MCAT Guide > MCAT Skills

MCAT Skills

There are four main skills that are required for performing well on the MCAT test. These skills cannot necessarily be taught, but must be learned across an academic career and should be reinforced by the course selection that you take. Most of the concepts relate to the ideas of the scientific method, problem solving and understanding research and how it is setup.

The questions on the MCAT are created with an understanding that the scientific facts by themselves are not enough to judge a competent doctor. The questions must be integrated with these skills to provide problems that judge a students ability to not only have scientific concept mastery, but to apply that mastery in order to successful understand and answer the problems.

Scientific Concept Mastery

These types of questions are the most basic question on the MCAT. They will examine your understanding of basic scientific material from the natural (biology, chemistry, physics, organic chemistry) and social (psychology and sociology) sciences. The questions may be represented by phrases, graphs, tables, diagrams or formulas, similar to high-level biology tests in high school and college.

However, these wont be simple definition based questions, they will ask you to examine and identify relationships between concepts using graphs, tables and other media. They may also give you an equation and a table and have you use both to solve a problem. Just remember no question on the MCAT should seem too simple... if it is, consider it too good to be true.

Some key abilities you must have include being able to recognize scientific concepts and be able to identify relationships between those concepts. You must also be able to translate observations into scientific principles such as from an experiment or a graph or table. You must also be able to use equations and identify relationships between concepts using graphs and other visual representations of data.

This skill will often come from your comprehensive academic career, from your high school math and biology classes, to your reading comprehension from English. These skills are not easily taught and must be developed by the student in order to be successful on the MCAT.

Reasoning and Problem-Solving

Reasoning and problem solving skills are built off of the scientific mastery ones. They will ask you to use scientific theories to explain natural or social observations, along with being able to make predictions about trends or relationships. These types of questions will also ask you to judge the effectiveness or credibility of a theory or argument.

You may be asked to evaluate arguments for for cause and effect statements, or to draw a conclusion from the argument or observations. This skill comes with a basic understanding that a student should be able to determine how an argument or scientific theory is laid out, and be able to apply that theory to problems. This skill can be gained by taking logic, or other reason based philosophy classes.

Along with being able to analyze and argument and judge its effectiveness, students must also be able to recognize scientific findings that could potentially invalidate an argument and be able to draw conclusions from models, pictures, diagrams and observations.

Research Methods

Being able to understand, design and analyze a piece of research is an essential skills for modern doctors to have. These types of questions demonstrate your knowledge of the scientific method as how it is applied by natural and social scientists as they conduct their research.

This type of skill will force you to answer questions about how scientists create variables and hypothesis, along with how they test their theories and gather data. You will also be asked to answer questions about their methods of observation, and the validity of the conclusions that they draw. You must also be able to understand sample size and sample variety that a researcher uses to test his or her hypothesis. These are all crucial components in determining if a piece of research is successful or not.

You must be able to recognize faulty research and point out the limitations of that research. In order to effectively analyze a piece of research it is essential in conducting many small experiments of your own through college and high school labs along with possibly doing independent research your sophomore or junior year of undergraduate.

This type of skill allows you to analyze the inferences drawn from researchers and how they come to believe an association between variables proves their hypothesis. Questions that might be drawn from this skill will force you to examine the ethical guidelines that researchers must adhere to regarding personal rights or their integrity.

Statistical Reasoning

Questions based on statistical reasoning skills are essential for the MCAT. These skills are often gained by taking a statistics class during your early years of college. Being able to master this skill will gain you many points on the MCAT as these are the considered the "hard" and practical questions of the test.

These questions will prove your ability to perform "science" and show you can reason a conclusion based on data and statistical models. These questions will prove that you can read a table, graph or chart and be able to interpret the results for a conclusion based on patterns. Most of these questions will have you read a small passage with some background about the experiment, then give some of the data in the aforementioned formats.

An essential skill in statistical reasoning is being able to understand the ways in which researchers deal with relationships between variables and how they handle systematic error in their data. Statistical data is all about data and can be manipulated very easily, so being able to sift through uncertainty and validity of a set of data is a very important skill for the test.

Questions from this category will ask you to examine a researchers variables, the relationship between those variables as they are display from graphs, figures and tables. They will force you to analyze the data using the mean, median and mode along with measures of dispersion (range, inter-quartile range, and standard deviation).

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