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As I start to incorporate reading research articles as practice for MCAT. I wonder if there are more efficient way of doing so. Obviously, on the MCAT, the passages are limited. So reading the whole article seems to me to be a bit inefficient time wise (since I'm sure everyone would like to spend more time on their weaknesses).

The way I think might be better for practice is:
-read the abstract of the article (think about the author's hypothesis)

-read introduction (or skim) but I think the major focus would probably be the first paragraph (short background) and last paragraph of the introduction (why the research is performed).

-i don't think reading the materials and method section is necessary. BUT definite do know what methods are used; how does different methods actually work (but these can be repetitive for example: many articles with PCRs. Hence, if its a procedure you know then you can skip)

-analyze the data and be comfortable analyzing it

-read the results and then try to answer some questions:
Why is this study performed?
How was it done?
What special technique were used (if any)?
What does the results mean?
What can I imply with these results?
What further research can be done?

-use the discussion section of the research article as your answer key to the questions above

-pay attention to concepts you don't know.

I think when you keep on doing this on research articles over and over again. All you would and need to really focus on is why the research is done, what does the data tell me, what can i imply with these data. And that is probably what the MCAT passages will be like on the MCAT. IMO correct me if I'm wrong

Also, dont linger on the details of the research paper. Some gene in the brain that might affect some other gene that leads to some type of cancer is probably NOT on the MCAT. Focus on HOW to interpret it and interpret it quickly.

If any got any suggestion, please share.
 
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Comments in this thread would be very helpful, I too am trying to figure out how to incorporate research articles into my study plan..
 

justadream

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I think this entire idea is just extremely inefficient.

Understanding a journal article usually requires tons of time + tons of background information.

It would be more efficient to just do more practice problems or content review.
 
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Jul 1, 2014
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I think this entire idea is just extremely inefficient.

Understanding a journal article usually requires tons of time + tons of background information.

It would be more efficient to just do more practice problems or content review.
The problem is that not many of the prep companies developed practice questions that fit this type of new researched-oriented style...
 

justadream

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The problem is that not many of the prep companies developed practice questions that fit this type of new researched-oriented style...
Just do TBR and get a really good content foundation.

Seriously, after TBR and building a really strong content foundation, you will find all the AAMC questions to be (almost laughably) easy. And what TBR really does well is to force you to have a super strong content foundation.

If you have a strong content foundation, the trends/analysis that the test requires will come a lot easier to you.
 

allantois

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I think this entire idea is just extremely inefficient.

Understanding a journal article usually requires tons of time + tons of background information.

It would be more efficient to just do more practice problems or content review.
I concur. I had to read on a lab project and it took me tons of time and stress to go through the relevant articles and really figure out what they meant - and that was just one research topic .. still I don't think I ever understood the methods section.

I have seen recommendations on here to completely ignore content review and that is just a completely barbaric thought.


Thanks OP for the recommendations on how to go through the articles, anyway.
 

justadream

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I concur. I had to read on a lab project and it took me tons of time and stress to go through the relevant articles and really figure out what they meant - and that was just one research topic .. still I don't think I ever understood the methods section.

I have seen recommendations on here to completely ignore content review and that is just a completely barbaric thought.


Thanks OP for the recommendations on how to go through the articles, anyway.
Agreed.

I think there are some differences in what the definition of "content review" is to different people.

To me, it means reading + doing practice questions (e.g., going through an entire TBR section + the question afterwards).

If you do that, you should pretty much be set. The FLs (which I did at the end_ really did not improve my score (they just got me familiar with the format). I'm pretty sure I would have gotten the same score after day 65ish (when I finished my "content review") as I would have after day 95ish (when I finished all the AAMC FLs).
 
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Gibbward

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Reading journals takes a lot of time and it's really difficult to assess the data properly without thoroughly looking at background material, because biological systems are intricate and certain methods may disrupt the system too much, thus leaving you with results that are not physiologically relevant (though I doubt that the MCAT would really try to trick you with this). Nonetheless, if you're thinking of going through journals for practice, here are a few things to think about.

1. If you're just trying to practice reading/analyzing data, I suggest reading communications or reports instead of full articles. They're concise and usually contain only a few figures to look at.

2. Make sure you understand exactly what the authors are trying to address and conclude with the paper. Then, when you are looking at the figures, always refer back to their conclusions to see how well their data supports them.

3. Always think of the limitations of the data. The data are always correct, but you don't want to over-reach with your conclusions. Also, try to assess if the authors are also pushing their data too much to fit with their conclusions.

4. This is the MCAT, so CARS rules still apply: go for the least wrong answer!

Hope this helps!
 
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ilovemedi

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3. Always think of the limitations of the data. The data are always correct, but you don't want to over-reach with your conclusions. Also, try to assess if the authors are also pushing their data too much to fit with their conclusions.
Can you give some examples of data limitations? i haven't taken stats in years.. which a prep company had a supplemental book for this.
 

Dr. Death

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I think this entire idea is just extremely inefficient.

Understanding a journal article usually requires tons of time + tons of background information.

It would be more efficient to just do more practice problems or content review.
This is definitely the case. Kahn has a couple hundred passages that were written (cowritten?) by AAMC people. They really help you read the way the MCAT needs you to read.

Reading journals takes a lot of time and it's really difficult to assess the data properly without thoroughly looking at background material, because biological systems are intricate and certain methods may disrupt the system too much, thus leaving you with results that are not physiologically relevant (though I doubt that the MCAT would really try to trick you with this). Nonetheless, if you're thinking of going through journals for practice, here are a few things to think about.

1. If you're just trying to practice reading/analyzing data, I suggest reading communications or reports instead of full articles. They're concise and usually contain only a few figures to look at.

2. Make sure you understand exactly what the authors are trying to address and conclude with the paper. Then, when you are looking at the figures, always refer back to their conclusions to see how well their data supports them.

3. Always think of the limitations of the data. The data are always correct, but you don't want to over-reach with your conclusions. Also, try to assess if the authors are also pushing their data too much to fit with their conclusions.

4. This is the MCAT, so CARS rules still apply: go for the least wrong answer!

Hope this helps!
This is also excellent advice
 

Dr. Death

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Can you give some examples of data limitations? i haven't taken stats in years.. which a prep company had a supplemental book for this.
Example would be something like correlation does not imply causation. Also be watchful of confounding variables.
 

Caffein3

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Here's my problems with reading research articles as practice:

1) Articles are typically published in a fashion to reveal new unknown information to a subset of highly specialized and well-informed persons. The MCAT passages (while sometimes may include unnecessary info) are not specifically designed for a specialized subset of people or to present new scientific information. They are written so that students can extrapolate important basic information from them.

2) MCAT passages, while they may "reflect" a research article in the sense that there is an experiment, data, hypotheses, analysis, etc. they simply are NOT built to function in the same matter. The passages are made to test the reader on the application basic concepts, and that application may be interpreting the data from a hypothetical study about mice, gene knockouts, etc.

So, yes, it could potentially be beneficial to train yourself on learning how to interpret randomized topics of scientific articles and papers, but I feel it would be a much better use of your time to know your information inside and out, and how you can apply that information to tailored analyses i.e. the results of a study.
 
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jaf208

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this is false
No, it isn't. Definitely true. All the content on Khan was created under supervision of AAMC.

From the website:
"All content in this collection has been created under the direction of the Khan Academy and has been reviewed under the direction of the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). All materials are categorized according to the pre-health competencies tested by the new MCAT exam."

Bottom line--Khan is a good resouce. Wouldn't rely on it as sole on, but definitly good nonethless (although some pssages are better than others).
 
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DrHart

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If your test day is quickly approaching. I'd stick to practice passages. TPR has a big pdf of practice passages if you register your book - they still aren't the same as AAMC though.
If you have a year or more, even reading an article a week will help train your brain. Each MCAT passage is like an expanded abstract including graphs and tables. There are papers out there that are not over the top confusing to read. If you read the abstract, looked through the data/results, and skim the conclusion - I truly believe this would help. Knowing the material is not as important as it used to be. Intro classes are quite sufficient. A month or two of content review is more than enough. Anything after that I think should focus on your ability to interpret new information.
Think of it this way: to study for verbal you don't read and reread the same passage over and over again. You read new passages and interpret new writings - because on test day you will see passages you've never seen before. The new Phys/Chem & Bio/BC are like science based verbal passages. Reasoning within the text? Yep. Reasoning beyond the text? Yep. You don't need to make several obscure connections to information your biochem professor mentioned in passing. Most of the connections are very basic and straightforward. But in order to find yourself making the right connections, you need to know where to look within the passage.
This test is a new animal and I think it requires a new approach to study for (at least until TPR/Kap revise their current books)
 

jaf208

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If your test day is quickly approaching. I'd stick to practice passages. TPR has a big pdf of practice passages if you register your book - they still aren't the same as AAMC though.
If you have a year or more, even reading an article a week will help train your brain. Each MCAT passage is like an expanded abstract including graphs and tables. There are papers out there that are not over the top confusing to read. If you read the abstract, looked through the data/results, and skim the conclusion - I truly believe this would help. Knowing the material is not as important as it used to be. Intro classes are quite sufficient. A month or two of content review is more than enough. Anything after that I think should focus on your ability to interpret new information.
Think of it this way: to study for verbal you don't read and reread the same passage over and over again. You read new passages and interpret new writings - because on test day you will see passages you've never seen before. The new Phys/Chem & Bio/BC are like science based verbal passages. Reasoning within the text? Yep. Reasoning beyond the text? Yep. You don't need to make several obscure connections to information your biochem professor mentioned in passing. Most of the connections are very basic and straightforward. But in order to find yourself making the right connections, you need to know where to look within the passage.
This test is a new animal and I think it requires a new approach to study for (at least until TPR/Kap revise their current books)
Which TPR book are you referring to? With passages? Sounds like a good approach
 
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Agreed.

I think there are some differences in what the definition of "content review" is to different people.

To me, it means reading + doing practice questions (e.g., going through an entire TBR section + the question afterwards).

If you do that, you should pretty much be set. The FLs (which I did at the end_ really did not improve my score (they just got me familiar with the format). I'm pretty sure I would have gotten the same score after day 65ish (when I finished my "content review") as I would have after day 95ish (when I finished all the AAMC FLs).
So we should take the advice of the people who just wrote the April test with a grain of salt? I mean, Idk, a lot of people were heavily emphasizing the fact that they wished they had practiced reading/analyzing research articles... Preferably I don't want to have to do this, I would much rather just content review + practice questions as many as I can, but if people were really advocating it, then I don't see how we can doubt all those suggestions?
 
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allantois

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So we should take the advice of the people who just wrote the April test with a grain of salt? I mean, Idk, a lot of people were heavily emphasizing the fact that they wished they had practiced reading/analyzing research articles... Preferably I don't want to have to do this, I would much rather just content review + practice questions as many as I can, but if people were really advocating it, then I don't see how we can doubt all those suggestions?[/QUOTE]
If you were to follow everyone's advise you would be reading philosophy books, a psych textbook, research articles and hula hooping at the same time. I'm not convinced about changing the basic strategy that has worked for over a decade now in light of a few opinions of test takers who did not even receive their scores back (no offense to anyone - the feedback from test takers is much appreciated).
 

DrHart

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If you were to follow everyone's advise you would be reading philosophy books, a psych textbook, research articles and hula hooping at the same time. I'm not convinced about changing the basic strategy that has worked for over a decade now in light of a few opinions of test takers who did not even receive their scores back (no offense to anyone - the feedback from test takers is much appreciated).
I agree that you should take our advice with a grain of salt. At the end of the day everyone is different and its a fools errand trying to prescribe the "best strategy." And you are very right: although I'm not convinced, its very possible that those who studied straight from the prep companies will score great.
But don't forget that this is the biggest change to the MCAT in 20 years. So while the strategy people have used for the last decade may seem common (to previous and first-time testers alike) this doesn't mean it is most useful for the current test - because its only just now being truly unveiled.
 

nomdeplume1234

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As I start to incorporate reading research articles as practice for MCAT. I wonder if there are more efficient way of doing so. Obviously, on the MCAT, the passages are limited. So reading the whole article seems to me to be a bit inefficient time wise (since I'm sure everyone would like to spend more time on their weaknesses).

The way I think might be better for practice is:
-read the abstract of the article (think about the author's hypothesis)

-read introduction (or skim) but I think the major focus would probably be the first paragraph (short background) and last paragraph of the introduction (why the research is performed).

-i don't think reading the materials and method section is necessary. BUT definite do know what methods are used; how does different methods actually work (but these can be repetitive for example: many articles with PCRs. Hence, if its a procedure you know then you can skip)

-analyze the data and be comfortable analyzing it

-read the results and then try to answer some questions:
Why is this study performed?
How was it done?
What special technique were used (if any)?
What does the results mean?
What can I imply with these results?
What further research can be done?

-use the discussion section of the research article as your answer key to the questions above

-pay attention to concepts you don't know.

I think when you keep on doing this on research articles over and over again. All you would and need to really focus on is why the research is done, what does the data tell me, what can i imply with these data. And that is probably what the MCAT passages will be like on the MCAT. IMO correct me if I'm wrong

Also, dont linger on the details of the research paper. Some gene in the brain that might affect some other gene that leads to some type of cancer is probably NOT on the MCAT. Focus on HOW to interpret it and interpret it quickly.

If any got any suggestion, please share.

It would be beneficial but would take up a lot of time. For example, maybe you could start making some of your own questions. Like the "hat trick" often referenced in the past, you could try and find ways to incorporate different content categories for a single article.

Here's an idea: You could at least go through the article and glance at the graphs. See what they are "saying." How long does it take you to do this? If you can't do it simply by the graph then what information do you need in addition to the graph? How long does it take to find that information?
 
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justadream

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So we should take the advice of the people who just wrote the April test with a grain of salt? I mean, Idk, a lot of people were heavily emphasizing the fact that they wished they had practiced reading/analyzing research articles... Preferably I don't want to have to do this, I would much rather just content review + practice questions as many as I can, but if people were really advocating it, then I don't see how we can doubt all those suggestions?
Well theoretically, yes I bet if you started reading every single Nature/Science/Cell article from the past 10 years (and were able to understand them all) and did it for a few years, then it might be useful.

It's just incredibly inefficient. A much better expenditure of your time would literally be sleeping an extra hour or so each night.

This advice is similar to telling people to start reading books to prepare for the MCAT verbal. That's similarly inefficient. If you had read 20+ books a year for the past 10 years, then it might be useful.


The MCAT is testing really basic concepts in basic ways. If you know the content (and you don't really know it until you can get like 80%+ on TBR sciences), then even the most "difficult" analysis questions will be so easy.

If you truly do understand the content, oftentimes you will know the answer before you even read the answer choices.
 

mcatjelly

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I agree with what everyone is saying.

I'm also surprised with how much people are freaking out about data analysis part of the exam... how have people gone through 2+ years of undergrad without having had to learn how to read scientific papers? Especially when just about all of us spend time in a lab. I don't mean this to be condescending, but I am genuinely curious.
 
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DrHart

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I agree with what everyone is saying.

I'm also surprised with how much people are freaking out about data analysis part of the exam... how have people gone through 2+ years of undergrad without having had to learn how to read scientific papers? Especially when just about all of us spend time in a lab. I don't mean this to be condescending, but I am genuinely curious.
Original thought and inquiry have been altogether replaced by people jumping through the hoops and going through the motions. Who needs to read a paper for your research as long as you can list it on a resume and get a letter of rec from your PI saying how hard worked and how much you helped.
The system has started breeding kids to become applicants not future doctors/scientists.
 

DrHart

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It's just incredibly inefficient. A much better expenditure of your time would literally be sleeping an extra hour or so each night.
Agreed. If you haven't spent a significant amount of time throughout undergrad reading scientific articles. There isn't much hope for you now
This advice is similar to telling people to start reading books to prepare for the MCAT verbal. That's similarly inefficient. If you had read 20+ books a year for the past 10 years, then it might be useful.
Disagree and agree. Don't be dramatic. Research articles are not books. Most are less than 10 pages. I agree that spending your childhood reading books will be useful (you'll be a better reader). But, reading magazine articles, well-written blogs, short stories, philosophy, etc. is also useful. Finding a point of view, an argument, support, and making tangible connections and original thoughts. This is what is important when it comes to your reading.
The MCAT is testing really basic concepts in basic ways. If you know the content (and you don't really know it until you can get like 80%+ on TBR sciences), then even the most "difficult" analysis questions will be so easy.
If you truly do understand the content, oftentimes you will know the answer before you even read the answer choices.
Disagree. For both science sections, "Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles" accounts for 35%. Reasoning and problem solving accounts for the other 65%. Oftentimes you will need to make connections that take your understanding and force you to apply it to a new idea.
You're right in that the better you understand the material, you'll have a stronger itch towards the right answer. You're wrong in that the majority of the questions require more than just knowledge. Sometimes all you have to do is put 2 and 2 together. Sometimes its more complicated than that.
 

mcatjelly

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Original thought and inquiry have been altogether replaced by people jumping through the hoops and going through the motions. Who needs to read a paper for your research as long as you can list it on a resume and get a letter of rec from your PI saying how hard worked and how much you helped.
The system has started breeding kids to become applicants not future doctors/scientists.
Agreed, unfortunately. And yet I see so many premeds proclaiming their love for science/medicine.

I've become unreasonably angry.
 

xerxesc

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Just do TBR and get a really good content foundation.

Seriously, after TBR and building a really strong content foundation, you will find all the AAMC questions to be (almost laughably) easy. And what TBR really does well is to force you to have a super strong content foundation.

If you have a strong content foundation, the trends/analysis that the test requires will come a lot easier to you.

Absolutely agree: TBR is the best review.
 

allantois

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Original thought and inquiry have been altogether replaced by people jumping through the hoops and going through the motions. Who needs to read a paper for your research as long as you can list it on a resume and get a letter of rec from your PI saying how hard worked and how much you helped.
The system has started breeding kids to become applicants not future doctors/scientists.
And we wonder why clinical rights are expanding for midlevels. Well, no wonder when physicians are sitting around discussing what another tangent thing will make for a great clinician!
 
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Jelly Bones

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Original thought and inquiry have been altogether replaced by people jumping through the hoops and going through the motions. Who needs to read a paper for your research as long as you can list it on a resume and get a letter of rec from your PI saying how hard worked and how much you helped.
The system has started breeding kids to become applicants not future doctors/scientists.
I agree with this 100%, there are far too many students who graduate with science degrees without learning basic critical analysis and reasoning skills that are core to being a scientist. It's totally unacceptable for students who work in labs to lack these skills but unfortunately these days most college programs aren't designed to necessarily teach students these abilities.

I feel that the new test is attempting to favor those who are capable of problem solving using basic knowledge rather than those who spend more time memorizing useless details without understanding it. We'll see what the results say...

My advice for anyone who wants to learn how to critically analyze research: it really shouldn't take a long long time to read an article, you aren't after understanding every detail or retaining any information. Try to read a few papers to figure out the general layout and you will find it's intuitive for any basic molecular biology research paper. Focus on basic molecular biology/cancer biology articles. PLoS biology should be a good resource and maybe PLoS Genetics (both open access). If you have institutional access: JBC, Genes & Development, cell death differentiation. Don't go for high impact journals (nature, science, etc.), they usually involve very dense/complicated studies and are more about presenting cool data than presenting it well sometimes.

Here are some basic guidelines:

1- IMO abstracts are only useful if you want to know what the whole paper is saying which isn't very relevant for MCAT passages - maybe just use them for a quick idea of what the paper is about and the approach used (look for basic molecular biology techniques)
2-Read the intro to get an idea of background information. Try to avoid papers that talk about structural biology, advanced genome editing methods, full genome sequencing, etc. as these fields are relatively advanced, and utilize complicated techniques/data. The end of the intro will usually give a quick summary of the hypothesis and conclusions.
3- Go straight to the figures and see if you can understand them using the legends. In most molecular biology papers there are a few key experiments that tell you specific things: e.g. western blots/ELISA for protein levels; qPCR for gene expression, etc. The progression of the data should be logical usually starting with a gene knockout/knockin mouse/cell line and some phenotypic data then moving into the details of the phenotype OR a molecular mechanism. Although the data won't be this complicated in the MCAT (I think) it will teach you how to make correlations between the axes on graphs so you can quickly make comparisons between different sample groups for a given parameter. ALWAYS FIND THE CONTROL GROUP FIRST. Try to figure out the conclusions of the experiment just by looking at the figure e.g. does the deletion of this gene increase/decrease a given gene/protein level compared to control.
4- Read the results section for each figure as you look at it. This is to get an idea of the progression of thinking/experiments. After each result, the authors will make quick/basic conclusions on what this data means. This essentially the answer to the question being asked by the experiment.
5- Forget about methods (details of protocols for reproducing the experiments) and discussion (overreaching conclusions specific to the field). All you really need is intro + results/figures


Finally - If you want to think about limitations of a study, it's mostly stuff that the authors are trying to hide and not made obvious in the study. Ironically, peer review favors papers that sound "perfect." Most of the time this will be the disregard of interfering pathways or processes that could be involved in the phenotype being studied (confounding factors). Unfortunately, without knowledge of the field it is difficult to know such things and I assume the MCAT will be more basic. Try to think about things like:
-The limitations of in vivo vs. in vitro experiments (cell lines are very different than mice, and each has its advantages/disadvantages)
-How well the result maps to the method i.e. does this experiment really answer the question as the authors claim or are they overreaching?
-Look for assumptions that all phenotypes in a gene knockout are solely due to the loss of the targeted gene (causality errors). In reality, losing 1 gene will most likely cause chaos in a whole pathway and so you can never draw a direct line between that knockout and an observed phenotype. Usually pathways can be delineated by western blots, qPCR, and protein interaction studies to see what molecular phenotypes are downstream of gene deletion. Cell lines serve as better models to figure out molecular mechanisms since you can directly knockout the gene and study immediate effects as opposed to germ line mutations in mice.

Basically, after a while you'll make a habit of not really caring about the name of the protein/gene that is being studied and rather focus on understanding the logical progression and conclusions of the study based on the experiment-result connections (as you will in the MCAT hopefully). Goodluck!
 
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newbeginnings

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I agree with what everyone is saying.

I'm also surprised with how much people are freaking out about data analysis part of the exam... how have people gone through 2+ years of undergrad without having had to learn how to read scientific papers? Especially when just about all of us spend time in a lab. I don't mean this to be condescending, but I am genuinely curious.
Agreed. I took the old MCAT last year. The bio section had majority experimental/data analysis. this is NOTHING knew imo. Now there's just more biochem and even more data analysis... SDN loves to make people like me super paranoid... Just remain calm, do practice passages, and trust yourself. I think I might avoid SDN for the next month.. maybe. ;)
 
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I agree, I would think that reading peer-reviewed journals would be overkill for the MCAT. But as an exercise in reading/interpreting graphical date, I think parts of them can be useful. However I think, if anything this exam will reward more and more specialization in undergrad and less critical thinkers. As a humanities major, how was I supposed to fit in all the new classes for the MCAT without adding an extra years or 2 of classes?
 
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mcatjelly

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I agree, I would think that reading peer-reviewed journals would be overkill for the MCAT. But as an exercise in reading/interpreting graphical date, I think parts of them can be useful. However I think, if anything this exam will reward more and more specialization in undergrad and less critical thinkers. As a humanities major, how was I supposed to fit in all the new classes for the MCAT without adding an extra years or 2 of classes?
Wouldn't 2 of the 3 (Psychology and Sociology) have counted toward your humanities major or at least as a gen ed?
 

Holmwood

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I agree with the following:
1) Understand the rationale/purpose of the study
2) Understand what the graphs mean and how it relates to the rationale/purpose of the study. Sometimes, it's not really obvious
3) Understand the results. Did it support or reject the author's hypothesis?

Really, it's no different from the strategy you use in verbal. However, this will only help you understand the passage, not answer the questions.

The questions require critical thinking and are not designed to be "obvious" even if you fully follow the experiment. You may be required to use the results of the study and apply it to a hypothetical situation, assess the biases/validity/assumptions in the study, and/or think about it's limitations (example: can't generalize information if patient selection was not randomized). This is the sort of thing you do all the time in journal clubs, and so people have suggested doing journal clubs to help prepare for the upcoming mcat. However, I believe journal clubs just aren't for everyone, and some people require different learning strategies.

I still say Khan academy passages are goooood practice. : O
 
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