MP 24 : MCAT Biology Passage Questions – Breaking them Down

Session 24

In today’s episode, Ryan and Bryan dig into some biology questions. Biology is the most important topic on the MCAT by far as it shows up throughout the test.

  1. Monocytes in conjunction with epithelium-derived factors can act to facilitate which biological process:
  1. Fatty acid oxidation
  2. Transvection
  3. Lipid synthesis
  4. Host immune response

Strategies for answering:

This question expects you to know what monocytes are. Monocytes are white blood cells so you can just jump right into (d) host immune response.

These other processes you don’t even need to know the question but just from your biology background, you should be able to recognize what they are.

Make sure you understand what the question asks first.

Before you start hunting through the passage, check out the answer choices real quick because there’s always one that is wrong and you can eliminate one or two choices pretty quickly. And if there’s only one left, just pick it and go. Trust your basic sciences.

  1. After injury-induced cataract formation has begun, which of the following are least likely to be found in your monocytes.
  2. TGF beta transporters
  3. TGF beta receptors
  4. Tight junctions
  5. Cytokines

Strategies for answering:

Again another question about white blood cells.

It’s a “least” question so it’s something not associated with your white blood cells floating through the plasma.

(a) and (b) – you don’t have to know a whole bunch about TGF beta just walking into the test. You would have to go back to the passage to see if (a) or (b) is relevant here.

You should certainly know what tight junctions and cytokines are based on your outside biology knowledge.

Cytokines are cells used to communicate with each other and nearby cells. Basically, every cell in your body uses cytokines, so it’s likely to be found in monocytes.

Tight junctions hold cells tightly together, specifically making epithelial lining cells that make a barrier that’s difficult to penetrate through such as the blood-brain barrier. Monocytes don’t have that. So this is the right answer since tight junctions would make no sense for white blood cells. Additionally, tight junctions would not be “in” a monocyte since a tight junction is “between” two cells.

Additional tip for taking the MCAT:

Any time it gets confusing, read the question three times. – Once to figure out what you’re solving for and write it down in simple form. Second time, to see what new information was given to you. Third time, read the question and your answer choice to make sure it all fits.

Links and Other Resources:

www.mededmedia.com

Check out the Specialty Stories podcast on www.medicalschoolhq.net

Next Step Test Prep – Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on your MCAT test prep.

Transcript

Introduction

Dr. Ryan Gray: As you’re studying for the MCAT and worried about why you’re doing all of this, check out the Specialty Stories Podcast to give you some insight into what life is like as specific specialists. Go check that out on your favorite device, iOS or Android, subscribe to the Specialty Stories Podcast in whatever device you use.

This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 24.

A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest premed hurdles, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a physician.

Welcome to The MCAT Podcast, my name is Dr. Ryan Gray. I host this podcast as well as the Specialty Stories Podcast I mentioned earlier, The Premed Years, and the Old Premeds Podcast. So if this is your first time joining us, welcome to 2017 and to The MCAT Podcast. Go check out everything we’re doing over at www.MedEdMedia.com. That’s www.MedEdMedia.com. We’re going to jump right in to this podcast episode, another question episode.

Alright so Bryan, the last couple weeks we’ve done some physics based questions. Now we’re going to dig into some biology.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely, biology- we’ve said this multiple times on this podcast, biology is the most important topic on the MCAT by far. It shows up in the chemical and physical foundations of biology, shows up in the biological biochemical foundations of life, it shows up in the psychological social and biological foundations of behavior; I mean biology is all over this test so we’re going to spend I think a good two or three podcasts here doing some bio practice problems together.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright.

Breaking Down Biology Passages

Bryan Schnedeker: So the first one we’re going to look at here which is the first bio practice passage is another one where again, if you can open up the handout, pause the podcast, take a few minutes and read through the passage. We’re actually just going to go right to the questions first. The questions, for those of you listening at home, don’t actually need the passage so if you don’t have the handout you can still keep listening along. So we’ll start with question number two here. Monocytes in conjunction with epithelium derived factors can act to facilitate which biological process? Fatty acid oxidation? Transfection? Lipid synthesis? Host immune response?

So monocytes are discussed at some length in the passage itself which is about kind of triggering changes in tissues. But this question just expects you to know what monocytes are. So you’re going to have to walk into the test having done your homework, learning your bio, and knowing that a monocyte is a white blood cell. They’re the largest of the white blood cells. So regardless of what else is discussed about white blood cells in the passage, if you know what the name monocyte is you can just jump right to answer choice D, host immune response, because obviously we all know that’s what white blood cells do. These other processes you don’t actually even need to know to answer the question but of course just from your background bio knowledge you should recognize fatty acid oxidation, certainly they could do that but that’s really a process specific to mitochondria, not a cell type but an organelle type. Transfection is really a microbiology question related to moving DNA around. And then same thing with lipid synthesis is happening at the organelle level whereas this question is specifically about an entire class of cells, monocytes. So pretty straightforward factual question, just knowing that monocytes are white blood cells.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Let me put myself back in the shoes of the premeds taking the test, reading this and going, ‘It can’t be as simple as knowing that a monocyte is a white blood cell. So there has to be something with the fact that it’s in conjunction with this epithelium derived factors. So let me go back and read the passage and figure out what they’re talking about.’ How do you overcome that thought process?

Bryan Schnedeker: Sure so we talked last week when analyzing a bunch of physics discrete questions, the idea was make sure you actually understand what the question asks first so you don’t go totally nuts kind of heading down the wrong path. What this question illustrates is another real important test taking approach, which is you read the question first, make sure you understood what it asked. Before you start hunting through the passage, check out the answer choices real quick because there’s always one that’s like ludicrously wrong. There’s always one that’s just bad on the outside science. So you can almost always eliminate one or two pretty quickly as long as you have decent outside content knowledge. And then if there’s only a last man standing, there’s only one left, then you just have to pick it and go because the clock on the MCAT is just such a brutal master that you don’t have time to hem and haw. You know you can’t just sit there and rub your hands together nervously and read, and read, and read, and read; you have to trust your gut, trust the basic science.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright I’ll trust my basic science then.

Bryan Schnedeker: There you go. Question number three. ‘After injury induced cataract formation has begun, which of the following are least likely to be found in nearby monocytes?’ So again question, ‘After injury induced cataract formation has begun, which of the following are least likely to be found in nearby monocytes?’ Again a question about white blood cells floating through the blood stream, monocytes, and a least question. So something that’s not going to be associated with your white blood cells floating through the plasma. Now the question is specifically asking about a biological process discussed in the passage, ‘after injury induced cataract formation.’ So you know Ryan, like you said, we could go back and start researching the passage, but first thing’s first, let’s just check the answer choices really quickly. So we have TGF beta transporters, TGF beta receptors, tight junctions, cytokines. Well okay, the whole thing about TGF beta transporters or receptors, you don’t necessarily have to know a whole bunch about transforming growth factor beta just walking into the test. Maybe it would help to have heard the name before because it’s a fairly important category of molecules or factors. But you would have to go back to the passage to do the research to see if A or B is relevant here. Which you should certainly know what cytokines are, and you should certainly know what tight junctions are just from again, your outside biology knowledge. Cytokines of course are those little molecules that cells use to communicate with each other, to communicate with themselves, to communicate with nearby cells, or even neighbors who are somewhat distant. So basically every cell in your body, every cell is going to use cytokines. So that’s certainly going to be found in monocyte. The question was what’s least likely to be found in monocytes or nearby monocytes? And we should remember what tight junctions are, right? Just as the name implies these are junctions that hold cells tightly together, specifically making epithelial lining cells that make a barrier that’s very, very difficult to penetrate through. The classic example of that would be the famous blood brain barrier to prevent junk from the rest of your body getting into your brain. So tight junctions are ways for cells to form these tight kind of sheets of epithelial tissue to block things out. And monocytes and white blood cells in general, they don’t do that. I mean their function is to just float free and loose in the plasma, and go to wherever the infection is, and push their way through the endothelial lining of the red blood cells- lining of the circulatory system, so they can get in and battle that infection. So this is one of those answer choices you’re kind of like, ‘Wait what? Why would a white blood cell have tight junctions?’ And as weird as it is, that’s why it’s the right answer because the question was, ‘Which of the following are least likely to be found in monocytes?’ And tight junctions makes no sense for white blood cells so that’s the right answer to this question.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah and a tight junction would never be in a monocyte if you wanted to say that monocytes- which they don’t next to another monocyte have a tight junction, but it wouldn’t be in. Like the whole point is it’s between two cells.

Bryan Schnedeker: Right exactly, between the two cells. Right.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah I like it. That would have been an easy one for me. So I think Bryan, in a future episode we need to talk about how to overcome the chaos that happens in the student’s brain when a question has these words ‘not’ and ‘least’ in them. Because I think it’s important. There is so much anxiety in the test as a whole that when you come to a question that throws up this ‘not’ or ‘least’ or ‘most,’ it just- it threw me, I think it would throw a lot of people into this extra level of anxiousness, and it makes us take three times longer on these questions.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah it’s funny you say three times longer because actually one of the techniques I use with my tutoring students is I tell them to read the question three times. I say, ‘Read it once just to figure out what you’re even solving for, and write it down.’ Right? ‘I’m looking for not found in WBC, white blood cell.’ Right like actually write down in a simple form what you’re looking for. Then I say, ‘Read the question a second time to see what was given to you. Was there any new information given you have to incorporate?’ And then finally, ‘solve the question but then before you move on read it a third and final time. Like read the question and your answer choice to make sure it all fits.’ Not on every question of course because that’s going to take forever, but any time it gets confusing; has ‘least,’ ‘not,’ ‘except,’ it seems a little funky. Read it twice, then solve it, then read it a third time with your answer choice. And you’re right it does take three times longer but that’s what you need to do to get it right.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it. Alright Bryan, thanks.

Bryan Schnedeker: Sure thing.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright I hope that was helpful for you. Go check out www.TheMCATPodcast.com/24 to download the question specifically for this episode. I hope you got a ton of great information out of the podcast. I would love for you to go into iTunes, leave us a rating and review. It’s super easy, again go into iTunes, leave us a rating and review, let us know what you think.

Don’t forget to go check out everything that Next Step is doing to help you prepare for the MCAT. Go to www.NextStepMCAT.com and check out the course that they put together. It has much more than you’ll get from Kaplan or Princeton Review for a lot less. You’ll get a customized study schedule, working from your MCAT date, perfect for you. Customized just for you. You get live office hours with the experts who built the course. You’ve got Bryan, Dr. Anthony, and several other senior MCAT test prep folks over at Next Step Test Prep. Use the code MCATPOD, that’s MCATPOD to save some money on your MCAT test prep from Next Step Test Prep. Again check them out, www.NextStepMCAT.com.

Have a great week and we’ll catch you next week here at The MCAT Podcast and Med Ed Media.

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