Video 10: The MCAT – What is it really (Part 3)

In this video, we’ll go over:

  • The types of passages you can expect to see on the science sections of this exam
  • The types of skills that the science section of this exam will test for

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Click here to watch the next video: Video 11 – The MCAT – What is it really Part 4

Video Transcription:

Hey guys! It’s Radhika here again. Today, we’re going to continue talking about the MCAT. We’re going to continue, specifically, our discussion about what the MCAT really is. In this video, I want to talk to you about two major things. The first one being the types of passages that you can expect on the science section of this exam. The second thing that we’ll talk about are the types of skills that are going to be tested in the science section. Just a word of caution, we’re going to be talking about just the three science sections in this video. That’s the first one, third one, and the fourth one. The second section, as we’ve talked about previously, is that CARS section. The types of passages and the skills that you have to know to do well on this side of the exam are a little different. I’m going to talk about that in the next video. But this video, let’s talk about those three science sections.

The first thing I want to draw to your attention are the types of passages that you’ll be able to see on this exam. Basically, there are four types. The first are what we call information passages. These are the passages that will test your ability to understand and evaluate journal articles. You can expect to see excerpts from recently published journal articles. It doesn’t matter how old or how new they are. They’d be presented with some figures, tables, or equations that are embedded. You don’t except to see an entire journal article, just more of what we call an adapted journal article so that it is in the 500 to 600-word range, so you have enough time to read. They’ll be asking you a set of questions that tests a variety of skills. We’ll talk about those later.

The other type of passage that you can expect to see are problem solving passages. Problem solving passages could be journal articles, but the whole point of these is to test your ability to understand probably causes of, and solutions to, scientific problems. They want to be able to see if you can identify the problems that are posited by this theory. If you are, can you posit solutions? Just a note of caution, remember, you’re never going to have a situation on this exam where you’re positing a theory from scratch. Remember, it is a multiple-choice exam. All the theory that you come up with has to be based on an answer option that is already there. You are merely selecting what is correct based on your scientific skills.

The third are these experimental and research study passages. These are the ones that will test your rationale on the methodology, the results, the observations, and the conclusions of various experiments that have been conducted. These are the ones where you’ll have a hypothesis and they’ll give you experiment Y and experiment Z. Based on what you’re trying to test, you’ll want to be able to see if you have the scientific skills to be able to see which mythology is correct. With the changes that happened in 2015, we are starting to see a lot more experimental and research study passages. Be aware of that!

The last are these persuasive passages. The persuasive passages want to test your validity of your viewpoints. They want to see if you actually have sound scientific skills. Can we posit any theory at you and you’ll just buy it? They’re trying to convince you of something and your job is to say, “Based on my scientific knowledge, that’s not correct.” Or, “Based on my knowledge, that does sound like a very sound theory.”

That’s the first half, talking about the passage types. The second half is about the skills tested. This is super important because this is actually something the AAMC has published. Here are the skills that will actually be presented to you. There are four. Let’s talk about each one of them in quite a bit of detail.

The first one the AAMC calls the scientific reasoning and problem solving skills. 45 percent of the exam will be based on this skillset. The purpose of this is to use your knowledge to solve problems. What you’re trying to do is take that knowledge that you have from studying, from the months of studying that you’ve done, and explain if certain observations are correct based on some theory that has been introduced to you in a passage. Or can you make predictions? They’re asking you to use your scientific judgment. Perhaps even scenarios where you’re making conclusions based on the observations that were given to you in a passage. I’m really trying to emphasise that this is a lot of application stuff. Knowing your scientific basics here, being able to memorize, won’t help you so much with this section because what they want to know is whether based on the knowledge you’ve obtained, is the information we’re throwing at you correct? Do you have sound reasoning and problem solving skills to be able to comment on, judge, evaluate, and apply principles to be able to answer questions correctly? The way you’ll be asked to show this can be in a few ways.

You may be asked about reasoning of scientific problems, principles, theories, and models that you’ve come across. You may be asked to analyse and evaluate scientific explanations and predictions. You may be asked to evaluate certain types of arguments and the causes of those arguments, or predictions that those arguments could make. You may be asked to bring together various theories. Remember, you’ll essentially be talking about three different types of sciences here: the natural, the behavioural, and the social sciences. Do you have the right kind of skills to bring all those together? Can you find the relationships and tie them in together? At the end of the day, as a practicing physician, that’s what you’ll want to do. Furthermore, you may be asked to recognize certain scientific findings and actually challenge a theory that they’ve posited in a passage, for example, a passage on cell theory that you know makes no sense based on cell theory. You’d have to know cell theory extremely well in order to be able to say that.

Next type of skill that they’ll test you on, and this is the one most people really like. The reason is because it’s 35 percent of your exam and the knowledge component. We call this section the knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. In this section, it’s going to test your basic understanding of the sciences. You’ll be asked to recognize, recall, and define certain terms in each of those sciences, the natural, behavioural, and social. This is not the applicational component so much but just the knowledge component. You will be asked to show that you understand scientific concepts and principles by recognizing which ones are correct. They may give you a bunch of opposing theories and you have to decided which is correct, or you may be asked to identify relationships between closely related concepts, or representations of concepts. Furthermore, you may be asked to identify examples of true observations based on your knowledge or even using mathematical equations to solve problems. 35 percent is this section.

The third category makes up 10 percent of the science questions. It’s called reasoning about the design and execution of research. A lot of students like this section too. This skill tests whether you can do sound science. The key word being “do sound science.” Yes, everyone can do bad science, but can you do science that makes sense and abides by the scientific community’s rules and is actually validated, legitimate science? It’s evaluating the importance of methodology basically. What you’ll be presented with in this case is how past theories and observations are important in devising current theories, hypotheses, and experiments. Can you make certain types of inferences based on the knowledge that you have about research design? How do scientists manipulate and control certain variables? What makes research bad? In order to conduct good research, you have to know what makes bad research. You’ll be asked to share your knowledge of scientific and research design based on the following few things. Can you identify the role of theory in past findings and observations? Can you identify good, testable questions? As we know, not every question is testable. Not every hypothesis is a good hypothesis. Can you figure out which ones are good versus the bad ones? Can you distinguish between samples and populations, and between results that do support generalizations versus ones that do not? You have to know a little about statistics in order to do well on this skill. Can you identify relationships among the variables in the study? This one is so key. They want to see if you can link everything together. What’s the dependent variable? What’s the independent variable? Is there a confounding variable? This is kind of applicational in the sense that having scientific knowledge is only going to help you so much. You have to be able to understand that passage and comment based on the definitions you know about a confounding variable or dependent variable and say, “Yes. One of those exists in the study. Therefore, the conclusion I can draw is these observations are probably not good observations.” Can you reason about the appropriateness, the precision, the accuracy, and the validity of the tools that have been used? And can you reason about features of this research? Can you suggest relationships or associations between variables? Do you know the difference between relationships? What about correlational ones? They’ll also ask you about ethical issues, if any, in this section. Ethics is concerned with a lot of research design.

The last is the one most students don’t like, the data based and statistical reasoning skills section. This is also worth 10 percent. It basically tests whether you can do sound science because you know the right statistical principles and the right math and data that need to be utilized. They’re going to ask you to interpret a series of results or statistics or tables or data they’ve collected. They’ll asked you things like, “What is the central tendency? What kind of dispersion do you see here? Do you know what uncertainty is? Can you draw relationships between the variables?” They’ll test you on this by asking you to use, analyse, and interpret data in the form of figures, tables, and graphs. Furthermore, you’ll be analysing things like mean, median, and mode, which are measures of central tendency. You’ll also have to know things like dispersion. What is the interquartile range? What is range? What is standard deviation? Do you know about systematic and random error? Can you talk about statistical significance and what it means for a study? And can you comment on that a little further? You’re going to be using data to explain certain relationships. Do you know the difference between a causational relationship versus a correlation? Can you figure out what real-world implications some data has? What kind of real-world situation would the data matter in, or what does it imply if we were to extrapolate that data and put it into some sort of population of animals?

These are the four sections. Again, the first skill is worth 45 percent of the questions. The second skill, 35 percent, and the last two, 10 percent each. This was my conclusion for today. I hope you learned a little bit about the types of passages and skills tested on just the science questions. I want to leave you with some advice. The AAMC, when the exam was being changed in 2015, came out with a manual called, “What’s in the new MCAT 2015?” It’s a PDF version and there were some practice problems and further definition based on the four skill that we just talked about. I strongly urge you to download it. It’s a pretty hefty manual. It’s about 150 pages long. But they’ve actually shown you types of questions based on each of the skills we’ve talked about. If you want to familiarize yourself with what the skills really mean on the MCAT I strongly urge you to download this manual. The link is posted in the description. I think it’s a great tool.

Just to recap, in today’s video we talk about the four different types of passages that you can expect to see on the science sections of this exam, and the skills that are tested in the science section. I hope you found it useful. I’ll see you next time. Bye, for now! Take care!


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