Scientific Inquiry & Reasoning Skills - Skill 3: Reasoning about the Design and Execution of Research

Questions that test reasoning about the design and execution of research will ask you to demonstrate your scientific inquiry skills by showing that you can “do” science.

They will ask you to demonstrate your understanding of important components of scientific methodology. These questions will ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the ways in which natural, behavioral, and social scientists conduct research to test and extend scientific knowledge.

As you work on these questions, you may be asked to show how scientists use theory, past research findings, and observations to ask testable questions and pose hypotheses. Questions that test this skill may ask you to reason about the ways in which scientists gather data from samples of members of the population about which they would like to draw inferences. They may ask you to identify how scientists manipulate and control variables to test their hypotheses. Questions may ask you to reason about the ways scientists take measurements and record results. These questions may ask you to recognize faulty research logic or point out the limitations of the research studies that are described. Or they may ask you to identify factors that might confuse the inferences you can draw from the results.

These questions may also ask you to demonstrate and use your understanding of the ways scientists adhere to ethical guidelines to protect the rights of research participants, the integrity of their work, and the interests of research consumers.

Questions that test this skill will ask you to use your knowledge of important components of scientific methodology by, for example,
  • Identifying the role of theory, past findings, and observations in scientific questioning
  • Identifying testable research questions and hypotheses
  • Distinguishing between samples and populations and between results that do and do not support generalizations about populations
  • Identifying the relationships among the variables in a study (e.g., independent versus dependent variables; control and confounding variables)
  • Reasoning about the appropriateness, precision, and accuracy of tools used to conduct research in the natural sciences
  • Reasoning about the appropriateness, reliability, and validity of tools used to conduct research in the behavioral and social sciences
  • Reasoning about the features of research studies that suggest associations between variables or causal relationships between them (e.g., temporality, random assignment)
  • Reasoning about ethical issues in scientific research

Questions from the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section may ask you to reason about the design and execution of research by, for example,
  • Identifying the basic components of survey methods, ethnographic methods, experimental methods, or other types of research designs in psychology and sociology
  • Selecting a hypothesis about semantic activation
  • Identifying the extent to which a finding can be generalized to the population when given details about how participants were recruited for an experiment in language development
  • Identifying the experimental setup in which researchers manipulate self-confidence
  • Identifying the most appropriate way of assessing prejudice in a study on implicit bias
  • Reasoning about the implications of relying on self-report measures for a specific study
  • Identifying the third variable that may be confounding the findings from a correlational study
  • Making judgments about the reliability and validity of specific measures when given information about the response patterns of participants
  • Identifying whether researchers violated any ethical codes when given information about a study
The three sample questions that follow illustrate Skill 3 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 Systems section of the MCAT exam.