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

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Questions that test scientific reasoning and problem-solving skills differ from questions in the previous category 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 identify 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.

For example, you will be asked to show you can use scientific principles to solve problems by:

  • Reasoning about scientific principles, theories, and models to make predictions or determine consequences.
  • Analyzing and evaluating the validity or credibility of scientific explanations and predictions.
  • Evaluating arguments about causes and consequences to determine the most valid argument when using scientific knowledge.
  • Bringing together theory, observations, and evidence to draw conclusions.
  • Recognizing or identifying scientific findings from a given study that challenge or invalidate a scientific theory or model.
  • Determining and using scientific formulas to solve problems.
  • Identifying the bond that would form between two structures if they were adjacent to each other.

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, use reasoning in an observational study of physician-patient interactions to describe how the premises are connected to perceived patient compliance.
  • Predicting how an individual will react to cognitive dissonance.
  • Using reasoning to determine whether a causal explanation is possible when given an example of how someone’s gender or personality predicts his or her behavior.
  • Explaining how 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 and why this theory is most consistent.
  • Identifying the relationship between social institutions that is suggested by an illustration used in a public health campaign.
  • Recognizing a demographic trend that is represented in a population pyramid.

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.

Skill 2 Example From the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section
Which statement describes what the concept of cultural capital predicts?

  1. Cultural distinctions associated with the young will be more valued within a society.
  2. With improved communication, there will eventually be a convergence of cultural practices of all classes.
  3. Cultural distinctions by class will become less important during a recession because people will have less money to spend.
  4. Cultural distinctions associated with elite classes will be more valued within a society.      

The correct answer is D. It is a Skill 2 question and assesses knowledge of Content Category 10A, Social inequality. It is a Skill 2 question because it requires you to make a prediction based on a particular concept. This question requires you to understand the concept of cultural capital in order to evaluate which prediction about social stratification would be most consistent with the concept.

Skill 2 Example From the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section
Starting with the translation initiation codon, how many amino acids for this polypeptide does the sequence shown encode?

5'-CUGCCAAUGUGCUAAUCGCGGGGG-3'

  1. 2
  2. 3
  3. 6
  4. 8

The correct answer is A. This is a Skill 2 question, and you must use knowledge from Content Category 1B, Transmission of genetic information from the gene to the protein, to solve this problem. In addition to recalling the sequence for the start codon, this is a Skill 2 question because it requires you to apply the scientific principle of the genetic code to the provided RNA sequence. As a Skill 2 question, reasoning about the role of the stop codon in translation will allow you to arrive at the conclusion that this sequence codes for a polypeptide with two amino acids.

Skill 2 Example From the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section
The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm, and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 × 10–4 cm, with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 × 10–2 cm/s. Using these data, what is the approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

A.   1 × 104

B.   2 × 107

C.   4 × 109

D.   7 × 1012

The correct answer is C. This Skill 2 question relates to Content Category 4B, Importance of fluids for the circulation of blood, gas movement, and gas exchange. This question asks you to use a mathematical model to make predictions about natural phenomena. To answer this question, you must be able to recognize the principles of flow characteristics of blood in the human body and apply the appropriate mathematical model to an unfamiliar scenario. Answering this question first requires recognition that the volume of blood flowing through the aorta is the same volume of blood flowing through the capillaries. It is a Skill 2 question because you then need to use reasoning skills to find the difference in the volumes that the aorta and capillaries can each carry in order to calculate the total number of capillaries.

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