Recent Tutoring Session Reviews
"[COVERED]: We began by reviewing the passage on the Rutherford experiment I had assigned as homework. The student remarked on her difficulty mapping the passage by herself, stating that she had thought it was an informational passage. I told her there was some overlap, and that a few seconds scanning the passage may not immediately yield that information, but that, while reading it, she was allowed to adjust what information she distilled in order to come up with a better passage map. We reviewed the passage, decrypting the figure of the experimental setup and the graph of the results, discussing how having two plots on the same Cartesian grid implies a third dimension of variation that is projected onto the 2-d image. I assigned the associated questions for homework. We then began our new topics, starting with an informational passage on the Bohr theory of the atom. I discussed that passages on scientific theories on the science sections of the MCAT never introduced incorrect knowledge, that while those topics were not necessarily mandated, the information was always correct, and prior knowledge could be used to address them, unlike in Verbal. This passage was heavy with equations, so I discussed how to map such a passage, beginning with a paragraph map for the written content, then going back and discerning proportionality relationships between the variable on the left and the variable(s) on the right, reducing those relationships to simple direct/indirect proportionalities, so that she could answer the question "What happens to the left-hand variable if one right-hand variable goes up or down?" I mentioned that as a test-taking technique, getting used to physically pointing up or down in her computer carrel was perfectly legitimate, improved accuracy, and helped lead to great scores. I also briefly compared paragraph-mapping in Verbal to that in the Sciences: How each (argument = evidence + conclusion) merited one phrase in her map, so a map for a paragraph with two arguments should include both. Similarly, for this passage, there were two scientific concepts mentioned, so both should make it to the map: the Bohr model of the atom, and the quantum mechanics (QM) model. It was a point on staying question-focused while mapping, for which she was grateful. After these preliminaries, we tackled the questions, discussing how sometimes prior knowledge could come into play, and also showing her how the quick-and-dirty reduction of complex novel equations to one-to-one proportionalities between variables could be used to quickly and confidently answer questions. I mentioned that while the Bohr theory of the atom wasn't tested, Balmer and Lyman series that depend on that theory are tested rarely as low-yield, 90th percentile discriminating concepts. We then began our main content review, on Atomic Structure and Periodic Trends. I took my time making sure that the student understood the QM model, being able to relate the symbols for the quantum numbers for electrons (n,l,m-l, m-s) to usable names: shell, subshell, orbital, and spin, their "scientific" names: principal, azimuthal, magnetic, and magnetic spin, and what possible values they could take. We discussed Hund's Rule and the Aufbau principle, showing how they determined what configuration of electrons in orbitals was most energetically favorable, and how the Aufbau principle was used to construct the layout of the periodic table. We discussed spectroscopic notation as shorthand for the placement of electrons in orbitals, and used it to run through the application of Hund's rule to neutral Oxygen, mentioning that the unpaired electrons in Oxygen's 2p orbital explain why it is a paramagnetic element. We then moved on naturally to the periodic table, and the four types of info we can garner from it: Z-atomic number, Atomic mass in amu, the Valence Shell electron configuration, and group trends. We discussed A- the Mass Number of a given isotope, how to find its standard notation, and how the MCAT does not give that to us, but rather the weighted average of all the isotopes for a given element as atomic mass. I also mentioned how the periodic table is shown on the computerized test. Next, we moved into the concept of Effective Charge (Z-eff), where I insisted on a full conceptual understanding, as it was the basis of understanding all periodic trends. Using the metaphor of an onion, each layer representing an electron shell, I was able to make her see how to really grasp the concept. From there, it was all downhill as we discussed Atomic Radius, Ionization Energy, Electron Affinity, and Electronegativity. The student was able to see that Atomic Radius was the only trend that did not parallel Z-eff, which increased from the Lower Left to the Upper Right. She was able to appreciate the importance of understanding the fundamental concepts thoroughly, seeing how some topics could just become variants of that fundamental theme. [PROGRESS]: The student is motivated to put in work outside of our sessions. In fact, she was able to answer one of my Socratic questions quickly and correctly because she had already done that part of the reading, and she understood why it was so much easier than the rest. She realizes that this effort is all about her, and that her success is to be determined by the effort she puts in outside of sessions. [CHALLENGES]: The student had brought some misconceptions with her to the lesson. She understood that my insistence on having an unbroken chain of mastered concepts was what led her, in the end, to get the depth of understanding she was able to achieve. [EXTRA PRACTICE]: We assigned the student the chapters on Bonding and Intermolecular Forces."
"Today we reviewed geometry concepts and made some outlines of how to approach different problems. The student will practice with the Geometry practice set 2 and another new set that I will send her. Next week we will cover data analysis."
"The student had questions from a few practice GREs that she took. We covered those questions focusing on mean and some probability/ geometry questions. I will be sending the student some diagnostic tests and math problems sets for practice before our next meeting. The student is also using GRE study books that will be used for questions. After our next meeting I will recommend taking another practice GRE so that we can determine progress."