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

The questions in this skill category will ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the 10 foundational concepts described in subsequent chapters. These questions will ask you to recognize, identify, 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 identify 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 written statements, principles, or concepts to graphic representations of science content. They may ask you to identify examples of natural or data-driven 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.

For example, questions that test this skill will ask you to show you understand scientific concepts and principles by:

  • Recognizing scientific principles from an example, situation, or study. Identifying the relationships among closely related concepts.
  • Identifying the relationships between different representations of concepts (e.g., written, symbolic, graphic).
  • Identifying examples of observations that illustrate scientific principles.
  • Using given mathematical equations to solve problems.
  • Identifying the simple or familiar molecule that is an example of a specific amino acid.

By way of example, questions from the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section may 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 conceptual similarities or differences 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.
  • Concluding which stage of cognitive development a child is in, according to Piaget’s theory, when presented with a description of how a child responds to a conservation problem.

The three sample questions that follow illustrate Skill 1 questions from, respectively, the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section; the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section; and the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological System section of the MCAT exam.

Skill 1 Example From the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section

In a study, each trial involves administering a drop of lemon juice to the participant’s tongue and measuring the participant’s level of salivation. As more trials are conducted, the researcher finds that the magnitude of salivation declines. After a certain point, the researcher switches to administering lime juice. This researcher is most likely studying which process?

  1. Sensory perception
  2. Habituation and dishabituation
  3. Stimulus generalization in classical conditioning
  4. Conditioned responses in classical conditioning

The correct answer is B. This Skill 1 question tests your knowledge of the scientific concepts and principles described by Content Category 7C, Attitude and behavior change, and is a Skill 1 question because it requires you to relate scientific concepts. This question asks you to identify the process involved in the study that connects reduced responding to a repeated stimulus and then a change in the stimulus, which is habituation and dishabituation, allowing for the conclusion that B is the correct answer.

Skill 1 Example From the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section

What type of functional group is formed when aspartic acid reacts with another amino acid to form a peptide bond?

  1. An amine group
  2. An aldehyde group
  3. An amide group
  4. A carboxyl group

The correct answer is C. This is a Skill 1 question and relates to Content Category 5D, Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically relevant molecules. It is a Skill 1 question because you must recognize the structural relationship between free amino acids and peptides. To answer the question, you must know that the functional group that forms during peptide bond formation is an amide group.