Scientific Inquiry & Reasoning Skills - Skill 2: Scientific Reasoning and Problem-solving

Questions that test scientific reasoning and problem-solving skills differ from questions that test skill 1 by asking you to use your scientific knowledge to solve problems in the natural, behavioral, and social sciences.

As you work on questions that test this skill, you may be asked to use scientific theories to explain observations or make predictions about natural or social phenomena. Questions may ask you to judge the credibility of scientific explanations or to evaluate arguments about cause and effect. Or they may ask you to use scientific models and observations to draw conclusions. They may ask you to recognize scientific findings that call a theory or model into question. Questions in this category may ask you to look at pictures or diagrams and draw conclusions from them. Or they may ask you to determine and then use scientific formulas to solve problems.

You will be asked to show that you can use scientific principles to solve problems by, for example,
  • Reasoning about scientific principles, theories, and models
  • Analyzing and evaluating scientific explanations and predictions
  • Evaluating arguments about causes and consequences
  • Bringing together theory, observations, and evidence to draw conclusions
  • Recognizing scientific findings that challenge or invalidate a scientific theory or model
  • Determining and using scientific formulas to solve problems

By way of illustration, questions from the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section may ask you demonstrate this skill by
  • Using the main premises of symbolic interactionism to reason about an observational study of physician-patient interactions
  • Predicting how an individual will react to cognitive dissonance
  • Reasoning about whether a causal explanation is possible when given an example of how somebody’s gender or personality predicts his or her behavior
  • 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
  • Determining whether an example, such as when an anorexic teenager restricts eating to satisfy esteem needs, is compatible with the premises of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Drawing a conclusion about which sociological theory would be most consistent with a conceptual diagram that explains how social and environmental factors influence health
  • Identifying the relationship between social institutions that is suggested by an illustration used in a public health campaign
For more context, let’s consider three Skill 2 questions linked to different foundational concepts in 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 Systems section.