a Calculator?
The MCAT is a conceptual exam that requires little mathematical computation. Any such requirements are based only on fundamental mathematical concepts, which include arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry. There is no calculus involved. Moreover, the math-based problems usually appear on the chemical and physical foundations of the biological systems section. In other sections of the exam, general knowledge of basic statistics that are used in research is adequate.
Tricks to Solve MCAT Questions Without a Calculator
Before you take the MCAT exam, it is better to brush up on some basic math that can help you save time and score better. You can make use of the following tips to help you be prepared for doing math quickly without needing a calculator.
You Must Only Be Reasonably Accurate
In most questions, you can make simple approximations to help you do the math quicker. The exam is long, and there is not enough time to spend in lengthy calculations. Always remember that the math questions on the MCAT will be simple so that you do not have to spend a lot of time on it. You can solve them only by using a pen and paper. Do not let complex or big numbers put you into pressure. The answer will always be simple.
If there are some problematic looking numbers in the problem, you can quickly round them to make them simpler to handle. Rounding numbers to make calculations easier is the key to performing well in this section. Be sure to go through the answer choices before rounding your values quickly. If you feel the answer choices are extremely close values, then you must be more careful. Always remember if you rounded the numbers up or down. If you rounded up, this means the actual answer will be lower than your calculation and vice versa.
If you feel like you are writing extremely complicated calculations on the rough paper when doing math-based problems, you should realize that you are probably wasting your time on one question. You do not need a precise answer and should probably move on to the next question if you are just not able to crack it.
Apart from these tips, you must practice math questions without using a calculator beforehand. Although the calculations will be small but doing practice questions can make these calculations even easier. Brush up on some old concepts and include some math review in your MCAT prep. Always remember that each question carries the same marks, so do not get intimidated by a few calculations-based questions on the exam.