The Most Important Thing to Know About the MCAT

The MCAT is one of the most challenging exams there is. So, if there was one thing you should know about it that would improve your chances of getting a top score, what would that be? Based on our analysis of top or even perfect MCAT scorers, the best thing you can do to score high on the MCAT is to become fluent in science.

What does it mean to become fluent in science?

Becoming fluent in science means being able to both understand science-based dialogue as well as produce it. It means you are able to have an intelligent conversation with not only a chemist but also a sociologist. Becoming fluent in science, in short, means that you are familiar with the scientific method. The scientific method comprises four main steps: identifying the problem, gathering data, testing your hypothesis, and evaluating the results in the context of your hypothesis.

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This simple engine has produced millions of novel discoveries and has propelled humanity out of the dark ages. As a scientist, one learns to think critically about any new discovery. One learns to test pre-existing ideas and look for alternative explanations and confounding factors. The best way to become familiar with the scientific method is to look for research opportunities at your local college. Getting your hands dirty in primary research helps you understand that sometimes trends in data can be caused by a number of factors (sometimes even your own mistakes)! 

To correct for these errors, scientists use positive and negative controls. Controls help you see if your experimental condition actually had the effect you hypothesized. Consider the graph below in the context of discovering a new cancer drug. Let’s say the Y-axis represents apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. A researcher uses a positive control to show that the measurement they are using is correct. The researchers will use a known cancer drug that kills cancer as a positive control (grey bar with high levels of apoptosis). A positive control is known to have the effect the researcher hopes to see. A negative control, in contrast, will not have an intended effect. The researcher would inject saline or some other liquid without effect as a negative control (green bar with low levels of apoptosis). The researcher uses this to prove that their measurement will not detect changes in the experiment when no changes occur. Then the researcher can test their new drug (orange bar). The researchers can now be confident that the drug is not only effective, it’s more effective than the best known anti-cancer drug!

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Why will becoming fluent in science help improve my MCAT score?

The MCAT is not your everyday multiple-choice exam. The MCAT is a passage-based exam, meaning that almost 90 percent of the questions are based on in-exam readings. These readings are typically excerpts/summaries of research studies, containing intricate figures and graphs. If you merely memorize scientific facts and figures, you will be ill-prepared for this exam. In order to truly understand these readings, you will need to be well versed in the sciences. You’ll be surprised by how many questions on the MCAT have nothing to do with the content you’ve tried to memorize and instead focus on synthesizing concepts and critical thinking.

How do I become fluent in science?

Becoming fluent in science is no easy task. It will take more than just memorizing information in textbooks. To truly become fluent in science, you will need to engage with the material in a meaningful way. In addition to participating in research, take classes that require you to evaluate research papers. As you’re reading MCAT science passages, engage with the passage in the same way. Which conditions are controls? What conditions can one compare without interfering variables? As you look at each figure, try to pick out major trends, outlier conditions that were the only instance when there was an effect or when there wasn’t. 

One of the best ways to do this is to practice on the best practice problems and then go over them with someone who is already well versed in science. The MCAT Self Prep eCourse utilizes only the best of practice problems and all our tutors scored in the 99th percentile or higher! There couldn’t be a better way to become well versed in science. Schedule your first free tutoring session to get started today!

Warm regards,

Andrew George

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