Scientific Inquiry & Reasoning Skills - Skill 1: Knowledge of Scientific Principles

The questions in this skill category will ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the 10 foundational concepts that you are responsible for knowing when you take the MCAT exam. These questions will ask you to recognize, recall, or define basic concepts in the natural, behavioral, and social sciences as well as their relationships with one another. The concepts and scientific principles may be represented by words, graphs, tables, diagrams, or formulas.

As you work on these questions, you may be asked to recognize a scientific fact or define a concept. Or you may be asked to apply a scientific principle to a problem. Questions may ask you to identify the relationships between closely-related concepts or relate verbal to graphic representations of science content. They may ask you to identify examples of observations that illustrate scientific principles. Questions may ask you to recognize a scientific concept shown in a diagram or represented in a graph. Or they may give you a mathematical equation and ask you to use it to solve a problem.

Questions that test this skill will ask you to show that you understand scientific concepts and principles by, for example:
  • Recognizing correct scientific principles
  • Identifying the relationships among closely-related concepts
  • Identifying the relationships between different representations of concepts (e.g., verbal, symbolic, graphic)
  • Identifying examples of observations that illustrate scientific principles
  • Using mathematical equations to solve problems

By way of example, questions from the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section might ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of scientific concepts and principles by:
  • Recognizing the principle of retroactive interference
  • Using Weber’s law to identify physical differences that are detectable
  • Identifying the behavioral change (extinction) that will occur when a learned response is no longer followed by a reinforcer
  • Identifying the relationship between operant conditioning and classical conditioning
  • Identifying a graph that illustrates the relationship between educational attainment and life expectancy
  • Recognizing conditions that result in learned helplessness
  • Recognizing a demographic trend that is represented in a population pyramid
The three sample questions that follow illustrate Skill 1 questions from, respectively, the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section; and Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological System section of the MCAT exam.