The Secret of the Hidden Curriculum: Anatomy and Physiology

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MP 328: The Secret of the Hidden Curriculum: Anatomy and Physiology

Session 328

Let’s discuss the hidden curriculum of the MCAT that has been a topic of discussion among students, with questions arising about whether anatomy and physiology are included in the test. Many students believe that since the MCAT is designed to assess knowledge of the human body, these subjects should be tested.

We’re joined by Nicole from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Understanding the Role of Anatomy and Physiology in the MCAT

Common Misconceptions

There is a common misconception among students that the MCAT heavily tests anatomy and physiology knowledge. However, in reality, these subjects are only minimally covered on the exam, usually in a basic context and often intertwined with other topics. It is important to debunk this misconception to better understand the focus of the MCAT.

Emphasis on Critical Reasoning and Scientific Skills

Contrary to popular belief, the MCAT primarily aims to assess a student’s critical reasoning skills, scientific reasoning abilities, and proficiency in critical reading. The exam is designed to evaluate one’s ability to analyze and apply knowledge rather than testing specific medical content. Therefore, it is crucial for students to prioritize honing these skills rather than solely focusing on anatomy and physiology.

Optional Anatomy Electives

While taking an anatomy course as an elective can be beneficial for some students, it is not a prerequisite for success on the MCAT. The decision to take anatomy should be based on individual circumstances. Whether it’s the availability of space in the schedule and the confidence in performing well in the class without adversely affecting the GPA. It is important to note that studying anatomy alone will not significantly enhance performance on the MCAT.

Anatomy in Context: The MCAT’s Approach to Integrating Non-Biological Concepts

Anatomy Questions within a Broader Context

Anatomy-related questions on the MCAT are typically presented within a larger context, often intertwined with non-biological concepts. The exam tends to take non-biological questions and incorporate them into a biological framework. This approach challenges students to apply their anatomy knowledge in different scenarios.

For instance, a question may revolve around the lungs, which seemingly requires anatomical knowledge. However, the actual question might focus on the impact of inflammation in a bronchial cyst, a branch of the lungs.

'The MCAT loves to take non-biological questions and put them in a biological context.'Click To Tweet

In this case, understanding the anatomy of the bronchial passages becomes relevant to answer how inflammation affects the flow of air through the narrowed passage. Unexpectedly, the question incorporates fluid dynamics principles, specifically the Venturi effect. This highlights the MCAT’s tendency to assess anatomy within broader scientific concepts.

Integrating Basic Sciences with Clinical Scenarios

The MCAT aims to bridge the gap between basic sciences and clinical relevance. It accomplishes this by presenting questions that contextualize clinical scenarios with concepts from biochemistry, physics, or even psychology. This approach challenges students to think critically and apply their foundational knowledge to solve problems within a medical context.

While anatomy serves as a foundation, the MCAT tests students’ understanding of basic science principles within clinical scenarios.

Mastering Reasoning Skills: Unveiling the Hidden Questions on the MCAT

The Importance of Slowing Down and Analyzing

One of the core skills required for success on the MCAT is the ability to slow down and carefully analyze the questions. Students often struggle with identifying relevant information and distinguishing it from irrelevant details. Developing this skill is crucial as it forms the foundation of reasoning on the exam.

When we refer to the MCAT as a reasoning test, it means that there are very few straightforward questions that can be answered solely through memorization. Each question requires an extra step of reasoning beyond mere recall. This additional layer of reasoning challenges students to think critically and apply their knowledge in a nuanced manner.

'The MCAT is a reasoning test.'Click To Tweet

Breaking Down Complex Information

The MCAT frequently presents complex information and integrates random concepts into a biological context. To tackle these questions effectively, students must learn to break down the convoluted content and identify the simpler questions hidden within. By shifting focus from the intricate details to the underlying concept being tested, students can navigate the exam with greater ease.

Finding the easier question lurking behind the complexity is key to answering MCAT questions. Through careful analysis, students can uncover the “direct ask” — the fundamental query that lies beneath all the convoluted information. This direct ask serves as a guide, leading students to the correct answer by focusing on the core concept being tested.

'The MCAT loves to put random things in a biological context. It's going to happen all over the place.'Click To Tweet

Once students overcome the initial hurdle of reasoning and successfully identify the direct ask, they often experience an epiphany moment. It is during this realization that they understand the simplicity of the question and recognize the key knowledge needed to answer it. This breakthrough not only boosts confidence but also enhances performance on the MCAT.

Unveiling the Hidden Curriculum: Strengthening Reasoning Skills for MCAT Success

Nicole says that the hidden curriculum refers to the skills and knowledge that students acquire through experiences and activities outside of the formal curriculum. It encompasses the implicit lessons learned through interactions with peers, participation in extracurricular activities, and exposure to real-world applications of knowledge.

Integrating Critical Thinking

In the context of developing reasoning skills for the MCAT, the hidden curriculum plays a significant role. While there may not be a specific course solely dedicated to reasoning for science, there are opportunities to enhance these skills through various means.

For example, higher-level biology courses such as genetics or cell and molecular biology can provide valuable insights and deepen understanding.

Elevating Scientific Reasoning in MCAT Preparation

Additionally, certain courses may incorporate elements that mimic the MCAT’s style of questioning and require critical thinking and analysis. For instance, participating in journal clubs, where students analyze and present figures from scientific papers, can improve interpretation skills and facilitate scientific reasoning.

Similarly, courses that emphasize critique, critical thinking, and the application of learned concepts can greatly benefit MCAT preparation.

Finding Professors and Learning Environments that Foster Reasoning

While it may not be common for all schools to offer such courses, it is worth researching and seeking out professors who integrate critical thinking and real-life scenarios in their teaching methods. Connecting with fellow students who have taken these classes and gathering recommendations can further guide your decision on which courses to prioritize.

Taking advantage of opportunities within the hidden curriculum can provide a valuable edge in developing reasoning skills essential for success on the MCAT.


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