7+ Year Member
Jan 30, 2012
Hey guys,

Does anyone have any advice for dealing with the experimental passages in the BS section? I find myself doing well with fact-recall questions, but struggling in analyzing experiments. I think this might because of my weak Biology background (I've only have the equivalent of Bio 1 and 2, and one of the credits was fulfilled via the AP class)

What resources are available for practicing with this? Should I just look up science journals online and read Intro/Results?

What kinds of questions can I ask myself while doing this?
Last edited:


5+ Year Member
2+ Year Member
Apr 29, 2014
Science journals would be a good really long-term approach but not as practical for the amount of time most people set aside for the MCAT because that strategy tends to develop skills that aren't necessarily within the scope of the MCAT.

Here are some guidelines to get you moving in the right direction:

1) Start thinking like a scientist. If a claim is make, be skeptical. Look for evidence. The MCAT test writers want to know that if they put an unsubstantiated statement on the MCAT, you can identify it as bad science. Many of the wrong answer choices on these types of passages fit into this.

2) Get really good at analyzing graphs quickly before looking at the problems. Start by looking at the axes to orient yourself and then find a few patters you expect to show up. Make note of anything in the data that was not expected. Do this before looking at any answer choices because sometimes, attractive wrong answers can inadvertently steer you to interpret the data in the wrong way.

3) Find as many biology passages, and for that matter, physical sciences passages, as you can and pick out all the experiment ones. Do them regularly, consistently and spend lots of time analyzing them in depth. Know why all the wrong answers are wrong and the right answers are right. This is how you start to recognize attractive wrong answers and build that critical thinking that is specific to the MCAT. The more you do this, the more internalize it.

4) Don't let your weak background in bio deter you. These skills can be picked up quickly with consistent practice and heavy analysis of your work.
  • Like
Reactions: Jenny00
May 8, 2014
Yes, I agree with NextStep. I took the May 8th test, was doing very well on aamc fl bio sections and felt really good about my real bio section, no doubt due in part to my fairly strong undergrad bio class history (everything from genetics to anatomy/physiology to medical biochem to a research-paper-based neurobio class... though I def didn't get A's in all). We'll see how legit my advice is come June 10th (when scores are posted), but here it is:

1) You've got the right focus already. I consider experimental passages to be the most important factor for the BS section. It's like a reading-comprehension test, although you're reading experimental summaries and data (that are simplified and roughly presented compared to, say, a summary in The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, or Cell). That being said, the most important source to look to, as always, is the AAMC's material. Look to the fl's bio experiment passages for ultimate guidance. I didn't purchase the official AAMC self-assessment package, but if it has experiment passages, it's probably worth it.

Whatever other sources you use - and you should definitely use other sources - view them through the paradigm of the AAMC's examples. Specifically, the AAMC's often crappy graphs. Lahwdhavemercy their graphs can be crappy: low resolution, ambiguous symbols, just poor. Expect that.

2) Here's a great pointer from US News' website, an article from November 2013 by Anubodh Varshney:

"Consider periodically reading current biomedical literature, such as The New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA, in order to get additional practice and exposure to these concepts. You don't need to spend significant amounts of time trying to comprehend all of the nuances of studies during your preparation. Instead, try to take away big picture points and focus on fully understanding how conclusions are drawn from data."


The key point here: don't get bogged down in the details. I have had a subscription to NEJM since 2012 (how nerdy is that, my girlfriend got it for me as a birthday present... vomit I know), and I can't comprehend 90% of the stuff in there. But if you can grasp that important 10%, the big-picture conclusions and why they were made from the data presented, you're waaaay ahead of the game.

I think you can sign up for "journal alerts" emails or a certain number of free articles per something (month maybe) from the likes of NEJM, JAMA, or journal aggregating sources. Think about getting your hands on stuff like that.

3) If you can't get your hands on medical journals, and I wouldn't blame you if you couldn't, even sources like good college textbooks have experiment summaries and descriptions. Sometime's they're in special sections within - or after - chapters. These are awesome too. Read them and try to understand, again, the big picture without getting bogged down in too many details.

4) As stated above, become intimately familiar and comfortable with the types of graphs and tables that often pop up in bio research articles. Know how to identify and read log graphs quickly.

5) Realize you often don't have to know a single iota about the material presented in these passages in order to answer them reading-comprehension style. If in a passage I was asked, "based on the data in figure 1, what is the effect of Wnt signaling on neural tube cells in the 8th week of gastrulation?" I don't have to know a damn thing about neural tube cells and Wnt signalling content-wise. I have to read a figure. There may be one or two content-review questions per experimental passage, but they are usually easier and straight off of the AAMC's mcat content outlines, and you sound like you're ok there.

6) I wish I could provide a go-to source for specifically experimental-based mcat bio passage practice, but I can't. However, I haven't really looked... it may be worth a quick search. I can say I'm super glad I took the developmental neurobiology class I did, solely because it was structured like this: we simply read noteworthy articles (dating back to the 80's) from places like Nature and Cell, then tried to grasp the big picture, reasons why the researches did what they did how they did it, and critiqued the experimental designs / results.

Do some or all of these things, which is more than I did, and you will rock that sumbitch.
About the Ads