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Psych-Social MCAT Passage Breakdown

Session 26

The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com.

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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 hurdles on your way to being a medical student, and this podcast will give you the information that you need to know to help get you the score so you can one day call yourself a physician.

(1:45) Psych-Social Passage #1

One of the things that we’ve discussed in past episodes is what you need to really have mastered in your MCAT prep is a good background in experimental design: how are experiments structured, how do you interpret the statistical data, etc?  The AAMC has really emphasized the idea that understanding experimental design is important throughout the whole test but especially in the psych-social section.

We have a couple of questions from a psychology passage taken from the Next Step diagnostic, but specifically two questions that talk about experimental design.

Question 2:

As one step in the statistical analysis of the effectiveness of the CHW interventions, researchers calculated the average percentage of post-natal care use and in ten randomly selected groups of fifty mothers. How could the researchers have increased the power of their analysis? How could the researchers have increased the power of their analysis?

The answer choice is A — examine fifteen randomly selected groups. Increased the length of questions on the survey used.

Select groups comprised of CHW using mothers only. Increase their rate of random error. So that last one, increase the rate of error, you can just toss out right away because that’s never going to be good for an experiment, having more random error.

And now this question asks about CHW, which the passage told us was ‘Community Health Workers’, and so you might think you need to start going back and really analyzing the passage for this, but in the end we want to remember a very simple fact about experimental design, which is you are going to get data that is overall statistically more significant if you get more of it, assuming the underlying phenomenon that you’re investigating has any validity to it.

In this case, the question said ‘ten randomly selected groups of fifty mothers’, and the very first answer choice was, ‘what if you examine fifteen randomly selected groups of subjects’? That that is the right answer because that’s just the classic way to do a better study –to gather more data — and that would end up increasing the power of the analysis.

(3:39) Skim, not skip — but not necessarily read it in its entirely, either

There are really discrete questions hidden in a passage.

Like many of the ones we’ve been seeing on this podcast, almost every passage comes with one or maybe even two questions that are mostly just based on the question itself and your outside knowledge.

Bryan’s recommendation is to typically skim rather than skip the passage, merely to see what is going on there.  You don’t necessarily have to analyze every step in the experiment but think, ‘Oh I see, this is a sociology experiment about social networks of prenatal women, so let me glance at this table here really quickly.’ You can do this in less than a minute, maybe even less than thirty seconds, and then go to the questions.

Every time you answer a question, you always want to read it carefully and figure out exactly what the question is asking you first to figure out whether you even need to go back to the passage. If you do need to go back, go back and do as much reading as necessary.

Perhaps that means look at one figure, or maybe that means read the whole passage but don’t bother reading the whole passage until you’re actually going to get paid for it, until the question is actually going to reward you for doing that reading.

(5:05) AHA MOMENT

Bryan says he constantly sees these AAMC passages where you could actually answer all five questions referencing one paragraph, and like nothing else. All that time you wasted analyzing that whole second experiment, you didn’t get paid for that at all.

(5: 26) Psych-Social Passage #2

In this question, we are actually going to have to go back to the passage.

Question 3:

‘It is found that respondents who are minutiae members, and who listed minutiae CHWs as a part of their support networks were significantly more likely to exhibit MN optimal, MNH behavior (maternal neonatal health). The presence of the community health workers is an example of a: confounding variable, a mediating variable, a moderating variable, or an independent variable’.

Again, they were members of this program, minutiae program, and they listed the health workers as a part of their support network and they were more likely to exhibit optimal behaviors.

This is another experimental design and we’re going to have to go back to the passage and look at how the experiment was put together so we can figure out what the presence of these minutiae CHWs did and then we have to know the definitions of these various types of variables.

‘Researchers looking to test this hypothesis wish to determine if the introduction of CHWs into the social networks of minutiae members mediates changes in maternal and neonatal health best practices, MNH.’

Right away, just the first sentence is telling us how this experiment was put together.

‘Researchers looking to test this hypothesis wish to determine if the introduction of CHWs into the social networks mediates changes in maternal health behavior.’

Just by finding the right sentence, or right paragraph where they described it, they actually told us what the CHW- the community health workers did. It mediated the effect on behavior.

When you look at the answer choices: confounding, mediating, moderating, and dependent variables, you can jump right to answer choice B, a mediating variable. And in fact, this question ends up being not even so much a knowledge question about science, or even a knowledge question about constructing experiments, but it ends up just becoming a pure reading comp question.

Bryan says what is so interesting here is that the overwhelming majority of students on our Next Step diagnostic get this question wrong, something like 75% of students get it wrong, and most students actually pick ‘independent variable’.

(8:09) No Need To Bang Your Head!

This is a case mentioned of med students getting so nervous and having so many ideas swirling around in their head  that they end up kind of just latching onto the wrong thing. Whereas if you can just kind of chill out for a second, take a breath, go look up what it said in the passage. Sometimes the MCAT will just hand it to you like that, and when they do that’s a gift, you’ve got to take it.

Bryan always likes to remind people that the MCAT is written such that when you review it afterwards, every single question was gettable. Maybe you didn’t know a fact, maybe you didn’t interpret a graph correctly, but there should never be a question where once you know the right answer, you argue with it.

You should be like, ‘Oh right. Well I didn’t know that, I know it now.’ Or like you said, you bang your head on the table like, ‘Are you kidding me? It was right there!’

Links and Other Resources

Next Step Test Prep is known for their one-on-one tutoring. But did you know that they have a huge set of MCAT prep books, and ten full length MCAT practice exams that you can buy separately?  Check them out at www.NextStepTestPrep.com.

Transcript

Introduction

Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com.

This is The MCAT Podcast, session number 26.

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 hurdles on your way to being a medical student, and this podcast will give you the information that you need to know to help get you the score so you can one day call yourself a physician.

Welcome back to The MCAT Podcast. These last several weeks we’ve been covering questions, and going over the questions, and we’re going to continue that. We’ve been getting a lot of good feedback. The only negative feedback we have received on these podcasts is that they’re not long enough. So we’re going to continue on, and this week is no different.

Alright Bryan, we’ve talked physics, we’ve talked biology, now we’re going to dive into the psych social passages. What do you have in store for us today?

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah Ryan so one of the things we’ve talked about in the past about what you need to really have mastered your MCAT prep is a good background in experimental design; how are experiments structured, and how do you interpret the statistical data, and all that. And the AAMC has really emphasized the idea that being- understanding experimental design is important throughout the whole test, but especially in the psych-social section. So what I’ve got for us first is a couple of questions from a psychology passage taken from the Next Step diagnostic, but specifically two questions that talk about experimental design. So let’s actually start here- again if you have the handout, go ahead and pause the podcast for a second, and read your way through the passage. If you don’t have the handout, check out the show page to get it. But for now I’ll read questions for those just listening. So question number two.

Psych-Social Passage #1

As one step in the statistical analysis of the effectiveness of the CHW interventions, researchers calculated the average percentage of postnatal care use found in ten randomly selected groups of fifty mothers. How could the researchers have increased the power of their analysis? How could the researchers have increased the power? Answer choice A, examine fifteen randomly selected groups. Increased the length of questions on the survey used. Select groups comprised of CHW using mothers only. Increase their rate of random error. So that last one, increase the rate of error, you can just toss out right away because that’s never going to be good for an experiment, having more random error. And now this question asks about CHW which the passage told us was Community Health Workers, and so you might think you need to start going back and really analyzing the passage for this, but in the end we want to remember a very simple fact about experimental design, which is you are going to get data that is overall statistically more significant if you get more of it, assuming the underlying phenomenon that you’re investigating has any validity to it. So in this case the question said ten randomly selected groups of fifty mothers, and the very first answer choice was well what if you examine fifteen randomly selected groups of subjects? And that is the right answer because that’s just the classic way to do a better study, is gather more data, and that would end up increasing the power of the analysis, and so answer choice A is the right answer there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So this is really a discrete question hidden in a passage.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely, like a lot of the ones we’ve been seeing on this podcast. Almost every passage comes with one or maybe even two questions that are mostly just based on the question itself and your outside knowledge.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, so read the question. And let’s- in case somebody hasn’t listened to past episodes, which I highly recommend you do, your recommendation is to skip the passage, read the questions first and figure out if you actually need to go back and read the passage. Is that what you would recommend?

Bryan Schnedeker: Right. Yeah well typically I say skim rather than skip, and skim meaning very quickly, you know sixty seconds or less, just to see like what is going on here? Not analyze every step in the experiment but, ‘Oh I see, this is a sociology experiment about social networks of prenatal women, let me glance at this table here really quickly.’ Less than a minute, maybe even less than thirty seconds, and then go to the questions. Absolutely. And every time you answer a question, you always want to read it carefully, figure out exactly what the question is asking you first to figure out whether you even need to go back to the passage. And then if you do need to go back, go back and do as much reading as necessary. Maybe that means look at one figure, maybe that means read the whole passage, but don’t bother reading the whole passage until you’re actually going to get paid for it, until the question is actually going to reward you for doing that reading.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Until you get paid for it, I like it.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah I can’t tell you how many times you see these AAMC passages where you could actually answer all five questions referencing one paragraph, and like nothing else. It’s like all that time you wasted analyzing that whole second experiment, you didn’t get paid for that at all.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I’m going to steal that moving forward, thank you for that, Bryan.

Psych-Social Passage #2

Bryan Schnedeker: There you go. So let’s take a look here at question number three. And this one we are actually going to have to go back to the passage. So it says, ‘It is found that respondents who are minutiae members, and who listed minutiae CHWs as a part of their support networks were significantly more likely to exhibit MN optimal, MNH behavior. That’s maternal neonatal health. The CHW, community health worker presence is an example of- Okay so again they were members of this program, minutiae program, and they listed the health workers as a part of their support network, and they were more likely to exhibit optimal behaviors. So the presence of the community health workers is an example of a confounding variable, a mediating variable, a moderating variable, or an independent variable. So again, this is another experimental design, we’re going to have to go back to the passage and look at how the experiment was put together so we can figure out what the presence of these minutiae CHWs did, and then we have to know the definitions of these various types of variables. So for those of you who have the handout downloaded from the show page, we’re going to take a look at the second paragraph here. For those just listening I’m going to go ahead and read the second paragraph because this is where it starts actually describing the experimental construct.

It says, ‘Researchers looking to test this hypothesis wish to determine if the introduction of CHWs into the social networks of minutiae members mediates changes in maternal and neonatal health best practices, MNH.’ So there you go, just the first sentence telling us how this experiment was put together. ‘Researchers looking to test this hypothesis wish to determine if the introduction of CHWs into the social networks mediates changes in maternal health behavior.’ And there you go, just by finding the right sentence, or right paragraph where they described it, they actually told us what the CHW- the community health workers did. It mediated the effect on behavior. So again, when you look at the answer choices; confounding, mediating, moderating, and dependent variables, you can jump right to answer choice B, a mediating variable. And in fact this question ends up being not even so much a knowledge question about science, or even a knowledge question about constructing experiments, it ends up just becoming a pure reading comp question. Did you go back and find it, read the exact language used to describe the experimental setup, and then they used the word mediating in the passage, and there you go, it’s a mediating variable. The thing that I think is so interesting here is that actually the overwhelming majority of students on our Next Step diagnostic get this question wrong, something like 75% of students get it wrong, and most students actually pick independent variable. So that’s a case again Ryan, you’ve mentioned this idea of med students getting so nervous and having so many ideas swirling around in their head, that they end up kind of just latching onto the wrong thing. Whereas if you can just kind of chill out for a second, take a breath, go look up what it said in the passage. Sometimes the MCAT will just hand it to you like that, and when they do that’s a gift, you’ve got to take it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s these questions that I remember that I would just want to bang my head on the table when reviewing my test. Be like why was it so easy? Or why would they do that to me to make it so easy? Don’t they know that I’m trying to make it as hard as possible for myself?

Bryan Schnedeker: Right, exactly. And it’s- I always like to remind people that the MCAT is written such that when you review it afterwards, every single question was gettable. Maybe you didn’t know a fact, maybe you didn’t interpret a graph correctly, but there should never be a question where once you know the right answer, you argue with it. You should be like, ‘Oh right. Well I didn’t know that, I know it now.’ Or like you said, you bang your head on the table like, ‘Are you kidding me? It was right there!’

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah alright.

Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright next week more psych-social questions. Alright there you have it, another MCAT Podcast in the books. If you are on an iOS device and you do not subscribe to this podcast through a podcast app like the Podcasts, the official Apple podcast app, you should. And you can do that very easily by opening up that podcast app. If you don’t find it on your phone, search for it in the app store, it’s hidden there, if you removed it, it’s still there. Open it up, search for Med Ed Media, that’s Med Ed Media with a space in there, and all four of the podcasts that we do at the Medical School Headquarters you will find, and you click subscribe, and every week this podcast will come to you. Do me a favor, while you’re in there you can leave a rating and review as well. I hope you have a great week, but before I let you go I want to remind you that Next Step Test Prep is known for their one-on-one tutoring. But did you know that they have a huge set of MCAT prep books, and ten full length MCAT practice exams that you can buy separately? So go check them out, that’s www.NextStepTestPrep.com, and use the promo code MCATPOD, that’s MCATPOD, save some money on those practice exams, and save some money on their tutoring, and their awesome new course as well. Again that’s MCATPOD, all capital letters for that coupon code. Have a great week, we’ll see you next week here at The MCAT Podcast.

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