The MCAT Podcast | Medical School Headquarters | Premed

By Ryan Gray, MD of Meded Media

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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 journey to becoming a physician. Listening to 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.

Episode Date
107: Next Step Full Length 10, Discretes, Questions 57-59

Solubility, fatty acids, and uranium are all topics of the three discrete questions we cover on this next installment of Next Step full-length 10 breakdown!

Aug 15, 2018
106: Next Step Full Length 10, Passage 9, Questions 49-51

Session 106

Passage 9 covers isolating a specific drug, amino acids and Poiseuille’s law. Once again, Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep joins us to help us break down these questions so you can come prepared for the MCAT and be ready to rock it!

[01:45] Passage 9

Drug X is designed to assist the body with the rate limiting step of glycogenolysis. The drug molecule is 560 amino acids long and weighs 65 kDa. The drug can exist as an inactive monomer but is only pharmaceutically active as a dimer, with two matching sub-units. It's shown to be effective with glycogen but not cellulose. X-ray crystallography has identified four biologically significant sites on the active form - catalytic site, allosteric site, glycogen site, and a phosphorylation site. Glycogen is bound to the glycogen site prior to the initiation of terminal glucose cleavage.

Further analysis shows that the phosphorylation site and the allosteric site are used in vivo for the regulation of drug X's activity. For example, secretion of epinephrine, a potent vasoconstrictor cause phosphorylation of the inactive monomer transforming it into the active dimer.

It is hypothesized that a single enzyme phosphorylase kinase (PK) is responsible for this transformation. The proposed pathway is outlined in Figure 1 structurally, PK is polymer with four identical subunits. PK is activated by intracellular calcium levels when calcium exceeds 10–6 molar, PK binds calcium and is activated.

[04:06] Question 49

Several attempts were made to isolate the active form of Drug X from a tissue sample. All but one test failed to yield a pure extract. Based on the information presented in the passage, this successful test was due to:

  • (A) Excessive centrifugation of speeds that caused the breakdown of drug PK
  • (B) Elevated pH levels that caused the hydrolysis of peptide bonds in PK
  • (C) Calcium contamination that led to the phosphorylation of drug X monomer
  • (D) Alcohol contamination that denatured the drug X monomer

Bryan's Insights:

Just understand the question. In this case, the passage says that to be active, it has to get phosphorylated. Active means phosphorylated. But to get Drug X phosphorylated, you're told in the second paragraph that calcium concentrations have to be high. So calcium activates PK and PK phosphorylates Drug X. It's like a three step process here. So the correct answer here is C.

Students could be thrown off by the word "contamination". And the question may seem unusual, since it says "all but one test failed." So what happened in the successful test? We're not used to the word "contamination" being associated with "success" but that's exactly what happened. There was contamination that allowed us to successfully activate the drug and purify it.

[07:40] Question 50

Which of the following amino acids could a transaminase not possibly transform into a beta amino acid?

  • (A) ARG
  • (B) PRO
  • (C) TYR
  • (D) GLY

Bryan's Insights:

You obviously have to know your three-letter abbreviations for these various amino acids and which one could not possibly become a beta amino acid.

If you don't know the answer to this, don't spend a ton of time on it. Just pick and go. When in doubt with amino acids, go for Proline (PRO) because it's weird and different since its side chain connects back to its own amino group. In that regard, proline is unique. However, it's not the right answer here. So the rule of thumb doesn't work here.

In this case, the key to the question is knowing what a beta amino acid is. The biological amino acids are alpha amino acids. So to have a beta amino acid, you have to have one more carbon, that beta carbon that is just one place over from the carbonyl carbon. So the alpha is the next door neighbor to carbonyl beta, two doors down. So in this case, to not be physically capable of becoming a beta amino acid, you simply pick the amino acid that doesn't even have a beta carbon. So the answer here is D, since Glycine is the simplest amino acid, where its side chain is just a hydrogen atom. It doesn't have a beta carbon so it can't possibly be altered into a beta amino acid.

Rule of thumb, too, on amino acids, if you have no idea what's going on, Glycine is the other special one. It's the smallest, the simplest, it's the only achiral one. With this for instance where proline and glycine are both choices, flip a coin.

[10:50] Question 51

After administration of epinephrine, the radius of the abdominal aorta is cut by one-third. According to Poiseuille's Law, if the blood pressure is constant across the length of the vessel, blood flow through the abdominal aorta will:

  • (A) Decrease to two-thirds to the fourth power of its previous value
  • (B) Decrease to one-third to the fourth power of its previous value
  • (C) Increase by three-halves to the fourth power of its previous value
  • (D) Increase to three times its previous value

Bryan's Insights:

Since it says the aorta is cut to 1/3. It means it's constricting the aorta. And when it comes to flow, you always want to flow through a fatter pipe. You want more room. Whether a current through a wire or water through a pipe, if you constrict it down, it becomes much harder to have flow.

The real world example of this is when you take a coffee stirrer and try to drink your soda through that. You can't, obviously, because of its tiny radius.

Back to this question, since your cutting the aorta down, you're getting less blood flow through it. So it has to be A or B here. If you're going through a smaller pipe, you're going to be faster, which means less pressure. But this is about blood flow and so if it's thinner, you're not going to get as many through.

In fact, you actually don't have to know Poiseuille's Law here because answer choices are both to the fourth power so they both tell us that whatever the equation is, the relationship between radius and blood flow is of fourth power.

Bryan explains this is more of an English language question where what does "cut by 1/3" mean? So to be cut by one-third means you are decreasing two-thirds your original value. So it's A.

If you log into the Next Step Test Prep platform and after you finish the test, you get to see a little bar graphs of what everybody picks and answer choice B is a popular pick (at around 35-40%).

"It is a critical thinking reading test. Read those questions super carefully even when there's all these numbers in the answer choices."

[15:20] Next Step Test Prep

I've been asking around in our Premed Hangout Group, a community composed of over 6,000 members, about what they're using test prep that they like. And one popular choice is Next Step, being the closest to the real MCAT they took. They  best approximated the score they got on their real MCAT. So check out their practice tests and use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off their full-length exams.


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Aug 08, 2018
105: Next Step Full Length 10, Discretes, Questions 44-47

Session 105

ATP, blood vessels, fat stores and beta decay are the topics we cover in the next set of discrete questions from Next Step Test Prep Full-length 10.

We are once again joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep. Also check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

[01:33] Question 44: Fat Molecules

Fats are stored in adipose tissues primarily as:

  • (A) Fatty acids
  • (B) Chylomicrons
  • (C) Glycerol
  • (D) Triacylglycerols

Bryan's Insights:

The correct answer here is D. Glycerol is the three-carbon backbone and fatty acids are the little tails that get tagged onto the glycerol. So a glycerol backbone plus three fatty acids make up a full classic E-shaped triacylglycerol or just just fat molecule. Chylomicrons are the little clumpy bits that are used to transport fatty acids throughout the blood.

[03:27] Question 45: Aorta vs. Capillaries

Within the body, which of the following blood vessels is expected to have the greatest total cross-sectional area and the lowest fluid velocity?

  • (A) Aorta
  • (B) Arterioles
  • (C) Capillaries
  • (D) Vena cava

Bryan's Insights:

The word total is key here. And the answer here is C. There are tens of thousands of capillaries for every arteriole, much less for the aorta and vena cava in the body. The question also says lowest fluid velocity. The blood in the aorta and the arterioles is just rushing along because of all that pressure from the heart. So it's in the capillaries that the blood flows the slowest that it almost comes to a standstill so that your oxygen and carbon dioxide can get exchanged.

If you're not reading this question very carefully, you might pick (A) Aorta. In fact, in the Next Step Full Length analysis, about 65% get this question right while the other 35% all pick the aorta.

[05:23] Question 46: Fluorine

What does 18F become after a beta+ decay?

  • (A) 18Ne
  • (B) 18O
  • (C) 17F
  • (D) 19F

Bryan's Insights:

The test would give you a periodic table where you click on the button in the corner of the screen. It doesn't give you much except for the atomic number and then the element itself.

First, you need to know the weight of a beta+ particle. It's a position which is a fancy name for a positively charged electron. So beta- is an electron while beta+ is a positively charged electron.

Relative to a proton, you can treat beta decay as having a zero mass. So if Fluorine starts with a mass of 18, shooting out a positron is not going to change the 18 at all because it didn't give out any mass.

If shot off a positive charge, it means that one of it is positive, so the proton became a neutron. Fluorine which had 9 protons went down to only 8 protons. So you have to go to the periodic table and see what's element number 8 and you would see that it's Oxygen.

[08:00] Question 47: ATP/ADP Ratio

A cell in which an elevated ATP/ADP ratio exists is most likely to demonstrate which allosteric effect resulting for this elevation?

  • (A) Inhibition of pyruvate kinase
  • (B) Activation of phosphofructokinase 1
  • (C) Inhibition of ATP citrate lyase
  • (D) Activation of hexokinase

Bryan's Insights:

The cell is in a really high energy state, which means you don't need to make any more. In response, you slow your Krebs cycle and all that mechanics down. So you don't want to pick the activation choices, leaving us here with A and C.

The correct answer here is A. Remember that pyruvate is that last step in glycolysis so the key regulatory point when you wrap up glycolysis before you head over to the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex or Krebs cycle, you regulate glycolysis right at the end there. If you shut that off in the end and if you have tons of ATP floating around, you don't need to make more energy. Hence, you switch off glycolysis by switching off pyruvate kinase, the enzyme in the end.

ATP citrate lyase is a key enzyme that links carbohydrate metabolism (the Krebs cycle) to fat anabolism (making fat). The enzyme basically converts the citrate to acetyl CoA, which goes over and the body makes fat molecules out of it for storage.

If you have tons of energy and you want to store that energy, you would actually bump up your ATP citrate lyase. You would want to activate that whole chain of connections.

[12:08] Quick Tips for Answering Biochemistry Questions

First, understand what the question is asking since students get very hung up in metabolism and biochemistry, trying to memorize a million names of enzymes, substrates, etc. Of course you have to recognize names. But when it comes to actually answering questions on test day, just put it in the big picture. Contextualize it.

Don't skip this first step because just from the names of the molecules, and recognizing the general situation, you can take a pretty good crack at the question.

In terms of the Krebs cycle and all the different energy pathways, you have to know them backwards-forwards, upside-down. You should be able to list every enzyme in the Krebs cycle, every substrate that gets acted on by the enzyme, and all the coenzymes and cofactors, all the inputs and the outputs.

"The Krebs cycle is your alpha and omega. You have to know the whole thing."

As for any pathway in the body, just generally know the inputs and outputs and the regulatory steps. You don't have to list every single step in glycolysis on the MCAT. That's okay. That said, memorize the Krebs cycle backwards and forwards first and then remember all the key steps in all the other reactions.

[14:45] Next Step Test Prep

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Aug 01, 2018
104: Next Step Full Length 10, Passage 7, Questions 36-39

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Session 104

Joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep, we continue to dive into Next Step Test Prep’s full length ten Chem/Phys section.

[01:56] Some Reset Tips to Help You on Test Day

If in the event of the test, you'd find yourself struggling with the sections, reset yourself and finish as strong as possible by taking micro breaks at some point. Interrupt those thought processes that aren't productive.

Sit up straight. Put the pen down. Physically alter your posture. Put both feet flat on the ground. Close your eyes and just take some deep, slow breaths to reset.

Follow the classic relaxation exercise where you tense up a particular muscle and then release it. Take a slow breath in while making a fist. Tense your fists up until your arms are shaking. Hold your breath for a couple of heartbeats. Then slowly blow the air out and relax your hands. Do the same thing with the other parts of your body including your biceps or face for instance.

[03:48] An Example of a Pretty Dense Passage

The enzyme, urease, expressed by many subsurface microorganisms, catalyzes the breakdown of urea, the product shown in Equation 1 (it shows urea with an acid and water, breaking down into ammonia and bicarbonate). Reversible exchange naturally occurs between metal cations in the ground water and those bound to solid, soil particles. The urease-catalyzed reaction products favor dissorption of divalent metal cations such as calcium and strontium from soil particles. The co-precipitation of strontium substituted for calcium in a lot of sites of calcium carbonate crystals as shown in Equation 3.

* This is a pretty dense paragraph. Bryan recommends that if you're reading along on test day and feel like you've lost some of it, then just keep going. You can't spend all day re-reading.

Equation 2 shows a solid bound to a metal combining with ammonia and then the solid is bound to the ammonia instead and releases the metal. Equation 3 shows that the metal in bicarbonate combining to form a metal of carbonate with water and CO2 getting released.

Under standard conditions, the Ksp of calcium carbonate is 2.8 x 10-9. While the Ksp of strontium carbonate is 2.6 x 10-9. A study of urease-driven removal from soil was carried out in three phases using a flow-through column packed with strontium-contaminated sediment.

Phase 1: Ground water was pumped through the column to get in a steady state.

Phase 2: Molasses-containing influent was injected into the column to stimulate microbial activities. (Put some sugar in the dirt to get those microbes active.)

Phase 3: Urea-containing influent was injected into the column.

[06:30] Don't Leave Anything Blank!

The passage is a really dense one. Bryan recommends that on test day, you can skip if you need to. But you have to make that decision really early on, like within the first 10 seconds or so. Make sure to click on any answer choice for all the questions. Do not leave anything blank in case time runs out. Then get onto the next passage. The worst thing is to leave something blank because that's a guaranteed wrong so you might as well take a guess.

[07:26] Question 36

During Phase 1, what affect best accounts for the concentration of calcium ions in collected effluent, initially exceeding the influent's calcium ion concentration.

  • (A) Displacement of calcium ions by influent ammonium ions
  • (B) Dissorption of soil-bound calcium ions
  • (C) Formation of calcium carbonate co-precipitate
  • (D) Change in the rate of urea hydrolysis

Bryan's Insights:

Phase 3 is where the urea comes from. So even without any idea about the chemistry, you could say that A and D are not even the right phase. C doesn't even mention calcium. And so D is the last one standing, hence the right answer.

[10:34] Question 37

The crystal precipitate formed in collected effluent was composed principally of calcium carbonate with strontium carbonate inclusions. The large majority of the crystal units did not include the strontium because the:

  • (A) Solubility constant of strontium carbonate is greater than that of calcium carbonate.
  • (B) Solubility constant of strontium carbonate is less than that of calcium carbonate.
  • (C) Effluent strontium ion concentration was much smaller than the effluent calcium ion concentration.
  • (D) Effluent strontium ion concentration was much greater than the effluent calcium ion concentration.

Bryan's Insights: You have to constantly be translating in your head from MCAT language to a very simple picture of what's going on. Go back to that picture in your head of a column of dirt running water through. You're just pushing water through dirt and collecting water at the bottom.

Effluent is the stuff at the bottom and it's composed principally of calcium so you run the water through the soil and at the end, you got calcium out mostly. Why?

So why would you get calcium precipitates? And the simplest answer is because you mostly have calcium to start with. In this case, C is the right answer.

[13:30] Question 38

The catalytic mechanism of urease involves the displacement of a water molecule weakly coordinated to nickel in the enzyme active site. The weak coordinate covalent bond disrupted by urea binding is formed by:

  • (A) Donation of two electrons from the ligand water to nickel
  • (B) Donation of one electron from water and from nickel
  • (C) Electrostatic attraction between the partial negative charge of water and positive charge of nickel
  • (D) Electrostatic attraction following transfers of electrons from the metal nickel to water

Bryan's Insights:

Again, focus on the question and what it's asking for. So here, you just have to know what's a coordinate covalent bond. Covalent bond is defined by sharing of electrons while a coordinate covalent is defined by sharing electrons when both electrons came from the same starting molecule. Once the bonds exist, you literally can't tell the difference between them.

Covalent bond tells you something about sharing while coordinate covalent tells you where those electrons came from. in this case, the answer choice that tells you both electrons came from one atom to start with is (A).

[15:37] Question 39

Which of the following gives the correct Ksp expression for the dissolution of strontium carbonate in water?

  • (A) 2.8 x 10-9 equals the concentration to strontium times the concentration of carbonate
  • (B) 2.6 x 10-9 equals the concentration of strontium times concentration of carbonate over water
  • (C) 2.6 x 10-9 equals the concentration of strontium times concentration of  carbonate
  • (D) 2.6 x 10-9 equals the concentration of strontium times concentration of  carbonate over the concentration of strontium carbonate

Bryan's Insights:

This is just knowing how to set up a Ksp equation. For strontium carbonate, there's no way you would know the solubility of strontium carbonate off the top of your head so you need to go back to the passage. Right away, you can eliminate A.

Again, as long as you keep your cool and do the best elimination you can, you're still getting ahead of somebody.

Remember how you do Ksps and for that you don't put solids and liquids. H20 is a pure liquid and you wouldn't list that or the strontium carbonate solid itself. So B and D are out since in the Ksp equations, all you list is the ion.So C is the correct answer here since it's the one that only has the ions.

[18:45] Next Step Test Prep

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Jul 25, 2018
103: Next Step Full Length 10, Passage 6, Questions 31-34

Session 103

Together with Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep, let’s dive into Passage 6 on Next Step’s full-length 10 which includes nutrition labels, understanding fiber, combustion, and others.

If you didn't know yet, I also host The Premed Years Podcast, The OldPreMeds Podcast, Specialty Stories, Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A, and some more coming up on the MedEd Media Network. Stay tuned for all of those and subscribe on whatever platform you listen to!

[01:52] Passage 6

Nutritional facts labels (Figure 1) the percentages supplied for one day of human nutrients provided by one serving of a particular food based on a daily diet of 2,000 nutritional calories. Since 1990, there have been a number of changes to the label guidelines. The purpose was to allow the public to make informed decisions concerning the food they eat.

Table 1 provides thermodynamic information concerning water and changes for some combustion reactions. It should be noted that labeling is based on nutritional calories (nCal), which is equivalent to 1 kCal. Calories (cal) is defined as the heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

[03:23] Question 32: Read the Label Carefully

Based on the information presented, what is the maximum number of packages of of this product that a person could consume in a day without exceeding the FDA's recommended caloric intake level?

(So they're saying here a daily diet of 2,000 nutritional calories and the package says there are 230 calories per serving. But there are 8 servings per package.)

If you have 230 calories and there are 8 servings per package, there's another 1,840 calories in one package. Therefore, it would only be one package that you could eat without exceeding the calories.

Bryan says that when you look at data from full-length 10, a shockingly large number of students (almost 30%) who take this test actually pick 8 packages as their answer. But the reality is you could only eat 8 servings. So they're either misreading the label or misreading the question.

Bryan couldn't emphasize more that the MCAT is a reading test that just so happens to be about science. So READ those questions CAREFULLY.

[06:00] Question 33: Dietary Fiber

Based on the information presented in the passage, how many nutritional calories per serving come from dietary fiber? (So in the label, dietary fiber is 4 grams. And it's 16% of the daily value.)

  • (A) 0
  • (B) 230
  • (C) 240
  • (D) 320

Bryan explains that the MCAT doesn't expect you to know much in the way of nutrition. It cares much more about cellular level or molecular level of metabolism. But you should know that carbs is 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate.

Again, based on the passage above, each serving has 230 calories. But you should walk into the test knowing that fiber doesn't have calories.

Fiber serving is a bulking agent in your stool. The nutrition it provides is actually in the form of maintaining your gut micro bio. It helps maintain your intestinal flora. Aside from eating your fiber, the intestinal flora also make your Vitamin K. So while fiber itself may not be strictly required to keep that human cell alive, fibers are required to keep the human body alive because you need to maintain good intestinal bacteria so they can make your Vitamin K, essential in blood clotting cascade.

So even though fiber doesn't have any calories, doesn't mean it's not a nutrient. In the same way that iron and calcium don't have any calories but they're still incredibly important nutrients.

Looking at the statistics on students who have taken this test, most students get this right, probably almost 90% of them. That said, Bryan says this should be a question that is 100% everyone who reads it gets it right because you know that fiber doesn't have any calories. Or because the serving only has 230 calories. So all these answer choices except for zero are just absurd.

"Don't surrender your common sense just because you're taking the MCAT."

[11:14] Question 34: Propane

How many grams of propane must undergo complete combustion to convert one kilogram of water at 25 degrees Celsius to steam at 100 degrees Celsius?

  • (A) 1 gram
  • (B) 10 grams
  • (C) 51 grams
  • (D) 90 grams

Bryan's Insights:

This is to remind you that there are some cases where you've got to do a whole load of math, whether you like it or not.

Conceptually, this is a question wherein you have to know the framework. So if you have 1kg of water and you have to raise it 75 degrees. So the equation you need to know here is: q = mc(delta T); where heat equals mass x specific gravity x the change in temperature.

The next thing you have to do is to steam at a 100 degrees C. So you have to do a phase change and the equation for this is: m delta H sub L where mass x latent heat.

The heat of vaporization is given in Table 1. Once you add those up, you get some number of Joules. Then go back to Table 1 to see how many is the heat of combustion for propane. And you'd be expected to recognize the name Prop as a 3-carbon (the table doesn't give this to you; instead, it only has the molecule) So you should find C3H8 and you should recognize that as Propane. Then the delta H is 2219 kJ per mole that gets released by burning it. You would then have to figure out how many moles of propane are needed. The final step is converting moles back to gram by dividing it by the molecular weight.

So there's a whole bunch of steps there. Heat the water up. Boil the water to steam. Get your Joule total. Go from Joules to Moles. Go from Moles to Grams. And the answer here happens to be 51 grams.

Bryan says this is one of the cases where there's no cute way to do it, no shortcuts. You really have to pick up that marker and calculate this out. Again, you definitely have to recognize the names of these molecules.

[15:40] About Next Step Test Prep

If you're in the market for full-length test prep exams, check out Next Step Test Prep and save 10% on any of their full length exam packages. Use the promo code MCATPOD. Also, check out their MCAT course or their one-on-one tutoring.


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Jul 18, 2018
102: Next Step Full Length 10, Discretes, Questions 27-30

Session 102

We’re back with discrete questions from full-length 10. We’re looking at enzymes, ATP, antioxidants, and buoyancy. Check it out and don’t forget to subscribe.

New to the MCAT world? Check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. It's a book that I, along with Next Step Test Prep, has put together as a basic MCAT 101 - when to register, how to register, can you qualify for a fee assistance program, how to study, the best resources, etc. If you're just starting your MCAT journey, then this book is what you need. Get it on Amazon and Kindle.

[02:13] Questions and Passages in Random

Bryan explains that there's always four sets of discrete questions and the section always ends with a set of them. Other than that, it shifts around the bunch. It can either be two passages and then discrete or a set of three and then discrete. So they're basically given in random.

[03:03] Question 27

An object weighs 150 grams in air, 75 grams when fully submerged in water, and 60 grams when fully submerged in an unknown fluid. What can be concluded about the specific gravity of the unknown fluid and the order of layers when water is mixed with the unknown fluid, assuming the unknown fluid is immiscible in water.

  • (A) The specific gravity of the unknown fluid is 1.2 and the water will be the top layer.
  • (B) The specific gravity of the unknown fluid is 0.83 and the unknown fluid will be the top layer.
  • (C) The specific gravity of the unknown fluid is 0.56 and the unknown fluid will be the top layer.
  • (D) The specific gravity of the unknown fluid is 1.5 and the water will be the top layer.

Bryan's Insights:

Take note here that the thing has weight in water, meaning it sinks to the bottom. So like when you put a little bathroom scale on the bottom of your pool and drop this thing in, it does sink to the bottom. Hence, we know this thing is more dense than water. And given that 2:1 ratio, it's probably twice as dense as water, which is 1.

Buoyant force is that upward force that's suspending it and it's proportional to the density of the fluid. So if this fluid is able to push up on this object a little bit better, then it's more dense than water.

Obviously, B and C are out because they're both less than 1.

Looking at proportional change in the apparent weight, it goes from 75 to 60 so it loses 1/5 of its apparent weight, which is 0.2. So it's 1.2, which is a little bit denser than water. Whereas 1.5 is already pretty dense, otherwise the apparent weight would be chopped all the way down to 50 grams and would lose half as much of its apparent weight.

[06:55] Useful Tips When Tackling Physics

Bryan points out that just because there are equations in physics doesn't mean we always have to start doing calculations. Sometimes, if you can just picture the scenario in your head, imagine pulling and pushing and sinking, then ask yourself that if this stuff is super floaty then it's not very dense. So imagine visually what's being described here.

You can often pick answer choices that are reasonable without even applying any particular algebra, without doing any particular equation.

Especially with physics, students find it to be so abstract so they think it has something to do with variables and letters, do some math, get their answer and that's it. But Bryan explains this stuff is the real world. Like this is the physical reality that your brain has evolved to operate it. So use that monkey brain and those monkey fingers. Imagine pushing and pulling and speeding up and slowing down, turning and floating, etc. This is the real physics that shows up on the MCAT. So you've got to trust that intuition sometimes as you may not have time to do all these in-depth calculations.

[08:40] Question 28

Which of the following is most likely to be the enzyme labeled x in the figure below. (Figure is shown in the handout where x is catalyzing a reaction in which NADP+ becomes NADPH, in which glucose 6-phosphate becomes 6-phosphogluconate.) What would catalyze the reaction of Glucose 6-P to 6-phosphogluconate?

  • (A) Glucokinase
  • (B) Phosphoglucomutase
  • (C) Glucose decarboxylase
  • (D) Glucose dehydrogenase

Bryan's Insights:

NADP is becoming NADPH. So the only atom being moved around here is hydrogen. So if literally all you saw was a hydrogen moving, then you'd pick (D). And this is the right answer.

Again, it's really that easy. With enzymes, it can seem so complicated but the names tell us what they do. So glucose dehydrogenase pulls hydrogen off glucose and slaps it on NADP+ in this case.

For glucokinase, recognize the "kin" part of this where it moves a phosphate group around. Mutases change between isomers. Particularly, phosphoglucomutase is important in glycolysis, changing G1P to G6P. Decarboxylase does exactly what it sounds like where it takes off the carboxyl group to CO2 group. And of course, dehydrogenase pulls off hydrogen.

[11:00] Question 29

Which of the following best describes the primary cellular energy source ATP?

  • (A) ATP contains a pentose sugar and a purine base.
  • (B) ATP contains a pentose sugar and a pyrimidine base.
  • (C) ATP contains a hexose sugar and a purine base.
  • (D) ATP contains a hexose sugar and a pyrimidine base.

Bryan's Insights:

Walking into MCAT, this is something you need to know where you should be able to draw ATP. ATP is a nucleic acid derivative. So they're all ribose sugar which are 5 carbon sugars.

The mnemonic you want to use here is Pure as Gold and Cut the Pie. Specifically, Pure (purine) As Gold (AG) and CUT the Pie (Pyrimidine). So A and G are purines and C, U, and T are pyrimidines. Hence, the right answer here is answer choice A.

[12:40] Question 30

Many processes in living cells produce free radicals. All of these molecules can perform an antioxidant function in vivo, except:

  • (A) Ubiquinone
  • (B) Vitamin E
  • (C) NADH
  • (D) FAD

Bryan's Insights:

NADH and FADH2 are classic cargo molecules where they can get oxidized to get produced. Ubiquinone is very important in the transport chain so you should know this. So it has to be C or D here.

NADH can lose its H or it could be FAD since it can pick up the H. In the whole Redox scheme where one gets oxidize and the other gets reduced, it's got to be one of these two. In this case, the right answer is FAD because FAD gets reduced to FADH2. And somebody that gets reduced, oxidizes someone else. So FAD is an oxidant, not an antioxidant. So when you get reduced, you're oxidizing somebody else. If you oxidize someone else, you're an oxidant. And if you reduced someone else, you're a reductant.

NADH reduces someone else, which would be the opposite of oxidizing someone else. So NADH could be called, theoretically, an antioxidant. Because an antioxidant is a molecule whose job is to not oxidize other people. But if it was just NAD, instead of NADH, then it would also be a reductant. So it's really about having that H or not.


Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

Jul 11, 2018
101: Next Step Full Legnth 10, Passage 4, Questions 18-21

Session 101

Once again, I'm joined by Bryan of Next Step Test Prep for some more full length 10, passage 4. Passage 4 on Next Step full-length 10 covers human hearing and sound waves.

Bryan emphasizes that taking full-length practice tests is the single most important thing you can do to get ready for the MCAT.

[02:08] Passage 4

Passage 4: In order for humans to hear, pressure waves are transferred, funneled into the ear by the way of the auditory canal and reach the tympanic membrane. This oscillation is transferring energy to the membrane to cause to vibrate. Via resonance, these vibrations stimulate hair and associated nerve cells. And sends information to the auditory cortex for pitch and intensity.

Bryan says this is one of those classics he calls, "throat-clearing paragraphs." The AAMC likes having passages where the opening paragraph is just backward information you should know anyway. Having said that, take a minute to just read it through to make sure you know.

Moving on, you'd find a diagram that compares decibel level to frequency for the threshold of human hearing.

Human hearing detects vibrations in the range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Our range of hearing shrinks with age and the upper age for hearing is the most affected. Ultrasound is not physically different from other sounds that we do hear but the brain is not capable of processing these vibrations.

Loudness is a characteristic of a pressure wave associated with amplitude. The greater the amplitude, the greater the stimulation of nerve cells. Loudness is a subjective property that depends on the individual. In an attempt to quantify loudness...

[03:55] Question 19

What is the intensity of a 70 decibel sound at a frequency of 103 Hertz?

  • (A) 10-12 wm2 (watts per square meter)
  • (B) 10-7 wm2
  • (C) 10-5 wm2
  • (D) 10-2 wm2

Bryan's Insights:

Before walking into the MCAT, students should know the decibel equation. This should be one of those you've got to have off the top of your head.

In particular, that equation is decibels = 10 log of the intensity of the sound over 10-12.

And you notice right away in the answer choices that (A) is 10-12. It's the threshold of human hearing, the quietest sound the human ear can perceive. But you might remember that and then just jump on it because it's familiar. And you don't want to do that as you want to do the actual calculation. Even with the numbers as answer choices, the wrong answers are going to have something tempting and a little tricky about it. But you want to know the calculations here, which would result to what in your answer choice C.

[08:04] Question 20

Based on the passage information, which of the following statements about sound waves in water is correct?

  • (A) Ultrasound waves are attenuated and more difficult to perceive in the water.
  • (B) Sound waves in water are more intense than sound waves in air.
  • (C) Sound waves have greater wavelengths in the water than in the air.
  • (D) Sound waves have higher frequency in the water than in air.

Bryan's Insights:

You want to remember that the word "perceive" is a specific technical meaning. It's a specific psychology term that means available to your conscious awareness. And we can't perceive any ultrasound at all. What you want to remember about sound waves is that they speed up or slow down based on what they're traveling through. They go the slowest in air, and faster in water. And then they go the fastest in a solid.

Sound waves are just molecules bumping into each other. So if the molecules are right next to each other then they bump into each other really quickly and fast. Then the sound waves just jet along. It makes sense then that the sound waves really quickly through a solid.

But it's going faster, something has to be changing about the width. There's an equation, velocity = frequency x wavelength. Or if it's a light wave, then c = λf.

This is a very simple but very important equation in sound or waves in general. If the left side of the equation goes up, if v goes up, it's faster in the water, then either f goes up or λ goes up. So one of them has to change.

In this case, you should walk into the test knowing that when a wave, light sound, anything at all, goes from one medium to another, frequency is constant. So if the sound is going faster through water, v goes up then λ goes up as well. The wavelength has to be going larger. This leads us then to answer choice C.

[12:24] Insights into Using Equations

Very important in Physics is that you've got to know your equations. In this case, we take these two questions because #19 is an example of an equation where you have to do the math. While #20 is an example where you have to know the equation but you just have to deal with the conceptual, no need to actually do that math.

[13:33] Next Step Test Prep

If you're interested in Next Step Test Prep's 10 full-length exams, use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money off their full-length exams, online course, one-on-one tutoring and more.


Next Step Test Prep

Jul 04, 2018
100: Next Step Full Length 10: Questions 14-17

Session 100

We tackle Passage 3 on Next Step's full-length 10 covering a passage about proteins in milk and what happens when you heat them up. Take a listen! As always, we're joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep.

[01: 55] Passage 3: Whey Protein

Passage 3: Whey proteins are globular proteins found in milk that are an important component in the American diet, particularly among athletes. Whey is noted for its ability to enrich foods through enhancing their texture, and water and flavor holding capacity. As a whey containing solution is heated, the proteins denature, unfold, and aggregate. This process is called gelation and leads to an increase in the viscosity of the solution. It has also been observed that introducing ions into a protein solution causes thickening. Food scientists have become increasingly interested in thicker protein gels because subsequent aeration of these mixtures can induce gas bubbles to be trapped in the solution. This leads to a higher volume of product that can be sold without increasing the amount of ingredients used.

A group of scientists was contracted to determine optimal protein concentration, salt concentration, and temperature to obtain gels with the best capacity to hold air bubbles. It's observed that no gelation occurs after 30 minutes of heating at 80 degree Celsius. Protein solutions were then mixed with calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, or iron chloride. Solutions were foamed immediately after adding the salts for 30 seconds at 2,000 revolutions per minute. (The results shown on Table 1)

[04:00] Protein Structures

Question 14: Denaturation of whey proteins involves the loss of which levels of protein structure?

  1. Primary structure
  2. Tertiary structure

III. Quaternary structure

  • (A) II only
  • (B) I and II only
  • (C) II and III only
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

A well-prepared MCAT student should be walking into the test knowing that to denature proteins means to unfold it all the way down to its primary structure. But that you don't actually break apart the primary structure.

It's like a ball of yarn where the primary structure is the string of yarn itself. The secondary structure would be little coils of yarn. The tertiary structure is the whole folded up yarn ball. And then the quaternary structure is two yarn balls that get tangled into each other slightly.

So to denature is like ripping two yarn balls apart and unraveling them all the way down to just the string and then you leave the strong alone.

[05:40] Strategy for Looking at Passages

There is this strategy where you read the passage first before looking at the questions or vice versa. But which one should you actually do?

Bryan explains that typically, you do want to read the passage first. Although the one place you could maybe get away with going to the questions first is the Chem/Phys section.

And for the purposes of this podcast, Bryan and I have actually selected out questions that are a bit easier to answer by just listening.

But even in the first passage we did, we had to go back to two of the questions to directly reference the passage. For the most part though, we've selected out shorter, more readable questions. All this being said, you should always be reading the passage first as a mainline strategy. And if it's not working for you or you're running out of time, maybe you can try a questions first approach. But this is not the optimal first choice.

[06:55] Proteins and Ions

Question 16: What is a likely explanation for why whey protein solutions become thicker after the introduction of ions?

  • (A) Ions form new compounds with atoms found within the whey proteins and these new compounds aggregate.
  • (B) Ions disrupt bonding within in between protein subunits leading to protein unfolding and aggregation.
  • (C) Ions will thicken any solution due to their large size relative to most other compounds found in solutions.
  • (D) The introduction of ions causes novel bonding relationships between subunits to form ultimately leading to larger polymers of proteins that can aggregate.

Bryan's Insights:

Looking back at the passage, where it says "as a whey containing solution is heated, the proteins denature, unfold, and then aggregate.

So it's like using the same ball of yarn analogy we mentioned above. First, unravel the ball of yarn. Now you have this loose string and it's easy for that loose string to get tangled up with all the other strings and make a big, squishy mess, which is what gel is.

The heating itself makes the gel form but ions make the gel form more. You get more gel because it forms faster. But notice that the core process is you take the ball of yarn, unravel it, and then let that loose yarn get all mushed up with all the other strings in the solution. This is the process of gel forming. And what ions do is make that happen faster.

The correct answer here is B in that one of the things that holds quaternary into some tertiary structures together is called salt bridges. So the ball of yarn stays as a nice, neat compact ball due to a salt bridge. And the introduction of exogenous salts can actually disrupt the bridges. It helps untie the ball of yarn if you sprinkle a little salt on top.

[12:54] Heating Proteins

Question 17: After a solution-containing whey protein is heated to 70 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, what is most likely happening to the proteins?

  • (A) Hydrogen bonds within and in between the protein subunits are being broken.
  • (B) Disulfide bonds within and in between the protein subunits are being broken.
  • (C) Covalent bonds within and in between the protein subunits are being broken.
  • (D) No significant breaking of bonds is occurring.


When you go back to the passage, it says nothing happens when the protein was heated at 80 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. So nothing should also be happening at 70 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. Hence, D is the correct answer here.

As a side note, this is an example of a thought process where there are multiples of the same so they're all wrong.

[14:33] About Next Step Test Prep

If you're interested in full-length exams, check out Next Step Test Prep and use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off.

Episode Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

Jun 27, 2018
99: Next Step Full Length 10: Questions 10-13

Session 99

Questions 10-13 on Next Step Test Prep’s full-length 10 are the first set of discrete questions that we're going to cover during this full-length breakdown. Take a look!

Next week, we're celebrating our 100th episode for The MCAT Podcast. And we're giving away access to Next Step's MCAT course for one lucky winner. The runner up will also be getting a six pack of Next Step Test Prep's full length exams. Enter to win and get the details by visiting or text MCAT100 to 44222 (in the U.S.) You have to enter prior to midnight Pacific time on June 24, 2018.

[02:25] Passage vs. Discrete

Bryan explains that in all the science sections, all have the same compositions with 15 discrete questions given in four little chunks of 3-4 questions each. The test always ends on a chunk of discrete, independent (no passage) questions. And then the other three chunks are sprinkled throughout where in every two or three passages, you will get a little break. You won't have to read a passage and you just get some independent questions.

[03:14] Stationary Charge

Question 10: A stationary charge lies to the right of a current carrying loop of wire as depicted in the figure below (Please see the handouts). While the current is flowing, the charge will:

  • (A) Accelerate out of the page
  • (B) Move out of the page at a constant speed
  • (C) Accelerate into the page
  • (D) Remain motionless

Bryan's Insights:

The current is actually going clockwise with a positive charge. Bryan explains there's a couple of components underlying this question. First, flowing charge or current makes some magnetic field. So you have this magnetic field being generated and you have this charge hanging out over on the side. The question is once the magnetic field is present, what does the charge do?

Students need to remember the equation F = QVB sin theta.

But the questions says that the charge is stationary. So based on the equation, there is no velocity. So there's no force. Hence, the magnetic field doesn't actually push on the charge at all. Then you have to remember Newton's second law, which is F = ma. No force, no acceleration. This means it doesn't start moving. It doesn't slow down. It doesn't change direction. So the right answer is D.

[06:15] An Issue of Spontaneity

Question 11: While solving a chemistry problem, a student uses the equation Delta G = negative NFE to determine that Delta G is negative 179kJ/mol. Which of the following must be true:

  1. The reaction is spontaneous.
  2. The reaction is exothermic.

III. The reaction increases entropy.

  • (A) I only
  • (B) II only
  • (C) I and II
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

It's an important fact to remember that the sign of Delta G is really the definition of spontaneity - so things like breaking apart ATP. They have negative Delta Gs. They are exergonic or spontaneous. What you don't want to confuse is exo and endothermic or increase or decrease of entropy which is Delta H and Delta S respectively. So we end up with answer choice (A) I only.

[07:58] Phosphoric Acids

Question 12: Which of the following phosphate ions is amphiprotic?

  • (A) PO43 minus
  • (B) HPO42 minus
  • (C) P2O74 minus
  • (D) H3PO4

Bryan's Insights:

By amphi, that means it can go either way or has both. In the case of amphiprotic, it means you can accept the proton or you can give one out. So you can do both.

If amphiprotic requires that you could give one out, B and D could give out because they have one Hydrogen. But could you take one?

It could take one and come up to negative one, or it could give one and go down to negative 3. So it can be a switch hitter, whereas H3PO4, you can't another proton because phosphate is full now. Phosphate only has room to take three protons.

Bryan adds that students should be very comfortable and very familiar with phosphoric acid because it plays a key role in nucleic acids. He hints that the new MCAT biochemistry component really likes phosphoric acid.

[10:30] Bernoulli's Principle

Question 13: Which of the following statements are true:

  1. Blood velocity and pressure are higher in the arteries than in the capillaries.
  2. Blood vessels do not follow Bernoulli's principle if viscosity of blood is taken into account.

III. For an incompressible fluid undergoing a laminar flow through a pipe, with both narrow and wide sections, the fluid velocity is higher in the narrow areas than in the wide areas.

  1. For an incompressible fluid undergoing a laminar flow through a pipe, with both narrow and wide sections, the fluid pressure is higher in the narrow areas than in the wide areas.
  • (A) I only
  • (B) I and III
  • (C) II and IV only
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

A common strategy is to answer the easy Roman numerals, where when you read it, you recognize it's wrong right away. So you can do the process of elimination this way. However you do it, do the easy thing first.

Based on the physiology, I is true. So the answer choice C is out since it didn't have Roman numeral I.

Looking at Roman numeral II, you have to remember that Bernoulli's principle is one of these idealized, abstract physics descriptions. So II is just a true statement about how we apply Bernoulli's principle on the MCAT. It's an idealized equation for laminar flow. But if you take viscosity into account, then it doesn't work anymore. So II is also true. And you don't even need to go over III and IV here.

[14:00] More Tips about Roman Numerals

Again, follow some simple steps. Read the question. Try to eliminate some and without doing more work than you need to, you would already get to the answer. Do the Roman numerals that seem easier for you. In this case, Bryan just picked I and II because they were shorter than III and IV. But whichever one you knew right away is the one you should go to.


Next Step Test Prep

Jun 20, 2018
98: Next Step Full Length 10: Questions 5-10

Session 98

We continue Next Step's full-length 10, questions 5-10 covering a passage about body density. Follow along, download the handouts, and don't forget to have fun!

For this episode, we've got Physics for Passage 2. But in the real exam, you’re going to be seeing consecutive passages under one section. As always, we’re joined by Bryan from Next Step Test Prep as we dive right in.

The podcast is part of the MedEd Media Network, which includes The Premed Years, The OldPreMeds Podcast, Specialty Stories, Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A, as well as The Short Coat Podcast, a production of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa.

[02:49] Passage 2: Athlete’s Body Fat Percentage

Body fat percentage is a measure of fitness and can be estimated using the hydrostatic weighing method. Archimedes' principle can be used to calculate the body's density, which is then used to estimate fat percentage and lean body mass (total body weight minus body fat).

Equation 1 is known as the Hume Formula and is primarily used in adults which tells us lean body mass is equal to... (equation is given). Measurements of dry body weight and the apparent weight of the body and fluid allow for density calculations. This is then used to estimate percent fat using the Siri Formula (equation 2 given).

(Note from Bryan: You should know where the equations are and what they're about. You don't actually analyze them until a question forces you to.) Both formulae depend on three assumptions.

  1. The body is made only of fat and fat-free mass.
  2. The density values of fat-free mass components, protein and mineral tissue are constant and equal across all individuals.
  3. There is a constant non-fat tissue ratio based on average population ratios of bone and muscle.

For health club members participating in the hydrostatic weighing procedure, each participant was struck to a chair supported by a hoist and four cables which were attached to an accurate scale.

Prior to submersion, the participant was asked to fully expel all air from his or her lungs. Next, the chair and the participant were fully loaded into the pull and remained underwater until a stable scale reading was obtained. Finally, the chair and the participant were removed from the water.

[05:10] Question 5

How would the accuracy of the hydrostatic weighing method in a well-muscled athlete compare to the accuracy of the test in an obese person?

  • (A) In the athlete, the true percentage would be equal to the calculated percentage while in the obese person, the true percentage would be lower than a calculated percentage.
  • (B) In the athlete, the true percentage would be higher than the calculated percentage while in the obese person, the true percentage would be lower than a calculated percentage.
  • (C) In the athlete, the true percentage would be equal to the calculated percentage while in the obese person, the true percentage would be higher than a calculated percentage.
  • (D) In the athlete, the true percentage would be lower to the calculated percentage while in the obese person, the true percentage would be higher than a calculated percentage.

[06:10] True Percentage vs. Calculated Percentage

True percentage refers to the actual body fat the person has in reality, while calculated percentage is the result when you dump them underwater and do all this math.

First, you always want to conceptually get your head around the question. Most students make the mistake of immediately doing the math, given the equations in the passage. But back up a second and focus on the question.

So here, the question indicates a well-muscled athlete, and as you know, an athlete would have denser bones and muscles. So when you dunk him in the water, they're just going to sink right into the bottom of the pool. The calculation we do with someone that has abnormally dense body means that when you do the math, the formula is going to tell you the guy has literally no fat at all, since fat floats.

But in reality, even your most high end of Olympic athletes will still have body percentage, but very low. So the answer here is (B). Reading the answer choices provided, where they mentioned the athlete first, you don't even have to consider the obese person anymore.

[09:38] Full Credit for Partial Knowledge

Bryan calls this full credit for partial knowledge where you get full credit for the question just by figuring out the super dense guy who sunk right to the bottom of the pool. So just take a second about the question that was just asked and think about where you want to go before you start talking.

Take a second and think about what is asked of you before start diving in and doing equations because you may just be able to answer it without doing any equations.

[10:15] Question 7: Specific Gravity of Fat

If the average bone mineral density is 3.88 grams per cm3, which of the following is a reasonable estimation of specific gravity of fat in the body?

  • (A) 0.09
  • (B) 0.8
  • (C) 4.2
  • (D) 9.1

So here, you have to know what specific gravity is, which is density relative to water. So water has a density of 1 gram per cc. Anything less than 1 is going to float and anything bigger than 1 is going to sink. You want to know that fat floats. So right away, you can eliminate C and D. And you're left with A and B. 0.09 means 9% density is like a life jacket or a pool noodle. It's so airy and light and non-dense. Then you'd start floating away. So logically, you're left with 0.8. Fat floats a little bit and it slowly floats to the top so it's a little bit less dense than water.

As you can see here, all the choices are numbers and no math has to be done. You just have to use reasonable everyday common sense.

[12:40] Question 9: Buoyancy

What is the most likely reason that the subject's required to exhale completely prior to immersion in the water tank?

  • (A) Air in the lungs decreases the apparent weight of the body in the water and increases the percent fat estimation.
  • (B) Air in the lungs decreases buoyancy and decreases the apparent weight of the body in the water.
  • (C) Air in the lungs decreases buoyancy and increases the body density estimation.
  • (D) Air in the lungs increases buoyancy and decreases the percent fat estimation.

Breaking down the question:

When you take a deep breath, you float a little bit. So it's going to increase buoyancy. Hence, choices B and C are out. The answer here is A. Anything that makes you floatier is going to make the machine call you fatter because fat floats. And anything that makes you sinkier is going to make you less fatty because everything else sinks. So air which makes you floatier is going to make you read as having more fat.

[15:11] About Next Step Test Prep

If you're looking for the best full length MCAT practice exams, check out Next Step Test Prep. Save 10% off those by using the promo code MCATPOD.


MedEd Media


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

The MCAT Podcast

Hangout Group on Facebook

Jun 13, 2018
97: Next Step Full Length 10: Questions 1-4

Session 97

This week we're starting a new series, breaking down questions from Next Step Test Prep's full-length 10. We go from the very beginning until the end. We start with the first passage and question 1. We can't cover every question each isn't specifically suited for a podcast. So we're skipping questions but you're going to get a lot of them.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is finally available in Paperback ($9.99) and in Kindle ($4.99) formats. Also, stay tuned for The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, coming out soon!

Check out Session 288 on The Premed Years Podcast where we had the Director of Admissions for the University of Illinois Medical School. We talked all about how they take an application from A-Z, who gets accepted, who doesn't, and why. We discuss how they look at everything along the way. You will find all of other podcasts on MedEd Media.

If you want to get access to Full Length 10, use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money upon check out. Basically, these are grab bag questions that we'll be covering over the course of several months in this podcast. We will really walk you through the Full Length 10.

[03:55] Passage 1, Question 1

Sodium dodecyl sulfate, also known as sodium lauryl sulfate, is an anionic surfactant commonly used in household cleaning and personal hygiene products. In biochemistry and biotechnology, its most frequent use is to denature or linearize proteins and negatively charged the resulting fragments. Proteins treated with SDS can be linearized in a similar fashion to proteins subjected to acid-catalyzed hydration. The mechanism of action is different. However, scientists utilizing SDS for this purpose often run into difficulties with proteins that have greater hydrophobic content, typically those found in the context with regular exposure to surfactants.

Question 1: Which of the following proteins would likely be most accurately analyzed using SDS-PAGE? (This is discussed in the passage but a good MCAT student should be able to recognize your SDS-PAGE backwards and forwards before you even walk in on test day.)

[06:10] Answer Choices:

If we're looking for most accurately, we want the ones that have very little hydrophobic content.

  • (A) Protein A: a small protein with many hydrophilic surfaced structures typically found free-floating in the bloodstream of mammals.
  • (B) Protein B: a large protein found in the internal portions of the phospholipid bi-layer of human white blood cells.
  • (C) Protein C: a large protein found almost exclusively in reptilian adipose tissue.
  • (D) Protein D: a small protein observed experimentally in the surviving portion of bacterial populations that have been exposed to high doses of surfactants.

[08:10] The Breakdown

The inside of a phospholipid bi-layer, the inside of the cell membrane, is the fatty portion, the hydrophobic portion. And C is the adipose tissue, it's fatty, hydrophobic. So both B and C are hydrophobic. It doesn't matter what the question says. When two answer choices say the same thing, they're both wrong.

A is hydrophilic, while B and C imply hydrophobic. So B and C are out. Then D mentions high doses of surfactants. The passage says that scientists run into difficulties with surfactants. So D is out as well.

[09:05] Question 2

Question 2: Chiral manipulation of which of the following amino acids could theoretically result in a meso compound.

  1. Methionine
  2. Proline

III. Cystine

  • (A) I only
  • (B) II only
  • (C) II and III only
  • (D) None of the above

[09:28] The Breakdown

The reference to amino acids came a little bit later in the passage (not mentioned above). But you just have to know your amino acids from outside knowledge. This is when you should be able to know the answer even without seeing the passage in front of you.

Again, on one level, there's no such thing as high yield. You have to know everything. (*Except for one high-yield thing - amino acids.) Every single MCAT given has at least one, if not two to four questions that just ask about amino acids.

In this case, you have to know what a meso compound is. Then you have to know your amino acids so you know which one could be a meso compound.

A meso compound is a compound that has two chiral centers with an internal plane of reflection. So if you put a mirror in the middle of the molecule, it would reflect on to itself. Classically, the human body is like a meso compound where if you put a mirror down the middle of the human body, one side would reflect onto the other side.

As a rule, amino acids only have one chiral center. Therefore, normal amino acids don't fit into this definition. The only amino acids that have a second chiral center are isoleucine and threonine. Students should know these are the two that have the side chain that have a chiral carbon in them. even so, they wouldn't still have an internal plane of reflection because the other chiral center wouldn't map in the reflection way back onto the main chiral center of the alpha carbon.

So no amino acid could be a meso compound. So the correct answer here is D, none of the above. If you had no idea at all and if you were completely lost, you should guess answer choice B only. Proline is one of those weird amino acids. You'd get it wrong here but that's a decent guessing strategy.

[12:10] Question 4

Question 4: This passage states that scientists utilizing SDS-PAGE often run into difficulties with proteins that have a greater hydrophobic content, typically, those produced by organisms in context where surfactants are regularly encountered. Which of the following is a reasonable explanation of why this might be the case?

  • (A) The negatively charged sulfate head on the end of SDS cannot easily penetrate hydrophilic regions of the proteins to disrupt non-covalent interactions, thereby inducing higher variability in the ratio of bound SDS to the target protein molecule.
  • (B) The negatively charged sulfate head on the head of SDS cannot easily penetrate hydrophobic regions of the protein to disrupt non-covalent interactions, thereby inducing higher variability in the ratio of bound SDS to the target protein molecule.
  • (C) The negatively charged sulfate head on the end of SDS cannot easily penetrate hydrophilic regions of the protein to disrupt non-covalent interactions, thereby inducing higher variability in the ratio of unbound SDS to the target protein molecule.
  • (D) The negatively charged sulfate head on the end of SDS cannot easily penetrate hydrophobic regions of the proteins to disrupt non-covalent interactions thereby inducing higher variability in the ratio of unbound SDS to the target protein molecule.

[14:00] The Breakdown

Sating it's a charged molecule, whether it's negative or positive, you should be able to analyze what it can penetrate versus cannot. Choices A and C say that negatively charged cannot penetrate hydrophilic. And then choices B and D say negatively charged cannot penetrate hydrophobic.

Think about a table salt. Things that are charged like to dissolve in water, just like table salt dissolves in water. So negatively charged can penetrate a hydrophilic region. Salt charge things. They love water and so they're hydrophilic. Hence, right off the bat, A and C are out because charged things can go to hydrophilic regions.

Whereas, B and D got it right. So now we look at your bound and unbound. This is just a simple recollection of the mechanism, how you run an SDS-PAGE. The SDS binds to the protein and coats it. Then you take that solution with proteins, wearing an SDS coat. And those are the things you run through the gel. So you only care about the SDS that actually got coated on the protein. So the answer here is B.

[18:30] About Next Step Test Prep

If you're on the market for full length practice tests for MCAT scores, go check out Next Step Test Prep. Their full length exams are getting awesome reboot where you get more in-depth answers, actual access to snippets of information from their textbooks to give you more knowledge so you don't have to go bouncing around to different resources.


Next Step Test Prep

PMY 288: This is How UICOM Reviews Your Medical School Application

MedEd Media

Jun 06, 2018
96: Psychology Grab Bag of Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 96

Psychology is one of the newer subjects on the MCAT. Bryan from Next Step Test Prep and I cover the topic to help you learn how to answer the questions.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is now available on Amazon, Kindle, and Paperback. Just a reminder, you don't have to have a Kindle device to read a Kindle eBook. You can use a Kindle app on every device you have. It's $4.99 for the Kindle at this point and $9.99 for Paperback.

If you're just starting out on your MCAT journey and trying to figure things out, then this is the book for you. It will give you the ins and outs of the MCAT. It's not a content review book but it will help you choose one if that is something you're looking for.

Next week, we begin to deep dive into the full length exam and break it own question by question. So be sure to stay tuned!

[02:15] Why Psychology is on the MCAT

Psychology is a section included in the MCAT as a reminder that we're not just treating machines or robots, but we're treating human beings. So the psychological context in which we treat those illnesses matters tremendously.

[02:35] Universal Emotions

Question 28: Which of the following emotions is considered a universal emotion?

  1. Disgust
  2. Contempt

III. Love

  • (A) I only
  • (B) II only
  • (C) I and II only
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

The method you can do here is to do whatever Roman numeral is the easiest for you. You can read 10 different MCAT books and get ten different supposed tricks for Roman numeral questions.

At Next Step, Bryan says they're not big fans of the idea that the MCAT is a magic trick. But there are rhythms you can use and real, simple techniques.

If you read (C) and think III is obviously wrong, then don't try to figure out the other two Roman numerals. Just use that for process of elimination before considering the other remaining Roman numerals.

In this case, it pretty strongly suggests that it's one of those I and II since III only shows up in a single answer choice. But if III is a correct answer, then you're done.

But did you know that C is not the right answer here? Bryan explains that there's an important subtext to this question that only comes out if you really know your Psych backwards and forward.

If you've ever seen the phrase, "universal emotion" on the MCAT, they're talking about a very particular phenomenon. The psychologist Paul Ekman had what he called as the universal emotions, specifically referring to one phenomenon. This involved emotions that are reflected universally in facial expressions. So he studied people in wester society and went to Papua New Guinea and investigated tribes. He basically traveled all around the world and examined facial expressions for different emotions. He developed this list of seven emotions that every society everywhere had these emotions and had the same facial expressions for them.

Every society everywhere has happy and sad and shows them in the same way on the face. Then surprise and fear are the next two. Contempt and disgust are very strongly negative emotions. And the final one is anger. A good example is the movie Inside Out where love is not part of the emotions there, right?

[08:00] Types of Therapy

Question 30: To foster the use of problem-oriented strategies, with a minimum number of patient-doctor sessions, a clinician would most likely use what modality of therapy:

  • (A) Psychodynamic therapy
  • (B) Systems therapy
  • (C) Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • (D) Humanistic existential therapy

Bryan's Insights:

There's a giveaway here according to Bryan in that the "problem oriented" phrase suggests something behavioral. Cognitive behavioral therapy is problem-focused, specifically centered around solving very solvable problems in the person's life. Examples include addiction problems, food disorders, depressive disorders, where it teaches the patients to recognize their cognition. Then recognize the behaviors that come from those cognitions. Then you disrupt that so you get away from those maladaptive behaviors.

[10:00] Bias Types

Question 45: A board of trustees investigated the rising cost of hospital and found that employee turnover was rising, causing deficient unskilled care and leading to increased cost and lower revenue. The hospital board is setting a hospital's tradition of excellent care and happy employees decided to ignore this report's recommendations in favor of those given by an outside consulting group who said the cost rise was due to local economic conditions. This choice exemplifies what kind of bias.

  • (A) Ingroup bias
  • (B) Confirmation bias
  • (C) Outgroup bias
  • (D) Attribution bias

Bryan's Insights:

It said here that they went with an outside consulting group so that tells you it's not an ingroup or outgroup bias. Ingroup bias is when you think better of them. And outgroup says you look down or biased against the outgroup. But in this case, they went with the outside consultant.

An attribution bias doesn't even fit the description which is a systems level problem. Attribution bias is how you attribute certain behaviors to people. You watch a person do a thing and then the researcher asks why he did that thing. And then how you answer that question or how you attribute the behavior can be biased. And there's no individual referenced to in this question so it's not relevant. Hence, the right answer here is B.

[12:45] Next Step Test Prep

If you're in the market for full-length MCAT tests, check out Next Step Test Prep. Use the promo code MCATPOD and save 10% off your purchase of full length exams. They're set up in a way that the testing experience is exactly the same as what you get on the AAMC during test day.


Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

May 30, 2018
95: Biochemistry Grab Bag of Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 95

Bryan from Next Step Test Prep and I cover biochemistry, a huge pain point for many premed students. Take a listen and learn some biochem with us.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is finally available in Paperback ($9.99) and in Kindle ($4.99) formats. Also, stay tuned for The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, coming out soon!

[02:00] Insulin Function

Question 28: All of the following are functions of insulin except:

  • (A) Increasing glycogen synthesis
  • (B) Increasing glucogenesis
  • (C) Increasing glucose uptake by liver and muscles
  • (D) Decreasing proteolysis

My thought process:

I have a father who's a Type 1 Diabetic who's always taking his insulin. So we know that insulin is secreted from the pancreas after meals and some sugar spikes in the blood to help store glucose. My best guess here is that A is true. (B) sounds like a big red flag -  a false fact, therefore, the correct answer.

Bryan's Insights:

Insulin is the most powerful anabolic hormone in the body. It's for building up big molecules. Glycogen is a big molecule and it does that by taking up glucose. So A and C go right out. Anabolic is about building up big molecules so proteolysis, breaking down proteins would be a catabolic process. Gluconeogenesis is the exact opposite of what insulin would do. Insulin is to lower your blood sugar, not fabricate and then dump more sugar into your blood.

[04:20] Informed Consent: Who Gives Them?

Question 29: In order to ensure approval by their institutional review board ethics committee, which of the following with cancer cell researchers need to obtain prior to testing human cell samples taken from cervical cancer patients?

  • (A) Informed consent of the surgeons to remove the tumors
  • (B) Informed consent of the medical oncologists that were treating the women
  • (C) Informed consent of the women who had their cervical cancer removed
  • (D) Informed consent is not required because the samples were obtained during a voluntary procedure

My thought process:

Informed consent is everything in medicine these days. As physicians, we always go to the patient for consent. So would need informed consent from the patient who had their cervical cancer removed. Every premed student should hopefully know Henrietta Lacks and what her cancer cells have done for research (her cells now called HeLa). It was a big ethical thing because she didn't give an informed consent.

Bryan's Insights:

Bryan actually admits he was able to work with HeLa cells as an undergrad in the 90s. He had no idea what HeLa stood for and the professor he was working for didn't know what it stood for. That being said, it was just a part of the landscape. It wasn't until the mid2000's when it really became a big news story about this woman who had made such important contribution but have never been asked.

More broadly, you get informed consent from the subject of any study. So the woman who had the cervical removed is the right answer obviously.

[06:50] Nociception and Baroception Pathways

Question 44: A medical student stubbed her toe and observed that there was a momentary gap between when she realized she had stubbed her toe and when she felt the onset of pain. To wonder if this might relate to a structural difference in the neurons involved in baroception versus those involved in nociception. Which of the following is the best hypothesis for explaining this observation?

  • (A) The neurons in the nociception pathway are not myelinated whereas those involved in the baroception pathway are myelinated.
  • (B) The neurons in the nociception pathway have more dendrites than those in the baroception pathway.
  • (C) The neurons in the baroception pathway are not myelinated whereas those involved in the nociception pathway are myelinated.
  • (D) The neurons in the baroception pathway have more dendrites than those in the nociception pathway.

Bryan's Insights:

The toe hit the chair at a certain point in time. So all the nerves fired at that moment. So you're not going to explain the differences in when the nerve signal fired, rather the differences in conduction speed.

Conduction speed comes down to myelination. Nerves are myelinated to increase the speed of conduction where that action potential jumps from the Node of Ranvier in between the myelin. Being myelinated increases the speed of transmission. And with the baroception moving faster, we would assume that baroreception is myelinated where as the nociception is not.

The correct answer here, therefore, is (A). When you stub your toe, that signal has to go from your toe all the way up to your leg and to your spinal cord. Once it hits your spinal cord, it's myelinated so it goes right up to your brain. So that little quarter second difference is the fact that the touch or the baropressure gets transmitted right up to your spine right away. Then the pain takes a quarter second because it's not myelinated.

[10:30] People with MS as an Interesting Example

I have three spinal cord lesions from my MS and I have one particular finger that if I hit it with a safety pin during the testing, where a neurologist will do when they poke your finger with something sharp, I experience a weird sensation from where my lesion is. Then the pain takes longer to go through the lesion. So it's very cool physiologically to have that happen.

Although I don't have brainstem or brain lesions, I also have facial symptoms. It doesn't make sense because the facial nerve is coming out of the brain stem so obviously it needs to be something there. The trigeminal nerve has a spinal trigeminal nucleus. So the trigeminal nerve goes down into the spinal cord where I happen to have a lesion and goes back up into the face. It serves some facial sensory issues. Anatomically, it's cool to have a spinal cord lesion affect facial sensations.

[14:00] About Next Step Test Prep

If you are in the market for some full-length exams, check out Next Step Test Prep. The feedback I commonly get from students is they have the best full-length exams outside of the AAMC. The testing environment for their full-length exams is exactly the same as you will see on your test day. Practice, rather, perfect practice makes perfect. Testing in that real environment is perfect practice as your clicks and highlights are simulated exactly like the real MCAT you see at the Pearson testing centers (as of this recording).

Get the first one for free as well as the half-length diagnostic test. Sign up for their exams and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on those tests.


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The controversy around Henrietta Lacks

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

May 23, 2018
94: Biology Grab bag of Questions for the MCAT

Session 94

In today's MCAT Podcast, we cover biology, including pregnancy, connective tissue disease, and skeletal myocytes. Follow along in the blog post for the questions.

Joining me is Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep as we give you free weekly tutoring. New to this show? You have 93 other episodes you can go back to listen to and learn from.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is now available on Amazon, Kindle, and Paperback. Just a reminder, you don't have to have a Kindle device to read a Kindle eBook. You can use a Kindle app on every device you have. It's $4.99 for the Kindle at this point and $9.99 for Paperback.

If you're just starting out on your MCAT journey and trying to figure things out, then this is the book for you. It will give you the ins and outs of the MCAT. It's not a content review book but it will help you choose one if that is something you're looking for.

Now if you're past the MCAT, The Premed Playbook; Guide to the Medical School Interview is what's next for you! Now, let’s go back to this episode.

[02:57] Conception and Menstruation

Question 47: A couple trying to conceive without using IVF methods would most likely have their highest chance of pregnancy:

  • (A) Early in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.
  • (B) After the onset of menses.
  • (C) During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
  • (D) Midway through the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

Byran's Insights:

To maximize your chance of conception, you want sex to happen right before ovulation, not on the day of ovulation itself because the sperm would need time to make the trip up the fallopian tube.

Remember the basic order of the follicular phase, then ovulation, the luteal phase. So if you're waiting until the luteal phase, you're late to the game.

The highest chance of pregnancy is around 1-4 days before ovulation. So this makes (D) the right answer. The only concern here is that midway is a little bit of a squishy word so it doesn't tell your precisely when the sperm was starting their journey.

If you try to figure it, the follicular phase is something like 13 days long and the ideal time increase your chances of conception would be 1-5 days before then.

The other way to get around the answer is by doing the process of elimination. Early in the follicular phase would be right after menstruation is over. This is way to early. After the onset of menses, you missed it. And the luteal phase, ovulation has already happened so you're a bit too late. By the process of elimination, D has got to be the winner here.

[06:10] Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Question: Patients with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome commonly suffer from hypermobile, unstable joints, and fragile, easily bruised skin. Which of these loss of function mutations is most likely to cause Ehlers-Danlos syndrome?

  • (A) Mutation in actin
  • (B) Mutation in keratin
  • (C) Mutation in elastin
  • (D) Mutation in collagen

Bryan's Insights:

The right answer here is (D). Collagen is the primary supportive and structural connective tissue protein. So when in doubt, go for collagen.

Actin is not viable with life. If the actin fibers wouldn't be working properly, your muscle tissue wouldn't be working properly. If your muscles didn't work, then your heart wouldn't work either and you'd never make it out of the womb.

A problem with keratin would be related to hairs and nails. Whereas elastin, depending on the nature of the function, you'd either end up with tissues that were super stretchy or not stretchy enough. Neither of those gets to the joint problem.

[07:45] Actin and Myosin

Question 58: In skeletal myocytes, calcium is normally released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum after:

  • (A) The muscle begins to relax.
  • (B) Myocin releases actin.
  • (C) The membrane depolarizes.
  • (D) Physical damage to the muscle occurs.

Bryan's Insights:

Remember that the MCAT may have tricky passages, but it doesn't have trick questions. When in doubt, they're just testing the normal, straightforward, base level understanding taught in every freshman college bio 101 class.

In this case, they want you to remember that the nerve signal comes down the axon to the skeletal muscle. And that action potential that comes down the nerve fiber is a whole depolarization-repolarization cycle. And when you get to the motor end plate and the neurotransmitter goes across to the muscle, the first thing that happens in the muscle is you depolarize the muscle cell. That causes the sarcoplasmic reticulum to dump its calcium out into the main body of the muscle itself. That kicks off the whole cycle. In this case, the answer is (C) because that's the response to the nerve.


Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

The Premed Playbook; Guide to the Medical School Interview

May 16, 2018
93: What the Average MCAT Score Increase Means to You

Session 93

The MSAR recently released their updated stats and it showed a big jump in average MCAT scores for matriculants and for applicants.

The data has actually been out there since December 2017. But the average MCAT score for applicants and matriculants has gone up pretty significantly from 2016-2017 application year to the last year they have the data for 2017-2018 application year.

How does this happen in just a one-year time span? Listen in as I and Bryan from Next Step Test Prep discuss this matter and dish out their theories.

But before that, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT (Kindler version) is now available on Amazon. You don't have to have a Kindle to read Kindle books. If you have an iOS or Android device, Amazon makes that Kindle app for your device. Go ahead and buy the book right now for only $4.99.

[03:00] Total MCAT Score Has Gone Up

Based on the AAMC MCAT Table A-16, the total mean MCAT score is 501.8 for 2016-2017 for all applicants. For 2017-2018, that score increased to 2.9 points to 504.7. The standard deviation is the same but how has the score gone up almost 3 points?

Bryan says it's still pretty significant for a single year when you're talking about tens and thousands of data points. But does this actually reflect an underlying improvement of students? Secondly, another thing to look at is the thing you were measuring with change. The MCAT radically changed in one year. The third possibility is statistical artifact.

Personally, I think the AAMC must be changing the scale somehow. Maybe there were passages that needed to be thrown out so they increased some scores. And that the 2018-2019 data will come back down once they've figured out those passages in this testing time period.

[05:30] Is It Just a Statistical Artifact?

Bryan points our this scenario that if an average score is 500.1 and then the next year it might be a 500.8. That would even still be a pretty big swing.

Realistically speaking, Bryan sees this as a statistical artifact. The AAMC calls this out of the bottom of Table A-16. They explicitly say that the 2016-2017 scores are not comparable to previous years. The 2017 scores are not comparable to the 2016 scores. And they call out the fact that people took the old MCAT.

Remember, MCAT scores are generally good for about three years. So if you manage to take the old MCAT in January 2015 and had a good score, surely you're not going to retake the exam.

[06:53] 510 is the New 30

So for the first couple of years, what admissions committees were looking at was that applicants with old MCAT scores that were really good. They took the old MCAT, they did great, and they held onto it and applied with it. This means that if you're going to construct an incoming class and you want their average score to be about 510. Then they're going to be taking on the old scale, the 35s, the 34s, the 37s. You're taking all the top end of the old scale. This means you're being a little more forgiving on the new test.

But now as of 2017, in this new application cycle, we've basically entirely transitioned over. The 2014's were no good anymore.

Bryan feels actually vindicated and he actually published this big blog post where 510 is the new 30. (30 on the old scale was the number everybody wanted). And he was absolutely certain that 510 was the new 30.

[08:53] Here's a Better Picture

So if an admissions committee is accepting an incoming class and you're going to take some kids with high MCAT scores (90th percentile), then those with average MCAT scores (80th percentile), and then weak MCAT scores (70th percentile). That's the typical behavior of an admissions committee.

During the two transition years, you're 90th percentile kids, were overwhelmingly kids who had good old MCAT scores. So when you took your low end of your incoming class, you were taking more new MCAT scores out of the 70s.

So for two years, the old MCAT was disproportionately represented among high scorers and the new scorers were disproportionately represented among the low scorers. And now they've made the switch. Bryan suspects the 510 is the number we see year after year.

[10:48] What Does This Tell You?

It doesn't fundamentally change the prep process. You always want to do your best and master content. Practice strategies and take practice tests. All it does is shift the calculation a bit if you feel like you're ready. So if you thought you're close to 508 so you're ready, since you're getting 506 or 507, now you might look at that and consider pushing it back and consider prepping for another few weeks.

[11:50] One More Thing to Keep in Mind!

As you go through the MSAR, the numbers that you see on each of those web pages for those schools are median numbers. That is not the average. Median means 50% of the class is above it while 50% of the class is below it. Average is different. So keep that in mind. If you are below that median number, so is 50% of the class. So it doesn't really mean much. Hence, don't look at MCAT and GPA when applying to medical schools. That goes counter to whatever every other "premed" says.

"Don't look at MCAT and GPA when applying to medical school."


AAMC MCAT Table A-16

Next Step Test Prep

May 09, 2018
92: Physics Series 4: Fluid Dynamics on the MCAT

Session 92

In our last week of the physics series, we're going to cover some fluid dynamic discrete questions that seem to trip up a lot of premed students. Listen now!

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is now available for preorder or available to buy on Amazon and Kindle. The eBook is now available while the paperback is coming soon. This book is basically The MCAT Podcast boiled down into a book.

As always, I'm joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep and we go over almost everything you need to know for the MCAT.

[03:35] Absolute Pressure

Question 14: A billiard ball is submerged in a small tank of water at a depth of exactly 60 cm. However, the tank is located in Denver, Colorado, where the ambient pressure is roughly 0.83 atmospheres. What is the absolute pressure experienced by the ball?

  • (A) 6,000 Pascal's
  • (B) 6,830 Pascal's
  • (C) 84,245 Pascal's
  • (D) 90, 245 Pascal's

Bryan's Insights:

When asked about the absolute or total pressure, you have to add atmospheric or gauge pressure, which is the pressure you get from being underwater or submerged in any fluid. There's some amount of gauge pressure here.

One of the things you need to walk into the test knowing is that an atmosphere is around 101,000 Pascal's. Here, 0.83 atmospheres x 101,000 is already going to give you about 84,000 Pascal's. And if you had paper and pencil or laminated board and marker. You could do it all by hand. Looking at the answer choices, it's going to be either (C) or (D).

If 0.83 atmospheres is already going to give you about 84,000 Pascal's but you also have to add the gauge pressure, then the answer is (D). You actually don't have to do any more math.

[07:20] Some Techniques When Answering Math Questions

Pretty much, a lot of students would really want to make sure they're getting the specific answers, especially for a lot of the Type A premed students. But Bryan says the MCAT is very much about answering with 100% confidence when you're only 70% on the way there.

Additionally, the test allows you to "flag" where you click a little button to flag a question. So if you're unsure about a particular answer, just flag it then move on. And if you have the time, go back and do the flagged question.

[07:55] Cohesion and Adhesion

Question: 20 milliliters of an unknown fluid is added to an empty test tube resulting in the situation picture provided. (The picture shows a test tube with your typical meniscus where the fluid is crawling up the sides of the test tube. The lowest point of the meniscus is in the middle of the fluid and on the edge crawls up the sides of the tube.)

  • (A) Adhesive forces between fluid particles are greater than cohesive forces between the fluid and the glass.
  • (B) Adhesive forces between fluid and glass are greater than cohesive forces between fluid particles.
  • (C) Cohesive forces between  fluid particles are greater than adhesive forces between the fluid and the glass.
  • (D) Cohesive forces between fluid and glass are greater than adhesive forces between fluid particles.

Bryan's Insights:

The word "cohesion" already gives you a clue that like things are being together. And an adhesive is like glue where you stick two separate things together. In this case, the fluid is crawling up the sides of the test tube. It's clearly the attractive force between the fluid and the test tube is the stronger thing.

[10:45] Pressure on Vessel Walls

Question 18: A salt solution with a density of 1075 kg/cubic meter is moving through two consecutive closed vessels. Both vessels are positioned at the same height but the solution travels twice as quickly through one vessel A as the next vessel B. If a pressure exerted by the fluid on the walls of vessel A is 6,000 Pascal's, the pressure exerted on Vessel B is:

  • (A) 3,000 Pascal's
  • (B) 6,000 Pascal's
  • (C) 12,000 Pascal's
  • (D) A value that cannot be determined

Bryan's Insights:

Bryan stresses that so much of what students are scared of on Physics is they'll have to do all this math. And yet so often, it's not the math. It's just the conceptual use of the equation. You have to know what the equation is but then you don't actually have to do any calculation. In this case, with density showing up and height, speed, pressure, you know you're using Bernoulli's equation. It says that the pressure of Point A plus the height at Point A. Pressure + height + velocity is 1/2*rho*v2. And this equation at Point A has to equal the same thing at Point B.

The tricky bit is those plus signs. If all stuff were being multiplied together or divided, then it would be so simple. Like it travels with twice the velocity so it's half or double the pressure. Or if it's a squared relationship, then quadruple the pressure. But because you're adding these various terms together, it doesn't translate into a perfect direct relationship.

You can drop out the Height since the question says it's at the same height. The density was given as well as the ratios of the velocity. And then you're still left with an equation where it's:

6000 + 1/2*rho*v2 = x + 1/2 * rho *2v2

But you still have the unknown which are two and then the velocity. The way you handle it when you have multiple unknowns in a problem is just divide the x over to the other side of the equation. Then the variables will cancel each other out and then you can solve it.

The + sign here in the Bernoulli's equation, it just throws the monkey wrench into the works there. If you try to divide velocity over, you'd end up with multiple wacky ratios separated by + signs.

The important point is don't be afraid if the answer choice cannot be determined because maybe it can't be really determined.

[17:37] Is Water Wet?

As to whether water is really wet, Bryan would have to look at the definition of wet to see what exactly that's meant.

Water is a molecule and water itself is just a bunch of water molecules and isn't wet. But water on a surface is then wet. So while water itself is not wet, but when it's on a surface then it's wet.

[19:00] About Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep for their full length practice exams. They're known as one of the best companies out there for practice exams, right behind the AAMC. When you use their practice exams, you're using the real-life, fully simulated environment you're going to be in when you go to your Pearson testing center to take the MCAT. Rest assured that you're practicing in the best environment possible. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

May 02, 2018
91: Physics Series 3: Light Waves and the MCAT

Session 91

Why is the sky blue? That's just one of the questions that may come up on the MCAT when talking about physics and light waves. Check out the questions.

Also, check out MedEd Media and you'll find The Premed Years Podcast, Specialty Stories, OldPreMeds Podcast, and Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A.

By the way, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is going to be available very soon. Written with Next Step Test Prep, we will soon be putting it up on Amazon and other stores as soon as possible. Go to to sign up and be notified. Also check out our other books The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview and another one coming up in August is The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

This episode is a continuation of our series from two weeks ago and this time we talk all about light!

[02:20] Light Frequencies

Question 7: Yellow light has a wavelength of 570 nanometers. Which of the following has a higher frequency than yellow light?

  • (A) Orange light
  • (B) Infrared light
  • (C) X-rays
  • (D) Radio waves

Bryan's Insights:

For MCAT, you need to know the electromagnetic spectrum with radio waves on one end with low frequency and low energy. Microwaves are like that with relatively low energy. Infrared is low energy, low frequency. ROYGBIV goes through the visible spectrum. Then it goes up to x-rays which are very high frequency, high energy all the way up to gamma rays that have very high energy and very high frequency.

So you should recognize these terms in where they fall generally on the electromagnetic spectrum. In this case, x-rays would have a higher frequency than the yellow light for sure.

[04:50] Why is the Sky Blue (Of Oceans and Polar Bears)

Question 9: Which of the following colors of light will bend the least when moving from a vacuum to a glass prism?

  • (A) Blue Light
  • (B) Red Light
  • (C) Green Light
  • (D) Yellow Light

Bryan's Insights:

This is another thing you have to know. If you're a visual learner, you can have a classic picture in your head of the prism and light going through the prism and getting bent. This might help.

So it's like one of the classic questions, why is the sky blue? The answer is because blue light scatters the most or bends the most when going through from one medium to the next. When the sunlight is just cruising along the earth's atmosphere, the blue gets bent or scattered the most.

Hence, blue or violet light bends the most. Then if you follow blue as on the one end of the extreme and it scatters the most or bends the most, then red would bend the least.

Now, why does the sky change its color when the sun sets? Bryan explains that you're now looking right next to the sun. It's the same phenomenon as the blue light getting scattered but it's just a difference of where you're looking. During daytime, you essentially get the blue photons getting scattered down to earth. When you're looking right at the sun, the blue light coming out of the sun is getting scattered away from your eyeballs, so what's left is the red.

As to why is the ocean blue, it's really not. Rather, it just reflects the sky. Now, what is the color of the polar bear's fur? It's not white actually, but clear. Bryan assumes it's just bending the entire spectrum because it's clear, not scattering one wavelength preferentially over another. Or if blue light is getting bent more, because the polar bear is fluffy and the hairs point out in random directions, you're ultimately getting all of the various wavelengths of light coming out of the fur. So all the wavelengths mush back together into white when it hits your eye.

[09:25] Index of Refraction

Question 11: Which changes our experience by visible light as it moves from medium 1 with N (index of refraction) of 1.16 to medium 2 which has an index of refraction of 1.68?

  • (A) Wavelength remains constant while frequency decreases.
  • (B) Wavelength decreases while frequency remains constant.
  • (C) Wavelength decreases while frequency increases.
  • (D) Wavelength increases while frequency decreases.

Bryan's Insights:

We perceive color as a function of frequency in the same way we perceive pitch as a function of frequency. It's often written as wavelength in the charts. If you imagine speed of light in a vacuum, frequency and wavelength are inversely related. So one can swap out for the other. But when you move from an optically less dense medium at 1.16 to a more dense medium of 1.68, the light actually shows down. The media so optically dense is that you can jog faster than the light.

You actually have to walk into the MCAT knowing this. The thing to remember is that frequency is constant. When you go from one medium to the next, any wave is constant. Frequency is a property of the source. Hence, this only leaves us with answer choice B.


MedEd Media

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

Apr 25, 2018
90: When Do I Need More Content Review vs MCAT Test Skills?

Session 90

When you're struggling on the MCAT, there may be a few different reasons, with content review and test skills being just two. How do you know what to work on?

Great news! The Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep have again teamed up for a book. The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is coming very soon! Just go to and signed up to be notified when it's available or find out where to purchase it. Please take a listen to all our other podcasts on the MedEd Media to help you on this journey to medical school!

As always, we're joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep. We talk about how to figure out where to go if you're not getting the score you think you need but the score you want. Let's dissect further whether it's a content or test skills issue.

[01:40] Content vs. Test Skills

As what I've been mentioning, the MCAT is not a content-based test. You have to know the content but it's not testing you specifically on the content. You have to analyze and think critically, etc.

If you're a student struggling with taking your practice exams, how should you figure out what those next steps are to improve?

Bryan clearly explains that for every student, it's always both. Meaning, no student has the perfect MCAT content knowledge and no student has the perfect test strategy. So everyone can always improve both.

[03:20] If You're Scoring Below 500 (490-500)

At Next Step Test Prep, their rule of thumb is that if you're scoring below 500, you almost certainly have quite a few content areas that you haven't yet mastered. In fact, Bryan has never seen a student who scored below average that didn't have some content areas they need to work on.

This doesn't mean though that you don't need to build up your MCAT test skills. It's possible even if your performance is below average and your content is above average. Nevertheless, you need to work on content.

[04:26] If You're Scoring 480-490

Now, if you're scoring between 480-490, almost universally, there are very, very serious content deficiencies.

Every student unique and every situation is unique. But if you find that you're consistently scoring in the mid to low 490s, you are not going to do well on the MCAT until you address those content concerns. This being said, you will also have to work on strategy.

If it has been many years since you took the class in college, which is common among nontrads. They could be 3-4 more years out of college and they only did okay in the class, then they may need to go back again and audit some classes at a college.

[06:45] Resources to Help You

Bryan has noticed too that it does tend to come back once you start studying it. In this case, Bryan recommends mixing books and videos. Work through the Next Step books and then do the Khan Academy videos in conjunction. So you're getting a multi-modal presentation and not just all text again and again.

Lastly, this is not a one-size-fits-all problem so go to as many places as you can - forums, reddit, and ask these questions. Ultimately, it's up to you (not somebody else) to figure out to tell you what the answer is.

[07:50] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep, the company for full-length practice exams. Buy them i packages of 4, 6, or 10. And save 10% off those packages using the promo code MCATPOD.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the code MCATPOD to save 10% off the practice tests.)

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT

Khan Academy MCAT Test Prep

MedEd Media

Apr 18, 2018
89: Physics Series 2: Water, Buoyancy and the MCAT

Session 89

Water and fluid dynamics and physics go hand in hand on the MCAT. This week we're cover this topic to help you improve your physics MCAT section score.

As always, we're joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep. The questions are taken from the QBank, which costs $50 if you purchased it separately. And if you purchase the ten packs of full lengths for $49, then you're going to get the QBank for free. It's great deal. So for $250, you're getting ten full-length tests, so it's $25 per test. It's literally the best deal you can buy anywhere. The QBank has the equivalent of essentially two more full length MCAT worth with 127 passages and a thousand discrete questions and more!

[02:25] Life Raft and Density

Question 11: A foam life raft has a density of 491 kg/m3. When placed in a pool of pure water, what percentage of the raft's volume will be above the surface of liquid?

  • (A) 4.91%
  • (B) 49.1%
  • (C) 50.9%
  • (D) None. The raft will be entirely submerged.

Bryan's Insights:

You always have to follow the math where it leads you, but at the same time, the MCAT is grounded in reality, real science, the real world. So you're pretty sure, it's going to float. Hence, it's going to be a, b, or c.

When they're giving you 4.91 and 49.1, this is a strong clue that it's not D. They're expecting you to mess up by a factor of 10.

So there's outside knowledge that you need here. You have to walk into the test knowing the density of water. And water's density is 1000kg/m3. It sounds odd but people don't realize how big a cubic meter is and it's an enormous box. It's very heavy. And this life raft only has a density of 491kg/m3. So a little less than half is dense. So if you put it in water, it's going to float.

The simple rule of thumb is if you take the density of the object and divide it by the density of the fluid, that ratio is going to give you the percentage that will sink into the fluid.

Think of like a pool noodle that barely sinks into the water at all. And if you said it has a density that's 5% of water, a density of 50kg/m3 and water has a density of 1000 kg/m3. So it's 5% the density of water and only 5% of it sinks down into the water.

And if you think of an actual pool toy, it really does seem to rest right on the top of the water.Whereas it's something at a density of 97% of water, it would almost entirely sink. IN this case, 491/1000 is 49.1. So this is how much it would sink. And the question asks for that which is floating above the surface, so the correct answer is (C) 50.9% that's emerging above the water.

Tip: Always read the questions carefully. Answer the question they actually asked you.

[08:15] The Mystery of the Ideal Fluid

Question: A variety of experiments are being conducted in a large tank containing an ideal fluid. A spherical object with a volume of 0.84 m3 and a specific gravity of exactly 1.05, which is true?

  • (A) The object will rapidly sink beneath the surface of the fluid until it reaches the bottom of the tank.
  • (B) The object will sink beneath the surface but will not hit the bottom.
  • (C) At least part of the object will project above the surface of the fluid.
  • (D) Not enough information available to answer.

Bryan's Insights:

The rule for floating is simple. If you have a density greater than the fluid, you sink. If you have a density less than the fluid, you float. And if you have a density equal to the fluid, you just stay wherever you are right now, or you keep moving with whatever your current velocity is.

This tells us the object has a specific gravity of 1.05 but it doesn't tell us the specific gravity of the fluid. In this case, the correct answer is (D).

[10:15] Density of Ionized Water

Question 13: A sample of deionized water is kept in a cylindrical beaker with a radius of 4cm and a height of 10cm. The density of the water is closest to:

  • (A) 5.024 x 10-4 kg/m3
  • (B) 1 kg/m3
  • (C) 502.4 g/m3
  • (D) 1000 g/L

Bryan's Insights:

The reason Bryan picked this question here is to make this general point. You want to remember that on the MCAT, on the passage and even in the questions, there can be extra information.

In this case, what's the density of water. Who cares what's in or if it's a beaker or it in a cup or in the ocean. Regardless, the density of water is what it is wherever it is.

As mentioned a while ago, the density of water is 1000 kg/m3. However, you need to know the other way of expressing this same notion which is 1g/cm3, 1 gm/ml, or 1kg/L. The density of water is often described as 1 because it is in three different unit analysis.

The correct answer here is (D) 1000 g/L which is just 1 kg. So that's it.

Note that the question only required one thing and that's you should know the density of water.

[13:00] Next Step Test Prep

If you're looking for full-length practice exams, go to Next Step Test Prep and sign up for a free diagnostic. And you also get one free full-length. They also have other full-length exams that you can purchase. You can sign up for four or six or ten exams and save 10% when you use the promo code MCATPOD.


Next Step Test Prep Practice Tests

Apr 11, 2018
88: Physics Series 1: Spring Systems for the MCAT

Session 88

As always, Bryan from Next Step Test Prep is joining us today as we start off a sequence of episodes - all about physics!

Physics is one of the hardest subjects on the MCAT. Over the course of 4 episodes, we're going to dive into high-yield physics topics to help you score higher!

What makes so hard for students, as Bryan explains, is that metaphorical "hard science" meaning a lot of numbers, fact, or truth to it. And for MCAT students, it gets hard because of the math primarily. Some students are not really into math, and add pressure to that where you get no calculator on test day.

Plus, a lot of students to take Physics really early so when they roll around in their MCAT by Junior or Senior year or even after college, it's been a long time since they've taken Physics.

Lastly, Physics is like the "orphan" science that lives over on the side that it's not often obviously directly plugged into Chemistry or Organic Chemistry, Biochem, and Biology. And you can create this whole matrix of all your other classes where the information relate to each other. And on the side, Physics asks questions about, say, shooting cannonballs in the air.

[03:30] Pendulum and Oscillation

Question 6: By what factor does the period of oscillation of a pendulum change when its length is extended from 1 cm to 9 cm?

  • (A) Original period is multiplied by 0.33.
  • (B) It's original period is multiplied by 2.
  • (C) It's multiplied by 3.
  • (D) It's multiplied by 9.

Bryan's Insights:

If you have a pendulum that's a lot longer, it would swing back and forth slower. And remember that period is the time it takes to oscillate all the way out and then back again. So if it has to go slower, then the period would have to increase as well.

Thinking about how equations are arranged, if you took one of the variables and give it a 9x times 9, B does not seem to fit. And even if you can't remember the equation, you'd probably guess it to be C or D. In this case, the correct answer is C because of the square root relationship. The period is proportional to the square root of the length.

So when you multiply length times 9, period goes up by 3. The exact equation here is:

T = 2π(L/g)

Where: T = period, L= length, g = gravity

[06:44] Periodic Motion

Question: A spring system shown below (diagram of a mass at the end of a spring resting horizontally on a table), with Mass (m), representing the mass attached to the spring, (k) representing the spring constant, and (x) denoting the distance, stretched or compressed from the spring's equilibrium position. What expression gives the minimum value for the magnitude of velocity of the mass after the system is stretched and released?

  • (A) 0
  • (B) 1.2 kx²
  • (C) x((k/m)
  • (D) x²k/m

Bryan's Insights:

This can still show up on the MCAT, like if they say, bone is slightly compressible and can be modeled as a spring and so on.

What you want to know here is that when you oscillate back and forth whether you're a spring vibrating back and forth like the car shocks bouncing up and down. Or rather a pendulum swinging back and forth. In any kind of periodic motion like this, you want to be aware of what happens at the extremes like when the pendulum swings all the way up, or when the spring compresses all the way down, or vice versa.

When happens in these periodic motion systems at the extremes, a pendulum for instance, when the mass swings all the way up in a pendulum, velocity goes zero and stops moving. Then it starts swinging back down. This is the same thing here.

This may look like a crazy algebra question, when in fact, you only had to know one concept about how periodic motion works. This means that at the extremes, you stop for a second, turn around, and start going back. So the answer here is (A), with no algebra at all.

Let's go over the other answer choices above to make sure you recognize them. (B) is the measure of the energy stored in a spring. Students may see this and and tend to pick this but this is not the minimum possible velocity.

[11:08] Stretching the Spring

Question 10: A certain elastic coil has a spring constant of 100 Newtons per meter. How much must this spring be stretched in order to store the same amount of energy held by a 50-kg mass at rest, 1m above the surface of the earth?

  • (A) 10 cm
  • (B) 31 cm
  • (C) 3.1m
  • (D) 10 m

Bryan's Insights:

Bryan explains this being a two-step problem. There's an equation for energy which is E=mgh.

So 50 x 10 (for gravity) x 1 = 500 J of energy.

Then you can re-read the question knowing that what you need is 500 J of energy. So the k is the spring constant of 100 Newtons.

You have to remember that the energy stored in the spring is 1/2 kx². So you've got 500=1/2 kx².  So right about 3 is your answer (C).

Additionally, you're going to be working on SI units on the MCAT. So the base unit for length is meter. The big takeaway actually is to know all of your equations. But certainly when you're doing Physics, this is going to be a big part of your problem solving.

[16:30] Do Practice Full Lengths

The AAMC has full lengths for sale. They make the MCAT so their test writers also have a practice exams which you can buy from them directly. You can buy three practice exams plus a sample task that's not scored.There are conversion tables you will find online but don't trust those. For a full view of resources that may help you.


Next Step Test Prep

Promo code: MCATPOD to save some money.

Apr 04, 2018
87: Psych/Soc Series: Social Movement, Classes, and More

Session 87

Our last week of the Psych/Soc content is here. This week we dive more into sociology and talk about social movements, socioeconomics and more.

Check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media, especially The Premed Years Podcast where we talk about MCAT, writing your personal statement, preparing for interviews, applications in general. We also talk to a lot of motivating and inspiring premed, medical students, and physicians, including some Deans of Admissions.

Back to today's episode, this is the fourth and final week of your psych/soc block here, specifically covering more on Sociology this week. Again, we're joined by Next Step Test Prep's Bryan Schnedeker.

[02:10] Proactive Social Movement

Question 2: Which of these situations best exemplifies a proactive social movement?

  • (A) A large number of middle aged men who often organized in attempt to ban women from voting in federal elections.
  • (B) Over 10,000 high school students across the nation who campaign for gender neutral bathrooms in their institutions.
  • (C) A coalition that has a goal of preventing the expansion of green energy programs in the United States.
  • (D) More than one of the above

Bryan's Insights:

First off, Bryan explains that these kinds of questions are much more meant for "drill and kill" content repetition. You'll see answer choices like A, B, and C. So there are some answer choices that are not as common in the AAMC but are specifically designed to make you think super carefully about the content. So he goes on to say that "more than one of the above" just means, between A, B, and C, it's two or all three of them are true.

Bryan explains that social movement is literally any time a group of two or more people attempt to create or resist change in the society. It could be any change, ex. how we change electricity or elect our representatives, any social change.

The key here is to know between proactive versus reactive. Proactive is pushing for change while reactive is opposing change. So answer choices A and C, would be pretty reactive as you're trying to roll back a hundred years of progress. Then (C) trying to prevent green energy is again opposing change. While B is a proactive one.

As you go over your practice test, it's important that you look at the ones you got right as well.

[05:53] Social Capital

Question: An individual who's a member of a lower socio economic class is likely to:

  1. Have strong ties but a smaller network connection
  2. Have weak ties and a larger network connection

III. Have less social capital since he or she exists in a smaller network of people

  1. Have less social capital since he or she exists in a larger network of people
  • (A) I
  • (B) II
  • (C) I and III
  • (D) II and IV

Bryan's Insights:

Social capital is the additional status you gain beyond just your money. It's the people that you know have actual value when it comes to your social status. In this case, those on a lower socio economic class, you're going to have less social capital compared to having a high social capital. If you know doctors, you could shadow them easily and that gives you good shadowing experience on your medical school application. So it's not money, but it have value.

It's harder for somebody with a lower socio economic class who doesn't know any doctors. So they have less social capital.

For this question, certainly III has to be true. Just by the definition of it, III has got to be true. Now, this is a classic MCAT reasoning, we just reasoned out that III was true and we're done. So on the MCAT, don't do more work than you have to.

[08:24] Cultural Capital

Question 8: Cultural capital can include:

I.Educational degrees or certifications

  1. Networking connections gained from membership in a fraternity

III. Public speaking ability

  1. Retirement and college funds
  • (A)  I and II
  • (B) I and III
  • (C) II, III, and IV
  • (D) I, II, III, and IV

Bryan's Insights:

Number II is social capital, not cultural capital so this is definitely out. Obviously, the answer here is (B). You didn't even have to know what cultural capital was. You just have to know that networking is social capital.

Capital refers to the resources that can help you determine your status in a society. And one resource is who you know. So that's social capital. Additionally, knowledge and facility with the culture that you move in. Your vocabulary is part of your cultural capital, not capital or people. It's just a piece of paper that helps to save your status in American status. So (A) is the classic example social capital. Things like really good fashion sense, or how to dress for the appropriate number you're i is another example of social capital where you can clearly communicate your status.

[12:28] About Next Step Test Prep

Go back to Session 84 where started the first of this series. Next week we're tackling four weeks of Physics where a block in the middle covers something different.

If you're struggling with your MCAT prep, go talk to Next Step Test Prep and see how a tutor may or not help you in your test preparation. They offer online tutoring online or in-person.But wherever you are, a tutor can help you.

Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money upon checkout.


MedEd Media

Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Years Podcast

Mar 28, 2018
86: Psych/Soc Series: Erikson, Kohlberg and More

Session 86

This is our third week of Psych/Soc for the MCAT and we’re covering more very nuanced models of stages and development. Back in Sessions 84 and 85, we talked about this section and next week will be our final week of Psych/Soc.

Bryan from Next Step Test Prep joins us once again as we dissect these questions for you. Meanwhile, also listen to all our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

[02:00] Strategies for Studying Definitions

Bryan says that although you can reason through conversational english definition of the words, you still want to be technical. Psych terms are strictly and tightly defined so part of it is repetition. Don't take it for granted. Students often think this section is easier since there's no math involved. But you have to give it due respect and give the time to memorize all these things.

Lastly, if you find it hard to memorize abstract words is to give it some context. Try to connect it with people you know, memories, and experiences in your life. And build mnemonics that you know are going to mentally stick in your mind. These can be emotional or outrageous. Whatever it is, try to use a number of techniques to make sure you're able to thoroughly memorize the content rather than just passing familiarity.

[04:10] Erikson's Stages of Development

Question 3: According to the model articulated by Erik Erikson, which example demonstrates an individual in the industry versus inferiority stage of development?

  • (A) A 30-year-old male gets married and struggles to align his goals with his partners.
  • (B) A 50-year-old female that dedicates her life to a nonprofit organization in an effort to feel like a contributing member of society.
  • (C) A happy, healthy 8-year-old male leads his soccer and goals, scored, and excels in Mathematics class.
  • (D) A 16-year-old female feels awkward in her body and questions her sexual identity.

Bryan's Insights:

Erikson likes to split the human life cycle down based on social relationships. If you look at his answer choices, (A) deals with intimacy vs. isolation, so this doesn't apply. Answer (B) would refer to adulthood or later adulthood from 40-64. 50-year-olds resolve the crisis of generativity vs. stagnation. Answer choice (C) is school age deals with industry vs. inferiority, so this is the right answer. Answer choice (D) is the adolescence stage where they deal with identity vs. role confusion.

[07:05] Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development

Question 4: Which of these situations involves a person whose view of morality falls within the conventional stage of Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development?

  • (A) A teenager refuses to join his friends painting a graffiti on a public building because he's afraid he'll get caught.
  • (B) A college student believes every woman should have the right to an abortion because she thinks that control over one's body is a fundamental human right.
  • (C) A young man never speeds when driving his car because he thinks that people should abide by the rule of the law. And if everyone drove too fast, the roads would not be safe.
  • (D) A man participates in a gay pride parade even though he does not identify as gay because he believes that everyone has the right to express and be themselves.

Bryan's Insights:

Kohlberg's whole idea was that you can pose people moral questions. There's that classic one of somebody who needs to to save his wife's life but didn't have the money to buy the medicine. So is it okay for him to steal the medicine or does he have to let his wife die? And for Kohlberg, he didn't care what the answer was. Instead, he was interested in why and how you reasoned your way to that answer.

In this case, for answer choice (A), the teenager was afraid of getting caught. So his moral reasoning isn't about right and wrong. It's just about fear of getting caught. And Kohlberg calls this pre-conventional. The most basic level of moral reasoning was, what can I do to avoid getting caught or what can I do to get a reward? So it's about getting punishment vs. reward.

Answer choice (B) suggests reasoning at the level of universal rights. Whether xyz is moral or not because of an overall universal, abstract human right. The same thing with (D) in that even though he doesn't identify as gay, but he believes that everyone has the right to be themselves. Kohlberg would call this post-conventional reasoning. This is the highest or most advanced stage of moral reasoning. You don't care about social convention anymore. You're not just looking at your peers or worried about being punished or rewarded. You're thinking on an abstract level of universal, ideal human behavior.

Answer choice (C) is the correct answer here where it's just about getting along with your peers or society. A man thinks he shouldn't be driving fast because he thinks he should obey the rule of law. That person is not concerned about abstract universal rights. He's not even concerned about getting punished. But the person thinks it's the right thing to do to obey the law. So his moral reasoning is just based on the conventions of the society he lives in. What's morally correct is obeying the law. That's classic conventional moral reasoning.

[12:24] Demographic Transition Model

Question 1: Which of these descriptions accurately characterize stage 1 of the demographic transition model?

  1. The fertility rate is higher than would be expected for the same population in stage 3.
  2. The overall population is shrinking due to the high mortality rate.

III. Education for children is typically mandatory.

  1. The population size tends to fluctuate moderately due to disease and catastrophe.
  • (A) I only
  • (B) I and IV only
  • (C) !, II, and IV only
  • (D) All of them

Bryan's Insights:

The demographic transition model is how you transition from a third world rural country into a fully developed industrialized nation.

In stage 1, fertility rates are very high so are mortality rates. That tends to mean that the population fluctuates. So the first thing that happens is the mortality rate goes down because medicine gets better. You start taking care of babies better so the mortality rate drops.

Then in stage 3, the fertility rate starts to drop as well. And this is where you start getting things like educating children. There's clearly a link between the more educated women are in the country, the lower the fertility rate is.

Then finally in stage 4, both fertility and mortality are really. So if the baby gets born, there's a good chance the baby is going to make all the way to old age. So the right answer is (B).


MP 84: Psych/Soc Series: Hearing, Weber's Law and More

MP 85: Psych/Soc Series: Visual Pathway, Piaget and More

Next Step Test Prep

MedEd Media

Mar 21, 2018
85: Psych/Soc Series: Visual Pathway, Piaget and More

Session 85

Week two of our Psych/Soc MCAT series on the podcast and we're covering more straight psych questions that you are going to need to know for the MCAT.

This podcast is a collaboration with Next Step Test Prep. Today, Bryan joins me once again as we continue on this series. We will start more on the bio-based psychology questions until moving to the more classical psychology questions.

[01:20] Visual Pathway

Question 10: All of the following statements regarding the visual pathway are true, except:

  • (A) The temporal fibers do not cross paths.
  • (B) At least some of the optical fibers do cross paths.
  • (C) At the optic chiasm, it is the nasal optic fibers that cross to opposite hemispheres.
  • (D) Visual information does not travel through the parietal lobe.

Bryan's Insights:

You can see where the trick is in this question. You could walk into the test having remembered that the occipital lobe is where all the visual information is processed. So if you're reading a little fast and you see the word "not" and "parietal," you may think it's true. But the optic pads have to get to the occipital lobe and then traverse the parietal lobes as they get there. So the right answer here is D.

[03:20] Piaget's Stages

Question: An 8-year-old child has recently developed the ability to understand the perspectives of her family members. According to Piaget, which stage has she entered?

  • (A) Concrete operational
  • (B) Formal operational
  • (C) Pre-operational
  • (D) Sensory motor
  • Bryan's Insights:

Answer choice D is out here since sensory motor is 0-2 years old where the kids are developing object permanence. They understand that what they see in the world stays there even when their eyes are shut.

Concrete operational stage is around 7-11 years old which is a pre-adolescent or school child age. Just the fact the child is 8 years old alone would tell you that it's concrete operational.

Formal operational is from teenagers and up (12 years old and up) while preschool include the early toddlers.

Theoretically, MCAT could throw in awkward ages and this could come off as a trick. But Bryan clarifies that MCAT is not out to trick you. If they were going to give you an "unusual presentation in the clinic," they would make it a point of calling it out. For example, they could ask something like: "Despite being 8 years old, the child is still unable to understand that other people have other perspectives.This tells us that the child is stuck in which of the following stages:" So as you can see, it will be real deliberate.

[06:35] Crystallized Intelligence

Question 2: Which of the following demonstrates the use of crystallized intelligence?

  • (A) An 18-year old man visits France for the first time, buys a map at a local story, and uses it to navigate Paris.
  • (B) A doctor sees a patient with a variety of strange symptoms. Using logic and deductive reasoning, he accurately diagnoses her with a very rare disease.
  • (C) A toddler learns to walk after falling down during her first several attempts.
  • (D) An experienced accountant fills out several financial statements over the course of an hour.

Bryan's Insights:

What MCAT wants you to know here is fluid intelligence versus crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is something you've learned to do over a long period of time. And it's applying your previously learned knowledge. So it's not a new situation, not anything novel or weird. It's something you're really good at doing.

In this case, answer choice A talks about doing it "for the first time" so this tells you they're in a weird, novel situation so they're using their fluid intelligence to solve a new problem. A doctor (answer choice B) is the same way where he sees a strange symptom so he uses logic to diagnose a very rare disease. So the doctor is using their fluid intelligence to adapt to this novel situation and figure out what's going on. Answer choice C, where a toddler learns how to walk and after falling down during her first several attempts, notice the word first there. So it's still like the first time. Hence, answer choices A, B, and C are all fluid intelligence. It's being flexible to it. It's a new kind of learning.

Answer choice D mentions "experienced" so this is someone who has done this a million times before. They are highly intelligent at it and they have this rigid intelligence to fill out these financial statements. There is nothing novel here nor does it require any kind of fluidity or flexibility. It's just applying already learned knowledge to these forms.

[11:05] Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep offers a full-length course. Check out my full review of that course on YouTube. Th course features over 100 hours of videos, ten lives office hours every week where you can actually ask questions to a tutor, their ten full-length exams, all the AAMC materials, and so much more. Plus, save some money on the course by using the promo code MCATPOD.


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Mar 14, 2018
84: Psych/Soc Series: Hearing, Weber's Law and More

Session 84

This is week one of our Psych/Soc series on the MCAT Podcast. We're covering some biology questions which is a subject covered in the Psych section of the MCAT. A lot of students struggle with this section because they're very specific on what you need to know.

Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep is here, as always, to help us break down these questions for you so you can crush your MCAT come test day! Also make sure to take a listen to all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[02:44] Bio Questions on Pysch/Soc Section

Several students have actually been surprised to see biology questions in the Psych/Soc section. They fall for that trap of thinking that all they have to do is study these high yield topics and they're good to go. But remember that with the sole exception of amino acids, there's really no such thing as a high yield topic. If you want to do well on any of the science questions, you've got to know everything. You've got to really cover your bases.

[03:23] Ear Questions

Question 1: Which sequence best describes the pathway used to transmit auditory information in humans?

  • (A) Cochlea > Organ of Corti > Medial Geniculate Nucleus > Auditory Cortex
  • (B) Organ of Corti > Cochlea > Auditory Cortex > Medial Geniculate Nucleus
  • (C) Cochlea > Organ of Corti > Auditory Cortex > Medial Geniculate Nucleus
  • (D) Organ of Corti > Cochlea > > Medial Geniculate Nucleus > Auditory Cortex

Bryan's Insights:

Luckily, I guessed A right and Bryan says it was a "textbook-perfect" reasoning for the MCAT. You use one fact to narrow it down and then eliminate stuff that was the same with the remaining answer choices.

[05:22] Weber's Law

Question: Weber's Law can be applied to:

  • (A) Sound as when a constant 30 decibel tone in an individual's ear
  • (B) Weight as when two study participants each hold a steel bar that have different masses.
  • (C) Visual stimuli as when a man attempts to distinguish between images at different brightness levels
  • (D) A, B, and C - all of the above are true

Bryan's Insights:

Weber's law is also called as the "just noticeable difference" which means that if I present to you two different stimuli, will you say, that's the same thing or that this stimulus is more or less intense than the other stimulus.

For A, it doesn't work since you have to have two different tones to detect the different loudness of those two tones. B doesn't work either since it's two different participants are each holding their weight. But Weber's law is about a single person distinguishing between two different stimuli. This means that that the right answer here is C since there's one observer and two different stimuli. Can the person tell the difference? And that's Weber's law.

So theoretically, it can be anything that the human organs of sensation can attempt to distinguish between. The basis of Weber's law says that the differences are proportional, not absolute. So this could be touch, pressure, weight, vibration, sound, brightness, color - literally anything that you can distinguish between. The idea here is that if you were given two different objects, each of which weighs less than half a pound. And if one is 10% heavier than the other, you'll be able to tell the difference. Even though that 10% might only be a couple of ounces, you will be able to tell it.

Then you could be given two enormous blocks, one of which weighed 30 pounds and the other weighed 32 pounds. It's a two-pound difference. With the little weight, you were able to tell two ounces, of course, you can tell two pounds. But Weber's law says you can't. Because you picked up the 30 and then you lean over again. Lift with your legs, not with your back. And then you scrunch down and pick up the 32. And you would say they're the same as each other because the difference between them is less than a 10%. So Weber's law is not absolute, but it's proportional differences that we notice.

[09:23] Sensory Adaptation

Question 4: Which of these scenarios exemplify the process of sensory adaptation?

  • (A) A steel worker wears a thicker gloves after noticing calluses on his hands.
  • (B) A flight attendant gradually overcomes his fear of heights as his flight hours increase.
  • (C) A pastry chef begins to stop noticing the appetizing and distracting smell of pastries in her kitchen.
  • (D) A child starts to associate the smell of her dog with affection rather than fear.

Bryan's Insights:

Remember when you say sensory, it's the raw data inputted into your face. As opposed to perception, which then starts to involve higher cognitive processes, what to choose to pay attention to, and your cultural preconceived notions. So perception operates on a much higher level. Sensation is a very kind of raw, biological, mechanical thing.

So sensory adaptation is just an unconscious process. The relevant organs just stopped responding to a particular kind of stimulus. Unlike the child who starts to associate the smell of the dog with comfort rather than fear, you see the association. And that's a learning process. It's not just an unconscious adaptation While the pastry chef just stops smelling the food in the kitchen since there's just less response from the relevant sense organs.

[12:22:] Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep has an MCAT course! They used to be known for their one-on-one tutoring, but then last year, they came out with an MCAT course that a lot of students are loving. Sign up for the course and get access to over 100 hours of videos. Get access to all 10 of their full-length exams, all the AAMC materials, and ten hours a week of live office hours where you get to talk to their tutors who know all of the information. By the way, check out the review of their MCAT course that I created which I've posted on YouTube. Check out Next Step Test Prep and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money when you sign up for any of their resources.


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Mar 07, 2018
83: MCAT Foundational Topic: Physics Broken Down

Session 83

Physics is one of the harder sections of the MCAT for many students. If you are one of those students, you're not alone. Check out our foundational series now.

We take questions from Next Step Test Prep resources and we cover those with Bryan Schnedeker. By the way, check out all our other podcasts on the MedEd Media.

This week as we talk about the foundation of Physics, it would have to mainly deal with movement and energy.

[01:35] Knowing the SI System

Question 4: Which of the following are base units in the SI system?

  1. Kilometers
  2. Grams

III. Seconds

  1. Kilograms
  • (A) I andII
  • (B) II and III
  • (C) III and IV
  • (D) II, III, and IV only

Bryan's Insights:

If there's one thing Americans buy every single day in metric is soda. Remember that the question asked for the base unit. In the case of grams and kilograms, one of them is the base unit and the other one is the derived unit.

Kilogram is actually the base unit, and the actual standard. Then you get to narrow down your answer choices to C and D. Obviously, C is the right answer here since D includes grams.

Kilometer is not a base unit but the meter is. This is important since the MCAT wants you to know the difference between base and derived units. This is as fundamental as you can get in measuring the world.

[05:25] Potential Energy

Question 8: A 12-kilogram bag of clothes is lifted 360J of potential energy. Approximately how long will it take to hit the ground of dropped?

  • (A) 0.3 seconds
  • (B) 0.6 seconds
  • (C) 0.8 seconds
  • (D) 6 seconds

Bryan's Insights:

The equation you have to know for gravitational potential energy is MGH. M is 12, G is 10 (for the MCAT), and H is the unknown.

So 360 divided by 10 is down to 36. Divide it by 12 and it's down to 3. So the 12-k bag of clothes is 3 meters off the ground.

Since you're dropping the object from 3 meters, you should recognize that everything falls at the same acceleration, which falls at 1G (10 m/s2). So if you drop from 3 meters, how long would it take to hit the ground?

The kinematic equation you need to know here is Distance = V initial x Time + 1/2 AT2.

The nice thing about this equation is that if you're just dropping an object, it has no initial velocity. You simply have to open your hand and initial velocity starts at 0. So you can drop that whole chunk of the equation.

So the equation is now simplified to Distance = 1/2 AT2.

Here, Distance is 3 and acceleration is 10. So to solve for T2, you get 0.6. Again, with MCAT, you don't have to be super precise with the math, but what you need to have is a really pretty solid number sense. You have to know what happens to a decimal when you take the square root of it. 0.6=T2, means the square root of 0.6. The MCAT wants you to know that if you take out the square root of a decimal, it gets bigger. So the square root of 0.6 is 0.8.

To summarize, there are two equations involved here.

Potential Energy = MGH

Distance = VT + 1/2 AT2

[10:24] Greatest Horizontal Distance

Question 9: Jessie's high school Physics class is running a potato cannon competition. The goal is simple, shoot a potato the greatest possible horizontal distance. Right now, Jessie's cannon shoots potatoes at a 30-degree angle from the ground with a total velocity of 14 m/s. What changes can Jessie make to increase for potatoes' travel.

  1. Increasing the velocity to 80 m/s while keeping all other factors constant.
  2. Decreasing the masses of potatoes to make them fall more slowly.

III. Changing the angle to 45 degrees with respect to the ground.

  1. Changing the angle to 90 degrees with respect to the ground.

Notice that cos30 = 0.87, sin30 = 0.5, cos45 = 0.71, and sin45 = 0.71.

  • (A) I only
  • (B) I and II only
  • (C) I and III only
  • (D) I, III, and IV only

Bryan's Insights:

You want the greatest distance, so IV doesn't sound right since if you shoot it up, it's not going to go anywhere. So I'd get rid of the D right off the bat. The question asks for the greatest possible horizontal distance so shooting it straight up is no way to get any horizontal distance.

The right answer here is C. (II) says decreasing the masses of potatoes to make them fall more slowly is not right since everything falls the same. Everything falls at G.

[13:07] Potential, Kinetic, and Total Energies

Question 11: Consider a positively charged particle is experiencing a force due to an external electric field. Which of the following are conserved for the particle?

  1. Potential energy
  2. Kinetic energy

III. Total energy

  1. Momentum
  • (A) I
  • (B) III only

Force creates acceleration, not velocity. If you're going to start moving faster and faster as you push on it, then momentum is not going to be conserved. It's going to go up. So IV is out.

Kinetic energy is out here as well since you're not going to conserve kinetic energy here since it's going to go up. II is out as well. This leaves us to C and D. This is just one of those foundational concepts of the universe - the Law of Conservation of Matter and the Law of Conservation of Energy

Potential energy is just the kind of energy. Total energy III is always conserved. So B is the right answer.

[16:05] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep and their full length practice exams. They are the second best to the AAMC, the official makers of the MCAT. So they're right there next in line. Save 10% off any of their exams. Just use the promo code MCATPOD.


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Feb 28, 2018
82: MCAT Foundational Topic: Chemistry Questions

Session 82

Chemistry is one of the first classes you'll take as a premed and it shows on the MCAT. Today we'll cover some foundational topics related to chemistry.

Once again, Bryan of Next Step Test Prep is joining us as always. And by the way, don't forget to check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

This time, we're doing General Chemistry so we're going to the real basics - the atoms and compounds. By basic, it doesn't mean it's easy. These questions can still be tricky. They do require that you have mastered the fundamentals. That said, start by mastering the periodic table.

"The MCAT is a mile wide and an inch deep, but you really have to master that inch of depth that it has."

[02:20] Molecules and Compounds

Question 5: Which of the following statements are true of CO2:

  1. It is a molecule.
  2. It is a compound.

III. Seven moles of it contain 3.5 moles of oxygen

  1. When mixed with water, one mole of it yields three ions.

Answer choices:

  • (A) I and II
  • (B) I and III
  • (C) I and IV
  • (D) II and IV

Bryan's Insights:

Remember the definitions and this is true in all of MCAT. Make sure you understand and remember all of the definitions. First, a molecule is anything that's multiple atoms stapled together. So O2 is a molecule. A polymer of esters and a single molecule can be three feet long but that's still a molecule, anytime you stitch atoms together. For CO2, we stitched together three atoms that's a molecule. So I. is correct.

A compound is a type of molecule that's multiple so there are different kinds of atoms. O2 is an oxygen is a molecule, but not a compound. It's just oxygen. Whereas CO2 is carbon and oxygen atoms so that's a compound. So II. is also true.

So the answer here is (A). And you're done!

[04:17] Ionic and Covalent Bonds

Question 7: Of these options, the elements that would form a bond with the least ionic character are:

  • (A) N and O
  • (B) B and S
  • (C) H and F
  • (D) Li and N

Bryan's Insights:

When remembering ionic and covalent molecules, the ionic ones are those that happen when a molecule or atom gives its electron to its neighbor. And then they're held together by electrostatics. So in table salt (NaCl), sodium gives out its electron and becomes Na+ and gives its electron to the Chlorine atom, making a Cl-. And then plus and minus 1, stick together and that's how a table salt sticks together.

Covalent, on the other hand, refers to the sharing of electrons. Now the question said least ionic, so mostly kind of covalent.

The way to figure this out is looking at where the atoms are situated on the periodic table. Atoms that are far apart, all the way to the left and all the way to the right are going to be more likely to be ionic. And the atoms right next to each other in the periodic table are more likely to be covalent. If they're next to each other and certainly if they're in the same column, then that means they have similar behavior. So when they're together, they're going to want to share.

On the MCAT itself, you would have a periodic table, but you should be familiar enough with the periodic table to recognize that as you're reading those answer choices, the very first choice, N and O are right next to each other on the periodic table. So when they form a bond, it is a polar covalent, but still covalent bond which as the least ionic character.

When you want to check the periodic table on the MCAT, it's found on the upper right hand corner of the screen.

[06:44] Forming a Bond

Question 8: A particular element overwhelmingly prefers to form one bond and possess three lone pairs. Which group does this species likely belong in?

  • (A) Group 1
  • (B) Group 15
  • (C) Group 17
  • (D) Group 18

Bryan's Insights:

This group would more likely be the halogens. This would be relatively straightforward once you recognize that description of halogens. You can just open the periodic table and look at what group it is and halogens are group 17.

[07:44] Next Step Test Prep

Don't forget to check out Next Step Test Prep. They're online full length practice exams have just been revamped to match the new user interface that the AAMC and Pearson has ruled out for the MCAT. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


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Feb 21, 2018
81: MCAT Foundational Topic: Biochemistry Broken Down

Session 81

Biochemistry is a foundational topic on the MCAT and we're going to cover some of the foundational pieces of information that you're expected to know on the test.

Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep is joining us again to discuss some biochem questions to help students get the score they need.

Bryan explains that while the cell is the fundamental thing in Bio, in Biochemistry, the real foundational thing would be proteins and amino acids.

Check out all the other podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[01:55] Beer's Law

Question 2: The absorbents of a protein solution is 3.37. If the concentration of the solution is known to be 4 moles and the path length is 1cm, which value best approximates the extinction coefficient?

  • (A) 0.04
  • (B) 0.08
  • (C) 2
  • (D) 5

Bryan's Insights:

3.37 = extinction coefficient (x) x concentration (4) x path length (1)

This is a typical MCAT math where it looks like it's going to be ugly numbers but calculating it, x is just a number a little less than 1. So the 4 goes down to 3.37. In this case, the answer that's a little bit less than 1 is (B).

Bryan says that on the MCAT, you can always approximate your answers since you'd notice how far the answer choices are. They usually range the choices from 200-300% bigger or smaller than each other all the way up to tens of thousands of times bigger and smaller than each other. So you only have to get vaguely close.

Bryan points out that it's probably better that MCAT does not allow the use of calculator, otherwise, they would require precision in your answer and this can be very challenging.

[04:50] Protein Structures

Question 3: A particular protein largely lacks both secondary and tertiary structure. Which factor, if any, is responsible for the resting state of the proteins.

  • (A) Entropy
  • (B) Hydrogen bonds between amino acid residues
  • (C) Dipole to dipole interactions
  • (D) None of the above

Bryan's Insights:

An important thing to notice here is that hydrogen bonds between amino acid residues are important for secondary structure. But the question here says "lacks" secondary structure. Hence, (B) is out.

(C) is a classic part of tertiary structure. Again, the question is looking for protein that lacks tertiary structure so this is also out.

Now, something has to account for the how the protein settles itself. And the answer is (A).

[06:25] Functions of Antibodies and Antigens

Question 9: A researcher compares two antibodies that recognize the same antigen even though they're made by different animal species. How will these antibodies differ?

  • (A) The antibodies will have different constant regions.
  • (B) The antibodies will be exactly the same.
  • (C) The antibodies will have entirely distinct variable regions.
  • (D) This situation is impossible. No two antibodies can recognize the same antigen.

Bryan's Insights:

Remember the constant Y-shape of an antibody and the tips of the very top of the letter is the variable. And at the very tip is the hypervariable region. This is the part that's different from antibody molecule to molecule. And this is actually the part that binds to the antigen.

So if you have an antibody being made a cow, a dog, or a person, and all three of those attack the same part of the common cold virus, then they're going to have hypervariable regions that are similar, although not exactly the same. This is because they're all attacking the same antigen. So (C) is out.

The constant region is the tail at the bottom of the Y. This is the handle that the rest of the immune system grabs onto. The tips of the end of the Y grab onto the bad thing and the tail of the Y is grabbed onto by your antibody and the rest of your immune system. This is going to be different from species to species, and even from person to person. For instance, you can theoretically take antibodies from one person and then inject them to another person and the antibodies will be recognized as antigens.

So the right answer here is (A).

[09:54] Enzymes: Competitive vs. Noncompetitive inhibition

Question 11: Maxine is reducing ways to reduce the activity of an enzyme implicated in a number of diseases. She's attempting to engineer an antagonist molecule that will competitively inhibit this disease-causing catalyst. Should Maxine create a molecule that most closely resembles:

  • (A) The substrate of the enzyme catalyst reaction
  • (B) The transition state
  • (C) The product
  • (D) The enzyme itself

Bryan's Insights:

If you want to competitively inhibit a protein, you need to create a fake substrate. Remember that competitive inhibition is that the inhibitor looks like the substrate and slots into the active site and blocks it. Noncompetitive inhibition just binds elsewhere on the enzyme and shuts it down.

[12:25] Next Step Test Prep

Need help with your MCAT prep? Check out Next Step Test Prep as they have the second best (next to AAMC) full length tests that you can buy to prepare for the MCAT. Save 10% by using the promo code MCATPOD.


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Feb 14, 2018
80: What MCAT Score Do I Need if I Have a Low GPA?

Session 80

If your GPA is low, you may have heard that the MCAT might save you if you get a good enough score. Bryan Schnedeker, VP for Content Development at Next Step Test Prep, is again joining us as tackle a common question that comes in about GPA and MCAT score.

[01:17] What MCAT score do you need to overcome a low GPA?

Medical schools do holistic admissions. They look at everything, not just the numbers. So Bryan says that the correct answer to this questions is that there isn't a single number.

Based on AAMC Data Table A-23, you will see an MCAT and GPA grid for applying and accepting students. There's a ton of really good and interesting data there. So don't obsess over it because it's not the end all be all due to the holistic admissions.

But the data can help wrap your head around the question. Looking at the table, the acceptance rate at all GPAs and all MCAT scores is listed as 41.9%. This is the baseline. This means that the average premed has 41.9% chance of getting into some medical schools somewhere.

Then compare against that baseline average of 42%, what will get you above it? What's an asset? And what will drop you below 42%? What's the detriment?

So if you have a 3.0 GPA and you averaged a B, this puts you well behind the running. The GPA slice from 3.0 to 3.19 only has an overall acceptance rate of 15.2%. This really hurts compared to a national average of over 40%, you've only got a 15% chance of getting in.

If you want to bring up your chances if you only have a GPA of 3.0-3.10, is get your MCAT to the 514-517 score range. Then the odds of getting in goes up to 41.7%. Interestingly, if they're over 517, it's only 36%.

[04:23] Historical Data and the Digital Shredders

Please understand that this is historical data. which means that the chart was based on the data for last year. Next year, you may need a 518. So we don't know. Hence, it's really hard to look at this data and conclude on the score you need.

Moreover, don't focus on just the score. Obviously, as good as you can get is the answer then make sure that everything else is there as well. As mentioned above, that it's this holistic aspect of the application.

But this being said, to get to the holistic admissions part, you need to make sure that you get past the digital shredders, the filters. Schools have filters set up that if you have below a certain GPA or below a certain MCAT score, the school may not look at your application.

[06:33] Looking at Your Total GPA

Bryan refers to the Next Step data of the next trench down in GPA from 2.99, where the national average for acceptance rate is under 10%. So when you're asking what you have to do to make up for a GPA, then what actually was your total GPA?

If for instance, you had a really bad freshman year, dragging your average down to a 2.85, then you need to go back to school. Take a master's program. Get straight A's. Because no matter what your MCAT score, once you drop below 3, the acceptance rate just drops off a cliff.

Additionally, medical schools look at whether you have an upward trend. Even if your undergrad GPA still looks terrible, but you have a strong positive trend and you have a good MCAT score and the rest of your application looks great, then that's great.

[07:57] Check Out Next Step Test Prep

Time and time again, the feedback we get from students is that Next Step Test Prep tutoring, course, and practice tests are all the best test. They feel they're learning better, they're treated better, and the materials are better.

Use the promo code MCATPOD upon checkout to save some money.

Lastly, keep posted with my new book coming up, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. Check it out to get notified.


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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

Feb 07, 2018
79: MCAT Foundational Topic: Biology Questions Broken Down

Session 79

We're starting a series of foundational subject material. Each week, we'll cover some foundational topics for each section. This is what you need to know.

I am joined every week by Bryan Schnedeker from Next Step Test Prep. He's the VP for Content Development at Next Step for the MCAT. He knows his stuff. He's got some amazing history on his scores (he gets 525s!). And os his taking his expertise to us to help you crush your MCAT!

By the way, check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

Back to the episode today, we discuss some foundational stuff. Bryan adds we're touching the "fundamentals" over the next few weeks. These are questions that get to the real core of the sciences on the MCAT. Specifically today, we're looking into membranes, being one of the most foundational topics in Biology.

[03:05] Fluid Mosaic Model

Question 03: Of the following statements, which correctly describes the fluid mosaic model?

  • (A) Plasma membranes have a consistent composition and an even distribution of lipids and proteins.
  • (B) Proteins and lipids tend to separate into rafts based on size.
  • (C) Plasma membranes are formed up lipids and proteins that remain virtually motionless in their respective positions.
  • (D) Plasma membranes act as two-dimensional fluids that allow the free diffusion of proteins and lipids within the leaflet.

Bryan's insights: For (D), a leaflet is one half of the plasma membrane. And this is the right answer. The fluid part of fluid mosaic means that the proteins can flow around within a given chunk of the cell membrane.

Bryan says you can cut corners on the passage, but you've got to read every word of every answer choice when you work on the questions.

Again, within the leaflet means within the membrane. A leaflet can either be outward-facing part of the membrane or the inward-facing part of the membrane. So two leaflets make a membrane.

[06:25] Fatty Acids and Sterols

Question 04: A researcher is attempting to create an artificial cell membrane that retains its fluidity at extremely low temperatures. Which features should he incorporate in this membrane?

  • (A) High levels of unsaturated fatty acids
  • (B) High levels of sterols
  • (C) High levels of saturated fatty acids
  • (D) Both A and B

Bryan's Insights:

Butter becomes a fat because it's saturated. Olive oil stays a liquid because it's unsaturated. Unsaturated has a little kink in the chain. So instead of a nice, smoothly packing big, long fatty acid chain that can pack up right against another one, unsaturated introduces this fluidity.

In this case, the right answer is (D). Cholesterol helps maintain fluidity as well as the unsaturated acids.

[07:58] Transmembrane Proteins

Question 05: Which of these statements accurately identify a function of transmembrane proteins?

  1. They act as receptors for hormones and initiates signal transduction pathways.
  2. They allow for transport of charge molecules across the cell membrane.

III. They are responsible for the production of the majority of the ATP synthesized in eukaryotic cells.

  • (A) I only
  • (B) III only
  • (C) I and II
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

The right answer is (D).

[09:55] Ions and Membranes

Question 07: A researcher is investigating the absorption of manganese ions by epithelial cells. After observation, he concluded the manganese is moved into a cell until it reaches a concentration equilibrium. At which point, transport stops. Which of the following can be inferred?

  • (A) Transport is passive and manganese can diffuse through the membrane.
  • (B) Transport is passive and manganese uses a protein channel to pass through the membrane.
  • (C) Transport is active and ATP is required to shove a manganese into a cell.
  • (D) Transport is active and manganese is couple with another ion which moves down its concentration gradient as manganese is carried inward.

Bryan's Insights:

Remember that ions don't easily pass through cell membranes. And because ions are charged, and cell membranes are nonpolar, so the answer choice (A) is not going to work.

Since the question suggest equilibrium, if you're going to actively pump something in a direction, you're going to push it well past the equilibrium position. You're not just going to hit one molar inside or outside. You're going to actively pull it in. But manganese just hits the equilibrium position of even concentration, so the right answer here is (B), passive and uses a protein channel.

So make sure you're solid on what sorts of things can just diffuse passively directly through the cell membrane versus what sorts of things need a channel to go through.


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MedEd Media

Jan 31, 2018
78: Get Ready for the New MCAT User Interface Changes

Session 78

With a new testing center, comes new changes to the MCAT user interface. Things won't be drastically different, but we thought you should know as you prepare.

We have a new book coming up called The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. Go to to be notified when it comes out! This book is published with the Next Step Test Prep.

This book is the third installment, along with my other books, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (released in 2017) The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement (coming out in 2018).

Meanwhile, check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[01:55] The User Interface Changes on the New MCAT: The Good News

Bryan dishes out the good news and bad news to this. Good news: even though change is scary, there's not going to be any surprises. All of the AAMC practice tests, Q Banks, section pack, etc. have all been updated to this new interface looking feel.

Students listening to this podcast in January 2018 when this has just happened, you will be able to get a lot of practice in.

While for Next Step, they're going to roll out big updates after the January MCAT, to all of their practice tests. So that by Feb. 01, 2018, all of their tests will have the same look and feel as the AAMC.

So there are plenty of practice opportunities to familiarize yourself with the new interface.

[03:05] The Bad News

The bad news, as Bryan says it, is everything else about the User Interface. The basic functions remain the same. You can strike things out, highlight things, navigate back and forth, and through the questions. You can "flag" a question and review  questions you've left blank. When you get to the review screen at the end, you can review all of the questions you flagged. So the actual physical functions have not been changed.

For keyword shortcuts, they didn't not add Ctrl F where you can just find stuff. Unfortunately, no. They didn't do that. There was nothing physically about the mechanics has changed at all.

The bad news is the actual implementation which is awkward. Bryan describes it as a weird mishmash of having a drop-down menu. You select highlight or remove highlighting or select strike out. You can now strike out and highlight anything, anywhere. It sounds good at first. But it can get in the way if you make a mistake. There is no need to highlight or lowlight in the question. So it's not helpful.

The keyboard shortcuts where you can pick CTRL H to add highlighting is a nice addition. Some students have already expressed dissatisfaction with using the new interface.

[05:30] You'll Get Used to It

It's not really a monumental change. But it's a change. You can just adapt with it very quickly. Bryan encourages students to familiarize themselves with it.

If you're taking the January 2018 MCAT, use the official AAMC resources to do so. But if you're preparing for any other MCAT in the future, use either Next Step Test Prep or official AAMC resources to get the hang of it.

[06:25] The Reasons Behind the Change

Not that this is something students should care about, but the actual company that physically administers the MCAT switched over from being Prometric to Pearson. And the UI update was announced at the same time.

Bryan has been to Pearson testing centers and he has taken other Pearson tests. He was surprised that a lot of the icons and color schemes all looked like how Pearson administers the GRE and PCAT. So Bryan suspects this is just the Pearson tech guys working with the AAMC to fold the MCAT into the company's infrastructure. Whether that's true or not, we don't know.

[07:30] Next Step Platform's New UI

The Next Step platform has rolled out the New UI to go with the new UI from the AAMC and Pearson. If you are taking full-length practice tests, go to Next Step Test Prep. They have ten full-length practice tests. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off their full-length tests.

Time and time again, we get feedback from students saying that the Next Step full-length exams are the most accurate. It's second to the AAMC (of course, the gold standard since they're the ones making the exam).


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. Go to

MedEd Media Network

Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (released in 2017)

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement (coming out in 2018)

AAMC practice tests

Jan 24, 2018
77: A Grab Bag of MCAT Discrete Questions

Session 77

The MCAT has four sections with a broad variability between sections. This week, we're covering a grab bag of science questions to help you get a better score on the MCAT. Bryan of Next Step Test Prep is joining in to give out his insights as always.

Check out MedEd Media to see all of the amazing podcasts we're producing to help you on this journey.

[01:30] Embryology Question

Question 14: Which of the following structures developed from that mesoderm of the gastrula?

  1. Lungs
  2. Red blood cells

III. Cardiac Muscle

  • (A) II only
  • (B) I and II only
  • (C) II and III only
  • (D) I, II, and III

Bryan's Insights:

The mesoderm develops all the things related to movement, meaning how the body physically moves around (bones and muscles). So Bryan's mnemonic for this is the "move-o-derm." Additionally this also develops how you move things around inside your body. Ex.circulatory system

Not only does the mesoderm moves things around your body is that it also gives you the motivation to move. Ex. urinary system and the gonads

Lungs would be from the endoderm. Endoderm means inside. So if you can't remember and it's an internal organ, just guess endoderm.

So the right answer here is (C), which are both part of the circulatory system.

[04:28] Psychology Question

Question 13: One of Janis's 8 characteristics of Groupthink is self-censorship, the withholding of opposing information by group members. It's brought on by another one of Janis's characteristics, the pressure for conformity, which encourages uniformity of opinion and characterizes deviation from the group as disloyal. This self-censorship in the face of pressure and perceived loyalty is most similar to:

  • (A) Deindividuation
  • (B) Cognitive dissonance
  • (C) Repression
  • (D) Sublimation

Bryan's Insights:

The correct answer here is (A), which means losing that sense of self and behaving in a group in a way that you never would by yourself. This is what people tend to do in Groupthink. They start altering the way the behave in a way they never would if they were on their own.

Repression and sublimation are ego defense mechanisms. They don't have anything to do with the group. While cognitive dissonance is the unpleasant sensation of behaving in a way that is out of line with your other behaviors or beliefs. Or that you have a belief that is not aligned with your other belief.

Although someone in a group may experience cognitive dissonance, nothing in the question though described conflicting beliefs.

[06:34] Nucleotides vs. Nucleosides

Question 45: GTP is best classified as a member of which class of biological molecules?

  • (A) Amino acids
  • (B) Peptides
  • (C) Nucleotides
  • (D) Nucleic Acids

Bryan's Insights:

GTP stands for guanosine triphosphate.

Nucleic acid is a polymer so you'd have to have multiple units. So by itself, it's not a nucleic acid. Rather, it's a nucleotide, which is the base polymer unit.

Remember the difference between a nucleotide and a nucleoside. Guanosine itself (sugar + nitrogenous base) is a nucleoside. As soon as you start tagging on phosphates, it becomes a nucleotide. (Ex. GTP, ATP, CTP, UTP)

On the other hand, peptide is a polymer of amino acids. It's just a fancy way of saying protein.

[08:45] Share This Podcast!

Share this podcast with a friend, neighbor, advisor, and let them know about this podcast. As what we always say on The Premed Years Podcast, "collaboration, not competition."


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Jan 17, 2018
76: Breaking Down Sociology MCAT Discrete Questions

Session 76

Today, we're covering some sociology MCAT questions looking at specific definitions that you need to know to help you get the best score possible on the MCAT.

Sociology is one of the hardest ones on the MCAT because they're so nit-picky on the details of those words, definitions, and everything else.

Also, go check out all our other amazing podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[01:10] All About -Isms

Question 29: Researchers use a symptom list similar to the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders in order to diagnose psychiatric disorders and screen incompatible subjects from a study. When comparing data from previous studies, it was discovered that the symptoms on the most recent DSM differ from the symptoms on the previous list. Which of the following social theories best explains this discrepancy?

  • (A) Social functionalism
  • (B) Social interactionism
  • (C) Social antipositivism
  • (D) Social constructionism

Bryan's Insights:

Ryan takes a random guess and he goes with (D) just because it seems right. ANd this is correct. Bryan further explains that social constructionism is the idea where we socially construct our concepts, categories, and definitions, rather than being objective facts or something you individually makeup. It's like "we" as a society construct xyz.

In this case, what's being socially constructed is our notion of mental wellness or illness. And so if the symptoms can change form addition to the next, then that tells you there's not some objectively correct definition of, say, schizophrenia. Rather, we as a society construct the definition of schizophrenia. So it can change from book to book.

Functionalism is how large scale social structures interact in a functional way. An example of this is how the police force interacts with legal system. Interactionism is the the idea that individual people interacting is the core substratum that makes up society. Social terms are defined by interactions happening between individuals.

Positivism is the notion of how science investigates the world. so antipositivism is the idea that sociology in some sense is not a science. Or not a "science" in the same way that physics is a science.

[04:35] A Professionalism Issue

Question 44: When medical faculty members engage in unprofessional behavior towards the patient or a student. What type of norm do they violate?

  • (A) Edicts
  • (B) Laws
  • (C) Folkways
  • (D) Mores

Bryan's Insights:

Ryan's guess is (A). Bryan explains that an edict is a proclamation from an authority figure. For example, the king gives out an edict, or Congress. Being unprofessional towards a patient, however, is not a violation of an edict.

Laws are laws obviously which are the written laws. In this case, they might be doing something illegal. But the question doesn't really explicitly describe anything illegal. Folkways are normal everyday interactions like shaking hands with your right hand. Or when you stand in an elevator, you face the doors.

Mores are defined as a moral or ethical behavior. And this is the right answer. Also, folkways are way too minor to be considered a professionalism issue. Mores tell you the difference between right and wrong. Folkways tell you the difference between right and rude.

[07:02] All About Rates

Question 47: Many sociologists predict that cardiovascular disease will affect a larger proportion of the population as the average age of a U.S. citizen increases. This statistic of cardiovascular rates per 1000 people is known as the:

  • (A) Sufferance rate
  • (B) Mortality rate
  • (C) Incidence rate
  • (D) Appearance rate

Bryan's Insights.

Ryan's guess is (C) and he's correct. The question only mentions cardiovascular disease and didn't mention any fatality. So it's not mortality. Students have to know the difference between morbidity and mortality. The former is the appearance of the disease whereas as the latter is it kills you.

Sufferance rate and appearance rates are not actual public health terms in the context of MCAT.

Prevalance is how much of it is out there while incidence is how many new cases per 1000.

[08:37] About Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep is known for their one-on-one tutoring and they've grown now to having a course and books. But if you're looking at an MCAT course, taking it at big name companies would usually cost $2500 for an in-person or online course. This means you're being taught along with a group of people.

If you want to maximize your score, for only a couple hundred dollars more, you get a one-on-one tutor from Next Step Test Prep. Plus, save some money using the promo code MCATPOD.


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MedEd Media Network

Jan 10, 2018
75: MCAT Biochem Discretes - beta-oxidation, Krebs cycle & more

Session 75

Cellular respiration, beta-oxidation and some Krebs cycle problems are the topics covered on the MCAT Podcast today. Come learn along and crush your MCAT!

If you're a nontraditional student, check out The OldPreMeds Podcast. This week, Ryan and Bryan from Next Step Test Prep dive into some biochemistry questions.

First, they're going to look into the theme around metabolism. A lot of biochem on the MCAT overlaps with Biology, this is one of the areas where the lines between the two get pretty fuzzy.

[01:30] Voltage and Electrical Reduction

Question 15: Given the role of the reaction in cellular respiration, what is the most likely standard electrical reduction value for the reduction of oxygen to water?

  • (A) +0.02
  • (B) +0.82
  • (C) -0.02
  • (D) -0.82

Bryan's Insights:

The positive voltage is a favorable thing. When you think about batteries, for example, you have a 9-volt batter, not a negative 9-volt battery. It's a large positive number that shows a favorable chemical reaction. Inside that 9-volt battery. some chemistry is going on that's producing 9 volts.

In this case, remember that metabolism starts with oxygen which you breathe in and ends with water, which you sweat, breathe, or pee out. So oxygen to water has to be a favorable thing. It has to something that wants to happen on a chemical level.

So you know the answer has to be one of the positive numbers. Then the answer has to be either (A) or (B).

And because it's the very end of the process, the way the body changes to get multiple reactions is going towards more and more favorable reactions. Hence, the answer here is (B) since it has the biggest most positive voltage here.

Bryan says you have to recognize oxygen to water as the final step of metabolism. From that alone, you can pick either, answer choices (B) or (D), thinking you need an extreme answer. So it's either the biggest positive or the biggest negative even if you couldn't remember the rule about the General Chemistry underlying it.

[04:35] Fat Oxidation

Question 30: Each cycle of mitochondrial beta oxidation liberates a 2-Carbon Acetyl-CoA unit, as well as which, if any other molecule/s:

  • (A) NADH and FADH2
  • (B) NADH only
  • (C) FADH2 only
  • (D) Neither NADH nor FADH2

Bryan's Insights:

Ryan's guess is answer choice (C) as something that stands out for him. The correct answer here is (A). This is a pure memorization question for the students. You need to know the key metabolic pathways including glycolysis and the Krebs cycle and beta oxidation to burn fat. And then when you have an even numbered carbon fatty acid, the standard beta oxidation cycle applies. You just chop two carbons off the very tail end of the molecule. And in the process of doing that, you get and NADH and FADH2.

[07:00] Mitochondrial Function

Question 46: DCCD is a chemical that blocks the proton pore of ATP synthase. If treated with DCCD, which of the following is most likely to decrease in the actively respiring mitochondrion in an adult rat cardiac cell?

  • (A) H+ concentration in the internal membrane space
  • (B) ADP concentration in the matrix
  • (C) Oxygen consumption
  • (D) The chemiosmotic gradient across the inner membrane

Bryan's Insights:

Thinking about the mitochondrial function, there's the electron transport chain and how it works. What happens if you plugged up the end of the pipe? You block the proton pore at the end in the ATP synthase.

Remember that ATP synthase is actually the molecule that uses oxygen. If you clog that pipe, it doesn't work anymore so you're not going to consume any oxygen. Hence, oxygen consumption decreases.

On the other the electron chain pumps protons into the membrane space. And that's going to go up a lot because you blocked the pipe. And because you blocked that at the end, you can't take those ADPs and ramp them up to ATP. So the ADP just builds up. The chemiosmotic gradient also increases because it's the same thing as (A). If the proton concentration gradient in the internal membrane space is building up, then the overall gradient is building up.

[10:30] Next Step Test Prep

If you're looking for a full-length MCAT practice test, check out Next Step Test Prep. Based on students' feedback Ryan has heard is that Next Step's full-length tests are the most realistic scoring-wise to their real test.

Buy up to ten full-length exams from Next Step and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep

The OldPreMeds Podcast

Jan 03, 2018
74: MCAT Psychology Discrete Questions - Groupthink and more

Groupthink, some physiology, and personality traits are some of the topics we covered in this MCAT podcast session. Check it out and don't forget to subscribe.

Dec 27, 2017
73: MCAT Biology Discrete Questions - Acetyl-CoA and more

Session 73

Hypoglycemia, the electron transport chain, and beta-oxidation are the subjects covered by Ryan and Bryan on this episode.

[01:02] Hyploglycemia

Question 16: Which of the following is the most plausible explanation for a patient experiencing hypoglycemia?

  • (A) Accidental self injection of excess insulin
  • (B) Increased gluconeogenesis
  • (C) A four-hour fast following a carbohydrate-rich meal
  • (D) Increased rate of glycogenolysis

Bryan's Insights:

Ryan goes through is thought process until arriving at answer choice (A) which is the right answer and the right thought process.

The correct answer here is (A) since all the other choices involve putting sugar into your blood, whether you're making it directly by breaking down the glycogen to make it or just by eating a bunch of carbs.

The MCAT can have "tricky" questions. They can be subtle, but there's never trick questions. They're not out to fool you.

So the right answer is always going to stand out in some categorical way or for some categorical reason. In this case, categorically, three of the four answer choices would raise the blood sugar.

[04:00] Fat Oxidation

Question 17: In a metabolic analysis experiment, researchers subjected fatty acid samples to beta oxidation max spec performed on the resulting products would reveal:

  • (A) Glucose
  • (B) Acetyl-CoA
  • (C) Pyruvate
  • (D) Succinate

Bryan's Insights:

Ryan guesses (B) and it's the right answer. What Bryan usually tells students is if they're not sure about biometabolism question is that it's not bad to guess Acetyl-CoA. Because it's the taxi cab of the metabolism system. It's that two carbon group that shuttles energy around in all sorts of different processes.

Beta oxidation is burning fat and making Acetyl-CoA which can be used for energy. All the other choices, glucose and pyruvate are part of carbohydrate metabolism, not fat. And succinate is part of the Krebs Cycle. So it's not directly part of fat metabolism.

[05:33] All About Electrons and Reduction Potential

Question 27: In what order do electrons move through the ETC (Electron Transport Chain)?

  • (A) From carriers with lower reduction potential to carriers with higher reduction potential
  • (B) From carriers with higher reduction potential to carriers with lower reduction potential
  • (C) From carriers with stronger proton binding capacity to carriers with weaker proton finding capacity
  • (D) From carriers with weaker proton binding capacity to carriers with stronger proton binding capacity

Bryan's Insights:

Start with the electron transport chain. So there are two answer choices here (C and D) that don't make any sense - proton binding capacity. It's not the proton transport chain we're talking about here but the electron transport chain.

Reduction potential means that the more positive, the more favorable it is. Reduction potential is how much something wants to be reduced. How desperately does it grab onto electrons?

So if you have a really high reduction potential, really big positive number, that means you really want to be reduced. You want electrons. The electron transport chain basically starts out with electrons with really high energy. So you can stick them on a molecule that doesn't have much in the way of reduction potential. It doesn't really want the electrons. It's like a sponge that's not very absorbed. But those electrons are so high energy that they can just plug it right on there.

And since you're passing those electrons from one molecule to the next, and in each step along the way, the next molecule down the line really wants those electrons more than the guy in front of them. So you go to higher and higher reduction potentials as you go down the chain. So answer choice (A) is the right answer here. Hence, the reduction potential is the level of electron attractiveness.

[09:10] Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep has just updated their MCAT scheduling software inside of their course to better help you figure out how to schedule your MCAT studying. It's part of their course that includes over 100 hours of videos, live office hours five days a week, access to all of their practice tests, the AAMC material, and books.

Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on them.

Stay tuned next week for some Psychology questions!


Next Step Test Prep

Dec 20, 2017
72: How Do I Remember Material I Studied Four Months Ago?

Session 72

When you study for the MCAT, your schedule usually stretches out over several months. How do you make sure that you remember all of content you studied?

Also, check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media. Listen to The Premed Years Podcast to help you on your premed journey as well as our newest podcast, Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A.

[01:25] Strategies for Long-Term Retention

Bryan from Next Step Test Prep dishes out some strategies to help you prepare. First, learn the information of course.

"You can't retain it for the first six months if you can't retain it for the first six days."

One strategy for long-term retention is to make sure you're learning it the right way at the beginning. Learn it through connections and context in the real brain-friendly way, which means learn things the way your brain learns things.

Isolate independent facts such as repetition flashcards may not be very good for MCAT memorization. This is so, as Bryan explains it, because you'll run into exactly the problem they're asking about. You'll learn it for a day or two. This is fine if you just had to spit the fact up on a final exam the next day. But for the MCAT, you would have to retain it for months.

So you wouldn't just memorize some single random fact. For example, you learn that "reduction is the gain of electrons" on a single flashcard. Instead, you have to build the whole context of how does redox chemistry work.

You would learn it in a way and learn it so well that if someone just gave you a chalkboard and a piece of chalk, you could give a 15-min lecture just off the top of your head. So it's not just a single fact, but a whole series of connected facts.

"Ultimately, that is what our brain is good at - connections between ideas."

[03:17] Build a Review Day for Repetition

So if you want to remember it for the first six months of your prep, first learn it the right way. The second thing is that you have to be willing to invest the time and effort in the repetition and reinforcement.

There's that curve of forgetting where you initially learn some information and then your retention drops off almost instantly. MCAT students often freak out about the stress and how much they have to do that they always want to rush things ahead. It's always about the next thing.

What Bryan does with the students he's working with is build one day a week for review day.

One day, every single week, you are literally doing nothing new. No new chapters, no new tests, no new facts, no new anything. Your only job all day is to just repeat the information from the past week and to review your notes from earlier weeks.

"From the get-go, build in a review day every week so you can just have that repetition, have that repetition, have that repetition."

[05:11] Create Artificial Connections

Next week's episode on The Premed Years Podcast (episode 265), our guest is Luis Angel, who is a world-class memory master. He's going to share about how to retain information. So be sure to check it out once it's published.

Bryan adds that what these people who can memorize a deck of cards so fast is that they create these artificial connections. They memorize certain funny connections. Then when they open a deck of cards up, if it's those three cards are in order, they will then create a story in their head. So it becomes so much easier to remember.

So if you could give a 15-min lecture off the top of your head and tell the story of say, how redox chemistry works, then you know that you know it. Not just if you can spew out some random fact.

[06:50] Listen to The Premed Years Podcast Episode 265

Again, stay tuned for Episode 265 of The Premed Years Podcast where I will be having Luis Angel, a world-class memory master. If you have struggles with memorizing and remembering things, be sure to take a listen.


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Next Step Test Prep

Dec 13, 2017
71: More Biology Questions Broken Down for the MCAT

Session 71

Biology infiltrates a lot of different areas of the MCAT, so you need to be prepared for it. We break down some biology discrete questions today to help you!

If you're in the California area, try to make it to the UC Davis Prehealth Conference. They are huge so try be there next year if you can. Surprisingly, a feedback I got from the students there was that they love listening to us discussing questions. So we want to give what students want and we're doing some biology discrete questions today. Also, check out all the other podcasts at MedEd Media.

Lastly, don't forget to check out Next Step Test Prep if you need some help with your MCAT prep and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.

Back to today’s podcast...

[01:55] Vitamins Are Important

Question 11: Many vitamins are cofactors which are important in the proper functioning of:

  • (A) Glycolipids
  • (B) Phospholipids
  • (C) Proteins
  • (D) Glycoproteins

Bryan's Insights:

Why are vitamins so important? And cofactors are important for the functioning of the enzymes. Vitamins, themselves, are helper molecules. They help out our enzymes to do their jobs.

And the enzymes are proteins. Therefore, the right answer is (C).

[03:00] Let's Talk about the CNS!

Question 57: All of the following are glia in the central nervous system, except:

  • (A) Oligodendrocytes
  • (B) Astrocytes
  • (C) Ependymal cells
  • (D) Schwann cells

Bryan's Insights:

Schwann cells are the myelinating cells in the peripheral nervous system. This is the correct answer since all the others are in the central nervous system. Oligodendrocytes are myelinating cells in the CNS. Astrocytes are supporting cells. Ependymal cells make cerebrospinal fluid.

You have to recognize that glia is a foreign word for glue. So it's the glue that holds the central nervous system together. Most MCAT books will have a list of all the glial cells and what they do. So you have to know them. Well-prepared MCAT students should be able to recognize these.

[04:48] Sperm Issues

Question 58: In cases of azoospermia, the lack of sperm generation, most likely results directly from exogenous suppression of which hormone?

  • (A) FSH
  • (B) LH
  • (C) GNRH
  • (D) Somatotropin

Bryan's Insights:

The correct answer here is (A). FSH is Follicle Stimulating Hormone. It helps germ cells mature.

MCAT students spend a bunch of time memorizing the hormone cascade of the menstrual cycle. It's a popular topic for questions on the MCAT. Bryan says it's just complicated enough to be able to scare you. But once you understand how all the pieces go together, you'd realize it makes sense.

Having said that, you can't ignore them. You have to recognize that FSH is not just maturing ova but it's maturing sperm as well. So an issue with the sperm is an issue with FSH.

LH is Luteinizing Hormone that causes ovulation. It also helps produce testosterone in the male. GNRH is the tropic hormone that causes FSH and LH to be released. Somatotropin is just a fancy name for growth hormone. So it's not directly related to primary sexual characteristics like maturing germ cells.

[06:52] One Step at a Time

When analyzing multiple steps such as the above and things like intracellular cascades of signalling molecules or endocrine cascades or metabolic pathways, only go one step at a time.

Go to the next step in the process or one step back in the process. Look if it's the answer. If yes, then done. Don't go four steps away or even two steps away if you don't have to.

[07:25] Vitamins, Again

Question 59: An experimental drug designed to prevent capsular contracture around medical implants works by sequestering a co-factor required for collagen synthesis. Which co-factor is the most likely target for this drug?

  • (A) Vitamin A
  • (B) Vitamin B1
  • (C) Vitamin C
  • (D) Vitamin D

Bryan's Insights:

Lack of Vitamin C causes scurvey. Vitamin C is very important for connective tissue, specifically collagen. If you targeted Vitamin C, that would affect collagen manufacture, maintenance, and so on.

You're not expected to know everything that vitamins do in the body. But you should know some basics.

Vitamin A has immune function and is involved in cell growth, especially epithelial cell growth and maintenance.

Vitamin B1, Thiamine, is associated with metabolism. The MCAT fact that tends to crop up a lot is thiamine deficiency which is most commonly seen in the first world and severe cases of alcoholism. This results to Korsakoff Syndrome, characterized by memory derangement and language problems.

Vitamin D is primarily associated with being generated by UV light hitting your skin. That's where we get the final form of Vitamin D made. It's primarily associated with proper calcium absorption in the intestines. So we put Vitamin D in milk to allow better calcium absorption.

The MCAT is an inch deep and a mile wide. So when you're studying, know a little bit about it. Don't memorize everything about every pathway of each vitamin.

[10:19] Next Step Test Prep

Again, don't forget to check out Next Step Test Prep. If you're looking for the premier way to study for the MCAT, get their one-on-one tutoring. It's the best and only way I recommend if you want the best MCAT prep. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


MedEd Media

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UC Davis Prehealth Conference

Dec 06, 2017
70: Breaking Down Discrete MCAT Chemistry Questions

Session 70

Chemistry on the MCAT is hard for a lot of premed students. Today, I and Bryan of Next Step Test Prep will go over some chemistry questions and break down each of them to give you a head start.

[01:20] Amino Acids

Question 10: At pH 7.3, what is the bond order of the shortest bond to Oxygen in Glycine?

Bryan's Insights:

You should recognize that pH where 7.3 to 7.5 is the physiological pH. Glycine is an amino acid. A physiological pH acid exists as zwitterions. The amino part is positively charged, NH3+. And the acid part is negatively charged, COO-. This is the memorization side of it.

Then you have to apply what you know about resident structures. The acid part of an amino acid is usually drawn as carbon double bonded to oxygen with another single bond to an O-.

The potential trap here is just immediately picking two, that the strongest and shortest bond is a double bond (C=O). But you want to remember that COO- exists as a resident structure.

So the single and the double bonds are actually residents with each other so the bond order is 1.5. In fact, that's the only bond between carbon and oxygen in Glycine. So 1.5 would have to be the right answer whether they ask for the shortest or the longest.

Bryan recommends that what you do with flashcards and study sheets for amino acids is draw the physiological pH. But in the end all that really matters is consistency. As long as you're studying the same way every time and know the underlying principles, you'll be okay.

[04:05] Lab Techniques

Question 30: Commercial preparations of the compound Captopril requires that it be separated from its enantiomer. Which of the following techniques would best accomplish this?

  • (A) Fractional distillation
  • (B) Thin layer chromatography
  • (C) Chiral resolution
  • (D) Recrystallization

Bryan's Insights:

This is a question around lab techniques which are very important for the MCAT. So you have to know how all of these separate various molecules.

Fractional distillation is based on boiling point like all distillation. Thin layer chromatography is based on polarity whether something likes to stick to the stationary phase or move along with the mobile phase.

Chiral resolution has something to do with isomers pulling them apart. And recrystallization has to do with solubility. This could be crystallization at the bottom of the beaker or it stays dissolved.

In this case, you're separating enantiomers, a particular kind of isomer. Chiral resolution, therefore, is how you would separate them.

[05:54] Ideal Gas Assumptions

Question 57: Which of the following is not a characteristic of an ideal gas?

  • (A) The average kinetic energy of the gas sample depends on the mass of the molecules.
  • (B) Collisions between gas molecules are elastic.
  • (C) There are no attractive and repulsive forces between gas molecules.
  • (D) Gas particles have a volume of zero.

Bryan's Insights:

My guess here is that gas in a volume of zero just sounds weird to me so I would pick that one.

Bryan explains that (D) is an assumption of ideal gas. You'd assume that the molecules themselves have no size. So when the gas is filling up the balloon or the beaker, all of that space is just filled with the space between the molecules.

In this case, the ideal gas law just have some basic assumptions. So the answer choices B, C, and D are three of the big classic assumptions that the gas molecules have no forces on each other. Either attractive or repulsive, they take up no size. And that any collisions are perfectly elastic.

The ideal gas law assumes that the gas particles are these perfectly spherical little ping pong balls bouncing off each other perfectly elastically. The ping-pong balls themselves take up no space. So it seems a little silly but useful assumptions about the gas molecules themselves.

So if you're not sure about kinetic energy and you couldn't remember the equation for that, just set aside (A) for a moment. And see if all the others are ideal gas assumptions. Then come back to A, which is the right answer.

[08:30] Next Step Test Prep

Next week, we talk about biology questions. Meanwhile, share this podcast to your friends, classmates, and everyone. Also, check out Next Step Test Prep's MCAT course. They're known for their one-on-one tutoring.

If you're looking for a course and want a more "classroom" environment where you want to do it at your own pace, go check out their online course. It includes 100 hours of videos and a custom MCAT scheduling generator. Plug in all the information and their tool will give you the schedule you need to maximize your score.

You also get live office hours every week and get to talk to their amazing tutors. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money!


Next Step Test Prep online course

Nov 29, 2017
69: More Physics MCAT Questions Broken Down for You

Session 69

Today, I am once again joined by Bryan of Next Step Test Prep, as we take a grab bag of physics questions and break them down to help you on your MCAT journey! Don't forget to share this with your classmates.

Check out all of our other podcasts on MedEd Media. And if you need help with your MCAT prep, go check out Next Step Test Prep. Use MCATPOD to save 10% off their package.

[01:43] Isotope Decay

Question 27: Following radioisotope-aided imaging, the isotope 99-TC decays to a 99-RU, and it's cleared by the kidneys. What particle is ejected during the additional decay step?

  • (A) An electron
  • (B) A positron
  • (C) A gamma photon
  • (D) An alpha particle

Bryan's Insights:

This is one where you have to recall each of the answer choices what their mass and charge are. In this case, the mass didn't change. The TC and RU both have a mass of 99. This means we can't be ejecting anything with mass.

Basic conservation of mass says that alpha particle (answer choice D) is the wrong answer. An alpha particle has a mass of 4. And if you shoot out something that has a mass of 4, you would have to go from 99 down to 95.

Next, a photon has no mass and no charge. It means that when a radioactive element undergoes gamma decay, it doesn't change its mass or its number of protons. You would have to go from 99-TA to 99-TA in order to eject the gamma ray. Think of all the protons and neutrons that make up the element. They're jumbling around into a lower energy state. None of the blocks go anywhere but they release a whole lot of noise when they collapse.It's just like a Jenga tower!

So in gamma decay, the nucleons jostle around a lot and settle into a more stable environment. Then that jostling around shoots out a gamma particle.

In this question, it went from TA to RU. So something changed. The number of protons changed. So (C) is also out. Now, it's between an electron and a positron. But you would need a periodic table to make the final determination between the two.

For the purposes of answering it here (since you would have a periodic table on test day), TA has 43 protons and RU is element 44 so it has 44 protons.

To get an additional proton, you would have to shoot out a negative charge. Take away a negative and the guy that gets left behind is more positive as a result. So in this case, the answer is an electron or a beta minus particle.

[05:10] Unit Conversion Knowledge

Question 28: The inner mitochondrial membrane has a thickness of 5 nanometers and an average membrane potential of 150 millivolts. What's the magnitude of the electric field across the mitochondrial membrane in these cells?

  • (A) 3 times 10-2 volt per meter
  • (B) 3 times 104 volt per meter
  • (C) 3 times 107 volt per meter
  • (D) 3 times 1010 volt per meter

Bryan's Insights:

This question illustrates an important principle when it comes to math on the MCAT. People tend to freak out about calculations and equations. But when in doubt, you can kind of side your way up to the right answer.

In this case, the units for every answer choice is volt per meter. And when you look at the question, it says 150 millivolts and 5 nanometers. So there was a volt and a meter. The units in the answer choices imply that you just divide the volts per the meter. Is it really that simple? Bryan says it is.

"There's no such thing as a trick question on the MCAT."

The MCAT can be subtle but it's not actually out to trick you. So just read the exact wording on the screen. Read the exact wording on the answer choice.

So here, you have to know your exponents. Milli is 10-3 and nano is 10-9. Remember that when a negative exponent is in the denominator, you minus a negative so it's becoming a positive. So 10-3 minus 10-9 becomes 106. So in this case, answer choice (C) is close enough so you'd already have the right answer.

[08:07] Let's Talk About Pressure

Question 44: Turbulent flow in humans is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, the build up of plaque on arterial endothelium. Ignoring any potential effects of turbulence, what effect would atherosclerosis have on blood flow?

  • (A) Narrowing of the artery causes the velocity to increase and the hydrostatic pressure to decrease.
  • (B) Narrowing of the artery causes the velocity to increase and the osmotic pressure to decrease.
  • (C) Narrowing of the artery causes the velocity to decrease and the hydrostatic pressure to decrease.
  • (D) Expansion of the artery causes the velocity to decrease and the hydrostatic pressure to increase.

Bryan's Insights:

A couple of weeks ago, we did an interview on The Premed Years Podcast with Dr. King Li, the Dean of Carle Illinois College of Medicine. It's an engineering-based medical school. It's interesting how he described how they're going to teach the curriculum. They're not adding a ton of stuff. They're just teaching it differently.

He gave a specific example of plaque buildup. Instead of just memorizing what happens with plaque, you go into an engineering model of what exactly happens.

Bryan explains that the answer is (A). Osmotic pressure implies that the blood is getting more concentrated. Osmotic pressure relates to the number of solutes dissolved in the blood. There's no reason to think that based on the simplified model that the question is proposing. Fluid flowing through a narrower straw doesn't make the fluid saltier.

So you can start by eliminating (B) saying that in order to change the osmotic pressure of the blood, you'd have to sweating more or drinking more water. You have to be doing something with your fluid balance to change it.

Now we're left with A. When fluids move faster, they exert less pressure on the walls of the container.

The classic example of this is the simplified model of a paper airplane. Where you tape a paper over a pencil and blow it across the top. Because the air is moving faster across the top, you an get the little paper wing to swing upwards. There's less pressure on top.

Or another example is the shower curtain. The warm shower heats up the air so the air moves up and out of the shower. So it's a combination of both movement of air passed through the curtain lowers the pressure. This cause the curtain to swing in. And it's the physical movement of the air by convection.

[12:55] Final Thoughts

I spoke to five premed clubs the week before this has been recorded. And out of five, one had three students who knew about the podcast. And if you're part of a premed club and you're not emailing or posting in your Facebook group or on Twitter to your club members, you are doing them a disservice. So go let them know about this podcast.

Also, check out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer you on your MCAT prep journey. One of the biggest mistakes students make is not taking enough practice tests. And, they're not reviewing the practice tests properly. Don't fall into that same trap.

Check out Next Step Test Prep and use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off their package.


MedEd Media

The Premed Years Podcast Episode 256: A Look at Carle Illinois College of Medicine with Dean Li

Next Step Test Prep

Nov 22, 2017
68: Breaking Down MCAT Psych/Soc Discrete Questions

Session 68

Psychology and sociology can be sneaky hard on MCAT as it turns out to be one of the hardest sections on the MCAT. As always, I am joined today by Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep. Follow along with us and tell your friends about the podcast and what you've learned.

We have a new book coming out called The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. This is the second book in the series. (My first book is The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview). I just got word from our editor and we're hoping to have it out soon. Go to and register there. Sign up to get notified when the book goes live.

[02:15] Psych/Soc Is Your Dessert on the MCAT

Over the past couple of years, this has become one of Bryan's favorites because he finds it easy. However, this turns out to be one of those sections many students are struggling with. And since Bryan also finds this easy to teach, students can really benefit from all the tips and strategies that will be shared here.

[03:11] Take a Guess, Trust Your Instinct

Question 10: A Sociologist investigating the efficacy of a newly implemented breast cancer screening tool and how it has impacted healthcare delivery for all women in the country would best achieve this goal by conducting a:

  • (A) Repertory Grid Test
  • (B) Weber Test
  • (C) Cochrane Review
  • (D) Power Analysis

Bryan's Insights:

I guessed it right this time since it's the only choice that I've heard of. The right answer here is C. Bryan explains a Cochrane Review is just a way of doing a systematic review of primary research in health care.

Bryan adds that MCAT students should trust their instincts. If something looks familiar to you, it's probably because you saw it while you were prepping. So it's more likely to be the right answer.

Whereas if something is really mystifying. It doesn't mean it's wrong but it's a strike against an answer choice.

Okay, so what my gut was telling me was that this is the only one I've heard of and I don't want to waste any time so I'm just going to go with this. Bryan says you have to answer every question. At some point, you need some sort of a rationale. And then you just keep moving even if the rationale is shaky. This is the tenth question and there are still other more questions to do so you've got to keep moving.

I also want to add that there's no reason not to leave a blank one because you're not marked for wrong answers. Bryan says blank is wrong so you might as well take a guess.

Just a quick run through of the answer choices though. The repertory grid test is an individual psychology test which is sort of a personality assessment. A Weber Test is where you play a noise in each ear at the same time. Then ask the person which is louder. This is a way to test if someone's got unilateral hearing or hearing degradation. And Power Analysis is a statistics test which you do before the study to figure out your sample size you need.

[06:18] Native- versus Foreign-Born Doctors

Question 11: In the last ten years, the number of practicing doctors in the U.S. who went to medical school in a foreign country has increased at twice the rate of the number of native doctors has increased. The difference in growth is most closely related to which demographic phenomenon?

  • (A) Increasing urbanization
  • (B) Demographic transition
  • (C) Globalization
  • (D) Falling fertility rates

Bryan's Insights:

I'm taking a guess and I'm choosing (C) since more people are moving around and their travel to the U.S. used to be easier. And this happens to be the correct answer.

Bryan explains that the question didn't say anything about urban versus rural. It just said native-born and foreign-born doctors. So it's not (A).

Demographic transition is a very specific thing. You start off as a third world country with high rates of birth and death and then you move to Stage Two where death rates fall of with better care of infants. And then you move to Stage Three where birth rates fall off as well. With higher socio-economic status and more education, women tend to delay child birth. And Stage Four is the classic American, Western, European, and Japan model with both very low birth and death rates. So this has nothing to do with foreign versus domestic.

Lastly, fertility rates falling wouldn't make sense since the question says increasing rates.

[09:05] Let’s Talk About Groups

Question 12: Veterans are typically incredibly supportive of and loyal to others who have served. Most take pride in belonging to a group dedicated to the protection of the U.S. even if they're no longer serving. And they're happy to be lifelong members of the Armed Forces. This version of self identity best fits which category?

  • (A) Reference group
  • (B) Outgroup
  • (C) Secondary group
  • (D) Ingroup

Bryan's Insights:

I'm taking a guess once again and as a former member of the Armed Forces, there's only one thing that I recognize here and that's Reference Group. Unfortunately, I didn't get this right this time.

Bryan explains this is a classic in Psych and Sociology where you get this jumble of words. All of which sound similar and kind of sound conversational English words. They don't sound super technical. But they do have technical meanings which have very specific definitions.

A reference group is a group that sets certain norms against which you compare yourself. There's nothing in the question about comparing yourself with other veterans. The classic example is knowing how much your salary should be by comparing yourself to your coworkers. In this case, other people who have a similar job is your reference group.

An outgroup is just a way of saying "the other," which is a group you do not identify with. Any group you think you're not a member of is an outgroup. In this question, it's about belonging to the group so it's the opposite and that would be answer choice (D). An ingroup is any group that you define yourself as a member of. This could be everything from very small groups (siblings) all the way to a group that includes millions or even tens of millions. So anything you identify with is a member of your group.

[11:48] Differentiating Primary Group and Secondary Group

The secondary group is different from a primary group. Primary groups are long-lasting, emotionally intimate, and they tend to be formed for your whole life and not for a specific purpose. The classic example is your family. It wasn't formed to achieve a particular purpose. It lasts your whole life. There's bonds of emotional support and trust there.

On the other hand, a secondary group tends to be large, transient, and only formed for a specific purpose. The classic example would be your co-workers at your part-time job while you're in college. You work at Starbucks and the group of employees there was formed for one purpose - serving overpriced coffee. You're not emotionally intimate with those people and you only work there a couple of years.

In this case, your military unit could be seen as a secondary group. Or it can be a primary group that could last a long time. But the key thing here between primary and secondary is that the question explicitly says that they take pride in belonging to the group. And they see that being a veteran is a lifelong label for them. So the world "lifelong" is your clue. It's not a transient secondary group so something is not right. So answer choice (C) is not the right answer.

[13:40] Dispositional Attributions

Question 13: Which of the following statements represents an environmental attribution with respect to a driver's failure to stop at a red light?

  • (A) The driver believes that they are too important to be delayed.
  • (B) The driver is a reckless person.
  • (C) The driver is generally rude to others.
  • (D) The driver is rushing to visit an injured spouse in the hospital.

Bryan's Insights:

How analyze this is that the answer hinges on the environmental attribution. And to me, environmental is outside of the person. A driver believing is not outside so is the driver being reckless as well as the driver being rude. So I would choose (D) here. And I got correct!

Bryan explains this is called a dispositional attribution. A person is just disposed to behave a certain way. And when you think of attribution theory, the reasons we explain to ourselves about why people do what they do is because of this certain disposition. And then there's environmental, which is not about the person. This means "he did this because in this case..."

[15:15] Get Notified Once Our New Book Is Out!

Once again, go check out Register and sign up to get notified when The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT comes out. It will be on sale when we release it. It's taken for Next Step's books with some strategies and passages. It offers a ton of information about how to properly prepare and plan for the MCAT.

This will not replace your Next Step book or whatever books you have. This will help you plan all out so that you're not just cramming out all the content in your face. And so that you won't forget about all the small details that will help you get the best score possible.


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

Next Step Test Prep

Nov 15, 2017
67: The AAMC Has Released Another Scored MCAT Full-Length!

Session 67

The AAMC is the organization behind the MCAT. When they do something, it’s news. They recently released the third scored full-length practice exam for the MCAT. Today, Bryan at Next Step Test Prep is again joining me to discuss this breaking news.

If you haven't yet, check out The Premed Years Podcast. We talk to medical students, deans of admissions, and other people who can help you on your journey to medical school. Also, check out our other podcasts on MedEd Media. Please help us spread the word and share this podcast with somebody.

Our motto? Collaboration, not competition.

So don't keep this podcast to yourself. Go share it with your friends to also help them crush the MCAT.

[01:25] MCAT Practice Exam 3 Is Available

Not only is the registration now open for 2018 and that there's a new testing center company doing all the test. But the AAMC has just announced that their third full-length for the MCAT is out.

As of this recording, you can buy it now at $35. Or it's also bundled in with the AAMC online practice bundle at $234. You get the three scored exams, the unscored sample test, and a couple other things.

[02:15] Where to Buy

Moreover, Bryan cites a couple things students should know. First, of course, you need this test. You need every scored AAMC test.

You can sign up for the Next Step Test Prep online class which includes not only books, but also, thousands of practice questions and hundreds of hours of video. And they've also bundled in all the AAMC tests, including the latest one.

You can buy the test individually. But if you're individually purchasing your resources than getting an all-in-one pack with a class, Bryan suggests buying the AAMC MCAT Online Bundle . You're going to need all of that stuff anyway.

[03:15] Total Scored and Unscored Exams

Just to clarify, the new scored exam doesn't replace the unscored one. So in total, there are four tests instead of three.

First is the MCAT Sample Test which is unscored for $25. It was released back before the MCAT was given in the new form.

And then the three scored tests are called the MCAT Practice Exams at $35 each.

[03:50] AAMC: The Official Source + Next Step Test Prep

Even though Next Step has their own practice exams, the AAMC is the company that makes the MCAT. If they have the practice exam, it's likely from the same people writing the real test. So it's going to be as close as possible to the real test and to your real score.

As an educator, Bryan emphasizes he wants everybody taking their MCAT prep seriously to go to the official source. They are the most official you can get so you absolutely need to get them.

With that being said, students may also sign up for a free account on and they will see that their practice tests are by far the most representative to the real AAMC. Other companies selling practice tests, unfortunately, miss the mark. So between buying the official AAMC exams and the Next Step exams, students will be well-prepared.

[05:22] Observations from the New Exam

As soon as the test was released, Bryan got to it and took the exam. And all of his fellow MCAT tutors also took a look at the exam. And they have observed a couple of things.

First, the science passages seemed a little short. Or they're shorter than they've been expecting. They've been seeing so much of heavy experimental focus. They've been seeing lots of graphs and tables and charts based on primary research. So these have been common.

And in the Psych/Soc section, the passages were surprisingly brief. The CARS section seemed pretty much standard with the usual array of topics and difficulty. Bryan describes CARS to have been steady forever, even when it used to be verbal reasoning.

They also noticed one passage to have bullet points randomly in the middle of the passage. He found it weird as they've never seen passages with bullet points before. Normally, they're just paragraphs and text. But they didn't change the questions.

The Bio/Biochem section of the new exam looked very much like what you see from the new MCAT. There are lots of primary research, graphs, and figures.

[06:48] Be Aware of MCAT Practice Exam Variations

The impression they had at Next Step, coming away from the test, was they found the Chem/Phys section to be short and easy. The Bio/Biochem seemed kind of long and kind of tough.

What this emphasized to them which is important for students to recognize is that every MCAT can be a little different. Every MCAT is going to have some variety in it. So you have to be very wary about any claims. Be wary of some saying that every MCAT have the following topics or tone or style. The reality is that there is variation from test to test. This said, you need to do plenty of practice. Do all four AAMC tests. Do six to ten of the Next Step exams. Make sure you've got a broad experience as possible with prepping.

[07:50] What's Bryan's Score?

Bryan actually took it un-timed because he was trying to analyze it, not assess his first performance. He did take the new MCAT in 2015 and got a 525. It was good enough for him.

At Next Step, Bryan says they hire people who got 526's and 527's. Last week, they had to turn down somebody with a perfect 528 because he just wasn't a very good teacher. They get so many brilliant people coming to them to be tutors so Bryan feels humbled.

So just because you scored great on the test doesn't mean you're going to do well teaching it to somebody else. Since the test updated, they have had three people with perfect 528 scores apply to become tutors. They hired one and turned down two. They want teachers, not just walking and talking perfect MCAT scorers.

[09:10] Final Thoughts

Try to wait for those last couple of weeks to take the AAMC scored exams so that you can make sure you're prepared to score your best on the MCAT!

Stay tuned for next week's Psych/Soc discrete questions.


AAMC 3rd Full Length Practice Exam

AAMC online practice bundle

Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep online class

MedEd Media

The Premed Years Podcast

Nov 08, 2017
66: Breaking Down More Bio Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 66

Today, Bryan and I discuss more biology discrete questions as well as some tips to help you do well on the MCAT

Also, please check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media. And if you're preparing for the MCAT and you think would need the help of some experts so you can rock the test, check out Next Step Test Prep. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.

[01:25] Learning Terminologies

Question #13: A bacterium has a faulty lac operon in which there is a structural defect in the operator. In this bacterium,

  • (A) There's a mutation in a segment of DNA that binds a promoter.
  • (B) A missense mutation is found in the gene that codes for their repressor.
  • (C) There's a structural problem with a segment of DNA that binds a repressor.
  • (D) There will be no proteins available capable of digesting lactose

Bryan's Insights:

Lac is a protein for lactose. And this is one of those terminology stuff when it comes to the lac operon, the classic example of gene expression regulation.

The issue students run into is a bunch of "word salad" where words like represser, operator, and promoter can get jumbled around.

Bryan recommends to use flashcards or a study sheet, so you know all the terminology. And if you know the terminology, this would be a relatively straightforward question.

Since it says defect in the operator, you should know that the operator is a little DNA segment that binds with a repressor. Lac operon is a repressible system. So this leads us to answer choice (C).

[03:40] The Process of Elimination

Question #14: Unlike the cells from which human organs are composed, the cell of a unicellular organism such as algae...

  • (A) Has a genome where nearly all materials codes for protein.
  • (B) Typically utilizes mitosis for cellular division.
  • (C) Can perform catabolic reactions to gain energy from macromolecules.
  • (D) Contains membrane-bound organelles to execute cell functions.

Bryan's Insights:

This is an example of the process of elimination to approach the question. Answer choices B, C, and D are human functions. So the correct answer is (A).

You have to be willing for answer choices that feel really uncomfortable or not thrilled with. But sometimes you have to pick them because they're the last man standing.

In humans and higher organisms, there's tons of introns and the majority of A's and C's and T's and G's in the body are just freeloaders. To say that all materials code for protein is true of a bacteria, algae, or something tiny. But this is not true for people.

[06:40] Eukaryotes vs. Prokaryotes

Question #15: Some eukaryotic cells are covered with small, ciliary projections used for absorption while others contain larger flagella used for propulsion. These cellular structures are composed of:

  • (A) Microfilaments
  • (B) Microtubules
  • (C) Intermediate filaments
  • (D) Myosin

Bryan's Insights:

Microfilaments are not for cilia and flagella. They work with myosin to do muscle stuff. Both eukaryotes and prokaryotes can have these little projections of the cells.

But remember that flagella are made of flagellin. But in eukaryotes, cilia and flagella are made of microtubules so the answer is (B).

The MCAT also wants you to to remember that for eukaryotes, it's the 9 + 2 arrangement. This means nine pairs of microtubules in a little hollow cylindrical shape with two more microtubules in the middle providing the backbone.

[08:32] Next Step Test Prep

To help you get the best score that you can get, check out Next Step Test Prep's new course. With over 100 video hours and ten live office hours every week, you also get access to all their books, full-length practice tests, and the AAMC material. use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


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Next Step Test Prep

Nov 01, 2017
65: Breaking Down Biology Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 65

Biology is a core subject for the MCAT. It infiltrates a lot of different areas, so you need to be prepared for it. We break down some questions today to help!

In this episode Bryan and I cover Biology. We're covering a grab bag of biology discrete questions to help guide you as you're preparing for the MCAT to make sure that you're rocking it.

For MCAT prep help, check out Next Step Test Prep and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

[01:48] Genomic Library

Question 29: Which of the following is not a difference of between a cDNA library, and a genomic library?

  • (A) A genomic library is larger than a cDNA library.
  • (B) A genomic sequence contains both coding and non-coding sequences, whereas a cDNA library includes only coding sequences.
  • (C) A cDNA sequence is difficult to express in prokaryotic system whereas a genomic sequence can be conveniently expressed in a prokaryotic system.
  • (D) A genomic library includes promoters but a cDNA library does not.

Bryan's Insights:

Bryan explains that a genomic library is exactly what it sounds like - all the genes, all the DNA in the cell.

The c in the cDNA means "complementary" DNA. And the way you construct it is to take the actual, expressed, final mRNA and then reverse transcribe it back to DNA. Then this makes a little library that can store all of it. So what you've got is that the DNA that just codes for the actual RNA that's going out to do the job.

Since the question asks for "which is not a difference," looking through the answer choices, you can cross off the three that are a difference. (A) is a difference so cross it off. (B) is again, true. (D) is also true.

The key takeaway here is that for cDNA, only the final expressed mRNA,not the extra junk.

So (C) here is what's not the difference. And it's the correct answer choice. Saying that a cDNA sequence is difficult to express in prokaryote is a false. That's the point of cDNA library. You want to make this particular gene product that is normally a human protein. And getting bacteria and human stuff to play together is difficult. Prokaryote and eukaryotes have different architectures.

Again, cut out all that extra junk in the human genome and just get the actual final expressed mRNA. And then the DNA from that can be put right into a bacteria. This can then be grown in massive quantities to produce huge amounts of a protein you want to study or use therapeutically.

[05:32] ELISA Technique

Question: An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) can be used to measure the concentration of antigen in solution. During ELISA, an enzyme is conjugated with an antibody which results in the color change and end products that correlate to the amount of antigen present in the original solution. If a control has an absorbance of 0.35 and a sample solution has an absorbance of 0.64, which of the following can be concluded?

  • (A) The antibody of the sample solution was downregulated.
  • (B) The antigen of the sample solution was upregulated.
  • (C) The antigen of the sample solution was downregulated.
  • (D) The antibody of the sample solution was upregulated.

Bryan's Insights:

From a test strategy point considering how confusing this could be, it might be smart to just guess and go for a bunch of students. The key thing that this question is getting at is first, the difference between antigens and antibodies. They want you to have that kind of basic immunology knowledge.

Then reading the question of how an ELISA works, although you shouldn't theoretically need that description. ELISA is a very common test or a very common lab procedure. So you should actually walk into the MCAT already knowing what an ELISA is and how it works.

We use them literally everyday, not even just in the lab. A form of an ELISA assay is how a normal pregnancy test works when you buy it off the shelf. That little stick you're buying is a kind of a consumer-grade ELISA.

As we should walk into the test knowing, an ELISA test is testing for the antigen, the protein we want to test. Remember that the antibodies are what the immune system uses to react against antigens. So ELISA are testing for antigens. And right away, you're eliminating answer choices A and D. Antibodies are just a step in the process and not the one an ELISA is testing for.

So although it could be confusing, if you just remember that one fact about what an ELISA tests for, you could at least get down to a 50-50 and move one.

And at that point, the amount of light absorbance is a measure of the thing you're measuring. Since the number went up and there was more absorbance, there was more. So that would mean the antigen in the sample was upregulated, which is answer choice (B).

[09:01] Blotting Techniques

Question #59: A biologist wants to determine whether the high levels of a particular transcript results in increased levels of the associated protein. Which of the following tests could be used to measure protein production?

  • (A) Western blot
  • (B) Eastern blot
  • (C) Northern blot
  • (D) Southern blot

Bryan's Insights:

This is another thing that you have to walk into the test knowing. They ask about protein so you have to know that western blots test for proteins.

Southern blots test for DNA. This was the first developed some forty plus years ago. Interestingly, this has nothing to do with the direction on the map. The actual name of the guy was Dr.Southern. And he created this technique for testing for DNA.

Then when they later invented the RNA, they just called it a northern blot (like using equivalent analogy). And from there, western became protein and eastern became posttranslational modifications to proteins.

So it's just this kind of central dogma thing and there should be mnemonics you can use for this.

[11:09] Strategies for Breaking Down Questions

When breaking down questions, you don't know if the information in the question is, say extra versus critical. Bryan suggests that you read the entire question. Have the whole question in your eyeballs. And then rephrase or reformulate exactly what the question asked you to do. So it's like two-step process, and not a skip-right-to-the-end-of-the-question process. Because sometimes the question has extra junk and sometimes it's all essential. So you don't know until you've read the whole thing and then rephrased the wording in your own terms.

[12:15] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep, specifically their one-on-one tutoring, which is what they're known for. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


MedEd Media Network

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD)

Oct 25, 2017
64: Should I Take the MCAT in the Spring or During the Summer?

Session 64

One of the most perplexing problems that faces premeds is if they should stack the MCAT up in the Spring, or wait until the Summer to take it.

We often talk about the recommended "normal" timeframe for prepping for the MCAT which is March or April. But then you're still in the middle of all of your classes.

How are you going to prep for all of your classes and prep for the MCAT at the same time? How should you, as a student, think about it? You don't want to be delayed for your applications but you're also still in school and worried about your courses. I and Bryan from Next Step Test Prep share with you our insights.

Also, check out our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network including The Premed Years Podcast, The OldPreMeds Podcast, and Specialty Stories.

[01:43] Spring or Summer?

During this time, you've got all these Spring semester classes that you're taking. The alternative is to wait until the summer (June, July, or August) when you no longer have academic pressure.

Although there's no single best answer, it depends on what the demands are for the Spring semester or the demands for the Summer.

But should you decide to push it back to July and spend May and June prepping after your semester is over, what is this going to do to your application timeline?

[02:28] The "Normal" Timeline

The normal timeline is to submit early June. But what a lot of students don't know is that the first wave of applications don't go out to schools until mid to late June. So even if you submit early June, nothing's going to happen for another couple of weeks. So schools won't know that you've applied to their school. You're not going to get any secondaries back for several weeks. This is a good reason to submit early so you have time to write your secondaries before they come out.

"The first wave of applications don't go out to schools until mid to late June."

But once schools get your applications, secondaries come in, say beginning of July, assuming you're applying early. Then you take two to three weeks to return your secondaries. This would push you back to mid-July to late July. And that's when your application is considered complete. Your primaries are in. Your secondaries are in. Is your MCAT score in? That's the other big factor. Reason we say to take it as early as March, April, or May so your score is already in. That said, your application would be complete.

[03:43] What Could Happen When You Take the Test in July?

However, if you take the test in July, your score is not going to come back until roughly a month later, which is beginning or late of August. So what happens here is that the schools are going to sit on your application until that MCAT score is in. They can see based on the application that you have the score pending. So they're not going to look at your application until then.

So this is the biggest determinant when it comes to applications and how your MCAT timing can affect your application. Because medical school admissions is rolling, the sooner your application is submitted, the sooner you can get secondaries. The sooner you can submit secondaries, the sooner your scores are in. The sooner your application is complete, the sooner it's reviewed. The sooner you're invited for an interview, the sooner you're accepted. And this is why the MCAT timing matters.

"You've got to drive home that fact, as early as possible, which is why the MCAT score timing matters."

[04:48] Don't Undermine Your Grades or Your Score

In terms of the difference in MCAT score it would take for you to say pushing it back was worth it, I talk about how August is delayed. But in the grand scheme of things, August is still early.

My point, however, is the fact that they are rolling admissions. So every delay is going to affect you negatively. As to  how much, it's impossible to answer. It comes down to each student. Obviously, grades are still very important. So there's a huge balancing act.

"Don't undermine your grades just to take an early MCAT. Don't undermine your MCAT score just to take an earlier MCAT."

[06:33] Taking a Gap Year

The other thing to keep in mind is if you are delaying the MCAT a little bit, you're prepping for the MCAT but you're also doing the other things for the application. You need to write your essays, your extracurriculars, your secondaries. These can get in the way of your MCAT prep. So there's so many things to juggle.

This is another reason a lot of students are taking the gap year so they can take their MCAT during the gap year and they don't have to worry about anything else.

Bryan adds a gap year allows you to have the mental breathing space so you can focus on your grades. The GPA is the one big number that competes or beats the MCAT in importance. This gives you time to do more of resume-building even if you're just starting an internship or a job at the beginning of the summer. Then you can put that on the application for instance.

"For a lot of students, the gap year starts to sound like it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense."

[07:36] Our Verdict...

As to whether you should take it during the Spring or the Summer, there is no right answer for every body. You have to look at yourself. Look at your ability to stretch yourself. This could mean going with a little less sleep and sacrifice some nights out with friends and movies, etc. And focus 100% on school and MCAT.

Or do you know yourself that you know you're going to get burned out during that time? So it's best to delay for a little bit. This is a very common thing that we talk about in all our other podcasts. So do what works for you.

[08:40] Next Step Test Prep

If you're looking for MCAT full-length practice exams, Next Step Test Prep has you covered. Currently, they have ten full-length exams. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off. Register for their diagnostic test and you get the first full-length for free.


MedEd Media Network

The Premed Years Podcast

The OldPreMeds Podcast

Specialty Stories

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save 10% off.)

Oct 18, 2017
63: When Can I and When Should I Register for the MCAT?

Session 63

The MCAT registration opens up this year on October 18th. You need to be ready to sign up for a seat to make sure you can’t take the test when you want to!

This week, we talk about when you can and when you should register for the MCAT. MCAT scores came out recently for the last batch of students. And for students anxiously chomping at the bit for registering for next year (2018), that opens around mid-October.

Listen in as Bryan and I dish out what students should be doing right this minute, in preparation for registering for the exam as soon as possible.

Check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network and for some help with prepping for the MCAT, find out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.

[01:30] Register as Soon as You Can!

If you're looking to take the MCAT before registration has opened, all you can do is plan. But if you're planning to take the MCAT and it's possible to register, do it instantly. Do it as soon as you know.

[02:03] Know When to Take It

Think about the overarching study plan. For example, you're going to take the MCAT in April before you have your final exams (if you're in school). Or since you're working while prepping for the MCAT, you're going to take it roughly in July based on when your work schedule allows you to prepare.

So basically. have the idea of when you want to take it so that you know as soon as it's possible to register, you can hop in there right away.

The reason for this is that you don't want to get locked out of a location. You don't want to end up having to drive all the way across the state, or worse, fly somewhere to take the MCAT. So register early.

[02:48] New MCAT Administration

AAMC announced that they've switched their contractor (computer centers where you take the MCAT) from Prometric to Pearson. For students, that change should be largely transparent. This shouldn't mean anything for those students who have not yet registered for the MCAT.

[03:30] Geography Concerns

That said, there are some obvious changes. Prometric and Pearson are two different companies. They have locations in different places. In Arizona, where Bryan is, there's Prometric center that's just a ten-minute drive away. But now a Pearson is like a 30-40 minute drive. So there's a geography concern there.

[03:50] Change in Mechanics

The mechanics of how they administer the test will be very similar. But Bryan says that once they get reports from students, they might be able to find some little cosmetic differences. This could be in terms of check in procedures and so on.

[04:12] Keyboard Shortcuts Available

Moreover, there is an interesting announcement from AAMC and Pearson where they are going to offer keyboard shortcuts for navigating the test. However, they've been non-specific about what that means. There's no essay on the MCAT anymore so there's no need for Ctrl C or Ctrl V.

Bryan suspects that the new Pearson administration of the MCAT will let you hit the forward arrow or back arrow to navigate between questions.

The big concern students want to immediately know though is, does "keyboard shortcut" mean Ctrl F? Does it mean you can "find on page" keyboard shortcut? As in this time of recording, we don't have any answer yet. But Bryan is 99.9% sure that the answer is no.

The reason is that a substantive change like this would literally skew test results. The hallmark of standardized testing in the MCAT is no exception here. You don't change anything about the difficulty, content, or administration of the test that makes it any easier or harder.

So even though Pearson has announced some kind of nebulous keyboard shortcut fact, Bryan suspects it won't change much in terms of the experience of the test takers.

[05:55] Next Step Test Prep

Check out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer including full-length MCAT exams, an MCAT course with 100 hours of vidoes, ten live office hours every week, access to all of their practice exams and AAMC material, and so much more. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


MedEd Media Network

Next Step Test Prep

Oct 11, 2017
62: MCAT Prep On Any Budget (Should I Spend $3000??)

Session 62

I found a post on Twitter about a student claiming she needed to spend $3,000 on an MCAT test prep course to pass it. Do you really need to spend this much on MCAT prep? Bryan (of Next Step Test Prep) and I discuss that today. Also, check out all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[01:15] Do You Need $3,000 to Pass the MCAT?

I came across this tweet where somebody said that they found an MCAT program they needed to buy to make sure to pass. It was at $3,000 and they were freaking out about that. So I wanted to raise these two questions:

  1. Does someone have to spend $3,000 to pass the MCAT?
  2. What else can a student do to figure out other options?

Bryan explains that being able to prep on whatever your budget is part of Next Step Test Prep's mission. They want to provide quality guidance and quality prep to students at whichever point they are. The free bundle they give away is almost $400 worth of prep materials.

The idea that you would need $3,000 to pass the MCAT is 100% wrong. You don't need to spend that much to pass the MCAT.

"You don't even need to spend anywhere near $3,000 to have professional level prep."

[02:55] Level 1: The Student Ramen Noodle Level

First is the free level. If you're on that student ramen noodle budget and you don't have a ton of money to spend on prep, the absolute minimum required is the registration for the MCAT itself. It's about $300. It's significantly less expensive if you qualify for the the free assistance program.

If you have no other money to invest in prep, the Khan Academy is free. Their quality of prep material ranges from excellent to pretty good. It's the official partner of AAMC and it's free.

Next Step Test Prep has the free bundle. It includes a full-length of 500 questions, science content diagnostic, MCAT diagnostic, QBank, lesson videos, review videos - almost an entire $400-worth of stuff for free.

Of course, you also have this, The MCAT Podcast has tons of practice questions we read through every week.

[04:20] Level 2: The Self-Study-er

If you decide to be a self study-er, the first thing your purchase for $204 (as of this recording) is the Online Bundle from the AAMC. Go to the AAMC's website and look for the Online Bundle. This includes a whole bunch of real official practice material. It's a pretty nice discount for buying it all together. All the official online stuff you need for a couple hundred dollars.

Typically, what most students find is they need a little additional prep beyond that. This is where test prep companies come in such as Next Step Test Prep. Sign up for a free bundle. Make sure you like it. Then sign up for either $99 or $149. Sign up for one of their text packages to get the additional full-length practice you need.

You can also get a content review with the Khan Academy or pick up a set of Next Step content review books. This will run you another couple hundred dollars.

"What you really need to keep up with the Joneses on the MCAT prep is more like $300, not $3,000."

So Bryan pegs it $300 to about $600 to get the AAMC material and get your Next Step full-length practice tests. And then either borrow a set of books or use the Khan Academy. This is what he considers the "minimum" that most students would need.

[06:30] Level 3: Next Step Test Prep

However, for a lot of people, the self-study approach is not going to work for them. They need a class and the social support of classmates. They need live interaction with faculty members. And they want one-stop shopping. They don't want to have to go around a million different places to get everything. They want to only do one thing.

Even in this level, you don't spend $3,000. Well, you could go to companies out there that charge thousands of dollars for a class. But this would be silly since the Next Step class is only at $1,300. It is significantly less expensive and has literally everything you need. They have a bundle in the AAMC and on top of this, they have ten full-length practice tests. They have 70 hours of class videos. They have ten hours a week of live office-hour instruction. You get a six-month enrollment so that's equal to 250 live hours. You get videos, Qbank, tests - everything you could possibly need for your MCAT prep.

"For a lot of people, the self-study approach is not going to work for them."

[07:30] Next Step's Study Planning App

Most importantly, what sets Next Step apart from being $1,000 less than competition, is they have an industry exclusive study planning app. It allows you to get a customized study calendar based on your own calendar. Sign up for their class and you get a study planning tool that generates a calendar for you.

There are companies that do the study planning app but not test prep companies that are intimately familiar with all of the material of the whole MCAT process like Next Step is.

A lot of websites and apps out there do study planning but that's all they do. The upside is a lot of them are free. But the downside is that they're not really very user-friendly. You have to manually enter every book and test you're going to do. You have to manually answer the number of pages you're going to do everyday. They're not smart enough to know when Christmas is or the fourth of July. So there are a lot of problems with a lot of apps out there because they're more of the generic planning tools. While Next Step's app literally does one thing - it builds you your MCAT plan.

"Ours literally does one thing - builds you your MCAT plan."

[09:45] For Those Qualified in AAMC's Fee Assistance Program

Aligned with Next Step's mission, they see themselves as educators first. They recognize that this might be outside the budget range for some students. Bryan wants you to understand that if you qualify for the AAMC's fee assistance program, they will essentially honor that. They give you their course for half off.

Next Step wants to make sure that students are not locked out of the opportunity to take a class just because of those budget concerns. Again,

"As part of AAMC's FAP program, you can get their course for practically less than a set of books and tests for another company."

[10:48] What's Worth $3,000?

Finally, Bryan wants to address the $3,000 price point. What is actually worth $3,000? It's not a group course. You don't go to a prep company and give them $3,000 for a group course. If spend that much, you deserve the absolute premium service, which is one-on-on coaching - not you and 20 people. Just you and the expert.

At Next Step, their 24-hour comprehensive plan is $2,899. Even that is slightly less than $3,000. But more realistically, what you need is just about $1,300 for their course.

[12:00] Last Thoughts

No, you don't need to spend $3,000 for an MCAT course. Next Step Test Prep has their course at $1,300. This includes access to all of their practice tests, AAMC materials, books, etc. If you really want to spend $3,000, you can already get a one-on-one tutoring from Next Step. To save even more money off their services, use MCATPOD upon checkout.

"Don't think you have to spend $3,00 for a course which isn't going to cater directly to you."


Next Step Test Prep

MedEd Media Network

Khan Academy - MCAT

AAMC's fee assistance program

Oct 04, 2017
61: Is the MCAT Getting Harder?

Session 61

A common question we get is if the MCAT is getting harder with the new iterations. We’ll discuss what you as a premed need to understand to do well.

The MCAT Podcast is part of the MedEd Media Network. If you're a nontraditional student, check out The Premed Years Podcast episode this week where I talked to Dr. Glenn Cummings, the Associate Dean and Director of Bryn Mawr College's Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program.

Thank you for joining me and Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep today, as we discuss whether the MCAT is really getting harder or not. A common thing I see on many social media posts and even emails is people walking out of the MCAT just totally destroyed. They think it's the hardest thing they've ever seen. They think it's so much harder than the practice test.

[02:00] Is the MCAT Getting Harder?

As Bryan explains it, the MCAT changed back in 2015. It was that cycle when it felt like the AAMC was "finding their feet" with the new format. And then we have the 2016 season and finally finishing the 2017 season. One of the things students often comment on is how it feels so hard and harder even than last year or the year before.

And Bryan answers this with both a yes and a no.

[03:06]  The Yes Part of the Answer -  An Alphabet Soup

Bryan mentions this one piece of feedback from students is that the passages feel very much more like complex. He calls it like numbering letter abbreviations for enzyme names, protein names, and pathways. So whenever you get a real, complicated, primary research journal article like the passage, there's a lot of alphabet soup in the passage. It's a lot of letters and numbers for genes and transcripts.

Although students tend to panic, this assessment is basically true. The AAMC made it clear that there's an emphasis on the ability to get through a reading passage from taken from an actual primary research journal. And not from a textbook, a summary, or a lab guide. So the article is cut down into an MCAT passage.

"This part is super intimidating and this part can be hard."

[04:23] The No Part of the Answer

Bryan illustrates two things in the MCAT that haven't changed at all. First, the questions haven't changed in terms of the difficulty level, the depth of analysis, the breadth of content required.

On the one hand, you have this intimidating passage and alphabet soup everywhere and crazy figures you have to analyze. This can throw some people off their game.

But then when you get to the questions, they're asking the same straightforward stuff. They're asking for the same one or two-step analysis. They're asking for the same basic process of looking at a figure, looking at the text, and drawing an inference. If you're familiar with what an MCAT question looks like, it hasn't changed at all.

"Even though the passages seem crazy, the questions are basically the same."

[05:20] Equated, Not Curved

Remember that the MCAT is not a curved test like in your college classes. Instead, they're equated. The AAMC essentially does a "curving" against the difficulty of the test form across 20,000 test takers. And it's not curved against the 20 kids in the room.

Bryan explains what this means on a nationwide level. Assuming that any two or three-year period and the pool of premeds doesn't change much, it can't get any harder. 500 has to be an average MCAT score for your average premed year after year. And the kind of slow migration that might happen over ten or twenty years in the student base is not going to matter for you, listeners, because you'd only care about the students one year before and one year after that. So there's not much change on that kind of time scale.

"Yes, it looks harder. But objectively, no. Because you're competing against the same people and the questions are the same."

[06:55] Reading Scientific Journals

I want to add that those types of passages are so hard to read. Even as a physician, reading journals is hard because they're written in a very scientific way. There's actually big move in the scientific community to get out of that trend and start writing journal articles in a way that more people can readily read them and understand them.

Bryan recalls writing his thesis on microbiology during his undergrad and he was so proud of his draft after working on it for a year. And when it got back from his adviser, the whole thing had more red text than black. It's that weird, abstract, journal-like language.

"Almost studying that style of writing is its own field of study."

[08:05] Other MCAT Sections

The CARS (Verbal) is not getting any harder. The bad news is it's always a bear. For Psychology/Sociology, the AAMC is treating this section as really intensive memorization. It's broadly based.

Every time the MCAT is administered, students comment on being asked a random theory they've never heard of. They checked ten different MCAT books and no one had it on their index. This feedback is common. But the takeaway for this section of the MCAT is to allocate the time you need to memorize everything in Psych/Soc. Memorize every keyword, every famous name, every famous theory.

"There's no way getting around it if you don't know who Mead is."

[09:22] A Qbank is Not Enough

The other piece of common feedback which especially came up this year is that students are starting to get overly confident now that the AAMC has finally released a good amount of prep material. When the test was new, we knew so little about it. But now, we have a bunch of practice tests and the section bank. So students think just taking the AAMC section bank is enough.

"You can't assume any one Qbank is going to exactly tell you what's on the test."

Just because one test or the AAMC section bank happens to be light in Physics doesn't mean you can blow it off. You really have to start from a broad-based review of everything that's on the MCAT.

[10:34] It's Not the Same for Everybody

The same goes for hearing your friend's perspectives as they walk out of the MCAT. What they had on their test might not be what you have on your test.

Bryan adds that in the three seasons of the MCAT, the only one consistent point from literally everybody is, amino acids are important. That's it. Other than that, one student would complain about so much physiology and digestive or what not while the next student would say they didn't get any physiology on his whole test.

"You can never just rely on these single accounts of what people have seen."

[11:11] Next Step Test Prep

Stay tuned for next week's episode as Bryan and I discuss a topic around a tweet I've read on whether or not you really need to spend $3,000 for MCAT prep. Join us next week here on the podcast. Don't forget to subscribe.

Lastly, check out Next Step Test Prep. Their one-on-one tutoring is tailored to what you specifically need in the time frame you need. They also have an online class with over 100 video hours as well as access to all their practice tests, AAMC material, to all of their books, and ten live office hours every week. Priced at only $1,300. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on all of their services.


MedEd Media

PMY 253: Almost Everything You Need to Know About Postbac Programs

Sep 27, 2017
60: Breaking Down a Grab Bag of Science Questions for the MCAT

Session 60

Today, we're diving into discrete MCAT questions from various subjects. Follow along and have a listen. Don't forget to subscribe and tell your friends.

Last week, I and Bryan of Next Step Test Prep talked about this last week. Even something like Physics can touch all these other disciplines. So it's great to also do a grab bag and do a whole bunch of different disciplines in the sciences to practice that quick shifting of mental gears that the MCAT demands.

Please listen to all our other podcasts on MedEd Media.

[01:46] Physics Question

Question #30: The transition from a vapor phase directly to a solid form is known as:

  • (A) Condensation
  • (B) Freezing
  • (C) Sublimation
  • (D) Deposition


Sublimation is from solid to gas. A classic example of this is dry ice. This one going from a vapor to solid is deposition. You deposit down onto a solid.

Condensation is vapor into a liquid like drinking ice into a hot day or the morning due. And obviously, freezing is from liquid to solid.

[02:49] Biology Question

A researcher analyzing a genome measures the cytosine composition of 19%. What is the expected adenine composition of this genome?


The C and A have to add up to 50% because the G and T will add up to the other 50%. So you get to an answer of 31%.

Many months ago, we handled a tricky question because it was only a single-stranded DNA segment. So you always have to be careful. This question said the whole genome so it means it's double stranded. This said, you can do the math we just did above.

[04:00] pH Question

Question #47: The gastric juices in the stomach have a pH of approximately 2. What is the hydroxide ion concentration in this solution?

  • (A) 0 molarity
  • (B) 10 to the minus 2nd molarity
  • (C) 10 to the minus 7th molarity
  • (D) 10 to the minus 12th molarity


The MCAT is going to expect you to remember the pH equation. pH is the negative log of the H concentration. You want to remember that the shortcut when you're doing this pH or negative log problems. You take the exponent on the 10 and bring it down and get rid of the negative sign.

So for 10 to the minus 7, the negative log of that is just 7. Take the minus 7 and bring it down and just get rid of the minus sign. So if your H concentration was 10 to the minus 7, that's a pH 7 solution.

In this case, the gastric juice have a pH of 2. This means that the H concentration is 10 to the minus 2. But remember to answer the exact question they ask. They didn't ask for the proton or the H concentration. They specifically asked for the hydroxide ion. Remember that the hydroxide ion is OH minus. So it's kind of the converse of the acid.

If you have a 10 to the minus 2 of your acid concentration, they have to multiply out to ten to the minus 14. Your acid times your base has to get you to 10 to the minus 14. Your pH plus your pOH has to add up to 14.

In this case, if you're going really quick and rushing, you would be led to the wrong answer choice (B). Because it's not the answer to this question. The questions asks about the hydroxide ion, not hydronium ion. Hydroxide ion is answer choice (D).

[06:28] Just Answer the Question Asked

This is a very common extra little trick that when you're doing acid-base chemistry, make sure you solve for the acid or the base. Answer what they actually ask you for rather than just the first thing you calculated.

Bryan who has been doing this for sixteen years, he would still sometimes be working with a student and make a mistake. Then they both get all twisted around. So even while working together, they get confused on a problem. They stop, take a breath. And just realize, that you just need to answer the question they asked.

[08:25] Physics Question

An unknown fluid has a specific gravity of 0.75. What is the volume of 22.5 kg of this fluid?

  • (A) 10 liters
  • (B) 20 liters
  • (C) 30 liters
  • (D) 40 liters


The right answer here is 30 liters. But just be careful and don't fall for the trap of just going right to this or that number. Always be attentive to every MCAT question. Be careful but don't assume they're out to trick you. Assume that they're just asking you exactly what they asked you.

So specific gravity 0.75. If you know what specific gravity is, that is essential. They give you a mass and they want you to convert to the volume. You have to walk into the test knowing the specific gravity of water (this is by definition) which is 1. And water has density of 1 gram per ml or gram per cubic centimeter. Or it has a density of 1 kg per liter. These are all facts you have to walk into the test knowing.

In this question, you see 22.5 kg and you would go 22.5 liters of water. That is your baseline answer. But this fluid only has a specific gravity of 0.75. It is less dense than water. And if it's less dense, it takes up more space. That said, your answer has to be bigger than 22.5. So it has to be 30 or 40. But 0.75 is still pretty close to 1. It's not like you have to double it up to 40.

Without even doing any math, just using your gut instinct to it, 30 is the right answer. And it turns out the math is actually really simple since you just divide the numbers. 22.5 divided by 0.75 gives you 30 and this is the right answer.

[11:20] Use Your Imagination

You can do the whole unit conversion. But Bryan is much more a fan of physics in a way that you just imagine or think through whether it's a big or small number or does it get bigger or smaller. Is it something heavy or light? Throw the object straight up in the air and have a fall right down. It's a matter of using your imagination a little bit on the MCAT.

[12:18] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep on their products and services to help you on your MCAT journey. There are lots of ways to prep for the MCAT like a do-it-yourself course or a live online course. Get a tutor or go through a summer intensive. There are books and full-length practice exams that you can look at too to help you on your journey. Next Step Test Prep offers all of these. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money off their offerings.


Next Step Test Prep

MedEd Media

Sep 20, 2017
59: Breaking Down Physics Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 59

Physics on the MCAT is hard for a lot of students. Today, we'll go over some physics discrete questions and break down each of them to give you a head start.

Check out all our other podcasts at MedEd Media Network.

[01:03] Diving into Physics

Physics was my favorite subject as a premed. And it's Bryan's favorite to teach but as an MCAT student himself, he was indifferent to it. Nevertheless, what he loves about physics is being able to do problems that are grounded in the "real world" so to speak.

[02:55] The Doppler Effect

Question 16: A scientist uses and ultrasound device mounted to a vehicle to measure fluid flow underground. The device makes use of the Doppler effect to track fluid movement in the water table. Which of the following scenarios is most likely to produce a readable Doppler shift?

  • (I) The fluid is flowing at a velocity twice that of the sound-emitting device in the same direction as the device is moving.
  • (II) The fluid is flowing at the same velocity and in the same direction as the sound-emitting device.
  • (III) The fluid is not moving at all.

Thinking points:

The example usually uses the ambulance where it's high-pitched coming towards you. Then as soon as it moves past you, it becomes low-pitched. The sound is a wave and when the vehicle is moving towards you, the high points of the wave or the low points gets all crunched up. With a shorter wavelength, the frequency is higher which the human brain perceives it as a higher pitch.

If we relate this to the question here, the sound is going in the same direction the ambulance is going and coming at you. Bryan says, imagine two cars driving in the same direction at 40 miles an hour. Relative to each other, they're not moving at all. So there's not going to be a Doppler shift if everybody is flowing in the same direction at the same speed. So (II) is out which lets us eliminate choices (C) and (D).

That said, (III) doesn't make sense since you need that movement to have that Doppler effect so the correct answer here is (1).

[06:12] A Sensation Question

Question 18: Presbyopia is diagnosed when the lens of the eye focuses incoming light rays to a position between the retina and the choroid. Which type of lens should be placed in front of the eye to focus light on the retina and correct this condition.

  • (A) Flat
  • (B) Spherical
  • (C) Diverging
  • (D) Converging

Thinking points:

Answer choice (A) is out since it's just a window. It wouldn't do anything to where the focal point is.

Both (C) and (D) could be spherical lenses so (B) doesn't directly answer the question.

In the case of myopia, the light rays are getting focused together soon before you even make it to the retina. So you fix that with a diverging lens. So the right answer here is (D).

Note: You actually want to walk in with this fact already in your head. Myopia is nearsightedness corrected with a diverging lens and presbyopia or farsightedness is corrected with a converging lens.

[10:16] Total Internal Reflection

Question 19: Light inside the thin glass tube of a laparoscopic surgical device strikes the edge of the glass tube and is entirely reflected back into the tube with none of the light exiting to the surrounding medium. Which of the following must be true?

  • (A) Theta incident is 90 degrees.
  • (B) Theta incident is zero degrees.
  • (C) Theta incident is greater than or equal to the theta critical value.
  • (D) Theta refracted value is equal to theta incident.

Thinking points:

The phenomenon here is called Total Internal Reflection - light striking the inside of the glass tube and reflecting inside the tube itself. This is the entire basis of fiber optics. In order to get total internal reflection, the key issue is that every medium (glass, water, plastic, etc.) has a certain critical angle.

The nice thing about the MCAT is you can get full credit for partial knowledge. If critical angle was the only thing you remembered about fiber optics, then you'd probably choose answer choice (C). And this is the right answer. The rest of the answers do not give any relationship relative to the critical angle. So just remembering that fact is enough to get you the right answer.

[12:30] Radiation Question

Question 31: A certain type of tissue is sensitive to radiation with damage the tissue receives directly proportional to charge on the radiating particle. Which of the following radiation types will cost the least damage?

  • (A) Gamma
  • (B) Positron
  • (C) Beta
  • (D) Alpha

Thinking points:

This question has a recall element to it where you have to know the charges of all the physics particles. Specifically, since you want the least damaged, you want the least charged. So you should obviously walk into the test knowing that an alpha particle has a charge of +2, a beta particle has a charge of either +/- 1 depending on the type of beta particle. A position is just a beta plus charge or it's +!. And finally, the right answer of the question is (A) gamma because it's a very high energy photon so it has no charge at all.

[14:14] Final Thoughts

Even on physics, it seems to be the most independent of the sciences. It doesn't tie into biochem or chem. But there is still this kind of clinical, biological lab-based lens. So you know that even if it's as abstract as physics, you've got to be able to think about it through the lens of the biological sciences.

[15:00] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep and avail of their one-on-one tutoring. Or you can take a self-paced course where they have 100+ hours of videos, live office hours five times a week, and access to their books, full-length tests, and more - all at a very reasonable price. So much value with such a small price tag compared with the other test prep companies. Get to save some money using the promo code MCATPOD at checkout.


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Sep 13, 2017
58: How Do I Know if I Should Void the MCAT?

Session 58

A lot of students plan on going into the MCAT ready to void it, some think about voiding it during the test. We discuss when you should actually void the MCAT.

This podcast is a collaboration with Next Step Test Prep to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day.

[01:44] What Is Voiding?

When you take the MCAT, sit in the testing center, and you void it, that test doesn't get recorded. It still counts as a take for how many MCAT tests you can take in a year or in a lifetime. The different sections are for the AAMC. But it doesn't get recorded.

Bryan further explains that when you think about a void, it essentially never happened. Nobody gets to know it happened except in two places. First, your checkbook. Well, you have to pay for the test. So voiding it means several hundred dollars you never get back. And there are limits. So you can take the MCAT three times in a year or at most four times in any two years. Or a lifetime limit of seven. So even if you void, that counts towards one of your lifetime seven limit.

[02:57] Using the Actual MCAT as a Practice Test

There are students that purposefully go into a test knowing they're going to void it. Bryan thinks this is a ludicrously overpriced practice test. If somebody said to you they'd give you a practice exam but it's going to cost you $300 or whatever, would you ever buy it? Of course, not. You can actually reschedule and push it back so you don't have to have this void on your record. You would not have wasted $300 on what is functionally a practice exam. This just strikes him as the height of silliness.

However, there is now a window for rescheduling in the test which has a cutoff date. I had a student who wanted to reschedule and she missed the window to reschedule. So she had to either take the test or not show up. So she was in a situation where I said go take it but void it because she was not ready to take it.

It's almost barely a week or two before the test where you could still recoup some of the cost and reschedule your exam. But if you literally realize the day before the test that you're not ready, of course you could go in, take it and void it just for practice.

"You know within two or three weeks until the exam if you're on track and ready to roll."

Go back and listen to Episode 40 where we talked about the last minute tips for the MCAT including those last three weeks or so before your test date. This will help you have a feeling on where you should be.

[05:08] Considering Voiding in the Middle of Test Day

The mechanics of voiding it is that it's done at the end of the day. If you're going to leave in the middle of the test, they're going to score your test. So to void the exam, you have to get to it all the way up to the end. There will be a question whether you want your exam voided or not. If you don't answer it, the timer will run out after five minutes and your exam will be scored.

"Voiding is a very specific conscious choice you have to make. And they will even ask you to confirm twice."

Bryan's rule of thumb here is that if you're even asking yourself the question whether you should void your exam, the answer is no. But if the question you're asking yourself is when you can void the exam, then go ahead and void it. The reason is because premeds who are used to getting straight A's. There's a certain touch of neuroticism there. They can tend to have that OCD where they have to get everything right.

It's been Bryan's experience with the hundreds of tutoring students and thousands of classroom students he has worked with over the years. People walk out of the test feeling so knocked out. But you can't make the judgment based on some subjective feeling that it didn't go well. Nobody feels like it went well.

"There's no correlation between your subjective perception of how it went and your objective performance."

It's okay if you left three or four questions blank. But if it's two entire passages with about eleven or twelve questions blank, that's when you start saying it was abnormal for you. Or if you have that moment in the middle of the test where this realization just hits you that you're nowhere near where you need to be, then go ahead and void your score.

[10:30] Taking Full-Length Under Real Practice Conditions

I think this would happen mostly to students who don't take a full length under real practice conditions. They take the different sections and they do well in them. But the first time they actually sit down for seven and a half hours is the real test day. That just destroys them.

Did you actually take them under real test-like conditions? Did you sit your butt in the seat for seven hours? So if you're in the middle of a full test day and realize you needed to do this a bunch for practice and you haven't then it's time to void and retake.

[11:30] Final Thoughts

Don't go into the test wanting to void. When you're in the middle of the test, if you're asking yourself should you void, it's probably not the best idea to void. But if you're asking why you're actually there and you're nowhere near prepared then go ahead and hit that void in the end.

Finally, check out Next Step Test Prep. They offer premiere one-on-one tutoring service for the MCAT. You get a two to three-month custom study plan, the pretest diagnostic, content review books, strategy and practice books, CARS passage book, and more. You also get all of their full-length exams. All this for $400 more than a live online course. So it's like paying $17 an hour extra for those. Get a tutor who can help you cater your studying plan to your specific needs, not to the class average. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


MP 40: Last Minute MCAT Tips Leading Up to Test Day

Next Step Test Prep (Promo Code: MCATPOD)

Sep 06, 2017
57: Do Medical Schools Superscore the MCAT for Multiple Attempts?

Session 57

Join me, Dr. Ryan Gray, and Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep as we dive into the forums over at the Also, take a listen to all our other podcasts on the MedEd Media Network.

Today, we talk about how medical schools are going to look at multiple MCAT scores? If you are familiar with the SAT, then you know that your best score is a combination of multiple tests. Do medical schools do the same for MCAT retakes?

If you are taking the MCAT for a second or third time, this is a good one for you. If this is your first time taking the MCAT, you should listen to this one too (just in case you have to take it again.)

[01:21] How Medical Schools View Multiple Scores

Bryan thinks it's just par for the course for the college kids now. I think where the biggest confusion comes from is that students take the SAT and think they can take it ten times. Then they take the highest score from those ten takes and that will their SAT score.That's the rule and sort of the standard.

But when it comes to MCAT, it's not that way. Bryan adds that when it comes to the MCAT, all of your scores are reported to the med schools. This is every single time you've taken the MCAT except if you void your score. Voiding is not reported to med schools.

So all of your schools are reported. What medical schools are going to do with multiple scores is whatever they well please. There is no rule that they have to follow. It's not like there is an AAMC mandate to do with multiple MCAT scores. So they're just going to see all of them and take the most recent or the highest. If they're looking for a reason to reject you, they take the lowest. They can actually do whatever they want.

[03:27] When You're Considering to Retake

When you're thinking about retakes, for instance, if you have a score right on the edge, say your goal is a 508 and you got a 507, they're always going to get to see that 507. It doesn't go away. It doesn't get super scored with anything else. So if you're going to take it again, you've got to make sure that second score is significantly higher so that you're showing the school that you're not just diddling around and not taking the MCAT seriously.

[04:10] Behind-the-Scenes in the TMDSAS Application

I did an episode on The Premed Years Podcast where I talked to the people behind the Texas application. They gave a little behind-the-scenes on how the information is portrayed to the medical schools. Every single data point that gets entered into your application gets sent to the medical school. And the medical school has their own software and their own filters to look at that information however they want to look at it.

Think of an Excel sheet and your MCAT scores are all lined up there. There's four different columns for your different sections and fifth column for your total score. They may sort by total score and look at the highest one and say that's great. Or they may take your scores and have another column that takes the average of those scores. Or they may have some algorithm that looks at those different sections and consider the whole idea of the superscore. There are some medical schools that have said they do a superscore based on the information that comes to them. But those are few and far between. Based on the information I've seen from the premed advisor world is that most schools look at your highest score. Bryan clarifies they take the highest overall score then whatever subsection scores came with that higher score, those are your subsections as well.

[05:50] Looking at Your Most Recent Score and Trends

A premed advisor put together a list of 34 MD schools and 3 DO schools. There are a lot of highest scores but there are a lot of most recent scores as well. So you always have to second guess when you get that score. Do you really want to retake it? Because it's that most recent score that they're going to look at.

Bryan adds that in the end, that's proprietary to that med school. They don't have to justify their algorithm to anybody. They can do whatever they please. Additionally, some of them also look at your most recent plus your trends. So if you've got a 510 and wanted a 520, you had to retake it and you got a 508, it's still a great score but now you have a negative trend.

[06:55] Looking at Your Judgment

When we talk to advisors at these premed conferences, they are considering the judgment that you display in taking or retaking.And if you say you thought your score was superscored and didn't realize then that shows you didn't do the research for how multiple scores are treated. Medical schools want to see that you're a serious student who understood the MCAT, took it seriously, and did it right the first time, or at most, the second time. So this would show you're not displaying some poor judgment.

[07:35] Final Thoughts

Check out everything that Next Step Test Prep has to offer specifically practice tests. If you're taking practice tests or if you aren't taking practice tests yet, check out the MCAT practice test bundles Next Step offers. You can buy MCAT full-length exams for a low price. It's the best way of prepping for the MCAT. Take those exams. Review your answers, both right and wrong answers. So you can improve and get a better score each time. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


The Premed Years Podcast Episode 245: Why Does Texas Have Its Own App and More TMDSAS Questions

MedEd Media

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD)

Aug 30, 2017
56: The Anatomy of an MCAT Question and How to Break it Down

Session 56

This week, we discuss the anatomy of the MCAT question and how to systematically go through a question to maximize your chance of getting it right. We talked about dealing with passages in the past but we haven't really talked about dissecting the question itself.

Bryan says that at Next Step Test Prep, they're a fan of not having a whole lot of jargon or the seventeen-step method for analyzing the question. The notion is all of your attention and all your focus in mental energy should be on the actual content of the question itself. So they don't have a method for answering the questions. But what they have is a mental rhythm that you go through whenever answering basically any MCAT question.

[02:22]  Read and Rephrase

Of course, the first thing to do is read the question. This is a logical thing to discuss considering a lot of students are taught that they should read the answers first. Then go to the question so you know what you're looking for. These are tips for the exams we take in junior high and high school. But they're so different from the MCAT. So you want to get rid of all those bad habits.

After reading the question, take a breath. Pause for just a moment. Ask yourself the question of what are they really asking here. Or what are you doing with this question? The rhythm most people have thoughtlessly is they read the question. The start plowing through the answer choices and go right back to the passage. But they don't just ask themselves what's asked of them to do. What was the question itself?

After working with hundreds of tutoring students, Bryan can't tell you how many tens of thousands of times over his career to watch the student flail around the question. The got themselves so twisted up in the answer choices. They're so twisted up in the passage that they completely lost sight of what they're doing. So you need to read and rephrase. In your own words, what are you doing here?

[04:39] Research, Then Predict or Eliminate

Once you've taken that mental breath, do whatever the research is that you need to do.It could be our outside knowledge. It could be math on the scratch paper. Basically, you crank through the solution of the problem. Then go and check the answer choices. See which one fits the idea in your head.

Bryan cites a dichotomy here where you can do a predicting approach. You read the question and rephrase in your own terms. Then you come up in advance with, "I'm looking for xyz." Then you go look for it among the answer choices. Or you can directly go the process of elimination. Dive right into the answer choices and start crossing them off. Neither one of these is inherently better. They both have strengths and weaknesses in predicting or doing the process of elimination. So you just have to try it and figure out what works best for you.

[06:25] Spotting Out Extreme Answers

This is a very common thing especially in the CARS section. What students are looking for in terms of extreme answers (which are less likely to be write) is those big categorical words. Examples of these words are always, never, only, must. Another example is when they phrase things as if it was a certain fact. For example, x will be found to have increased y. Rather than saying would or might or maybe, if you categorically say is or will, that often ends up being too extreme for the right answer.

[07:33] “I'm Down to Two Choices”

Bryan recommends that if you ever run into trouble while you're answering the question, like you get it down to the classic "down to two" syndrome, follow this. First, reread the question. If you got it down to two and you really can't figure out the right answer, it doesn't mean both are good choices. There's only one good choice. So rather than going back and rereading all four answer choices or reading the whole passage, just reread the question. Rephrase it. Make sure you understood what the goal was. Then reconsider those two answer choices.

Listen to our other podcasts at MedEd Media. Check out The Premed Years Podcast, The OldPreMeds Podcast, and Specialty Stories Podcast.


MedEd Media

Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Years Podcast

The OldPreMeds Podcast

Specialty Stories Podcast

Aug 23, 2017
55: How to Best Use Flashcards to Study for the MCAT

Session 55

Flashcards are a great tool to have for all your studying needs. Bryan and I discuss how to use flashcards for the MCAT to maximize your study time!  Also check out our other podcasts over at including The Premed Years Podcast, Specialty Stories, The OldPreMeds Podcast, and much more.

[01:31] Buying Them versus Making Them

Flashcards are one of the most popular study tools out there. There are lots of different options and the first biggest consideration is whether you should buy them or make them.

Bryan says he's contractually required as a teacher to say it's always better to make your own. The act of making your own flashcards really helps solidify it. And sometimes just the act of making them helps you learn the material better than just having the flashcards.

[02:57] Paper Flashcards versus Digital Flashcards

The AAMC sells flashcards. For $10, you can buy flashcards direct from the AAMC. But you want to be real clear on what that is. The fact it's an official AAMC prep product means a lot of people are just going to buy it without checking it first. But the AAMC flashcards are little 3 x 5 cards. A science discrete question is printed on one side and the answer is printed on the other side. If what you want is a hundred discrete science questions, go ahead and buy the card deck. But spending $10 for a hundred discrete science questions, Bryan says, is a pretty bad deal. For $30, you can already get 2,000 science questions from something like the Next Step MCAT QBook.

So Bryan warns you to not be fooled in the sense that the AAMC is not a series of science flashcards like you'd normally think of. You can go to one of the big publishing companies like the Barron's MCAT Flashcards you can pick up at Barnes and Noble. However, Bryan doesn't recommend them. In fact, the ones you can have on your phone are much better. But if you have an old-fashioned study style, then the print flashcards from Barron's are totally fine.

[04:50] AAMC Flashcards versus Digital Flashcards

When you think about how people would study with flashcards, they're meant for learning, drilling, and repeating content. For example, one side says "List all the hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary and then the other side of the flashcard lists the answers. It's about drilling science facts, not practicing questions and passages and strategies. So it struck Bryan as really weird when the AAMC says they're offering flash cards. He was totally psyched. But what we got instead is this weird little collection of practice problems. But that's what you're doing an online Q bank for.

Why Bryan prefers the digital flashcards is the idea of spaced repetition as a learning technique. What a good flashcard app will do is provide you with a spaced repetition algorithm. The underlying idea is if it's something you're good at, you should repeat it very rarely. And if it's something you're bad at or you're still trying to master, you should repeat it more frequently.

[06:35] Brainscape and Anki Apps

Brainscape is the company that Next Step Test Prep partners with. They have an app that will show you your MCAT flashcards. Then as you answer each question on each flashcard, you push a little button in half a second. Rate it from one to five. Five is where you perfectly know the card and one is you've gotten it completely wrong. As you cycle through the cards, the app is smart enough to show you any card you rated one, two, or three more frequently. Then the three's and four's are shown less frequently and the five's even less. So if you just sit down and keep turning on these flashcards until you've turned all of them from one to three ratings to five's then you really know that you've mastered the content.

Another hugely popular option is the AnkiApp, a flashcard display algorithm. It doesn't provide you with the complete flashcards itself. So you can download Anki and make your own flashcards which is the best.  Or they have this built-in function to share decks of flashcards with each other. You can look around online and find someone else's deck of MCAT flashcards. But be careful since you're relying on the quality created by other users. It's a free app but you have the option to upgrade to the premium version if you like.

[09:03] When to Start Using Flashcards

If you're thinking of being premed, then start using flashcard app style of studying your facts as early as freshman year of college. This makes sure all of the content you're learning just doesn't just disappear out of your head the second you take your exam. Because then when you get around your MCAT when you're junior in college, much more of it will have been stuck in your head.

Bryan recalls being second year of college. He was taking a class and the professor asked a question that brought up a point. He remembers raising his hand and bringing up something from the previous course. The professor got shocked since he never had a student bring up something from last semester's class before. It's depressing everyone just immediately forgets everything after the final exam. Unfortunately, this really hurts you when the MCAT rolls around. So the sooner you can start learning on a permanent basis, the better.


Next Step Test Prep

Next Step MCAT QBook



Barron's MCAT Flashcards

Aug 16, 2017
54: Looking at MCAT Amino Acid Questions

Session 54

Amino acids should be like the air you breathe for the MCAT. You just don't think about it. We'll cover some questions today to help you with that. We've discussed it before that every single premed student walking into the test center for the MCAT should be able to draw out all of the amino acids. They should know their one or three-letter abbreviations and everything else.

Thanks for listening to this show. Also listen to all our other podcasts on MedEd Media Network.

[01:50] Proline Question

Question 16: A particular oncogene product has an unusually high number of proline residues. These residues:

  • (A) Aid in the formation of alpha helices
  • (B) Are more likely to be found throughout beta-pleated sheets
  • (C) Aid only in the formation of antiparallel beta-pleated sheets
  • (D) Are more likely to be found in turn regions of the protein

Bryan's Insights:

When it comes to amino acids, Bryan says there are a few rockstars. They are hugely important because of how different they are. Two of which are glycine and proline. Glycine has a side chain with only one hydrogen. It's the only achiral amino acid. So glycine is special in that regard. Proline is special because its side chain connects to its own amino in the amino acid part. It has this weird little looped structure. So one is so tiny and proline has this weird, rigid self attachment structure. As a result, neither glycine or proline tends to play nice when it comes to secondary structure (alpha and beta) particularly proline. Proline is the combo breaker on your alpha and beta structures.

A turn region in the protein is a loose, unstructured region where the amino acids are not locked into an alpha or beta structure. If proline is going to show up, it's going to be like it's breaking the alpha and beta sequence into a more unstructured, turn region. So the right answer here is (D).

[03:47] Proteins in a Membrane-Spanning Domain

Question 26: Which of the following segments of amino acids would be most likely to be found in the membrane-spanning domain of the sodium channel in a nerve axon? (The choices are one-letter abbreviations.)

  • (A) DDR
  • (B) EVE
  • (C) LAD
  • (D) LIV

Bryan's Insights:

Remember that the inside of a plasma membrane is nonpolar. The outside phase and the inside phase are polar because they're facing the water. But within the membrane itself is nonpolar. So we need nonpolar amino acids.

Fortunately, Bryan thinks the test writers here were kind enough to have three of the answer choices include either D or E. Remember that aspartate and glutamate, DNA respectively, are charged amino acids. They have a full-negative charge on them in the body. And you don't want to put a charge in ion inside the middle of a cell membrane. But you want to have nonpolar amino acids that can fit with a nonpolar environment or surrounding here. So cross out all the first three answers here.

Then you say that nonpolar amino acids in a membrane-spanning domain, that's going to be LIV. These are all nonpolar so they would fit for the membrane-spanning domain of any protein.

Bryan goes on to explain the typical areas in the body where you don't want any charges in them. On the insides of a globular protein, you want the polar guys pointing out towards the water. This is in the case of a protein floating around in the cytoplasm or floating around in the blood. So the inside of a globular protein would be nonpolar and the inside of the cell membrane would be nonpolar.

[06:34] Positive and Negative Charges

Question 47: Assuming all other conditions are equal, which of the following amino acids is expected to have the most positive charge at physiological pH?

  • (A) ARG
  • (B) MET
  • (C) ASN
  • (D) ASP

Bryan's Insights:

This is a quick recall question. You've got to know your positive amino acids. Lysine and Arginine are your two positive amino acids at physiological pH. Lysine is not in the answer choice here but Arginine (ARG) is. Histidine is a switch hitter but it generally gets lumped in as a positive under physiological pH. Back to the answer choices, ARG is positive. MET and ASN are neutral, and ASP is negative. So the answer here is (A).

[07:33] Things to Remember About Amino Acids

The last question discussed above is a chemical property category. Every amino acid needs to have a label on it. That label will either read positively charged or negatively charged or polar or nonpolar. One of those four labels applies to every amino acid. What you need for the MCAT is to be able to put a label on it, draw it and know its names and abbreviations.

[08:28] Next Step Test Prep

As you're preparing for your MCAT, one of the best things you can do is take practice tests. Next Step Test Prep has ten full-length practice tests for you. The goal of the practice test is not to take as many as possible. But you need to take them and review them. Take your practice tests with Next Step and get ten full-lengths for a great price. Save some money using the promo code MCATPOD at checkout.


MedEd Media Network

Next Step Test Prep

Aug 09, 2017
53: How Will an Unbalanced MCAT Score Affect Me?

Session 53

If you're like many MCAT takers, your section scores are unbalanced. Learn how that might affect your medical school application.

Check out our other podcasts at MedEd Media as well as Next Step Test Prep's one-on-one tutoring. They can help you score the best that you can score, not just based on the average of the class. Go check out everything Next Step has to offer and use the promo code MCATPOD.

[01:13] How Unbalanced Is Your MCAT Score?

Another aspect of students that I get an email from every now and then is a good overall score of, say, 5.6, 5.7, or 5.9. However, it's a very unbalanced score. Their sciences are 130's but their CARS is at 123.

Bryan has just heard back from one of his own tutoring students who had an initial diagnostic score of around 495-497. Then he brought up his score up to a 512. It's a phenomenal score but he got a 123 in CARS, his lowest verbal score ever. So even with a 512, since he got 123 in CARS, he had to retake the MCAT. Such low score in verbal would get his application thrown out.

There are certain schools including a couple of Canadian schools where they really take a look at your verbal score because they know they can teach you the science. How bad is an unbalanced score depends on the nature of it, how extreme it is, and what schools you're applying to.

[03:22] Some Schools Filter Out Subsection Scores

Typically, I would recommend students to make the most informed decision possible. This information includes the fact that schools have the ability to filter their applications based on a section of the MCAT. A lot of schools will filter out anything below 124 or 125 in a subsection. So if you're getting a 123, you're going to be filtered out by some schools.

A lot of premed advisors out there want to say that most schools have this holistic admissions review now. While I agree with that to some extent, the truth is there are thousands of applications and schools don't have the time to look into all of them. So they will rack and stack them, put the highest MCAT/GPAs first. Yours might not get ever looked at because they're just too low. And they've already interviewed everybody they want to interview for the application cycle. But there are still going to be some schools that will take a look at you. So you have to weigh out the pros and cons to determine whether or not you can still boost up your section score in a short period of time. And decide on whether you want to continue with the application cycle this year or wait till the next year.

[05:05] Assess Your Situation

Bryan points out the fact that every student is unique that's why at Next Step, they spend so much of their focus on one-on-one tutoring. Bryan reiterates the kind of self-assessment you need to do when thinking about doing a retake. What are you going to do differently? What's your particular situation?

In the case of the student mentioned above, Bryan recommended the student to do one additional tutoring session to make sure his skills were still there. He also told him to retake it because he had literally never scored below 125 in CARS ever. His baseline coming in was 125 and he was getting 126's and occasionally 127. That was a fluke so he needed to retake immediately.

On the other hand, Bryan has had other students who get really unbalanced scores where their CARS or if they had a weak Chem/Phys background. But their score is actually in line with their practice tests. So the improvement they say was not enough. Hence, they need to keep working. Do they have another three months to essentially just re-study really hard on this section? Then the calculation finally comes down to exactly looking into whether you can apply this cycle or do you need to consider pushing back.

[08:38] Next Step Test Prep

Check out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer, specifically their one-on-one tutoring. They are the key to performing well on the MCAT especially if you're struggling. If you've taken Kaplan or Princeton Review, etc. and you're still not doing well, take a look at Next Step Test Prep one-on-one tutoring.

I've had one student who went with Kaplan and only scored a 499. So he got his money back based on Kaplan's higher score guarantee. Then he worked with a tutor at Next Step Test Prep for two weeks now. He took his first full-length and scored a 506. A one-on-one tutor is there to help you score the best that you can score. Not just based on the average of the class. Go check out everything Next Step has to offer and use the promo code MCATPOD.


MedEd Media

Next Step Test Prep

Aug 02, 2017
52: Breaking Down MCAT Sociology Questions

Session 52

First off, we're giving away five ten packs of Next Step Test Prep practice exams to celebrate our 50th episode and closing in on one year of podcast. Text TESTGIVEAWAY to 44222 or go to Also, check out all my other podcasts at MedEd Media.

Back to our episode today, Bryan and I tackle some sociology questions to help you break down how the MCAT writers are creating their questions.

[02:02] The Biggest Struggle

Bryan says students mostly have difficulty with the technical definitions when it comes to the Psychology/Sociology section. It bears repeating that so much of the language used in the hard sciences is so technical and unique to the sciences that students give it the respect it's due. Conversely, so much of the language in sociology and psychology can sound like normal English words so students are tempted to just rely on being an educated English-speaking person instead of really knowing the technical definition.

Place Theory, for instance, and when you're seeing the answer choices, you're tempted to make a really completely wrong inference based on the wording of the answer choice or the question or passages. Then you make an incorrect guess just based on the fact that you were just using what sounded like normal English words. Hence, know your terms. Know the technical definition of the terms.

[04:44] The Rich and the Poor

Question 44: A sociologist is evaluating the interactions between clients and personal injury attorneys. She examines relations between rich, successful white attorneys and clients rapport in front of immigrant families. The sociologist seeks to focus her analysis and the difficulties that arise as a result of the differing levels of wealth and status possessed by the attorneys and clients. This analysis could best be described by which sociological framework.

  • (A) Symbolic interactionism
  • (B) Functionalism
  • (C) Conflict theory
  • (D) Norm deviance dynamics

Bryan's Insights:

This comes back to knowing just what it means. To be prepared for the MCAT, the students should be able to rattle off a little 90-second definition for functionalism and conflict theory. There are some keywords you want to pull out of here. Each of these questions even if they're discreet, has a little story that it tells and you've got to pull out the relevant info from the story.

In this case, we're given a contrast between socio-economic status of rich versus poor. These are the keywords that signal if there is some sort of difficulty or conflict coming out of the class struggle, that is a textbook example of conflict theory. Hence, the right answer here is (C) Conflict theory when you see people fighting over money or you see rich people and poor people having trouble interacting in some way.

[06:52] The Process of Elimination

Question #45: Sociologists have found that for first generation immigrants from West African nations, health outcomes and healthcare disparities are relatively minor compared to white nation populations whereas the children of West African immigrants experience health outcomes and healthcare disparities nearly aligned with U.S. born African-American populations. This short downward change in a single generation is likely:

  • (A) A negative consequence of social segregation into ethnic conclaves
  • (B) Due to lifelong exposure to higher socioeconomic environment of the U.S. as opposed to West African nations
  • (C) Unrelated to educational attainment
  • (D) Due to an increased social and cultural integration into the U.S.

Bryan's Insights:

Using the process of elimination, the idea that immigrants who come from certain parts of the world have health outcomes that are more or less in line with the kind of majority white population and then their children actually do much worse. It's kind of the inverse of what we think as the typical immigrant story where folks come to the U.S. and they work really hard and their kids do better and then their grandchildren do even better. We do see instances where it goes the other way around and the children end up doing worse and it's notably from things like certain Caribbean countries from West African nations.

Looking at answer choice (A), the conclaves can provide a protective effect so they actually produce better health outcomes. They stick to a diet that's lower in fat and sugar and salt so they end up being healthier because they eat healthier diet. So in this case, (A) would be self-contradicting since you can't say a negative consequence of the ethnic conclaves because if they had stayed in the ethnic conclave, they actually would have been healthier.

Answer choice (B) contradicts the question since higher economic status makes you healthier. So if they were exposed to higher socioeconomic status, they should be healthier. But these second generation family members are doing worse.

Answer choice (C) somewhat is a distractor. But then again, socioeconomic status, education, and health status all tend to be correlated. Those who are well-off get better schooling and those who get better schooling tend to be healthier. So to say it's unrelated is a bit of a stretch.

Looking at answer choice (D), when an immigrant group comes in, the people who came to the U.S. will stick to the healthier diet they had back in their home country. Then they come here and the kids eat the really terrible American standard diet and they end up being unhealthy as a consequence. Hence, D is the right answer.

[11:15] The Bystander Effect

Question #58: Walking down a city sidewalk, a woman carrying several large shopping bands slips on some ice and drops her things. In which of the following situations is the woman most likely to receive help?

  • (A) The slip occurs during the morning of rush hour period.
  • (B) The sidewalk is in a suburban neighborhood in a mixed-use area of the neighborhood.
  • (C) The sidewalk is in a busy urban avenue with many dozens of people around her when she slips.
  • (D) The sidewalk is otherwise deserted with only a single person walking towards the woman when she slipped.

Bryan's Insights:

This is one case where knowing the technical terms, "the bystander effect" helps. Or you can maybe answer this from the gut instinct. Hence, (D) is the right answer. From a strategy perspective, answer choices A and C where there are dozens of people around should be eliminated. Any time two choices present essentially the same idea, they have to both be wrong.

[12:48] Next Step Test Prep

Check out Next Step Test Prep's MCAT class that offers over 100 hours of videos, access to all ten of their top-rated MCAT full-length practice exams as well as access to five live office hours every week where you can go and ask questions to some of the top tutors. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on the MCAT class.


MedEd Media

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD)

Jul 26, 2017
51: What is a Competitive MCAT Score?

Session 51

Last week, we covered MCAT retakes. Today, we'll cover a question that you have to know first – what is a competitive MCAT score?

If you're listening to this before July 31, don't forget to enter to win one of five ten-pack full-length tests from Next Step Test Prep in celebration of our 50th episode and one year of podcasting. Simply text TESTGIVEAWAY to 44222.

[02:10] Your Starting Position

The AAMC has provided data from the 2016-2017 application cycle where they give you a grid of GPA crossed with MCAT score and the acceptance rate, how many people applied with these numbers, and how many people were accepted with these numbers.

When you think about the odds of getting in and how does that relate to an MCAT score, there is no such thing where A is a good score or getting a perfect 100. With the MCAT, either my score hurts my application or my MCAT score is neutral on my application or it's good enough but it's nothing special or my MCAT score helps in my application.

Based on the student's background, they're probably thinking a good score is just a score that doesn't hurt me or anything that's just good enough. For the over-achievers, what's a good score for them is something that helps their application.

Looking at the chart, the very bottom right of the chart shows all the applicants in the country (27, 772) and all the accepted students in the country (8,883) with an overall acceptance rate of 32%. With the MCAT, it's like "My odds of getting into med school as a starting position of a totally average, generic, human x with no traits or qualities." So the average human's chances of getting into med school is 32%. This is where you start.

"Anything that can get you over the 32% helps you application and anything that drags you under that is going to hurt your application."

This is tough as a starting point to go in, which could mean 2/3 chance of failure. But this is the starting position for considering what helps and hurts. But there is a silver lining to this. When you actually remove a lot of the students that shouldn't be applying, like anybody below a 3.0, their acceptance rates are very poor and if you remove a lot of those people then the acceptance rates shoot up a bunch because there are so many people applying. there are still a lot of people out there that because they don't know the process and they're not listening to this podcast or The Premed Years Podcast, they're applying with stats that they really shouldn't be applying to medical school.

[06:57] 508 is the New 30

If we start with the most generic average information possible, the nationwide average for people who got accepted into an allopathic and do an MD program in the US was about 5.09. Before the test was released many years back, Bryan says their mantra at Next Step was:

"508 is the new 30."

They were telling everybody 508 is the number to shoot for and this was based on percentiles considering the MCAT has always been competitive and always demanded that you be about among the top 20% in the nation on the MCAT and a 508 was just about the 80th percentile so it was a little lower than that this year. Ultimately, Bryan felt really vindicated when they saw the data and that if you want to get a 509, that's going to help your application because it puts you in with the average student who gets accepted and not with the average applicant that puts you into the average matriculant.

[08:20] What is a Competitive Score?

Bryan explains that anything below a 508 is going to hurt you. 508-510 are all fine and if you don't get in, it's not because of your MCAT score, and anything that's 510 and above will help you.

I agree with Bryan and this is going to discourage a lot of people because they may only be getting 504 or 505.

"There is a huge difference between what is a competitive score and what is a score that will get your application a look and possible get you an interview."

I've worked with plenty of students that are getting 501's or 502's and they're still getting interviews and acceptances. So the difference between competitive and good enough is huge and it all depends on that complete application. A lot of students focus on the MCAT thinking it's all they need to get into school. Looking at this table, more than 10% of students who had more than 3.79 GPA and greater than a 517 on the MCAT still couldn't get into medical school.

[10:00] A Well-Rounded Application

"There are no guarantees."

Bryan says that's the top 5% in the nation on the MCAT but he assumes it's pretty high up on the GPA percentiles which vary among colleges. So 12.5% of those people managed to screw up the interviews so badly they didn't get in or they wrote poor personal statements or poor letters of recommendations. Usually, the people getting these high scores are possibly not the most social people and they may not have great communication skills so you need to have a well-rounded application. It's not just the MCAT or the GPA. It's so much more than that. But going back to the heart of our conversation today as to what is the competitive score, I think Bryan nailed it on the head.

Looking at the column 502-505, it's little cut above average but you busted your butt just a little bit harder and did a few points above average. Look at the bottom of that column aggregating all the data in that score and the application acceptance rate is 33.3% while the national acceptance rate is only 32%. Not to mention, this can go all the way up if you cut out all the students scoring below a 3.0 GPA and their GPA doesn't speak well to being able to handle medical school curriculum, that number could even be better.

[12:00] Hitting 560-509 to 510 and Above

So the students who are doing about average or a little above average, this is good enough to get a look and probably good enough to get an interview although you would have to knock it out of the park on everything else, that could get you an acceptance rate that is about the national average. Then when you get to the 506-509, there's a pretty significant jump in the acceptance rate at 46.2% so now you're well above the national average that's likely to be accepted. And then there's an enormous jump once you get to the 510-513 mark at 60.3%. And then the percentage for the top tiers reaches up to almost 80%.

"This shows that once you hit 510, that becomes a real asset on your application."

Nevertheless, Bryan points out the compounding effect as to the kind of student who is with it enough to really work hard and get a high MCAT score is probably also doing their clinical exposure and their lab work and all the other things they're supposed to be doing as well.

[13:20] Hitting a 520: Does It Make a Difference?

Bryan says unless you're trying to come work for him and become a premium tutor, there is literally no reason to go for a 520. He adds that the GPA and the MCAT score only really serve two functions. First is to make sure they don't throw out your application. They have to be good enough so they will look at you as a human being. Second, they have to be good enough that they will interview you because no med school in the country takes someone without interviewing them as that ultimate step. So if you got a 510, they're certainly going to interview you as long as everything else is fine. Bryan has never heard of someone whose application was otherwise good and the 510 got them rejected and the 520 would have gotten them accepted. Unless you really want to get into Harvard or Washington University or one of these schools that have hilariously high MCAT averages, then a 520 wouldn't really make a difference if your goal is only wanting to be a doctor.

[15:15] Final Thoughts

Now you know what you should be shooting for on your MCAT. Knowing where you want to go is important to achieve your goals. Write down the score you want on a piece of paper and pin it up on your wall. Draw it on your bathroom mirror. Tell yourself everyday that you're going to get a 510 or a 505, whatever score you're shooting for. Make it happen. Shoot for the stars and it will happen.

Lastly, don't forget to enter to win one of five 10-pack full-length practice tests from Next Step Test Prep before July 31. Otherwise, check out their MCAT course, a do-it-yourself program with access to over 100 hours of videos, full-length exams, AAMC material, and access to five live office hours each week. Use the code MCATPOD to save some money.


AAMC Table A-23

Next Step Test Prep (Text TESTGIVEAWAY to 44222 and enter to win their ten-pack full-length tests before July 31. Otherwise, use the code MCATPOD to save some money.)

MedEd Media Network

The Premed Years Podcast

Jul 19, 2017
50: How Can I Score Higher on my MCAT Retake?

Session 50

In our episode today, we dive into MCAT retakes. If you are worried about needing to retake the MCAT, this episode is for you! Take a listen and share it.

In celebration of our 50th episode of The MCAT Podcast, Next Step Test Prep is giving away five ten-pack full-length practice exams to help you maximize your score on the MCAT. Practice exams are one of the best ways to help you prepare to take the MCAT. To enter, text TESTGIVEAWAY to 44222 and we will send you an email on how to enter to win!

Back to our episode today, I've been getting a lot of emails from students lately who got their scores back then they're freaking out thinking to take the MCAT again. Ultimately, it all comes down to needing to retake the MCAT, what do they need to do next?

[02:20] Evaluating Whether You Should Retake the MCAT

Bryan Schnedeker, Next Step's Academic Director and MCAT Guru, tells us that more of the people come to them for a retake rather than people coming to tutor with them and they need another retake. They get a ton of phone calls everyday from students where they hear some variation on this story, whether they took a generic group class or they self-studied or did this and realized they weren't ready so they need to retake and they're asking for help.

[03:05] Is the Retake Necessary?

Is the retake actually necessary? Based on what you got the first time and the rest of your admissions profile, do you really have to retake? However, a lot of students skip past this questions because this is the common reaction of premeds who are straight A students and are used to getting 99% of questions right when they get an MCAT score they didn't expect.

"Step back and be objective. Decide if the retake is really necessary."

[04:02] What Went Wrong?

Assuming you really need to retake the MCAT, the next question to ask yourself is what did you do that led to that first score? What were your habits? What were the study methods that generated the score you were unhappy with?

"Be really, really brutally honest with yourself. Was this really your best effort?"

When you signed up for the class, did you actually do all the homework? When you say you were getting practice scores that were xyz, were you taking them under test-like conditions? Figure out the approaches that led to the unhappy score at first.

[06:07] What's Going to Be Different This Time?

What are you going to do in terms of how you study and what you study that's going to change your performance? Data from the old MCAT shows that for lots of students who retake the MCAT, the score is 0 to +1 or -1. Basically, the score doesn't really change much at all. If you even extend it out to +2 or -2 score change, Bryan explains that you actually start sweeping up the plurality, and in some cases, the majority of students who retake. That said, the students who got a four or more point score increase is only about 20%. So make sure you're in that percentage of students who have this significant score improvement.

"What's going to change this time so you get the results you want?"

[08:58] Getting Stuck in Your Comfort Zone

It all comes down to this human psychology of not wanting to go outside of our comfort zone. For the MCAT, the comfort zone is going to work, doing the normal job, making the money, going to school, doing those classes, hanging out with friends, and spending a couple of hours on the MCAT. Then maybe doing that full eight-hour full-length to really test our skills is outside of a lot of people's comfort zones so they maintain their same schedule and same trends and don't improve.

Bryan adds that it can be shocking to be told you're below average when you've been getting A's your whole life and this shock itself tends to be one of the biggest motivators.

"Something has to change because the MCAT is not going to change for me. I've got to make that change."

[11:22] Intensity Level and Active Engagement

Are you willing to make the MCAT nearly a full-time job? Can you find three to four hours a day or treat it like a full-time job where you're waking up in the morning, going to the library and working on MCAT from 9am to 6pm everyday?

The second big part of it is the active engagement with the learning. You can't just be passive. You can't just look at a chapter and read all those notes you wrote down or highlighted in the book. It doesn't matter how pretty and organized or color-coded your notes are. You have to really ask yourself if you actually know this. Can you close your notebook and entirely from memory, give a ten to fifteen-minute lecture on the basic function of the nephron? Can you seriously teach the nephron to your little nephew who's a high school senior in bio class? If you don't have that level of knowledge where you can clearly understand and explain the concepts at that level, chances are, you don't know it well enough for the MCAT so you've got to work on it more.

[12:58] Doing An Autopsy on Questions

This idea that you need to do more and take another test after another as your way to succeed is this autopsy afterwards. It's the review afterwards that actually lets you learn and improve. Sitting down and doing a passage of MCAT verbal practice does literally nothing for your score. It's in analyzing afterwards and figuring out what are the lessons learned and the takeaway points is where you will improve but so many people are not willing to do this.

Bryan recommends spending the entirety of the first few lessons taking just five of these questions instead of a hundred and really do an autopsy of each question and get a takeaway point. You should have at least three to four good lessons learned from a passage and a set of questions. If you're not taking the time to do that to extract lessons learned, that's how you spent last summer prepping for the MCAT and didn't get the score you want.

"You put the right time into it but you didn't put the right kind of time into it."

[14:18] The GPS Analogy

A lot of this comes down to being self-aware and doing a good self-assessment on what went wrong and figuring out where to move forward. This is like plugging in directions to a GPS. You know the destination of getting a good score but you need to know where you're starting from. So having that good self-assessment and being self-aware of where you fell flat on your first test or second test and needing to retake it and where to improve on.

[15:14] Enter to Win!

MCAT retake is a very important topic but don't worry, retaking the MCAT is okay. Again, don't forget to enter to win one of the five ten-pack full-length practice exams that Next Step Test Prep is giving away to help you prepare for the MCAT. Text TESTGIVEAWAY to 44222 and we will send you an email on how to enter to win! This content will run until July 31, 2017 and winners will be announced on August 1.

If you happen to come across this after July 31, you still have access to everything Next Step Test Prep has to offer including all of their full-length practice tests, books, MCAT course, and their one-on-one tutoring. They have over 100 hours of videos and access to all then full-length practice tests including live office hours. Use the code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep

Jul 12, 2017
49: Round Four of our Deep Dive into MCAT Discrete Questions

Session 49

This is our 4th week of diving into a grab bag of discrete MCAT questions from various topic areas. Follow along and have a listen! Don't forget to subscribe.

[01:33] Metabolism Question

Question: Which of the following molecules would be expected to have the lowest tissue concentrations in active skeletal muscle deprived of O2.

  • (A) Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate
  • (B) Lactate
  • (C) Citrate
  • (D) Pyruvate

Bryan's Insights:

What's given is an active skeletal muscle but in the absence of O2 so we're talking about anaerobic, the kind of quick, explosive muscle movement rather than a sustained, marathon kind of muscle movement. Then they're looking for that which is not there, having the lowest tissue concentration. 

If you recognize answer choices A, B, and D, they all have something in common. They're all parts of glycolysis. Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate is in the middle of the chain, Pyruvate is in the final step, and then Pyruvate is fermented into Lactate. These are all anaerobic and all part of glycolysis. Hence, the right answer is (C) Citrate because it's part of aerobic respiration (the Krebs Cycle or the Citric Acid Cycle).

[03:09] General Chemistry

Question #29: Which of the following factors would be most likely to cause acetic acid to completely dissociate in aqueous solution?

  • (A) Higher temperatures which increase the PKA of the acid
  • (B) Enzymes that catalyze the forward reaction
  • (C) Continuous addition of acetic acid to the solution
  • (D) Continuous removal of protons from the solution

Bryan's Insights:

You want to walk into the MCAT recognizing some of your classic weak acids and weak bases. Acetic acid is a classic weak acid which is literally, vinegar, which we take on a regular basis. The question wanted to completely dissociate but it's a weak acid so it doesn't really dissociate very much. We need to drive the process of dissociation forward and rip those protons off the acetic acid.

Think about the fact that if you want to drive a reaction forward to completion, one way to do that is to remove the products. If acetic acid breaks apart into acetate and proton, remove the proton. By Le Chatelier's principle, that will cause the reaction to continue moving forward. So answer choice (D) could theoretically get you to complete dissociation.

[04:50] Amino Acid Question

Question #47: Assuming all other conditions are equal, which of the following amino acids is expected to have the most positive charge of physiological pH?

  • (A) ARG
  • (B) MET
  • (C) ASN
  • (D) ASP

Bryan's Insights:

You would be expected to walk in knowing that ARG, which is the three-letter abbreviation for arginine, is a positive charge at physiological pH. MET is Methionine and ASN is Asparagine, and they're both neutral amino acids. They have a sulfur-containing group and an amide group but they're neutral at physiological pH. ASP, Aspartic acid or Aspartate, is a negative charge at physiological pH. 

[07:24] Sociology Question

Question #59: In which of the following societies would anomie most likely be observed?

  • (A) A high school with a science and technology focus in which students who graduate are far more likely than average high school students to believe that arts funding is a waste of public money.
  • (B) A college of campus on which students are required to make such extensive use of technology that the level of normal face-to-face interaction drops precipitously below the norm at other college campuses.
  • (C) A large corporate campus for a multinational food additive company in which upper management actively promotes certain political views and candidates.
  • (D) A committee of military generals with high group cohesiveness that over-estimates its own ability to make military planning decisions and is unwilling to consider descent.

Bryan's Insights:

It's a classic sociology concept and any one of these can represent anomie although one answer choice should definitely standout to the well-prepared MCAT student as representing a different concept.

Answer choice (D) where a group of people with high cohesiveness, unwilling to consider outside views is a classic example of groupthink. Even if you didn't know what anomie is but you know what groupthink is then you can cross this answer choice out.

Bryan explains there's this incorrect perception of you can always get it down to two and you get the wrong one, which is this dismissal process of elimination.

Anomie is a situation in which society begins to break down because the normal interactions and values of a society have started to fall apart. It is primarily characterized by alienation and isolation. When people are feeling isolated from each other, they're feeling alienated from their larger society. In this case, answer choice (B) are college students who are extensively using technology that normal face-to-face interaction drops precipitously. So by not having that direct contact with their peers, this is a society that could be expressing this idea of anomie.

I personally think this is where we are going as a society right now with all our phones. Bryan adds that everyday there's a study that says the use of social media and phones makes you unhappy and is bad for you. This reminds of an article I found online featuring a newspaper article from the late 1800s and they were saying how society was going to end and that things were changing and it wasn't good, all because of kaleidoscopes where everybody in town had their face glued into their kaleidoscopes so history is just repeating itself over and over again.

[12:33] About Next Step Test Prep

Most known for their one-on-one tutoring, Next Step Test Prep has an amazing new class called The MCAT Course, which includes over 100 hours of videos, access to all ten MCAT full-length practice tests, AAMC full-length exams and materials, as well as access to five live office hours every week with your instructors, all at a price much less than any other big test prep companies out there. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on all their offerings.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

If you have any topics in mind that you would like us to cover here, shoot me an email at

Jul 05, 2017
48: Deep Dive Into More Random Discrete MCAT Questions

Session 48

This is our third week in a row where we’re covering various discrete MCAT questions. We're basically doing a grab bag today to mix it up and keep you on your toes as Bryan and I break down these different MCAT questions so you can crush the MCAT.

[01:20] Sociology Question

Question #47: Which of the following statements, if true, least accords with social construction theory?

Bryan says this can get a little twisty. The "if true" phrase tells you not to argue with the choices and it's kind of a standard "test maker" talk like, "Don't fight with me about A. Just accept it's true and then tell me whether or not that sounds like social constructionism."

  • (A) The inclusion of many social networking features in the typical smartphone is a result of the value systems of those who designed it.
  • (B) An art film containing several scenes depicting explicit sexual activity is marginalized because no "good" member of a society is willing to view it.
  • (C) World War II is seen by most Americans over the age of 50 as "the last good war" in which the U.S. was unequivocally on the side of justice.
  • (D) The high value of the automobile in enabling personal autonomy is universal across widely disparate societies.

[03:12] Bryan's Insights

In this question, they're looking for "not" social construction. Social construction theory is the idea that society is built by the people in it which is made up of multiple people interacting through systems, primarily language. Then each society is just built by the people that make up the society.

Answer choice (D) presents a fact as if it were some absolute law because of the word universal. So if you see words such as universal or the synonyms of it, they're certainly not social construction theory. Hence, answer choice D is the right answer here.

The other answer choices are about the opinions or the behavior of people in a society constructing the society out of those interactions.

This is a standard Sociology question. They're going to want you to be able to rattle off the definitions of various views of societies such as social construction theory, conflict theory, feminist theory, social interactionism, or functionalism as it's sometimes called. They won't literally ask for the definition but it can be presented as scenarios and they'd adk oyu to pick something that best fits or least fits the definition.

[05:07] Know Your Fatty Acid

Question: A fatty acid is composed of a carboxylic acid head and a tail-end comprised primarily of:

  • (A) Hydrocarbon groups
  • (B) Phosphate groups
  • (C) Amino groups
  • (D) Sulfate groups.

Bryan's Insights:

A fatty acid is made up of a fat as the word suggests, with a head and fat tail and then you just have to remember what a fat molecule is which is just a whole bunch of CH2. So the answer would be (A) Hydrocarbon groups.

[06:05] Presence and Absence of Oxygen

Question #58: Several Salmonella species are facultative anaerobes. Assuming that other external conditions are controlled for, would the expected growth rate of a Salmonella colony be slower in the presence or absence of oxygen (O2)?

  • (A) In the presence of O2 because aerobic respiration produces CO2, a byproduct that is lethal to facultative anaerobes.
  • (B) In the presence of O2 because the final product of aerobic respiration contains more energy than the final product of fermentation.
  • (C) In the absence of O2 because the bacteria will need to produce pyruvate decarboxylase, an enzyme required for entrance to the Krebs Cycle.
  • (D) In the absence of O2 because these conditions result in lower production of ATP which can fuel binary fission.

[07:20] Bryan's Insights

Remember the difference between metabolism when you have oxygen versus metabolism when you don't have oxygen and how you get more energy if you're just going to say, take a single glucose molecule and you want to just squeeze all the possible energy out of it and produce whatever the products were going to be.

Aerobic is more productive. The reason a human being would die after no oxygen for four or five minutes is because in the absence of oxygen, anaerobic respiration does't produce enough ATP and of course the brain is this total energy hog. It has to have that energy constantly.

It's the same for bacteria. The question says where will the growth be slower and so you're going to be slower in the absence of O2 because you're not getting nearly enough energy out of it. Hence, the correct answer is choice (D).

Answer choice (C) is not the right answer because in the absence of O2, you're not going to do the Krebs Cycle so this choice is self-contradictory where it says the absence of O2 but you will do the Krebs Cycle so it doesn't make sense.

[09:30] Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep can help you with your test prep needs. I think the number one reason a lot of students don't do well on the MCAT is they don't study properly. They put their head in the books and walk up to their test day and take the MCAT. This is what they've been taught going through undergrad which is to study, study, study then take the test. The MCAT is completely different. You need to study. You need to understand the content. But beyond that, you need to take practice tests. You need to understand the format of the MCAT. You need to understand how to take the MCAT so you can succeed on it. Next Step Test Prep has ten full-length practice exams for you to take. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

MedEd Media Network

The Premed Years Podcast

Specialty Stories Podcast

OldPreMeds Podcast

Jun 28, 2017
47: More Discussion of a Mix of Discrete MCAT Questions

Session 47

This week is a continuation of last week's grab bag of MCAT discrete questions that Bryan and I covered so you can max your score come test day!

[01:10] Anatomy and Mnemonics

Question #44: Each of the following structures are derived from the mesoderm except:

  • (A) Kidneys
  • (B) Spinal cord
  • (C) Triceps
  • (D) Circulatory system

Bryan's Insights:

The standout here is the spinal cord because the brain, spinal cord, and nerves are all derived from ectoderm, along with things like the skin, hair, and the lens of the eye, and so on. So the correct answer here is (B).

You can use this mnemonic of the mesoderm as a "move-o-derm." First, the move-d-derm controls how you move your body around such as bone, muscle, cartilage, and so on. Second, it controls how you move things inside of you (ex. circulatory system). The blood vessels are just muscular tubes but this plugs back into that idea of being a muscle. Third, the move-o-derm is so good that it doesn't just move the body around or moves things around inside your body, but it also gives you the motivation to move. So if your lazy butt is sitting on the couch on any random Sunday and why do you get off the couch to move? Probably because you have to pee. So mesoderm gives you the kidneys, the excretory system, as well as the reproductive system.

Endoderm means inside so if it's an internal organ and you don't know, just guess endoderm like liver or spleen. Ectoderm is stuff on the outside so skin, hair, eyes, oh and by the way, brains.

[04:35] Chemistry and the Bases

Question: Which of the following compounds would not be useful as an antacid?

  • (A) MgOH2
  • (B) AlOH3
  • (C) C2H5OH
  • (D) CaCO3

Bryan's Insights:

The common mistake here would be to pick answer choice (D) Calcium carbonate which is the only that doesn't have an OH and remembering that OH is a base so perhaps choices A, B, and C are all bases and D is not. However, answer choice (C) is ethanol which is an alcohol so it's not a base at all. That OH there is not an OH- so they can break off. In fact, it has a basically neutral and ever so slightly acidic pH.

Whereas (A) Magnesium hydroxide and (B) Aluminum hydroxide are going to release an OH. They could counter an acid so they can be an antacid while (D) Calcium carbonate is literally the actual medical antacid we've all taken at some point. So the correct answer here is (C).

[06:14] Universal Emotions

Question #46: Three individuals, one from a large urban center in Canada, one from a remote world, which is a village in Bulgaria, and one from a tribe in the Brazilian jungle are presented with the following stimuli. Which of them is most likely to be interpreted the same way by all three individuals:

  • (A) Hunched body posture and upright body posture
  • (B) A facial grimace and a smile
  • (C) A long loud sigh
  • (D) A shout of a vulgar word in a romance language

Bryan's Insights:

There are the classic universal emotions that are expressed in our faces the same way everywhere. They're just kind of hardwired into what it means to be a human brain with a face. Happy, sad, surprised, disgusted - these are things that are the same everywhere. So the facial expression here is absolutely the right answer.

[07:45] Key Takeaways

It's always important for the little story I told about the move-o-derm. It moves your body. It moves the stuff inside you. It gives you the motivation to move. So it's always important for those mnemonics to be something that you can connect with personally or tells a little story. Mnemonics are not just random strings of letters. Take the time and effort to build your own meaningful mnemonics and they will serve you well on test day.

[08:35] Next Step Test Prep

If you're struggling with your MCAT prep and you're deciding what to do for your MCAT prep, go check out Next Step Test Prep for your MCAT prep needs. They have ten full-length exams. They have a brand new MCAT course that includes 100+ hours of video. It like a do-it-yourself paced course but you also get access to live office hours five days a week. Use the promo code MCATPOD.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code: MCATPOD)

MedEd Media Network

Jun 21, 2017
46: Deep Dive Into a Mix of Discrete MCAT Questions

Session 46

This week we're staying away from one specific section and are doing a grab bag of discrete MCAT questions. Take a listen and follow along with us.

[01:22] Mental Flexibility

Bryan mentions that the real MCAT really requires you to be flexible for your brain to change gears quickly on the fly under timed conditions. So for this week and the next couple of weeks, we intend to jump from topic to topic in order to flex that mental agility.

A real life-example of how this works is golf. When you go to the driving range, you usually use one club over and over again and then switch to another club and go over and over again. But that's not how you play golf. It's one club, one time, another club, another time. So you need to practice how you're going to perform.

[02:17] Question #32:

A researcher carries out a column chromatography at physiological pH, using a stationary medium with a net positive charge. If a solution containing the following oligopeptides is poured into the column, which oligopeptide will most likely be found in the first fraction collected?

  • (A) DDGE
  • (B) EILD
  • (C) KRVV
  • (D) VEGP

Bryan's Insights:

The trick here is recognizing the charges amino acids have at physiological pH. This is something the MCAT is definitely going to expect us to know at the top of our head. Recognize that the medium has a positive charge so anything that's negative is going to stick to the stationary medium and just stay there.

The question wants the first fraction that falls through this column. You should remember that the amino acids D (aspartate) and E (glutamate) are the two that have a negative charge at physiological pH and D and E, aspartate and glutamate go the same order alphabetically.

Answer choice (A) DDGE is a whole bunch of negative and (B) EILD where E is a negative and (D) VEGP where E is a negative. So three of the four answer choices have a negative amino acid and that negative amino acid would stick to the positive charge and stay in the column. Hence, the right answer for this one is answer choice (C) KRVV because K and R are positive and V is neutral so it would just fall right along the positive so it would repel each other.

[05:00] Understanding Amino Acids

For each amino acid, you would need to understand specific things such as name, the three-letter and one-letter abbreviations, whether it's charged, and broadly what its chemical behavior is like (polar versus nonpolar). Finally, you should be able to draw all 20 of the standard canonical amino acids from memory. You don't have to remember the weird ones like the selenocysteines as they're much less likely to come up.

[06:16] Question #48:

Which of the following solvents would lead to the fastest SN1 reaction:

  • (A) N-hexane
  • (B) Benzene
  • (C) Tetracholoromethane
  • (D) Propenol

Bryan's Insights:

You can always play the game of which one of these doesn't belong when you get one of these orgo questions with four different molecules for choices. Hexane and benzene are fairly generic nonpolar solvents which are hydrocarbons. Benzene is a ring and N-hexane is a chain. There is no reason to pick one over the other so you can cross both of them out.

For choices (C) and (D), chlorine is electronegative so that would make a polar bond except when you have tetrachloromethane. All four chlorines pulling on the same carbon. Technically, the bond is polar but the molecule is not because it's kind of a four-way tug-of-war whether they will all cancel each other out. Hexane, benzene, and tetrachloromethane are all nonpolar solvents. You can cross them all off together.

Propanol alcohol is not just polar but protic. It's got that OH group and the alcohol that makes it very water-like in its chemical behavior. If nothing else, that's how you would get to the right answer there. [08:07] Understanding SN1 and SN2 Reactions You should walk into the test being very comfortable with SN1 and SN2 reactions and knowing that SN2 prefers an aprotic so no water and no alcohol whereas SN1 prefers a protic solvent.

When it comes to named organic chemistry reactions, when they switched over to this current format of the MCAT in 2015, they switched almost all of them. But SN1 and SN2 are the old die-hard's and Bryan says when humanity has gone the way of the dinosaurs, there's still going to be a standardized test asking about SN1 and SN2 somewhere.

[09:03] Question #46:

A single sports fan is capable of yelling at an intensity level of 80 decibels from a given distance. If 10,000 similar fans were all yelling from the same distance, which of the following will be the closest to the observed intensity level?

  • (A) 84 decibels
  • (B) 120 decibels
  • (C) 160 decibels
  • (D) 320 decibels

Bryan's Insights:

Decibel is a measure of intensity which is a measure of loudness. A crowd of 10,000 screaming at you is going to be louder than one person screaming at you. So it's going to be a number bigger than 80 and all of the answer choices are bigger than 80.

In this current version of the MCAT, even if it's a physics question, you can reason from biology. You want to walk into the test knowing that 80 decibels could be a human screaming very loudly and the threshold of pain to the point where the noise itself starts to actually cause pain in your ear is somewhere in the 130-140 decibel range. Imagine a stadium full of people all shouting, that's going to be pretty loud.

Answer choice (A) is only a little more than 80 so that doesn't sound right for an entire stadium full of people shouting at you. Then you have to decide whether it's loud enough that it's going to start physically hurting just hearing a stadium full of people cheer, maybe yes, maybe not. Answer choice (B) is below the threshold of pain while (C) is above the threshold of pain. Choice (D) would be like shoving your head in the jet engine. It's massive and that could be causing earthquakes.

So you could edge your way close to the right answer here even if you couldn't remember the equation. Although you should know the decibel equation which is a logarithmic scale. So going from one person up to 10,000 people, you recognize 10,000 as 104 times bigger than the original intensity level.

But the thing about the decibel scale that makes it a pain in the butt to remember, unlike other logarithmic scales like pH or pK or whatever, the decibel scale is ten times the log of the intensity or the intensity difference. So the 4 becomes a 40 and our 80 decibel goes up to a 120 decibels. It could be a pain in the butt but you have to remember that decibel equation is ten times the log of the intensity.

[13:30] Final Thoughts

Our episode today is basically all about things you need to memorize for the MCAT. Know your amino acids. Know your SN1 and SN2 stuff. Know your decibel equation. Don't forget that even if you can't remember the exact content, you can edge your way closer to the right answer by thinking in terms of the biology or playing which one doesn't belong.

[14:15] Next Step Test Prep

Check out everything that Next Step Test Prep has to offer. They are the leader in one-on-one tutoring for the MCAT. If you're struggling right now and freaking out right now as of this recording in June that you're not getting the score you need, contact Next Step. Talk to a tutor. For the next month or so, set up a specific individualized plan for you to figure out where your weaknesses are to be able to improve on your score. If you're scoring about the same, there's something wrong with your practice. Talk to Next Step and figure out what that is.

Next Step Test Prep offers classes, tutoring, and full-length exams. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

MedEd Media Network

Jun 14, 2017
45: How Can I Prepare for and Improve My CARS MCAT Score

Session 45

There are four sections on the MCAT, three of them focused on the sciences and one is this random CARS that seems to demolish everybody. What used to be called Verbal Reasoning is now termed as CARS. The CARS section of the MCAT is typically the hardest for most premed students. Today, Bryan from Next Step is dishing out some recommendations on how to best prepare so you can improve your CARS score.

[01:23] Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section is not only an upgrade in terms of the name, but it's also a longer and tougher section than the old verbal reasoning. The name really points out critical analysis and reasoning skills.

One of the common pieces of advice you read out there is to read a lot. Read The Economist magazine or The Atlantic monthly. Nothing wrong with that as more reading is always good. Reading is the best way to prepare for the MCAT.

But in and of itself, it's a too passive notion that casually reading a magazine is enough to improve your skills. It will bump up your reading but it will not build up that critical analysis and reasoning part.

[02:15] Your Philosophical Stance

You have to focus very intently as you read. You can just read actual MCAT practice passages from a book or online resource such as the Next Step's MCAT Verbal Practice: 108 Passages for the New CARS Section Book.

However, make sure to think about the reasoning that underlies the passage. Not just what you're reading but why is the author putting together the passage that way. Don't just read but critically analyze and reason.

[02:47] There is No “One and Only Way”

The other big and important part of prepping for the CARS and this is a major mistake that students make is thinking that somehow there is one simple method that is going to unlock everything. It's not that simple. Moreover, Bryan thinks this idea is so pervasive that there is a "right way" to do the verbal passages because this gets peddled a lot by different prep companies, tutors, or books telling you the xyz method for CARS. They're going to present it like this is the "one way and only right way" to do things.

[03:50] Mastery of CARS

To really master the CARS section, it's not a matter of learning the CARS method but it's a matter of finding your CARS method.

Some people like to use the onscreen highlighter. Others have to stop every paragraph and jot down notes on their scratch paper. Some people like to skim real fast and get to the questions. Others like to read quickly and then write the author's main opinion or main idea and then go to the questions. There are all sorts of different ways to successfully approach these passages and questions.

Therefore, the biggest takeaway is that the best way to prepare for CARS is to try different things, keep track of your progress (what methods work for you and what methods don't) and do that as soon as you start your MCAT prep. You want to find your preferred method within the first one-thirds or one-half of your MCAT calendar so you can spend the subsequent half or two-thirds of your calendar mastering what works best for you.

[05:15] Transferring Your Skills

When you're reading and working through Psychology/Sociology and the other sciences, you may also be using the same skills for CARS in those sections. The parts that are transferable are looking at connections in the passage. If it's an argument about some form of poetry, for example, just look at the logic and think on a structural level like how is the passage structured. This helps in both the science and reading.

[06:45] Strategies for Reading Articles and Journals

As you're reading different articles in different magazines, focus on the opinion. What's the author's opinion? What are the contradictory opinions? Once you've understood the various opinions being presented, take the next step and figure out the reasoning to support those opinions. Always look for the evidence the author uses to draw conclusions.

And if you're not consciously thinking about it, it's very easy to get passive. Writers have a tendency to present their own beliefs as if it was the truth and present everything as if the facts were incontrovertible and absolutely correct.

So if you're reading long-form journalism, just stop at the end of every paragraph and ask yourself, whose opinion is this? How does this support someone's opinion? How does this refute someone's opinion?

[07:54] Final Thoughts

Start early, start early, start early. The day you start your CARS practice is the day you start your MCAT practice.

Finally, go check out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer. They have a 10-pack full-length exam and an MCAT course that includes five live office hours every week. They're also best known for their one-on-one tutoring. Use the promo code: MCATPOD to save some money on their products and services.


Next Step Test Prep

Next Step's MCAT Verbal Practice: 108 Passages for the New CARS Section Book

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

The Short Coat Podcast

MedEdMedia Network

The Economist

The Atlantic

Jun 07, 2017
44: Answering Discrete Sociology Questions for the MCAT

Sociology is one of the new kids on the block for the MCAT. Take a listen to this episode to hear how to approach sociology questions on the new MCAT.

May 31, 2017
43: Breaking Down MCAT Psychology Discrete Questions

Session 43

Did you know that there is biology on the psychology section of the MCAT? I didn't either! Check out our latest episode to learn more about the psych section.

If you're listening to this before June 4, 2017, text BOOKGIVEAWAY to 44222 and get a chance to win one of 50 copies of he Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.

In this episode, Bryan and I are diving into some Psychology questions on the new MCAT and how to best answer them.

[01:40] Sensation and Perception

Question #18: An object viewed in full sunlight can be seen to have several shades running from light blue on the left side of the object through teal to light green on the right side of the object. Viewed in moonlight, the same object appears, a uniform grey. This is due to:

  1. An increased activation of the optic nerve due to sympathetic upregulation
  2. The decreased light sensitivity of cones relative to rods
  3. The increased night vision image clarity created by the phobia
  4. The stereo optic vision created by having two front-facing eyes

[02:35] A Psychology Question?

Remember that perception and sensation are considered psychology and the psych section of the MCAT does include 5% bio questions and another 5% that the AAMC has specifically called out as psychology questions but sound like bio. Just remember that even the psych section of the MCAT has almost 10% of its questions that feel like biology especially around sensation.

[03:13] C for Cones, Rods for Night Vision

The correct answer here is choice B. At night, everything looks grey because you're looking with your rods and in full bright daylight, everything looks colored because of your cones.

Answer choice B talks about sympathetic upregulation that involves being in fight or flight mode. Choice C talks about the phobia creating increased night vision but it's actually the exact opposite. The phobia is your hyper-detailed bright light vision which is the most precise part of the eye that requires the most light. Choice D which is stereo optic vision is just the way to see in 3-D by having your two eyes pointing forward.

[04:10] Projection

Question #29: A young boy begs his parents to let him get a puppy. He wants to show his parents that he's growing up and he can handle the responsibility of training the puppy. For several weeks after getting the puppy, the boy has great difficulty training the dog to urinate outside or do the basic tricks. When he becomes frustrated, the boy repeatedly calls the dog a dumb little baby and a bad boy who can't be trusted. Psychoanalytic theory would assert that the boy's yelling demonstrates:

  1. Projection
  2. An oedipal issue
  3. Repression
  4. Transference

[04:45] Bryan’s Insights

Answer choice A. Projection is the right answer. The boy is afraid of being seen as immature. He wants to seem like a grownup who can handle training his puppy and so he yells at the puppy that the it's a dumb little baby and so he's projecting his insecurity onto the puppy.

The oedipal complex is the classic Freudian theory of early psychosexual development that involves the relationship with the mother. Repression is choosing not to think about an unpleasant thought. Transference is when you take feelings from one source and transferring it over to another source. An example of transference is when in therapy where the patient starts to view the therapist as the parent. As the patient works through whatever Freudian issues they have related to their parent, they start to see their doctor that way.

[06:06] Group Polarization

Question: A group of six likely voters are gathered in a conference room. All six people have voted for conservative political candidates in the past. They're asked to discuss three possible candidates, Candidate A who is a liberal, Candidate B who is a middle-of-the-road conservative, and Candidate C who is very strongly conservative. At the end of the discussion, the six voters are asked to cast a ballot for their choice. Which candidate would likely receive the most votes?

  1. An even split with no plurality
  2. Candidate A
  3. Candidate B
  4. Candidate C

[06:50] Bryan’s Insights

The correct answer is choice D. Bryan says there are times you can get the right answer and would really feel good about it and get it right for like 75% of the right reason but you should still be reviewing every question you do. Because even on the questions you get right and thought were easy, there could still be a good takeaway point from there. The takeaway point here is that you need to remember the phrase group polarization.

As I would have suggested, it's about consistency. This explains the "foot in the door" phenomenon and a whole series of phenomenon. But Bryan explains that specifically for this group of six conservative voters, if you put them all in a room together and ask them to discuss possible candidates, the group will end up even becoming more polarized. So if this was a group full of middle-of-the-road conservatives, by the end of the discussion, they're all going to talk themselves into wanting the really extreme conservative candidate.

This isn't just in the political context but this goes for anything. Put a group of people together and they will talk themselves into a more polarized position.

[09:10] Review The Questions You Got Right

Another takeaway here is to review the questions you got wrong and the questions you got right and find out why they're right. Maybe you got right answer because you just got lucky.

Bryan adds that the conundrum especially comes up with the "I got it down to two" phenomenon where people always think I got it down to to and I always got it wrong. Yes, true, because you didn't review the ones you got right. If you reviewed the ones you got right, you would see a bunch of times you got it down to two and got it right. Therefore, you've got to review every single question.

[10:00] Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Reasoning

Question #56: Steve is instructed by his boss to forge a document. Steve knows this is against company policy and possibly against the law but he's afraid he might lose his job if he doesn't comply. Under Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, what stage is Steven if he decides to forge the document.

  1. Pre-operational
  2. Pre-conventional
  3. Post-conventional
  4. Concrete operational

[10:30] Bryan’s Insights

Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Reasoning are important for the MCAT so you have to know them. The first thing you want to do is to eliminate pre-operational and concrete operational because those don't refer to moral development but to Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development. For example, infants are pre-operational and school children are concrete operational.

Now we're down to choices B and C. Steve is behaving with his morality being determined by fear of punishment and this is something that generally guides children. the correct answer here is B. Pre-conventional. With Kohlberg's moral reasoning, the pre-conventional stages are the way children reason about what they should do in moral situations like don't get caught or don't get punished.

The conventional stages of moral reasoning are like what does a good little girl do or what does a good boy do. You have to obey the law. It doesn't matter what the law says, you just obey it.

More highly educated adults will eventually develop into post-conventional moral reasoning where they follow universal moral principles rather than following a law just because it's a law.

[12:37] Next Step Test Prep

Check out what Next Step Test Prep is doing in the test prep world! They have a course with over 100 hours of videos, access to all 10 full-length practice tests, and all the AAMC testing material. Also get access to five live office hours every week. Get all this all for a price significantly less than what other test prep companies are offering. Go to and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on their MCAT course.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

Text BOOKGIVEAWAY to 44222 and get a chance to win one of 50 copies of The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.

May 24, 2017
42: Four Tips for Memorizing Science for the MCAT

Session 42

In today's episode, Bryan and I are going to dive into how you can better memorize the science facts for your MCAT test day considering the sheer volume of things you need to know. If you're still having trouble memorizing all these amino acids and mnemonics found online, Bryan spills out some secrets to help you finally remember science.

[01:55] Apply What You Learn

Bryan thinks We spend so much time studying psychology, including memory, and often forget to apply it to ourselves. We have to know how memory works for the MCAT and we have to remember that's how we remember our own stuff.

Students make the mistake of trying to remember their MCAT science the way they would study for their mid-term for their immunology class like group forced repetition or somebody in the class gave them a mnemonic so they cram all that into their head and spew it back out the next day and promptly forget all of it. This doesn't work for the MCAT since you have to remember all of it all at once on test day.

Therefore, you should be able to use the basic principles of good memorization for the MCAT itself.  Today, Bryan walks us through four simple yet incredibly important points.

[03:00] #1: Try different learning modalities.

Engage with the material using different modalities or approaches. Oftentimes, people get so hung up on the visual with those diagrams and tables or flashcards. MCAT books are certainly filled with images so everybody gets completely hung up on the visual. However, not all of us are visual learners.

Instead, try to come up with something auditory such as mnemonics that rhyme or have a rhythm to them. Try to engage with it kinesthetically. Imagine the lever arm in your hand and twerking it by twisting your arm or remember the right hand rule. If you can engage the kinesthetic or the auditory in addition to the visual, you're much more likely to remember things.

A classic auditory learner would approach things is writing song lyrics (just like what my wife, Allison, did while we were studying in medical school.) Even with Bryan the only reason he can name every nation in the world and every state and its capital is because of the song  about this in the cartoon show Animaniacs. And to further give you a basic example, we even sing our ABC's.

[04:57] #2: Tell a story.

Don't try to memorize isolated facts. Put those facts in context. Make connections between the facts. "Because" is one of the most important words in memorizing MCAT science. The human brain is terrible at remembering a random isolated fact. Whereas if you're able to make connections, you're suddenly better at remembering them. Plus the fact that as human beings, we are phenomenally good storytellers. If you could tell a story about the relevant science, you're much more likely to remember it. Then your repeat this through a process called “elaborative rehearsal” which means you rehearse it over and over again and elaborate each step along the way.

For example, when memorizing electrochemical cells (for which every student hates electrochemistry and this is a universal law of MCAT students), start at one point like the classic mnemonics REDCAT which means "reduction takes place at the cathode." Repeat that. And then elaborate. Because a reduction reaction has to be paired with an oxidation reaction then oxidation takes place at the anode. So REDCAT (reduction takes place at the cathode). Reduction and oxidation are paired. So oxidation takes place at the anode.

Then add another fact. Reduction is the gain of electrons so electrons have to be flowing to the cathode. Reduction takes place at the cathode. Because reduction is paired with oxidation, oxidation takes place at the anode. And because reductions requires electrons, electrons flow to the cathode. And so on and so forth until you've built out a whole little 5-10 minute lecture on electrochemistry. Now, it's no longer a single isolated fact but a story you're telling about how a galvanic cell is built. So now you're much more likely to remember it.

[07:31] #3: Make it personal.

Not only is our brain built to tell a story but they're also built to store information that has emotional content relating to the people we know. In terms of where we devote time, effort, and energy, number one is other people. We are tribal animals so if you could connect abstract MCAT science to other people, then you're much more likely to remember it. So instead of an abstract mnemonic, if you could make a mnemonic that relates to your best friend or your family member, or simply place all those personal connections, your likelihood of remembering them is definitely much greater.

Personally create those flashcards and personally try to come up with your own mnemonics instead of taking stuff that's already created. Craft it yourself so it's based on your own family and your own story. In fact, the majority of learning with flashcards is actually creating them.

[09:35] #4: Master the basics.

Master the basics rather than learning halfway of everything. It can be intimidating how much is on the MCAT and literally just the AAMC's official science outline is 125 pages long. And because of that sheer volume of stuff you have to know, the temptation is to just quickly cover everything. However, you're better off just focusing on 20%-40% of real foundational stuff and make sure you have it mastered backwards, forwards, upside down and sideways than you would be trying to halfway everything. Otherwise you'd be "Jack of all trades, Master of bad MCAT score." Whereas if you mastered the basics, you can reason your way through much of the MCAT.


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (Text PREORDER to 44222 to learn more about how to win a free copy by June 4, 2017 and how you can preorder the book and get up to almost $100 worth of giveaways.)

May 17, 2017
41: MCAT Logistics if You Have to Travel to Take Your Test

Session 41

If you're interested in learning how to best prepare for your medical school interview, text PREORDER to 44222 and I will send you the information on how you can preorder my Amazon bestselling book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. Learn how you can get $100 worth of free stuff from me including a month of our medical school mock interview platform and access to our video course all about the medical school interview if you preorder the book before June 6, 2017 (when the book releases).

Hopefully, you registered for the MCAT early enough that you got a seat and you don’t have to travel. But if you do have to travel because there were no longer seats available except for a couple of states over, here are a few things you need to know to best come prepared for the MCAT test day.

[02:20] The Extreme Case: In Case You Need to Fly

The raw physical movement associated with test day may sound silly but this can really impact your performance.

Let's say you have to fly somewhere to take your MCAT. (Oh and by the way, in the last exam for the old MCAT, people had to fly to Guam to take it.) But even a two or three-hour regional flight can knock you for a loop.

Any time you sleep somewhere new like a hotel room which is not where you're used to, you're not going to sleep as well as you do at home. You're not really going to get that really good, regenerative, Stage 3 deep sleep and REM sleep, not as much as you're used to anyway.

If you can, don't fly the night before but try to fly an extra day or even an extra two days before test day so that you are in the same place for two or three days in a row. This is going to get real expensive but since you're already putting yourself in extreme circumstances, you might as well do it in a way that's going to give yourself the least penalty possible.

But what's more expensive, an extra night at a hotel or retaking the MCAT because you slept so poorly the night before? You spend an extra few hundred dollars to retake the MCAT plus another three months of your life restudying for it.

[05:06] The Average Case

You don't want to be doing extensive traveling the morning of test day. If it takes you 30 minutes to 1 hour the most to get there, that's reasonable. But there are stories of people getting up at four in the morning to drive four hours to the MCAT. This is not a good scene and you don't want to be doing this. Instead, drive the night before and stay in a hotel.

[05:40] What to Do the Day Before

Bryan recommends that you go visit the testing location the day before the MCAT. A lot of students laugh at this but this can actually make a huge life or death difference. Bryan further says that you find the building, find the suite where the prometric center is. Make sure where you're going to park or how you're going to get there so you can avoid any problems that may arise. There isn't going to be a problem 97% of the time, but what if you're in that 3%? It can really be a life-altering precaution so this is just like putting your seatbelt on.

As simple as not being able to find your testing center could literally screw up your test day if you're not able to figure that out the day before. So find the building the day before and make sure you know exactly where you're going.

[07:15] Open Your Email from AAMC

Someone posted in the MSHQ Facebook Hangout Group that they received an email from AAMC.  They didn't think about it and didn't open it until a couple of days later only to find out that the AAMC changed their test center.

The AAMC may give you at least a couple of weeks notice and the other location may not be something radical but this is something to be aware of. In any email you get that's from the AAMC, please open it.

[08:15] How to Get There

If you're lucky enough to be close to your testing location to walk, then walk as it's a good way to get your brain pumping and blood moving that morning. In most locations, try to avoid mass transit unless you're in an area where there is very good mass transit and it's better than you driving.

[08:45] Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you don't have to travel for your MCAT test day. That means you have registered early. But if you made a mistake or had to reschedule the last minute and you need to travel somewhere to take the MCAT, please take all the advice we've shared here.

Lastly, check out Next Step Test Prep and everything they have to offer to help you on your MCAT journey. Next Step offers one-on-one tutoring as well as their brand new MCAT course, over 100 hours of videos, five live office hours per week, and access to all of their books, MCAT practice exams, and all AAMC practice materials. Better quality, less price. Check it out and use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money from their offerings.)


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (Text PREORDER to 44222 to get the information on how you can preorder the book.)

MSHQ Facebook Hangout Group

May 10, 2017
40: Last Minute MCAT Tips Leading Up to Test Day

Session 40

Your MCAT day is approaching – how should you maximize your last couple of weeks leading up to the MCAT to make sure you get the best score possible? Here are some last minute tips to help you rock it!

[01:43] Cramming and Measured Approach

Students can go berserk with science content in those last few weeks and this is really counterproductive. There are things you can do to shore up your score but the biggest impact you could have would be negative if you went completely off the chain, drove yourself into frenzy, and collapse on test day.

So the last few weeks should be a measured approach to the extent that you could be cramming but doing it as real official AAMC practice.

[02:21] Three Weeks Before Test Day

The typical arrangement is that three weeks before test date, take the AAMC Scored Practice Exam 1. As of this recording, there are only two scored exams but you can spin this back, working backwards from test day as more scored exams come out.

These are basically the best practice tests you can get. However, there's a belief out there in the premed land that the AAMC tests are infamously bad with their explanations as they don't actually help you analyze the question at all. And sadly, this is true. AAMC obviously produces the only source of test and they are phenomenally good except that the explanations leave a lot to be desired.

What Bryan does with his tutoring students in the last few weeks leading up to the exam is to let them take it and spend 2-4 days of full-time work pretending that the AAMC hired them to write the explanations for all 230 questions on the test, that level of analysis where you really dive deep into the thought process for the AAMC exam. Now, this can easily eat up almost an entire week's worth of work.

If you have extra time, stick to doing timed practice on full time sections from books or any resource material.

[04:23] Two Week Before Test Day

Do the same thing again with Official AAMC Scored Practice Exam 2 and really do a deep-dive into the reasoning and a really thorough analysis, pretending the AAMC has paid you to write complete explanations for the test. You can find explanations elsewhere. These are actually baked into the Next Step Online MCAT Course where they've got a whole video series of Dr. Anthony explaining the test to you. So if you don't have the time, you could use that resource. But there is tremendous value in doing it yourself so that you can completely get your head in the game for how the AAMC thinks about how they write questions, passages, etc.

[05:05] Study Groups

This doesn't mean writing the explanation while you're doing the test. First, take the test as a student and then you get a score again. Once you have the time afterwards, go on Wikipedia to look the fact up. You're not pressured to do the whole passage in eight minutes. Start reading what little the AAMC has written by way of explanation. Once the pressure is off, after the fact, it's really not as so much hard as you might think to really carefully digest what you're reviewing.

And if you're still stuck, go back to one of the number one points that has been said here on this podcast over and over again -  to get your study group together. This would be an excellent use of study group time where you each kind of parcel out a portion of the test and write explanations for each other and then teach each other that AAMC exam.

[06:55] The Home Stretch - One Week to Test Day

Take the unscored sample test (which obviously means there is no score for this test). A lot of people claim they can tell you how to convert your percent correct on the sample test into a scaled score but Bryan strongly recommends against doing this. The sample test was never normed. The AAMC never administered it to a statistically significant group of test takers. So any supposed estimation of your score based on the sample test is voodoo more than anything else.

Again, just take the unscored sample test and review it thoroughly during that last week. But don't go berserk trying to review every single thing under the sun nor try to guess what your score would be right at the very end.

The reason we save the sample test as the very last test is to just take the score off the table and to take the anxiety out of it since it's unscored anyway. So there's no need to freak out one week before the exam because you got xyz on some sort of practice test.

[08:18] Tips for Reviewing Content

In reviewing content, just pick three things where if you clicked that little "next" button on the screen and the passage popped up and then you saw a passage on that particular topic, your stomach would drop out from under you or you're all sweating and palpitating.

Saying to yourself in these last two weeks before the MCAT that you're going to review everything means you're going to be reviewing nothing. If you're casually skimming all of the MCAT, you're going to get nothing out of it. But if in these last two or three weeks you're going to hammer the heck out of electrochemistry and your amino acids, your enzymes, and enzyme inhibitors, that's very doable. You can really review electrochemistry again and again and again so that if it shows up on test day, you don't have that “freak out/meltdown” moment.

[09:23] One Day Before Test Day

Do nothing. You probably have developed an unhealthy relationship to test prep and you start shuffling around and scratching your forearm, but if you absolutely have to do something, don't answer any question. Just put your feet up and casually flip through your flash cards. But no passages, no questions, no calculations.

As much as possible, do nothing, But if that would freak you out, then really low-stress review your notes.

[10:14] It’s Like Running a Marathon!

If you were relate this to running a marathon, it's like doing a taper which is normally done before any competition. As Bryan puts it, human performance is performance, be it cognitive like the MCAT or physical and emotional like an actor, or physical like in athletics. Performance is the same in all those cases. Tapering off and easing your way into test day or game day would be the same.

[11:25] A Few More Tips

A lot of people tend to miss these things but you have to maintain good sleeping habits, maintain good diet, and always hydrate yourself because this may affect your cognition. Your brain is just another organ in your body so you've got to take care of your body if you want your brain to work correctly. Get that aerobic exercise. It doesn't mean training for a half marathon but get up and take a walk everyday. So get sleep, water, and exercise. Find that healthy homeostasis.

Lastly, don't do anything crazy in the days or weeks before test day. A common piece of advice people get about the MCAT is to get off caffeine. That's fine if you can do it about three months ahead of time but three days ahead of time do not change your caffeine consumption at all. Or taking Adderall at the day of the test day which is not normal for you can give you a heart attack. Do not do anything that would disrupt your body's normal homeostasis in the days and weeks before the test.

[13:00] Last Thoughts

As time is winding down, your stress level skyrockets. Hopefully, you read and heed to this advice today. One other thing, Bryan mentioned the explanations for the AAMC exams but I've heard a couple of times from students going through Next Step Test Prep's course and they've given me feedback that the explanations provided by Next Step are way above and beyond the explanations AAMC gives for their exams. Check out the Next Step online course. The MCAT class is something Next Step took a long time to develop with a hundred plus hours of videos laid out and centered around different topics and content. Get access to ten of Next Step Test Prep's full-length exams and the AAMC material as well as access to instructors through five different office hours every week. To save some money, use the promo code MCATPOD.Your MCAT day is approaching - how should you maximize your last week leading up to the MCAT to make sure you get the best score possible?


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.)

Next Step online course

Next Step Test Prep's full-length exams and AAMC material

MedEd Media Network

The Premed Years Podcast

OldPreMeds Podcast

Specialty Stories Podcast

Official AAMC Scored Practice Exams 1 & 2

May 03, 2017
39: Let's Talk MCAT Physics Discrete Questions

Session 39

This week, we're going to talk Physics! We're diving into several Next Step Test Prep physics questions to help you understand how to answer physics questions on the new MCAT.

The MCAT will expect you to cross disciplinary lines when trying to answer a lot of problems you see which makes sense because that's what happens in the real world. Bryan believes the worst would be organic chemistry and biochem - where is the line? Well, who knows!

[02:15] Question:

A 12-volt battery is used to charge a 20 microfarad capacitor and defibrillator. How much charge is stored on the plates of the capacitor?

  • (A) 0.24 microcoulombs
  • (B) 0.6 millicoloumbs
  • (C) 24 coulombs
  • (D) 60 coulombs

Bryan's Insights:

Looking at the answer choices, chances are, the micro is going to give us an answer that ends up being millicoloumbs instead of regular coloumbs. This alone would narrow us down to answer choices A and B.

What if you can't do calculations quickly? Or you're really just uncomfortable doing calculations with paper and pencil without a calculator? Well, get as far as you can. There is always almost one or two you can eliminate and then don't actually do the calculation. Just do your best process of elimination you can. Make your best guess and move on.

In this case, hopefully, you remember your units. It is very much more important to remember units than it is to remember equations for the MCAT. Here, the unit of farad is a coloumb per volt. So, f = c/v.

Then you can set up the equation by multiplying volt up to the other side to solve for coloumb. So, c = f x v. In this case that's 12 x 20. Forget where the exponent or decimal goes. Just look at 12 x 20, that's 12 x 2 so your answer has to be 24 x 10 to the something. As soon as you know your answer is 24, you know the right answer is choice A.

[04:40] Trusting Your Gut Instinct

The equations you see on the MCAT definitely have coefficients in them where you have to do this relationship between the variables but then multiply it by some other number (ex. the gas law, the energy and the gases, mrt, so there's that three-halves out front, or the kinetic energy equation 1/2mv2 so there's that times 1/2 out front.)

But if you have microfarads, micro is 10 to the minus 6. It's unlikely that you're going to have an equation on the MCAT that is, take the farads, multiply it by a million and then work int he volts. And that's what you have to do, to cancel out micro, you've had to multiply it by a million in order to get answer C or D. So it's a little bit of a gut instinct. You've studied these equations, you don't remember all of them, but none of them have times a million at the beginning of the equation.

[06:12] Question #55:

An artificial leg designed for use by runners is spring-based to mimic the compression required of a muscle during hard running. For safety reasons, it was determined that the leg should be able to absorb as much as 125J of kinetic energy without compressing more than 10cms or the runner would be likely to stumble. Which should the spring constant be?

  • (A) 250
  • (B) 2500
  • (C) 12500
  • (D) 25000

Bryan's Insights:

Think about an artificial leg here pounding over the ground over and over again and it only compresses 10cms or 0.1m. So it's not compressing very much. If you think of it like a spring, it's going to be really stiff and a really strong spring. So more like the shocks in your car and less like a slinky and it's not moving very much.

Before you start plugging and chugging with equations, make sure you've got the concept right in your head. You want a really stiff spring and so you want to walk into the MCAT knowing that a higher spring constant means a stiffer spring.

Looking at the answer choices and you're guessing on a conceptual level, it's probably C or D is a better guess. Guess one of the bigger numbers because that would suggest that it's a stiffer spring.

The actual equation that you need to know is the potential energy that goes into a spring and that's e=1/2kx2. For springs, two equations to know overall, one of them for this problem is what we call Hooke's Law f=kx and one for the potential energy 1/2kx2

So for energy 125 and for x, plug in 0.1 because you have to express it in meters. And then solve for the k.

  • e=1/2k
  • 125=1/2k0.12
  • k=250/10-2
  • k=25000

Again, the big number ended up as the right answer. The takeaway here is to go big or go home on the MCAT with physics. We spend so much time int he verbal section of the CARS part of the test telling students to avoid extreme answers and then along comes the science, especially physics.

[10:15] Question:

Colliding cells meet on a frictionless surface near the vascular membranes. If cell one collides into a stationary cell two on an arterial wall, which of the following describes what happens to cell two after the collision? (I) Cell two continuously accelerates.

  • (II) Cell two moves with decreasing velocity.
  • (III) Cell two moves with constant speed.
  • (IV) Cell two moves with constant velocity.

Bryan's Insights: When it comes to physics on the MCAT, assume things are as simple as possible unless they give you a specific reason to make it a complicated, real-world thing.

Imagine two billiard balls on a table smacking onto each other. After one ball smacks into the second ball, certain amount of energy has been given to it so it's going to start moving. And if it's moving across a frictionless surface, it's going to keep moving until it gets back to the heart and hits turbulent flow in the atrium. It's going to move on a constant speed and as long as it's going to the same direction, a constant speed and a constant velocity are the same thing as each other.

The question specifically said what happens to cell two after the collision, so it's only accelerating while in contact with cell one. While they're touching cell one is pushing on cell two. Once the collision s over, cell two doesn't get any extra energy from anywhere but sliding along the frictionless surface.

The single most important lesson when answering the MCAT is to answer the question they actually asked you.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on your test prep)

MedEd Media Network

Apr 26, 2017
38: Breaking Down Orgo MCAT Discrete Questions

Session 38

This week Bryan from Next Step Test Prep is going to help us break down organic chemistry discrete questions so you can crush your MCAT!

The MCAT has been re-balanced with this new format exam where they really toned down organic chemistry. It used to comprise 40% of one of the sections of the exam but now it has been reduced to a lowly 16% of one of four sections. But even though the mighty has fallen, we can't ignore this entirely.

[01:55] Question:

Which of the following alkyl chlorides is most likely to undergo SN1 reaction:

  • (A) Chloromethane
  • (B) Chloroethane
  • (C) 2-Chloropropane
  • (D) 2-Chloro-2-Methylpropane

Bryan's Insights:

Very few of these will show up in the MCAT but by far, the most common is our classic SN1 and SN2 reactions, nucleophilic substitution both unimolecular and bimolecular.

Remember that a tertiary carbon or a secondary carbon is going to be favored by SN1 whereas a methyl carbon or a primary carbon goes to SN2. In this case, for SN1, we're looking for a tertiary or a secondary carbon that would get attacked by the nucleophile.

The right answer here is (D) 2-Chloro-2-Methylpropane because the chloro is on the second carbon and there's also a methyl group on that second carbon so that's what we call a tert butyl group in the kind of common nomenclature. It's a classic substrate for SN1.

[03:35] A Quick Breakdown of SN1 and SN2 Reactions

The key to understanding this is starting with the mechanism itself where SN2 is the classic, backside attack. The nucleophile comes in, attacks the carbon, and kicks off the living group all in a single step. Just google SN1 versus SN2 and you will find a million charts out there. Rather than just memorizing, go down the list of all the different factors and figure out why this would favor a backside attack. Why would a methyl or a primary carbon favor a backside attack? And that's because there is less stearic hindrance. Or why would a polar aprotic solvent prefer SN2? So the nucleophile attacks the carbon instead of attacking the solvent. And so on and so forth.

Go down all the various factors and ask yourself how does this help the SN2 backside attack. As opposed to the SN1 mechanism, which is a two-step process, where first the living group just leaves. It's totally on its own and forms the carbocation intermediate. That's the big phrase you want to remember with SN1.

Again for SN2, remember the backside attack and for SN1, remember carbocation intermediate. And when you review these charts, don't just bluntly memorize them but try to understand how does this solvent or whatever favor forming that carbocation intermediate. If you can plug everything back into the mechanism, you will be much more likely be able to apply it correctly under pressure on test day as opposed to having memorized generic stuff in the abstract.

[06:30] Question 31:

If 3,000 molecules of triglycerides are hydrolyzed into their component molecules, what would the resulting mixture contain?

  • (A) 3,000 fatty acid molecules and 3,000 glycerol molecules
  • (B) 9,000 fatty acid molecules and 3,000 glycerol molecules
  • (C) 3,000 phospholipid molecules and 3,000 glycerol molecules
  • (D) 9,000 phospholipid molecules and 3,000 glycerol molecules

A triglyceride is your lipid, your classic energy storage that the body uses. Remember the nomenclature triglyceride, if you drew this, is E-shaped where there's these big long tails making up the three prongs of the E. So that's three fatty acid molecules and all of them are just plugged together in these little ester linkages to a glycerol backbone.

So if you take 3,000 fats and chop them up, you're going to get 3,000 glycerol backbones and 9,000 fatty acids. Simple math.

[08:15] Question #44:

For the reaction below, which solvent will best promote an SN2 mechanism of reaction. (Then it shows us a figure of an alcohol being attacked by a hydrochloric acid and the chloride is attaching on and H2O is the byproduct.)

  • (A) H2O
  • (B) Methanol
  • (C) Acetone
  • (D) Toluene

Bryan's Insights:

You should be able to walk into the test knowing what kind of solvent favors SN2 and you really don't have to look at the reaction.

On the MCAT, anytime two answer choices say the same thing, you can throw them both out. In this case, methanol has an OH group attached to a CH3. That alcohol, OH on the methanol and for H2O, the OH is in water, those are chemically very similar as far as their solvent behavior goes. Both of them have hydrogen bonding so you can throw out both choices (A) and (B) together because if it were H2O then methanol would be the same answer as they both behave the same way.

Now, we just have to decide between acetone and toluene. Keep in mind that in order for the reaction to go, to dissolve the hydrochloric acids, dissolve the propanol pictured here, you actually have to have a polar solvent. So the right answer here is acetone which is your classic polar, aprotic solvent, that SN2 is favored by. For toluene, you wouldn't be even be able to dissolve the reagents because toluene is just a purely organic solvent.

[10:10] Polar and Nonpolar Molecules

And by polar, remember that a molecule can be either polar or nonpolar depending on the bonds found in the molecules. If you had a really electronegative atom bonded into a much less electronegative atom, like oxygen and hydrogen, that creates a polar bond. But that's just a polar bond. However, for a molecule to be a polar molecule, you have to add up all the polar bonds it has and they add as vectors. This has a little bit of physics as you have to know how to add vectors in physics. And if all of the polar bonds add up to an overall polar molecule then that's what you've got.

Whereas for example in carbon tetrachloride CCl4, (where chlorine is a lot more electronegative than carbon so a single bond from carbon to chlorine would be a polar bond) you have essentially a four-way tug-of-war with no winner. Therefore, a molecule ends up being non-polar because no one gets to win that tug-of-war on the electrons.

[11:45] About Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep is known for their one-on-one tutoring and if this is something you're looking into, go check them out. Additionally, they have an online course to study for the MCAT which includes tons of materials where you have access to ten of their full-length exams, all the AAMC material, five days of live office hours with their top instructors, and 100+ hours of videos covering everything you need to know for the MCAT at a much cheaper price than other companies out there. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money.


Khan Academy (sn1 versus sn2)

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money)

Apr 19, 2017
37: How Do I Know if I am Ready to Take the MCAT

Session 37

This week, we're breaking from our normal pattern of going through MCAT questions as Bryan and I talk about how to determine if you are really ready to take the MCAT.

First, check out the The Premed Years Podcast Session 29 where I interviewed Renee, a 54-year-old medical student who had to reapply to medical school and had to take the MCAT five times.

Let's go back and dive right in!

[01:10] Am I Ready to take the MCAT?

Bryan's typical response to this question is to first start with abstracting out all of the fraught emotions that come behind that question.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how many MCATs you should take. In fact, I mentioned and asked how many MCATs do I need to take so I know I'm ready. Hence, we're doing this episode to specifically talk about this topic.

The student will typically reframe the question as "I don't feel ready." Now, if you live in the land of feelings, you will never feel ready. Bryan has been doing this for 16 years and every time he would take the MCAT, he doesn't feel ready to take it again.

[02:18] Number of Practice Tests

Most students have taken five to ten full-length exams so they have plenty of data to look back at. If you haven't done that and only took one test, then you're not ready. End of discussion.

Now, let's look back at how many full-length exams you've taken. The algorithm is really simple. Look back at your best section scores, not your best overall scores. Look at each individual section and ask yourself what's the best you've ever done in chemical and physical foundations, or the best you've ever done in CARS, or in Bio and in Psychology. Do not look at what you wish you would get or what is your target score.

What is the real actual number that you have actually achieved and that you know you're personally capable of when you're performing with your game face on or you’re at your best in each of the individual sections?

Add up all those numbers then ask yourself, what's your best day ever? Realistically look at your best scores which you're personally capable of so far. Then add them all up to get a number.

[03:40] Best-Day-Ever Score

When you get your best-day-ever-score is not how you feel about that. Take feelings out of the equation. The question is about behavior. What is you best day ever score based on real, actual past achievement? And if you got that score, would you apply to medical school or would you just take the MCAT again and not even bother applying? So it's a binary question about, what would you do?

If your answer to the question is, "Yes, I've got my best-day-ever-score and I'll go ahead and apply to med school," then you're ready. If your MCAT is sometime in the next one to two or two to three weeks, then you are right on track and have realistically achieved scores that would get you a score that would allow you to apply to medical school. Then go ahead and take the test.

If your answer to the question is, "Even if I had my best day ever, I wouldn't even bother applying. I would just sign up for the MCAT again and continue studying," then don't take the MCAT because your best day ever is not even good enough to get you to a place where you're applying to med school. So why bother taking it at all? Push back a month so you can continue studying.

"Best day ever" doesn't only refer to a single time that you scored the highest aggregate score, but your best section scores. If you've got all of your best section scores all at once in a single day and since then you've taken a couple of tests more and have seen a downward trend, you're still ready to go to take the test because that best day ever is a real thing that happened and you were capable of it. If you've got that 510 once, then you're capable of getting a 510 again. If you've had some bad luck after that, then you've got to shake that off, learn the lessons to be learned from the practice test and then just go in there and knock it out of the park again on the real exam.

[06:02] Scheduling Your Test

One of the mistakes students make is not scheduling their test until they're ready. Bryan recommends you schedule the test as soon as you start prepping. Once you’ve personally committed you're going to take the MCAT, your very next step is to pick a date and trying to see when do you have a good three to prep for it. Then go three months out and put your money where your mouth is. Pay the $300 and register for the exam. Otherwise, you will keep on finding excuses to push it back and it will never happen. Scheduling the test puts your head on the chopping block so you have a deadline to keep in mind now. The impostor syndrome may try to creep in where you feel you're not ready and you can't do it or you're not smart enough but that impostor syndrome will always be there all through your journey. So schedule the test. Seeing the test date looming at you, that will get your button gear and get the work done.

[07:50] Final Thoughts

Now you know when you're ready to take the MCAT. Ultimately, you need to take the MCAT early enough in the application cycle so your application is not late. However, you also need to be prepared for it. I've had several discussions with students and we've pushed back their application year because they're not ready to take the MCAT. So don't rush your application just because you need to take the MCAT by this certain time. Again, take the MCAT when you're ready.

Next, we're going to talk about Organic Chemistry!


MedEdMedia Network

Next Step Test Prep (Get access to their full-length exams and live office hours five days a week by using the code MCATPOD)

The Premed Years Podcast Session 29

The MCAT Podcast Session 34: How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should I Take?

Apr 12, 2017
36 : Breaking Down MCAT Chemistry Discrete Questions

Session 36

My name is Dr. Ryan Gray and I am joined again by Next Step Test Prep's MCAT guru, Bryan as we look at a few general chemistry discrete questions and break them down to help you on your MCAT journey.

[01:46] Question #15:

Which of the following particles is expected to have the least mass:

(A) Alpha particle

(B) Beta particle

(C) Positron

(D) Gamma particle

Bryan's Insights:

A gamma particle is such a really high energy photon so it has no mass. The physicist would insist that it has no rest mass. But the MCAT is not that picky. Hence, the right answer is (D) Gamma particle since it has no mass at all.

An alpha particle is two protons and two neutrons. Sometimes called the helium nucleus, the alpha particle is the heaviest. Beta particles and positrons have just a little bit of mass because their electrons are antielectrons.

Pilots up in the air have got less atmosphere protecting them so they're exposed to more radiation. It's funny how the general population doesn't know much about radiation that they freak out whenever they hear the word because radiation is always out there and we're dealing with it.

[03:44] Question #31:

Which of the following is a weak acid in aqueous solution?

(A) HF

(B) HCl

(C) HBr

(D) HI

Bryan's Insights:

This is one where the MCAT is going to expect you to know your classic strong acids: hydrochloric acid, hydrobromic acid, hydroiodic acid are all strong acids. Some other strong acids the MCAT is also going to expect you to know are sulfuric acid, nitric acid, perchloric acid, the classic oxygen-containing acids.

But remember that among the halogens, HF is weird because it's actually a weak acid. In this case, the fluorine is so strongly electronegative that it's not willing to give up its proton so it doesn't act as an acid in water.

[04:47] Question #45:

Which of the following electronic transitions for hydrogen would result in the emission of a quantized amount of energy?

(A) n=1 - n=2

(B) n=2 - n=3

(C) n=5 - n=4

(D) n=4 - n=6

Bryan's Insights:

The way to answer this question is by playing the classic MCAT game of which of these is not like other or which one of these does not belong. Forget any of your science because you just have to look structurally which answer choice is different. In this case, the answer choice that stands out is (C) because all the rest have numbers going up. Hence, C is the right answer.

If the electron is in a high energy state 5 drops down to a principal quantum number 4, it releases energy. That energy has got to go somewhere as per the law of conservation of energy and it gets released as a photon.

[06:00] Question #47:

Phosphorous acid, a common ingredient used for potable water treatment has a molecular formula of:

(A) H3PO5

(B) H3PO4

(C) H3PO3

(D) H3PO2

Bryan's Insights:

The MCAT is going to expect you to know your general chemistry nomenclature. Just to give you a review of this topic which we've previously talked about, phosphorous acid would be H3PO3.

The molecule that you absolutely have to know as you walk into the MCAT is H3PO4 which is phosphoric acid. So phosphorous has one less oxygen. H3PO2 is hypophosphorous acid so with one less oxygen, its hypo-. H3PO5 is perphosphoric acid. So the one with most oxygens has the prefix "per-" and the suffix "-ic."

The nomenclature doesn't specifically relate to the number each time because it can change depending on the number of the molecule. For instance, perchloric acid is HClO4, chloric acid is HClO3, chlorous acid is HClO2. hypochlorous acid is HClO. It's about the relationships between them rather than the total number of oxygens.

[08:47] Next Step Test Prep

Practice tests which are a huge part in preparing for the MCAT. Next Step Test Prep has ten full-length practice tests that you can take and learn from. Next Step simulates the real AAMC MCAT test and that is they to practicing for the MCAT. Next Step has different packet sizes and use the code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep (Use the code MCATPOD.)


MedEdMedia Network

The Premed Years Podcast

Apr 05, 2017
35: Looking at MCAT Biochemistry Discrete Questions

Session 35

This week, Bryan and I took break down some Next Step MCAT biochemistry discrete questions to help you figure out how to get the right answer.

[01:40] Question #17:

Which of the following is not considered an organic acid?

Answer choices:

  • (a) Folic acid
  • (b) Carbonic acid
  • (c) Ascorbic acid
  • (d) Citric acid

Bryan's Insights:

This is a nomenclature thing where you figure out what's considered organic and not organic. Looking back at the organic chemistry you did many years ago, you'd probably remember the definition of what makes a molecule an organic molecule. And usually, we would think of it as carbon. The presence of carbon denotes that it's an organic molecule.

But remember that an exception to that is not every molecule is considered organic just because it has carbon in it. In fact, the MCAT is going to expect you to remember two particular exceptions and Bryan is going to mention a third one.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) has carbon but is not an organic molecule.
  1. Carbonic acid (H2CO3) has carbon in it but it's not considered an organic molecule. It's an inorganic molecule.
  1. Any kind of carbon alloy with a metal (ex. steel which is an alloy of iron and carbon) is not considered an organic molecule.

Carbonic acid (H2CO3) is not considered an organic acid. Folic acid, Ascorbic acid, Citric acid are all organic biochemical molecules used in various pathways in the body.

[03:45] Question #44:

What's the net charge on a phenylalanine molecule at pH1?

Answer choices:

  • (a) -1
  • (b) 0
  • (c) +.5
  • (d) +1

Bryan's Insights:

Biochemistry on the MCAT means a lot of different things but the two biggest things would be amino acids and enzymes. Bryan has never seen an Official AAMC practice test that didn't include a whole mass of questions about amino acids and enzymes.

In this case, phenylalanine, which is an amino acid, you would be expected to know the zwitterionic nature of amino acids where at a really low pH, you have to protonate everything. At a physiological neutral pH, some stuff would be protonated and some stuff would be deprotonated. And at a really high pH, you have to deprotonate everything.

The test expects you to know the side chains so for phenylalanine, in particular, the side chain is a phenyl ring attached to a CH2 (like alanine). So phenylalanine has a benzyl functional group that has a CH2 and a phenyl ring. This means it's not going to change by pH. It's not going to pick up or lose any protons.

At a pH1, which is very highly acidic, the only functional groups to think about are just the amino and acid parts of an amino acid. So the amino group (NH2) at a really super acidic pH is going to be NH3+ (so +1). And the acid part (COOH) is also going to be protonated. So COOH is neutral. Now you've got COOH neutral, NH3+1, and the phenylalanine side chain which does nothing. This gives us a total net charge of +1. So the answer here would be (d) +1 charge.

[05:55] Final Thoughts

This comes down to knowing all your amino acids. You should be able to go into test day knowing your amino acids so well that if someone gave you a blank sheet of paper and asked you to draw all 20 from memory, including the 3-letter and 1-letter abbreviations, you can do it instantly without a moment's hesitation.

Every MCAT has at least one or two "freebie" questions if you know the structures of your amino acids.

[06:44] Next Step Test Prep and Full Length Practice Tests

Known for their one-on-one tutoring, Next Step Test Prep also offers full-length practice exams. If you're not yet in the process of taking your full-length exams and looking at buying them (which I highly recommend you do since the AAMC only has two scored exams as of right now and one other non-scored exam). You need to take more than three exams as mentioned in Session 34 when we talked about how many practice tests should be taken. Next Step Test has ten full-length exams at this point. They are real, simulated testing just like you're going to see on the AAMC test. Use the coupon code MCATPOD to save some money from their offerings.)


Official AAMC practice test

Next Step Test Prep (Coupon code: MCATPOD)

The MCAT Podcast Session 34

The Premeds Podcast

The OldPreMeds Podcast

Specialty Stories

MedEd Media Network

Mar 29, 2017
34: How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should I Take?

Session 34

This week, Bryan and I are shedding light on one specific question that has been coming up over and over again and that is - how many practice tests should a student aim for before taking the real MCAT?

Practice tests are the key to doing well on the MCAT.  Next Step Test Prep has prepared 10 full-length exams to help you, but how many do you really need to take until you’re truly ready to take the real thing?

[01:26] Absolute Minimum Acceptable Number of Practice Tests to Take

Every student is different so Bryan will touch on the different cases. Starting with the easier answer, the ABSOLUTE minimum acceptable number of practice tests to take is three. This is as of the time we're recording this podcast because in the beginning of 2017, the AAMC has released three official practice tests. Now if you happen to be listening to this podcast in 2018, maybe the minimum will be four depending on the number of practices tests the AAMC has released. But you cannot consider yourself an adequately prepared MCAT student if you have not, at the bare minimum, done the official AAMC practice tests.

[02:37] Good Number for Extreme Cases

You may extend the practice tests to as many as seven to ten if you find that you're really having trouble improving your score or you're the kind of person who had to take a lot of practice SATs and ACTs as a kid. If standardized testing doesn't work for you, you may find that you have to go as high as seven or eight. Bryan is putting a hard cap at ten because once you get past that number, that could result to diminishing returns when perhaps you should have reviewed them more carefully instead.

[03:40] The Average Number for a Well-Prepared MCAT Student

A good amount would be five or six. You take three from AAMC and another three from a prep company like Next Step. This is the average amount for a well-prepared MCAT student. So five, six, or maybe seven full-length practice tests. If you need to go beyond that, it's fine. Again, if you're reviewing them properly, there shouldn't be any need to go past nine or ten tests.

[04:12] When to Know You're Ready

When to know you’re ready to take the MCAT basically depends on the student. There is this notion of getting your dream goal MCAT score and so you have to get that score once or twice on the practice test before you're ready. Some students have this hyper-ambitious view. Others, meanwhile, simply look at the trend that if they see a solid upper trend, they know they're learning from their practice and they're headed in the right direction and they've taken enough tests after about five or six.

[05:11]  What If You Scored Very High on Your Diagnostic Test?

Even if you're a student who started off with a very strong baseline since you scored high on your diagnostic test, you should still take all three AAMC practice tests and possibly cram off these three just in a couple of weeks just to make sure it's not a fluke, to make you comfortable with the interface, and you're totally at home with how the test is presented. Of course, after you've taken all three, go ahead and take the real test.

Links and Other Resources:

AAMC practice tests 2017

Next Step Full-Length Practice Tests

Next Step Diagnostic Test Next Step Test Prep (I highly recommend their one-on-one tutoring service. Use the code MCATPOD to save some money off all their offerings.)

The Premed Years Podcast Session 226: Why You Should Still Consider a Career in Medicine?:

Mar 22, 2017
33: Breaking Down an Organic Chemistry MCAT Passage

Session 33

This week, Bryan and Ryan break down a passage from Next Step covering Organic Chemistry,

Follow along and learn how Bryan teaches you to do this. Organic chemistry is now Bryan's favorite after they changed the MCAT last year because it used to be a slog having to memorize a million different reaction mechanisms as well as "proper noun" names for the reaction.

Apparently, the new MCAT has a strong focus on real, general principles, lab techniques, and experimental procedures, which are good since these tend to stick with you so much better than some random stuff from a book. Students are 10x more likely to remember it if they do things themselves and you give them something to carry on an activity than having to randomly read something out of a textbook.

[03:18] Passage #1:

The characteristic fragrance, Chanel No. 5, one of the world's most well-known perfumes, is due almost wholly to 2-Methylundecanal, a compound found naturally in kumquats. The compound exists in two enantiomeric forms (Figure 1 and then they show us a picture of 2-Methylundecanal.

A chemistry class carried out an experiment to separate 2-Methylundecanal from 2-Methylundecanoic acid ("-al" means it's an aldehyde as opposed to "-oic" acid which means it a carboxylic acid).

They try to separate these two by carrying out a distillation of a liquid consisting solely of these two components. Due to the high boiling points of these compounds, the class was instructed to carry out a vacuum distillation. Students began by placing... (distillation steps given). We should certainly walk into the MCAT being comfortable with distillation procedures.

[04:22] Question #11:

Another possible method of separating 2-Methyundecanal and 2-Methylundecanoic acid could be based on:

(A) Their differences in the rotation of plane polarized light

(B) Mass spectrometry analysis

(C) Extraction based on their differing solubilities

(D) The very different scent profiles of each molecule

[05:05] Bryan's Insights:

When you think about it for a moment, it actually ends up being straightforward. But if your rush and let yourself fall into a panicky trap and pick up the first thing that seems reasonable, you're going to get it wrong. In fact, less than 40% of students get this right so this would be classified as the "most often gotten incorrect questions."

More than 45% of students pick answer choice A. It's possible that this aldehyde and this carboxylic acid have different rotations of plane polarized light. R versus S, D versus L, and so on. But you've got to go back. It's important to answer exactly the question they asked you. In this case, the question was "a method of separating" these two molecules.

All you have to know among these answer choices is which one of these is a separation technique.

Answer choice [A] is an analysis technique. It's what you have in the beaker, not how to separate things out.

Answer choice [B] is again an analysis technique. It's what you have here and not a separation technique.

Answer choice [C] is the only separation technique listed here. Hence, this is the right answer.

Answer choice [D] is just a random filler answer choice considering the first sentence talks about a perfume.

So if you read the question exactly, it ends up being much more straightforward than it initially seems. Students think the MCAT is there to trick them but Bryan thinks it can be tricky there's never a trick question

[7:30] Question #12:

Boiling chips and vacuum distillation, respectively, are used in distillations to...

Bryan's Insights:

Here is one question you shouldn't even need the answer choice if you've prepared well for the MCAT, if you reviewed the basics of lab techniques, if you were a good organic chemistry student yourself, and if you remember these basic lab techniques.

We all remember the viral YouTube videos way back in 2009 maybe where they would pop Mentos candies into Diet Coke and a sudden fountain of bubbles could come out. This is due to the irregular surface of a Mentos that looks a lot like a boiling chip that provides all these little nooks and crannies where bubbles can form (whether in a soda or in a boiling fluid).

The point of the boiling chip is to provide "nucleation sites," where little nucleus of gas can form and boil off. It prevents the fluid from becoming overheated.

Incidentally, a Hot Pocket in a microwave oven get insanely hot because the water in there doesn't have any nucleation sites to start boiling off or steaming off. So it actually heats the water past 100 degree Celsius which is very common in a microwave.

Now, it narrows us down to choices [A] and [D]. We just have to know the point of vacuum distillation and there is a clue from the passage which says, "due to high boiling points of these compounds, the class was instructed to carry out a vacuum distillation."

What the vacuum apparatus does is suck off and remove the atmospheric pressure which helps lower the boiling points of the substances. This way, you don't need a Bunsen burner that gets to a million degrees. You can just use a normal desktop Bunsen burner. So the answer is choice [A]. Bunsen burners get hot but nothing more than a stove-top. The question is how would you boil this thing that needs really insanely high boiling point. Then remove the atmosphere from it.

[10:00] Question #13:

The liquid remaining in the round bottom flask at the end of the procedure was most likely:

[A] A mixture consisting of equal amounts of the two components

[B] 2-Methylundecanal

[C] Water condensed from air in the lab

[D] 2-Methylundecanoic Acid

Bryan's Insights:

This question requires a bit of outside knowledge about boiling points and to know that a carboxylic acid, because it has hydrogen bonding and that OH on the end of the carboxylic acid, is going to mean that one 2-Methylundecanoic acid molecule will stick to another molecule much more strongly.

Hydrogen bonding makes the molecule stick to each other so it's hard to boil them. When you start off a distillation with a mixture of these two substances, the aldehyde is going to be relatively easy to boil off. As you warm it up, the aldehyde boils away and goes into the little collection bowl by the end of the whole process and then the carboxylic acid gets left behind. Hence, the right answer is choice [D], the 2-Methylundecanoic acid is left behind in the round bottom flask at the end.

Links and Other Resources:

MedEd Media Network

The Premed Years Session 225

Next Step Test Prep (Use the code MCATPOD to save some money from their offerings.)

Mar 15, 2017
32: How to Break Down a General Chemistry Passage

Session 32

General chemistry lays down the foundation for a lot of the sciences on the MCAT. In this episode, Bryan breaks down this general chemistry passage for the new MCAT.

[2:22] Passage #1:

A hyper-sailing body of water contains high concentrations of sodium chloride (salt) and other water-soluble ionic compounds such as calcium sulfate (gypsum). The salt levels exceed those found in ocean water (3.5% by mass) and are often associated with flora and fauna that are specifically adapted to extreme conditions. There's considerable  recent interest in species that are able to survive under such conditions because they may represent conditions for life that might be present on other worlds.

[3:00] Question #1: What is the approximate molarity of sodium chloride in ocean water if the density of ocean water is 1.028 kg per liter?

Answer choices:

  1. 0.02 molar
  2. 0.6 molar
  3. 0.9 molar
  4. 9.6 molar

[3:20] Bryan's insights: When there are numbers for answer choices, you should always take a quick look at how spread out they are to know whether you can round them off or you have to be super precise with your calculations.

At first glance, the question seems like it requires 6-8 different calculation steps since you probably have to do certain conversions or go back to the passage. It seems there are at least 2 layers of conversion that have to happen here plus a couple more calculations. But you can take a few short cuts to make this easier to solve.

  1. Let's say you have a liter of ocean water in front of you. Then you know that liter of ocean water is 1,028 grams. The passage says 3.5% by mass of salt. Take that 1,028 and multiply it by 0.035. Just rounding that off to 1,000, so 1,000 x 3.5% is 35 grams of sodium chloride.
  1. You have to know the molecular weight of sodium chloride. Bryan will do the work here but on the real test, you will have a periodic table that you can pull out to check the mass of sodium and chloride. But sodium chloride is 58 g/mole. So now you have 35 grams of salt and 35 divided by 58.

But if you don't want to do all that, 35 divided by 70 would be exactly a half. So now you have 35 over about 60. So this is a little more than half or a fraction a little more than half. (As the denominator gets smaller, the number gets a little bit bigger).

[5:57] The Correct Answer

Going back to the answer choices, (a) 0.02, (b) 0.6, (c) 0.9, (d) 9.6. And you arrive at a number that's a little more than half for the number of moles of salt in our hypothetical one liter. So a little more than half is 0.6. Therefore, the right answer is letter b.

So there were only two steps in the calculation. First, taking that 1.028 kg/l and saying that 1,028 grams, 3.5% of that is about 35 grams. Second, convert the grams into moles which is a little more than half a mole. So if you have half a mole in a hypothetical 1 liter, than that's 0.6 molar.

[8:19] Question #2: Based on Fig.1, adding salt to water causes the boiling point of water to __________.

Now we have to decide whether the answer is increase or decrease and what that means in terms of the vapor pressure of the liquid. The question is based on Fig.1 and looking at it, there's a little pressure, temperature, curve, etc., but we don't really need any of that.

The MCAT is going to expect you to walk into the test knowing about colligative properties, which involve changes in boiling point or freezing point. If your background science is real good then you can just answer this straight away.

What happens to the boiling point of water when you add salt in it? It raises the boiling point. If you want to cook stuff quickly, you want your water to be really hot. Throw a bunch of salt in and your water can get hotter.

[10:02] Answer choices:

  1. increase, requiring a greater average kinetic energy of the liquid to produce a vapor pressure equal to the external pressure
  2. increase, requiring a greater average kinetic energy of the liquid to produce a vapor pressure greater than the external pressure

[10:20] Bryan's insights: At this point, that just becomes a definition question. Do you know what boiling point means when it comes to vapor pressures? Again, you've got to walk into the test knowing that by definition, a boiling point is the point where the vapor pressure coming up off the liquid is equal to the atmospheric pressure pushing down on the liquid. Therefore, the answer is letter (a) since boiling point is when those two are in equilibrium with each other.

It's a dynamic equilibrium so the vapor pressure coming up and the atmospheric pressure pushing down are actually equal to each other. However, it doesn't mean the system is static since it's constantly dynamic with the bubbles churning around and the little water molecules popping off into the air.

[11:35] Question #3: What is the chemical formula of gypsum?

Bryan's Insights:

Go back to the passage and look what they said about gypsum. The first sentence of the passage says that, "A hyper-sailing body of water contains high concentrations of sodium chloride (salt) and other water-soluble ionic compounds such as calcium sulfate (gypsum)."

You are expected to know the names of ions like sulfate as SO4 as well as the charge of your common cations and anions. SO4 has a charge of -2. Calcium as an alkaline earth metal has a charge of +2. Therefore, this would give you an overall gypsum formula CaSO4.

[12:44] Tricks for Remembering the -ates and the -ites and 3's and 4's:

Hypo- means less of something. Hypo- with an -ite is the least amount of oxygen's. For example, a hyposulfite would just be SO. If you take away the hypo- then it's just the -ite level so there is one more Oxygen. Then -ate is another Oxygen pass that so that gets you up to the SO4 level.

The prefix "per' like in hydrogen peroxide means add an extra Oxygen. So if you have a per- -ate like calcium perchlorate, that would have another Oxygen on it.

Hence, the order they go in would be "hypo-ite," "-ite," "-ate," "per-ate." Unfortunately, that doesn't tell you the number of oxygen's because it depends on whether it's sulfur or chlorine, or whatever element.

Links and Other Resources:

Download the handout here.

Next Step Test Prep (Use the code MCATPOD to save some money on their offerings)

MedEd Media Network

Get the Handout

Click Here to Download Handout

Mar 08, 2017
31: Biochemistry on the MCAT. Breaking Down a Passage

Session 31

This week, we discuss a biochemistry passage where Bryan breaks down how to read the passage and look through the answers. Biochemistry is Bryan's favorite part of the MCAT and I'm not sure if the same holds true for you. They're all probably bad and biochemistry is probably the "lesser of two evils" but we're here to make it less bad for you.

[02:30] Biochemistry Passage:

Potentiometric titration is a useful means of characterizing an acid. No indicator is used. Instead, the cell potential is measured across the analyte solution. When cell potential is plotted against titrant volume added, the equivalence point is the cell potential at the inflection point, the midpoint of the steep segment of the titration curve.

For polyprotic acids, an acidic hydrogen will produce an inflection point only if it is not very weakly acidic and if its ionization constant differs from that of any other acidic hydrogen of the acid by at least a factor of 104.

Captopril (molecular weight: 217.29 g/mol), shown in Figure 1, is a competitive inhibitor of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). In the figure for Captopril, we're shown two acidic Hydrogens, one on a Sulfur that has a pKa of 9.8 and another on a carboxylic acid that has a pKa of 3.7. So Captopril has two acidic protons, one at 9.8 and one at 3.7 for the pKa's.

Students studying captopril were provided the following in vivo IC50 values (the minimum plasma concentration needed to inhibit 50% of target enzyme activity). The pH range shows that below 3.7, the IC50 is 0.058. Between 3.8 - 9.5, the IC50 drops from 0.05 all the way down to 0.01 so it's much lower. Once the pH gets above 9.6, the IC50 goes back up to over 0.06. So a notable lower IC50 in the middle of the pH range.

So we've got an organic molecule Captopril with two acidic protons at a pKa of 9.8 to 3.7. The IC50, the amount of this inhibitor you need to get to 50% inhibition is really low, in between those two numbers. So it's much more powerful inhibition in that part of their pH range.

[05:00] Question #24:

If students performed an enzyme-inhibition assay using Captopril, which of the following changes in the kinetic parameters of ACE should be expected?

Answer choices: The Vmax goes up or down or is unchanged and the Km is increased or decreased or unchanged.

Bryan's Insights:

Changes in Vmax or changes in Km depend on what kind of an inhibitor it is. Going back to the passage, we know that Captopril is a competitive inhibitor. What you're expected to walk into the test is that as a competitive inhibitor, it doesn't change the Vmax. So it's unchanged. That then narrows us down to choices (C) and (D).

In order to get to the Vmax, you have to add a lot more substrate and flood out the inhibition with tons of the natural substrate. This means that the Km (the substrate concentration required to reach 1/2 Vmax) goes up.

So Captopril as a competitive inhibitor, Vmax is unchanged, Km is increased. And that leads us to answer choice (D).

[06:36] Pure Outside Knowledge

This is a question where about 70% of the students get right. So this is somewhere between easy to medium level of difficulty. But it's important that for questions like this, make sure you're keeping up with the crowd. This means you need to find places where you can do better than other premeds. At the bare minimum, on the more straightforward questions like this, you really need to be keeping up with the pack. So competitive inhibitor, Vmax unchanged, Km increased.

This is strictly a matter of knowledge. It's a common style of questioning on the MCAT. Every passage is basically going to have one or two questions like this where you have to look up a single fact from the passage, in this case, the Captopril was a competitive inhibitor. Other than that, it is just pure outside knowledge.

[07:50] Question #25:

Which of the following protonation states of the Captopril thiol and Carboxyl groups is required to maximize Captropril's inhibition of ACE?

We have to decide whether to have the thiol group be protonated or deprotonated and have the carboxylic acid group either protonated or deprotonated.

Bryan’s Insights:

Going back to the table, the extra little step of reasoning we have to apply here is that if you want to maximize the inhibition, you want to minimize the IC50 (the amount of inhibitor needed to get to 50% inhibition). So if you're a really strong inhibitor doing your job really well, you don't need to add much. A little dab will get you to half inhibition. Based on the table, it was the pH range in the middle, between 3.8 and 9.5. Unsurprisingly, this drug does its best work at a normal physiological pH (around 7 to 7.3).

Looking at the Figure for Captopril, if your pH is in the middle of the pH range, the carboxylic acid is going to be deprotonated, which means you have to strip the proton off that since the pKa for that is only 3.7. If the pH is over the pKa (the pH is really high and you're in a really basic environment relative to that group or molecule), you deprotonate it. So you deprotonate the carboxyl group.

The hydrogen and the sulfur to the thiol group had a pKa of 9.8 so we're below that. Relative to 9.8, being a neutral pH is actually relatively acidic from the Sulfur's point of view. The sulfur would then be protonated.

Knowing that the thiol is going to be protonated and the carboxylic group is going to be deprotonated, this would then lead us to answer choice (B).

[10:18] The Paradox in Biochemistry

It's a common style of reasoning in biochemistry where they something like, "This is variable is the amount of x needed to get to y." Seeing that, you'd say, "Lower amounts of x, it's a powerful molecule so you don't need as much x to get the job done." It's this weird paradoxical thing in biochemistry where smaller numbers have more oomph to whatever you're looking at.

[11:00] Next Step Test Prep

Known for their one-on-one tutoring, Next Step Test Prep now has an amazing online course which includes all the content you need as well as some live office hours with those who created the content. Use the code MCATPOD to save some money.


Next Step Test Prep (Code: MCATPOD)

MedEdMedia Network

The Short Coat Podcast

Mar 01, 2017
30: Dissecting MCAT Biology Discrete Trap Answers

Session 30

This week, Bryan picked from common MCAT biology questions on the Next Step tests where students fall into traps when reviewing answers. In fact, a good chunk of students got them right (40%-70%). However, in each case, although it's just a really sizable minority, there was one answer that a lot of students got trapped into. So now we're going to help you avoid it.

[01:59] Question #15:

The peptide bond that forms the backbone of proteins is especially stable because it:

  • (A) consists of a triple bond, significantly stronger and more stable
  • (B) is a carboxylic acid derivative
  • (C) would result in proteins that denatured easily if it were unstable
  • (D) exhibits resonance stabilization

[02:27] Bryan's Insights:

This is a content fact that students have to know about peptide bonds, which are amides, and amides have resonance stabilization. Hence, choice (D) is the right answer. In fact, about 75% of students get that right. The trick here, however, is that answer choice (B) says, "is a carboxylic acid derivative," in the sense that it's true. A peptide is an amide and an amide is a carboxylic acid derivative from amine and a carboxylic acid forming amide. So a lot of students pick this answer, almost the entire other 25% of students.

The lesson you need to learn from this is that you're going to see this trick again in some of these other questions. So you have to be able to answer the question, and not just be true.

Again, yes, a peptide bond is a carboxylic acid derivative but that doesn't mean it's inherently stable. Since the question was " inherently stable because." And of course, there are molecules like acyl halides, to a lesser extent, anhydrides. There are carboxylic acid derivatives that are not stable. So answer choice (B), although true about peptides, doesn't actually answer the question that's being asked.

This is both a reading comprehension issue and an "I'm going to fast" issue where students get into a panic mode and just guess and they don't read all the choices so they move on. Alternatively, by the time they get to the end of the question and starting to read the answer choices, they've already forgotten exactly what question was asked.

Make sure you don't miss a keyword like "least" in the question stem, which you should highlight the question itself to make sure you're answering the exact questions being asked. Use the highlighter in the question.

[04:51] Question #16:

In prokaryotes, genes can exist as operons that are transcribed into a polycistronic mRNA containing multiple genes in a single transcript. In eukaryotes, transcripts exist only as monocistronic mRNA containing a single gene. What fundamental genetic difference is responsible for this distinction?

  • (A) mRNA is transported outside of the nucleus in eukaryotes.
  • (B) Prokaryotic mRNA has a five-prime GTP cap.
  • (C) Prokaryotes use a single start codon for multiple genes.
  • (D) In eukaryotes, each gene has their own transcription initiation site.

[05:47] Bryan's Insights:

Answer choice (D) is the right answer. In eukaryotes each gene has its own initiation site, and so one mRNA is transcribed off it for one gene, and that then is the right answer.

Now again, a very common trap answer is choice (A) mRNA is transported outside the nucleus in eukaryotes. This is true. You move outside the nucleus to make a protein. Also, prokaryotes don't have a nucleus so that is a distinction between the two.

But just like we saw in Question #15, this is an example where the trap answer, although true, is not the answer to the question. The question was specifically getting at this "difference between mRNAs that are polycistronic versus monocistronic." How could you have multiple genes in one mRNA as opposed to a single gene in mRNA? And that has nothing to do with where the RNA is whether it is in the nucleus or not.

Again, a key lesson on the MCAT: Don't pick an answer choice just because it's true, pick it because it actually answers the question. Moreover, if you have that "it was a stupid mistake" kind of reaction, always dig in and don't just brush it off as a stupid mistake. Find out why it was a stupid mistake so you don't do it again.

[07:35] Question #17:

In miRNA directed gene silencing, a small RNA binds to an mRNA and directs degradation of the mRNA or prevents translation of the mRNA. Which of the following terms describes the process through which binding occurs?

  • (A) RNA polymerization
  • (B) hybridization
  • (C) elongation
  • (D) transcription

[08:15] Bryan Insights:

You will probably notice some yammering on the question but you have to focus on exactly what the question asks, which is the process of binding, specifically one kind of RNA binds to another kind of RNA. Two nucleic acids come together, two single-stranded nucleic acids come together, like Velcro, they stick to each other. Whether it's two DNAs, two RNAs, a DNA and an RNA. It actually doesn't matter. It's all the same thing. It's all answer choice (B) hybridization.

Notice it had nothing to do with the gene silencing, or all the funky little non-coding RNA processes that are hinted at in the question. This was really just a definition. What do you call it when two nucleic acid strands glom onto each other? They hybridize.

The trap here is again, answer choice (A) RNA polymerization. The word RNA shows up over and over again in the question stem, and it sounds like polymerization- ‘oh yeah things sticking together, that sounds like making a polymer,' and so students pick answer choice A. Again, this is just a definition question. You have to know what RNA and DNA polymerization is, which is when individual nucleic acid monomers get strung together into a whole big long RNA strand. So when you transcribe mRNA from DNA, you are polymerizing a long RNA strand. Or when you do a replication for it and your DNA replicates, you are polymerizing new DNA strands.

That's certainly something that happens as it happens all the time, but it's not what the question asked about. The question was much more straightforward and it basically gave us the exact definition of hybridization. We just had to pick that out of the answer choices.

[10:14] Question #44:

Several samples are analyzed for nucleotide composition. Which of the following compositions most likely represents single-stranded piece of DNA? Which of these is a single-stranded piece of DNA?

  • (A) 17% A and 17% T, 33% G and 33% C
  • (B) 29% A and 14% U
  • (C) 4% A, 4% U
  • (D) 12% A, 12% T, 30% G, 46% C

[11:22] Bryan's Insights:

If you really paid attention then at this point, you would have immediately eliminated choices (B) and (C), which have U, since the question said DNA and uracil is only found in RNA. Uracil is not found in DNA.

The correct answer is (D). The trick with (A) is that when the A's and T's match each other, both 17%, and when the G's and C's match each other, both 33%, that's double-stranded.

In fact, this is a question that over 60% of students get wrong because they pick A right off the bat because they've been so conditioned to make the A's and T's and G's and C's all match each other. But again, they didn't answer the exact question they got asked.

[12:45] The Biggest Lesson

Probably the biggest lesson in all of standardized tests whether you're taking the MCAT, or the USMLE, or anything is to answer the exact question they asked you.

Another reason we always stress that even though you have to know the content for the MCAT, the MCAT is not a content-based test. This is proof to the study that came out in 2008 in a science article suggesting that the MCAT is the least content-based test out of all of the higher level testing. It is a reading and reasoning test that is incidentally about science rather than a recall test.


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Next Step Test Prep

The Premed Years Podcast

Feb 22, 2017
29: MCAT Biology Passage Deep Dive

Session 29

This week, we're going to do a deep dive into a full biology MCAT passage as we show you how you can prevent yourself from falling into the trap of some “tricky” questions and ultimately beat the MCAT.

[01:34] Beta Oxidation Passage

This passage shows the description of the process of beta oxidation, how the body in the mitochondrion metabolizes fat for energy. It also shows a couple of different molecular structures of carnitine and palmitic acid as well as the first three steps of beta oxidation.

With the addition of biochemistry to the MCAT, the test raters are going to expect you to be very comfortable with all these different metabolic pathways, not quite to the level that you would learn them in medical school but it still has to be the kind of language you're comfortable reading about.

[02:25] Answering "Least" Questions

Question #41: Injection of insulin into the bloodstream is least likely to result in which of the following:

  • (A) Increased glycogen synthesis
  • (B) Decreased lipid synthesis
  • (C) Increased deesterification of fatty acids
  • (D) Decreased gluconeogenesis

(We know that insulin is a very powerful metabolic hormone so this is not directly coming from the passage itself but just related to the topic of the passage.)

[03:19] Bryan's Insights:

The question sounds like it's going to require a whole lot of hyper-detailed knowledge of the various metabolic results of insulin. When organizing all the various complicated biochemistry pathways, start with the broadest, most general understanding.

Insulin is arguably the most powerful anabolic hormone in the body that involves building up and storing big molecules. Knowing that it's big job is to store energy to build up big molecules, you can usually hack your way through this question and find your way to the right answer.

Choice (A) increased glycogen synthesis sounds like something insulin would do since it means more storage. However, a common mistake among students is they'd just pick this answer and move on, forgetting the word "least" in the question. Therefore, choice (A) is already crossed off.

Choice (B) decreased lipid synthesis is the right answer since insulin's job is to help us store energy. Since this is a "least" question, answer choice (B) is then the right answer.

[05:08] Tips to Prevent Mistakes in  Answering "Least" Questions

First, AAMC has written this where they've put all in caps, or italics, words like least, not, except, etc.

Second, the MCAT comes with a highlighting function where you can mouse over and highlight words in the passage or in the question. So if you see words like challenge, weaken, not, accept, or least, highlight it in the question itself. This visual reminder will help prevent any mistakes.

[06:07] Answering Roman Numeral Questions

Question #42: Which steps in Figure 3 are oxidations? (Steps are presented in Roman Numerals. Figure 3 starts with a big long fatty acid tail attached to Coenzyme A.)

  1. Step 1 shows a single bond becoming a double bond.
  2. Step 2 shows the double bond going away and an OH (hydroxyl group) has now been tagged on where that double bond was.

III. Step 3 shows the OH group becomes a carbonyl carbon (C=O).

[07:11] Bryan's Insights:

There are different ways to answer Roman Numeral questions but do the easiest one first. In this case, going from a hydroxyl group (OH) to a carbonyl carbon (C=O) is fairly obviously an oxidation. It's a classic definition of oxidation set up when there are more bonds. So Step 3 is an oxidation. Let's just eliminate answer choice (A) and if this is far as you can get and you're not really sure about the other steps,t hat's fine. Take whatever progress you can get and make your best guess and move on.

Step 1 of the process going from a single bond to a double bond is another example of an oxidation step. So when we reduce or saturate a molecule, we reduce all the double bonds down to single bonds. And if you go the other way, going from a single bond to a double bond would be an oxidation step. So (I) is also an oxidation step.

Hence, Steps 1 and 3 are oxidations. This then leads us to eliminate another answer choice, (B), aside from (A) which we've already eliminated.

For the two remaining answer choices (C) and (D), we just have to decide whether Step 2 is an oxidation step. And this is a tricky question because a majority of students get this question wrong and think that Step 2 is an oxidation step so they pick the incorrect answer (D) whereas the right answer is (C)  I and III.

So you have to look back at Step 2 and figure out why it's not an oxidation. It's tricky in that the molecule starts from a double bond to adding a hydroxyl group. Students simply see the oxygen and they immediately conclude it's oxidation, without recognizing that since the double bond went away, that means one of the carbons got the OH group therefore the other carbon had to have gotten a hydrogen. The double bond did not just disappear so you had to put a hydrogen on there. Hence, this is not an oxidation step but a hydration step. They actually added water across a double bond.sure one carbon got an oxygen but the other carbon got a hydrogen.

This is tricky because you really have to think about what happened to the other carbon in that double bond. But ultimately, it's not a trick question because the figure is right there on your screen or handout.

[10:50] Final Thoughts

You just want to walk into the test being super comfortable with beta oxidation as a metabolic pathway so none of these steps will be something new. It's good to really know your metabolic pathways so you won't be worried about interpreting the figure correctly because it would be very comfortable for you already and you can instead just focus on the exact question asked.


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Specialty Stories Podcast

Feb 15, 2017
28: We Break Down Biology Discrete Questions for the MCAT

Session 28

This week, Bryan and I are breaking down discrete questions from the MCAT. These questions are taken directly from the Next Step MCAT Full-length Exams.

Everyone knows that Biology discrete questions are really going to test the application and recall of that information. So what we're going to look at today are the more straightforward questions, wherein 80% (or even more) of the students are getting it right on the Next Step Test Prep system. It's not necessarily easy since they're only easy if you know the answer. But the point of this is just to illustrate that in the competitive world of MCAT prep, you can't leave any of these points on the table. If you get a question straightforward from the fact, you have to get in since everyone else does.

[02:22] Question #29:

When normal human cells are grown in culture, they will divide in a limited number of times, typically 50 rounds of mitosis. After this number is reached, the cells become apoptotic. This cell death is a result of:

  • (A) Decreasing number of membrane-bound organelles per cell
  • (B) Decreasing number of non-membrane bound organelles per cell
  • (C) Decreasing levels of growth hormone
  • (D) Chromosomal telomeres shortening after each round of division

[03:07] Bryan's Insights:

The correct answer is (D) and this is just an important bio/biochem genetic fact that aging process in cells is due to telomere shortening. There are actually lots of interesting science behind the prevention of that so we can lengthen our lives. But why can't you just make them longer? Of course, uncontrolled chromosomal alteration and lengthening and addition is what we know as cancer. So you can't just go in there and muck about with no problems.

[03:57] Question #44:

A student finishes an experiment involving several bacteria which are highly pathologic in the humans. She was to dispose of the agar plates and micropipette tips she used. Which of the following procedures should she carry out?

  • (A) Microwave all materials for more than 60 seconds.
  • (B) Wipe down on materials with 100% ethanol solution.
  • (C) Place all materials in a biohazard bag and autoclave the bag.
  • (D) Place all materials under UV light for 90 seconds.

[04:48] Bryan's Insights:

This is one of the classic lab procedure questions where you have to know the mechanics of life in the lab and this is one of the hallmarks of the new version of the MCAT as opposed to the old version which is more textbook-based. Basically, a lot of these questions want to assess if you have spent time in the lab recently and you know how that works.

In this case, if you ever have biohazard that you have to dispose of, you absolutely have to autoclave it. There is no second best choice or alternative to it. Every lab in the universe has an autoclave for a reason and it's to dispose of biohazards.

Hence, the right answer is (C) Place all the materials in a biohazard bag and autoclave the bag.

[05:36] Question #45:

In a population of Amish people, the frequency of the recessive autosomal allele for the polydactyly is 1.2%. What percent of the population are carriers for this gene?

Bryan's Insights:

This is actually the hardest one of the set of questions we're going to look at. Only a less of 70% of the students got this right. This is what they call a Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. There are a bunch of percentages as an answer and we're told that the recessive allele has a frequency of 1.2%. Since all of the recessive and all the dominant alleles in the universe have to add up to 100%, that means the frequency of the dominant allele is 98.8%.

The extra bit is remembering what the mathematical term is for the carriers in the Hardy-Weinberg Equation, which is usually expressed as: p2 + 2pq + q2 = 1 or 100%

And so to be a carrier, to be a heterozygote, to have both of the genes, so that is that term in the middle of the equation, usually written as 2pq, where 2 is just the number two, p as the percentage of dominant, and q as the percentage of recessive.

In this case, the dominant was 98.8% or 0.988 while the recessive was 1.2% or 0.012. The thing about MCAT calculations is you don't have to go into super details as you can just round things off. So 2pq is 2 x 0.988 x 0.012 and that 0.988 is rounded off to 1. Now the equation becomes 2 x 1 x 1% roughly. In other words, this gives us a total of 2%.

You can ignore all those other decimals and all the fiddly bits and just say, it's going to be about 2% of carriers. And when you look at the answer choices, they're really spread out like (A) 0.01%, (B) 1%, (C) 2%, (D) 97% (there are decimals here but we're just going to ignore them) since answer choice (C) is the only one that's anywhere close which is a little over 2%.

[08:39] When to Round Off

When to use this technique entirely depends on how spread out the answer choices are. You will see some physics problems where the answer choices are literally thousands of times bigger and smaller than each other. In that case, you can afford to round off ruthlessly.

Here, where the answers were 0.01, 1, 2, and 98, even the two answer choices that were closest together (1 and 2) is a 100% difference. So you can round this off pretty aggressively.

[09:30] Question #46:

Those species that are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction will typically prefer sexual reproduction because it:

  • (A) increases the likelihood of each individual offspring surviving.
  • (B) increases the likelihood of beneficial mutations
  • (C) creates more variation in the next generation
  • (D) takes less time to complete

Bryan's Insights:

The correct answer here is (C). The trap answer here that gets 10%-15% of students to pick is (A) but evolution does not work on that level as it cares about whole populations and whole cohorts of individuals and the likelihood of survival, not one individual necessarily surviving.

When we think about the genetics on the MCAT, it's not really an ecology question nor an evolution question as it is to understanding the mechanics of that genetic reshuffling that happens during sexual reproduction. Why go to so much effort like peacocks growing enormous tails and bowerbirds build those huge nests. The point of those enormous metabolic costs that animals put into the entire dance of sexual reproduction is so that the next generation of animals has more variety and more adaptable to changing environmental conditions. In fact, that variety is so critically important that sexual reproduction strategies are vastly more successful.


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Feb 08, 2017
27: Answering Psych-Social MCAT Discrete Questions

Session 27

The MCAT Podcast is part of the MedEd Media network at

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.

(1:25) Passage #1

We're going to do some psych / social discrete questions -  independent questions this time around to wrap up this batch of practice question podcast episodes. You can follow along with the handout so it will be a lot easier to work with.

Question 12:

'A psychiatrist performing a mental exam shows a list of ten unrelated images to the patient and asks the patient to memorize them. The exam continues and a few minutes later the psychiatrist requests that the patient describe as many images as he can recall. If most of the remembered images come from the beginning and end of the list, this is an example of.'

The answer choices are: the recency effect, the serial position effect, the cognitive bias effect, the primacy effect.

To recap - there is a list of ten images, most remembered come from the beginning and end. What does it mean for our memory when we can remember things at the beginning, or we can remember things at the end? What position are you in a list that has an effect on your ability to remember it? That's the classic example of the serial position effect.

Now the trap here is the answer; the wrong answers are the recency effect and the primacy effect. In this case, the recency effect is your ability to remember the thing you heard most recently (meaning the thing at the end of the list), so answer choice A is only half of what the question described. The primacy effect, answer choice D, is your ability to always remember the very first thing: the first impression you had of a person, the first shot in a movie, the first item in a list.  So notice A and D only describe half of it. To really capture both the beginning and end of the list, you need the serial position effect.

(3:15) Passage #2

Question 13:

‘A physician accepts a job as a hospitalist and finds that for the first several months of work most of her effort is spent incoming to understand the mechanisms by which doctors, patients, insurance companies, the government at federal and local levels, and health insurers interact to deliver and pay for care. She particularly noticed the influence by the hospital's legal department often supersedes that of other important administrators who hold MDs. Her experiences and observations most closely reflect what theory of sociology?’

The answer choices are: functionalism, conflict theory, feminist theory, symbolic interactionism.

To recap - several months understanding the mechanisms by which doctors, patients, insurance companies, the government and health insurers interact to deliver and pay for care, and the influence of the legal department. I really like this question because most- a slight polarity of our students actually picked conflict theory, which is not the right answer. I think by throwing in that little bit of a trick there about the legal department at the end, and how maybe premeds don't have the best view of kind of lawyers and the legal system, they think kind of negative.

You've got to look really though at the situation being described is multiple interacting systems; insurance companies, doctors, patients all working together to deliver care, and that's functionalism - the sociological theory that examines social structures as a series of interacting mechanisms to achieve whatever function they're trying to achieve.

You need to know the names of theories. This is one example of where the answer choices are literally just names of theories and sometimes students feel a little surprised by that when they first see the psych/social section because they think they're so used to the idea of the MCAT being very focused on lengthy, tricky answer choices that might involve multiple steps of analysis. But the psych/social section is really famous for the kinds of questions that ask if you can recall names of theories, names of people, etc.

(5:32) Passage #3

Question 26:

‘A woman walking to work sees a group of people on the street staring at an open manhole. She stops to join them in staring down at the open manhole’.

Her behavior is an example of the bystander effect, deindividuation, conformity, group think.

In this situation you see other people doing a behavior and you go right along with that behavior, which would be conformity, answer choice C.

These other ones are definitely ones that we need to know, though.

The bystander effect is the diffusion of responsibility that happens when there are other people around. If you have had to take some CPR classes at some point, you don't say, 'Somebody call 911,' you pick one person and point at him and say, 'You call 911 right now.' In the dinosaur ages when I was learning before everybody had a cell phone, they actually taught you to say, 'You go call 911 and come back,' because the thought was you'd have to go somewhere to call 911. And then by telling them to come back it created responsibility for that one person because if you don't, the bystander effect says if there's all these other bystanders around, then the responsibility will just be diffused to everybody and nobody will do anything.

Deindividuation is the sense of losing your own individual sense of self and sense of responsibility in a crowd. Think of the kind of mob mentality phenomenon.

Group think is a particular kind of social phenomena where a group starts to view itself as almost completely infallible, and everybody starts thinking the same, and no dissent, no conflict is permitted within the group because everybody places such a high premium on the conformity and supposed superiority of the group that's having group think.

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Feb 01, 2017
26: Psych-Social MCAT Passage Breakdown

Session 26

The MCAT Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network at

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.


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!'

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Jan 25, 2017
25: Breaking Down Discrete MCAT Biology Questions

Session 25

In  this episode, Ryan and Bryan break down some fun, independent discrete biology questions on the MCAT.

Good to know:

There are 59 questions in each of the three different science sections - 15 are discrete while 44 questions are based on passages.

Question #16: Which of the following will cause a blood pH 8.2?

  1. Decreased O2 concentration
  2. Decreased tidal volume
  3. Increased H2O concentration
  4. Increased respiratory rate

Strategies for answering:

Before looking at the answer choices, you should know that normal physiological blood pH is more like 7.35 - 7.4. So if the person has a blood pH of 8.2, that is wildly alkaline. So you're looking for an answer choice that is a higher pH, less acid or more base.

Let's break down down the answer choices:

(a) Decreased O2 concentration - This might be tempting knowing that O2 and CO2 have an inverse relationship in the blood.

(b) Decreased tidal volume - Tidal volume is the natural resting breathing rate without forcibly trying to pull in or exhale more air. So if you breathe less, there is decreased tidal volume. This means that the CO2 building up in your body is not getting exhaled as well as it could since you're holding CO2 back in your body.

For the purposes of blood pH, CO2 is acid. If you decreased the tidal volume, that would actually give you respiratory acidosis that would make your blood pH more acidic. So this is the opposite of what we're looking for.

(c) Increased H2O concentration would not affect the pH because it would dilute the acid and the base at the same time. Adding more water won't  directly change the pH balance itself.

(d) Increased respiratory rate - You start hyperventilating and blowing out a lot of CO2. By literally breathing acid out of your body, what's left behind in your blood is more basic so you're blood will become more basic and your blood pH could be higher. So this answer choice could tie more into the more basic blood pH.

From the perspective of blood pH, CO2 is acid so you're exhaling acid. So if you stop exhaling, you hold your acid in while if you blow out a whole bunch, you blow the acid out and leaving base behind.

Question #17: Patients with excess fat are more likely to require larger therapeutic doses of which vitamin:

  1. Vitamin B1
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Vitamin B3

Strategies for answering:

This questions is a classic example of "which one of these doesn't belong?" It almost doesn't matter what question is asked.

Looking at all the choices, one thing jumps out right away. You have to know your water-soluble and your fat-soluble vitamins.

Vitamins B and C are water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins are Vitamins A, D, E and K.

Hence, answer (c) Vitamin D is the only one that stands out.

Question #29: Which of the following is most likely to use a protein channel to cross the eukaryotic cell membrane.

  1. Aldosterone
  2. Ca2+ ion
  3. Oxygen (O2)
  4. Carbon dioxide

Strategies for answering:

This is just like the question about vitamin solubility mentioned before. Aldosterone is a steroid hormone that can just diffuse right across the cell membrane and doesn't need a protein channel to get through a cell membrane.

Gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) can also just diffuse right across a cell membrane. They don't need a protein channel.

Ions need a protein channel. Hence, answer (c) Calcium needs a protein channel to cross the membrane.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep - Use the promo code: MCATPOD to save money on their products and services.

Jan 18, 2017
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:

Check out the Specialty Stories podcast on

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

Jan 11, 2017
23: Discrete Physics Questions - Breaking them Down

Session 23

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan cover MCAT content and dive into actual questions and passages as they try to help you figure out how to break discrete physics questions.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Look at individual questions as "an inch deep" so you only have to figure out 1-2 hooks to open up the questions.

Question #1: The flow rate of stomach content emptying is 100 cubic centimeters a second. Patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery will increase this rate to almost 1600 cubic centimeters a second. Assuming the flow of stomach contents approximates Poiseuille's law, what change to their GI connection would explain this provided no other changes occur in the conditions of stomach content flow?

  1. The connections are 2x longer.
  2. The connection is 4x longer.
  3. The connection radius is 2x larger.
  4. The connection radius is 4x larger.

Strategies for answering this question:

Go back to the question again and refresh it. Then you notice the 16x increase in the flow of this fluid. Then you have to decide whether the connection is 2 or 4 times longer or the radius is 2 or 4 times larger.

The question itself already gives you the clue - Poiseuille's law. The flow rate of fluid is something you should at least be familiar with.

Know that flow rate is proportional to pressure. The harder you push, the more the fluid flows. It is proportional to the 4th power of radius.

MCAT likes to test whether you know if the relationship is exponential or inverse or square rooted.

Flow is proportional to pressure, proportional to the 4th power of radius, and inversely proportional to the length of the pipe.

To get 16x increase in flow from 100 to 1600, you would only need to increase the radius to let more fluid through but you only need to increase 2x if you double the radius. 2 to the 4th power is 16x more.

This question demonstrates that you don't have to do the calculation or even have the formal equation memorized. You just need to know the underlined relationships it represents.

Question #2: Which of the following explains why the pitch of a person's resonate voice harmonics rises when they inhale helium instead of air?

  1. The wavelength increases due to the change in temperature from the helium atoms.
  2. The change in timber results in a higher perceived frequency of the voice.
  3. The frequency decreases due to the change in air density from the helium atoms.
  4. The speed of sound wave remains constant regardless of changes to the medium through which the sound wave propagates.

Strategies for answering this question:

The question was asking for frequency, not speed so choice (d) doesn't get on point. More importantly, the speed of the sound wave does change.

(a) says the wavelength increases while (b) says higher frequency. Hence, (b) is the right answer.

In the practice test, majority of students answer (c) probably because students read this so quickly and are rushing. So you have to take a minute and read the question carefully to figure out what they're asking you.

In truth, the actual frequency does not change but it changes the texture of the sound (how we perceive it) so we perceive it as higher frequency.

Question #3: Modern MRI machines use electricity to generate the magnetic fields inside a circular chamber instead of a permanent magnet. Which of the following would not increase the strength of the MRI field?

  1. Increase the radius of the MRI chamber
  2. Increase the power supplied to the MRI machine
  3. Decreased resistance of the MRI machine
  4. Increased current through the MRI machine

Strategies for answering this question:

When questions have "not" or "except" in them, it's easier to do the process of elimination.

(c) and (d) are practically the same. They can't both be right so eliminate both of them. Now, it's between (a) and (b).

(b) increases power and that's going to increase the current so this answer should be eliminated as well since (b), (c), and (d) say the same thing.

Hence, the answer is (a). You can answer this without even knowing the complicated equation to solve for the magnetic field.

Full credit for partial knowledge - If you only remembered one equation, v=ir, that partial knowledge would get you full credit on this question

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money off their classes or one-on-one tutoring.

Jan 04, 2017
22: Physics Passage on the MCAT - Breaking it Down


Session 22

In this episode, Ryan and Bryan are going in-depth as they are now going to start breaking down MCAT questions and go through them to figure out how to get to the right answer. Today, they're looking into the Physics Passage I handout.


Which of the following waves would have a wavelength larger than any standard electrospun fiber?

Key Strategies:

Go back to the passage and start skimming through to look for some information about wavelengths rather than doing a whole big analysis of the passage.

If this were a science classroom, you would want to jump into starting to do calculations and pull out your outside knowledge about the electromagnetic spectrum and wavelengths and you'd probably treat this as a unit conversion problem. Then you start to do a whole bunch of math.

Remember that MCAT is a reading and reasoning test that just happens to be about science rather than the other way around.

Read the question again and notice that the answer choice has to be the wave with the longest or largest wavelength because if a particular answer choice is larger than an electrospun fiber, there can't be any other answer choices that are also larger than an electrospun fiber.

Read the question carefully rather than obsessing over doing a whole bunch of math. Of course, the MCAT is going to expect you to know your physics and electromagnetic spectrum and know that microwaves have the longest or largest wavelength.

If you do your reasoning correctly and you have a good, solid grasp of your outside knowledge, you don't have to do nearly as much calculation or heavy duty analysis that you think you may need to. Do the process of elimination.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep (Use the promo code MCATPOD and get some discount off their materials upon checkout)

Click Here to Subscribe

Dec 28, 2016
21: What to Expect on Your MCAT Test Day


Session 21

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about what to expect on test day and some tips leading up to test day on how to best maximize your test day experience. Knowing what's going to happen is important to help alleviate those stresses that build up. Knowing the basic mechanics smooths out the whole process for you.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

What to expect leading to test day:

  • Visit your testing location. (Know where you're going to park, how to get there, etc.)
  • To be able to go to a test site near you, you need to register to make sure there are open seats available. Register as soon as you can to get a good seat.
  • Different tests are going on in the test center, so don't freak out thinking you're in the wrong place.

What to expect on test day:

  • Bring your ID. You get a ton of notifications from AAMC to make sure the name that appears on your ID is exactly the same as the name you used to register for the MCAT. Make sure that happens!
  • You get a one-page laminated sheet with test instructions.
  • You get a locker key and you're expected to put everything in the locker. You can put your cellphone in the locker as long as it's turned off. But generally, leave your cellphone at home or in the car. Don't bring it in the room with you.
  • Sit in the waiting room with your locker key and ID (the only two things you're allowed to carry around all day) for about 15-20 minutes.
  • They call your name and bring you into a little side room (in between the waiting room and testing room) where they do the security check. They get your fingerprint scanned and picture taken. Then you sign your name and the time you're starting.
  • They open up the door to the testing facility and ask you to stand by the door. Then the proctor will take you to your cubicle.
  • As you sit down, you'd see the testing screen in front of you. Confirm your name and begin the tutorial for how you take the exam.
  • Don't skip the tutorial just to get yourself settled in.
  • Begin the test itself. It will look, feel, smell, and taste just like your practice exams.

How to use the breaks:

  • First, go through the checkout process. Go back to the security room, re-scan your fingerprint.
  • You get 10 minutes for the first break and 30 minutes for the second break and 10 minutes for the last break.
  • Get up and move around to get the blood moving and freshen up your brain.
  • Drink water and get a mouthful of food.
  • Use the restroom. Even if you don't need to, just splash some water into your face to freshen up and refresh your brain to get yourself ready for the exam.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep - Use the code MCATPOD and save yourself money when you sign up to their products and services.

Dec 21, 2016
20: The Specialty Stories Podcast is Live!


Session 20

This is a full recording of the first episode of the Specialist Stories podcast, which is another addition to the MedEd Media Network. The idea of this podcast was actually born out of The Academy where Ryan had several interviews with different specialists to help students get an understanding of what each specialty was like as well as their pros and cons.

Through the Specialist Stories podcast, Ryan interviews different physicians from various specialties to help medical students and premedical students get different perspectives on what led them to their career path. Guests will be sharing with you stories of specialists from every field to give you the information you need to make sure you make the most informed decision possible when it comes to choosing your specialty.

In this week's episode, Ryan talks with Dr. Michelle Hure, a dermatopathologist who has her own solo practice in her community.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Dr. Hure:

When Michelle knew she wanted to be a dermatologist:

  • From an interest in trauma surgery to dermatopathology
  • Realizing the need for work-life balance
  • Coming to a point of not wanting to do until her 4th years during rotation

What she likes about her specialty:

  • Changing people's lives and curing cancer
  • Getting to do surgery
  • Being able to get home at 5
  • Making use of her brain everyday

What a dermatopathologist does:

Two routes:

  1. Dermatology residency
  2. Pathology residency
  • As a pathologist, it involves diagnosing conditions or interpreting biopsies that is key to a patient's treatment plan. You are the doctor's doctor
  • Can do both clinical and pathology

A day in the life of Michelle:

  • Reading slides of biopsies she has taken personally or those from other doctors
  • Seeing patients at 10 am

Traits that lead to being a good dermatopathologist:

  • Open mindedness: Being able to think of different possibilities and looking at slides without any biases
  • Knowledge of clinical history and clinical medicine
  • Curiosity
  • Openness to different differential diagnosis
  • A lot of thinking and investigation

What makes a competitive applicant to dermatology and dermatopathology:

  • Dermatopathology is very tough to get into since there aren't many programs so programs available are highly competitive.
  • Be always in your game. Walk the extra mile.
  • Do rotations in a place you're really interested in doing your residency as well as your fellowships.
  • Be willing to take initiative.

What residency was like for her:

  • Collaboration as an important piece
  • Pick a residency at the particular institution where that fellowship is to have a higher chance of getting in.

What she wished she knew going into dermatology/dermatopathology:

  • It's possible to have a family early on.
  • Family comes first, residency and fellowship come second

What she wished primary care providers knew more about dermatopathology:

Training in dermatology and pathology

What Michelle likes most about being a dermatopathologist:

  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Patient interaction
  • Surgery
  • Being able to cure cancer

What she likes the least about her practice:

Dealing with insurance companies

If she had to do it all over again, would she choose another specialty?

No, not at all.

What is the future of dermatopathology?

  • The pressure of being more noticeable to people so that biopsies must be done by experts in the field and not just "general" pathologists - It's not about money, it's about patient care!
  • The saturation of the field

Some pieces of advice to those wanting to be a dermatopathologist:

Look for work-life balance. You have to be happy with the specialty you pick. In dermatology or pathology, you will do well money-wise, but you're also going to have a good work-life balance, which is one of the most important things you need to consider in going to a particular field. Pick a specialty that you're going to do well in and you're going to be happy with.

Links and Other Resources:

Email Ryan at Specialist Stories Podcast

The OldPreMeds Podcast The Premed Years Podcast

Dec 14, 2016
19: How Can I Learn to Relax and Destress for the MCAT?


Session 19

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about stress management and how to not worry so much about everything that's going on in the premed life. Stress is a physiological thing that can impact your cognitive performance. Listen in as they lay down the ways to help you manage your stress while preparing for the MCAT.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

How do you reduce stress in your life?

Stress Management Level I - Managing Life Stress

  1. Exercise everyday.

Daily aerobic exercise reduces your stress levels and has an enormous positive impact on cognitive performance. People who get exercise are also less likely to get Alzheimer's disease or degenerative diseases. They perform higher on IQ and memory tests.

  1. Yoga

Yoga has very serious medical and physiological benefits that can help improve how you manage your stress levels.

  1. Mindfulness meditations

Spend 15-20 minutes a day doing some very simple meditation. Read on different meditation techniques and give your brain the time it needs to breathe. If you're not able to manage stress well on the prep process, then you're not going to be able to manage stress well on test day itself.

Stress Management Level II - Managing the Test Day Experience

  1. Get yourself used to the experience of the full exam.

Be familiar with what is going to exactly happen on test day. Sign up for a free account at, which includes Lesson One where Bryan gives a thorough step-by-step rundown of what happens on test day. The more you know what's exactly coming on test day, the less stressful it becomes.

  1. Take full-length practice tests.

Simulate the MCAT full-length exam. Take it like the real exam. Go to a library. Don't take it at home. Start it at the same time of day and stick very strictly to the timing schedule. The more you can simulate the real MCAT and test day will become less of a stressor because you know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Stress Management Level III - Test Day

  1. Use this breathing technique to disrupt the panic response.

When a stressor question pops up, don't panic. Panic is either an absence of thought or an excess of unproductive cognition. So you have to disrupt it physically by guessing on that question that is stressing you out. Go to the next passage. Put the pencil down. Take your head off the mouse. Close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths. (Listen in to learn about this breathing technique.)

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep (Use the code MCATPOD to save some money on test prep materials.)

Dec 07, 2016
18 : How Can I Best Utilize Scratch Paper for the MCAT?


Session 18

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk all about scratch paper. The MCAT is taken on a computer but the AAMC still allows you to use pen and paper. So what are you supposed to do with those things?

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

You don't bring any of your own inside the test room but they give you this little booklet containing 8 sheets of paper and 2 freshly-sharpened pencils.

Decide what you want to do with it. Whatever your decision is, make sure you're the one actively taking charge of your testing experience and making it a decision rather than falling into a default setting.

How do you use the scratch paper?

  1. Don't use it at all.
  2. Use it as an outline of the passage.

Use it to build up a paragraph by paragraph summary as you read each and every passage you do

Not everyone finds this successful as this could be time-consuming for them and not helpful so this ends up hurting their performance.

  1. Use it as a middle ground.

When you come across a problem or a paragraph that seems really complicated and you're not following it, jot down some notes like a flow chart to help you follow the logic of what the passage is saying. Think with your pencil and not hold all the ideas in your head. Jot it down if and when you need it. Looking at that flow chart of ideas would make it much easier since you have a visual representation.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

Get access to a ton of information for a lot less and use the code: MCATPOD. Get a customized study schedule and get access to live office hours from the people themselves who designed the course,There are so many things to worry about for the MCAT, how to use scratch paper shouldn't be one of them. We'll tell you the best way to use it!

Nov 30, 2016
17: Are There Hidden Prereqs That I Should Take for the MCAT?


Session 17

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about more information on prereqs particularly about this idea of "hidden" prereqs. Are there any other prereqs that the AAMC wants you to take that they're not telling you? Or what else can you possibly take that will make you a better MCAT test taker?

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Two categories of MCAT:

  • Sciences
  • Non-sciences

Two essential courses you should take before taking the MCAT:

  • A medium or upper cell biology course
  • A medium or upper level molecular genetics course

A look into taking non-science courses:

  • How many Humanities courses have you taken? (English, Philosophy, History)
  • These courses build up the critical reading muscles that can help you especially on the CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) section.
  • The MCAT is not a science test, but a reading test that happens to be about science.
  • Courses that make you better readers are going to make you better test takers.

Links and Other Resources:

Session 9: What Prereqs Do I Have to Have to Take the MCAT?

Session 16: Do I Need to Take Sociology to Do Well on the MCAT?

Check out The OldPremeds Podcast

Next Step Test Prep - Use the coupon code: MCATPOD to get discount off their course, one-on-one tutorials, MCAT full length tests, and everything else they have to offer. AAMC Official Guide

Nov 23, 2016
16: Do I Need to Take Sociology To Do Well on the MCAT?


Session 16

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about whether Sociology is something that you have to take to prepare for the MCAT. They also talk about the importance of understanding the nuances and subtleties of certain terms used in Sociology to help you get the questions right.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Should you take a Sociology course to prepare for the MCAT?

You don't have to take it as a college course because good MCAT prep would involve reviewing Sociology. You just can't rely being an adult in society and expect make good decisions on MCAT multiple choice questions.

Distinguishing Prejudice, Discrimination, and Stereotype

MCAT demands that you know the technical definitions of these and not just the college-educated adult definitions of them. Bryan has seen many students who have gotten this wrong early in their practice exams because they didn't realize the very precise distinction between prejudice, discrimination, and stereotype.

  • Discrimination - a behavior
  • Stereotype - cognitive (it's an idea or belief)
  • Prejudice - a feeling

These are simple definitions that will let you get the questions right on the MCAT but this might not be a subtlety that people are aware of. MCAT has lots of these subtle distinctions between technical terms used in Sociology or Psychology (for example: the difference between I and me)

Major takeaways from this episode:

Either take it in school or self-study Sociology with good MCAT prep materials.

Don't treat Sociology as a brushoff or common sense project since you have to know all these technical terms for the MCAT.

Links and Other Resources:

The Premed Years Podcast

The MCAT Podcast Session 9: What Prereqs Do I Have to Have to Take the MCAT?

Next Step Test Prep

Nov 16, 2016
15: What is the Best Way to Use the Official Practice MCAT Exam?


Session 15

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about how to utilize the AAMC Practice Exams. As of this recording, the AAMC has just released their official practice test number 2 for the "new" MCAT.

In this episode, you will learn about the key things about the official practice test and some differences in the practice tests made by Next Step Test Prep or other test prep companies.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Two things you must have:

  1. You have to get ALL the AAMC full length tests

You have to get them as part of the program or buy them yourself.

  1. The Section Bank

The full length exam's section bank is a set of online science passages for and administered as a part of the new MCAT.

Other AAMC resources you can use:

AAMC Flashcards - just think of it as a Q book of discrete questions

Q-Pack - this is composed of repurposed old passages from the old MCAT (not a eally topline resource)

The Official Guide aamc - this contains 20 passages (quite good and valuable) You don't have to spend $30 on the official guide. Just $10 for the online access is good enough.

How to get the most value out of them:

  • Full length tests should be taken as full exams. You have to take them like you do in the actual test. You have to simulate test day.
  • Get out of bed early at 7:30 am. Get to the library by 8 am. Sit down to start the test at 8:30 am. Get used to the idea that you're taking the MCAT first thing in the morning.
  • Stick very strictly to the timing. Give yourself the exact length of break normally permitted.
  • Do this near the end of your prep, preferably once a week, leading up to test day. The idea is to get the most test-like practice you can one week before the exam. One week before the exam, take the unscored AAMC sample test (you can't freak out about your score one week before the test so take the unscored test one week before test day)
  • One week before that, take AAMC scored practice exam 2. One week before that, take AAMC scored practice test 1. (If at this point, the AAMC has released more scored exams, simply go back to space it out once a week working your way backwards from test day.)

Why take the AAMC tests last versus practices from Next Step:

You want to get the best possible simulation and the best possible look and feel and estimate of how you're doing

Next Step practice tests are very precise. But Bryan admits that no test prep company or any of the national chains is as accurate as the real AAMC test.

Using off the official exams too early in your prep and relying on test prep companies right near the end, won't give you an accurate assessment of your current skill level.

The benefits of taking the AAMC practice exam near the end:

  • You get in the zone.
  • You get the exact editorial style of the real test.
  • You get a really good prediction of how you're going to do on test day.

Can you take the AAMC practice tests multiple times to stretch out your test-taking if you're on a budget?

  • Sign up for a free account with Next Step. (They offer free full length diagnostics) Then use Next Step full length one as your mid-point check.
  • Other companies offer free exams but they're usually only half-length or 1/3-length but it can still be good practice.

Should you retake the AAMC practice tests?

In roughly four months since the last time you did something, you can do it again without having the results be skewed as a result of the "practice effect" (when you assess over and over again using the same assessment, performance goes up even if the underlined skill level hasn't changed) So you want your practice test to be an accurate assessment of your skill level and not just floating upwards due to the practice effect.

Links and Other Resources:

As of this recording, AAMC has three practice exams (2 scored and 1 unscored). Next Step offers a lot of practice exams. Visit and use the promo code: MCATPOD to save some money off their products and services.

AAMC full length tests

The Section Bank

Next Step Test Prep

AAMC Official Guide

AAMC Flashcards

Nov 09, 2016
14: How Can I Best Utilize Mnemonics for the MCAT?


Session 14

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about some tips about creating mnemonics to help you memorize all the tons and tons of stuff out there.

Mnemonics is all about making a sentence with the first letter of all the things you're trying to memorize. This isn't true. You can make this kind of mnemonics for science facts.But this is not where mnemonics end.

Tips for creating mnemonics:

  1. The Modality of Mnemonics

Engage yourself in the modality of learning that works for you. (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)

  1. Auditory Mnemonic

Like a sentence you can say loud so it plugs into your auditory system.


Diatomic acids - Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer (Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Fluorine, Oxygen, Iodine, Chlorine, Bromine)

  1. Visual Mnemonic

Think of ways to engage visually with something memorable rather than just something auditory.


Look at the periodic table and see how the diatomic gases form a kind of L-shape with the Halogen group and then with Oxygen and Nitrogen

  1. Kinesthetic Mnemonic

Ground your body in the physical reality into the physics of the MCAT or tie mental ideas to your own body to let you engage kinesthetically with that thing you're trying to remember.


The right hand rule when thinking about magnetic fields - Think of your thumb as hitchhiking along with the current. Your fingers are the magnetic field. Palm push is the force vector coming out at a right angle from your hand. Hold your hand in front of you and connect those ideas kinesthetically in how your hand moves around to better remember it.

  1. The Actual Content of the Mnemonic

Make your own mnemonics that fit with your style.

Make it outrageous, naughty, or personal, or all three. We remember emotional connections and personal things.

Build a mnemonic out of your friends, family, personal events, favorite movie, something that's more likely to stick with you than someone else's mnemonic.

How much should you rely on mnemonics?

Find your own best approach. Don't go to mnemonics as the first line of attack but as a second line of defense.

Share with your friends.

Making your own is the best but when it comes to mnemonics, the more the merrier. Share with friends, borrow them, and share them online to make sure you have all that analogy at your fingertips on test day.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep: Use the code MCATPOD to save some money on their new course. Check out their offerings and sign up for a free full length practice test.

Nov 02, 2016
13: What MCAT Prep Books Should I Buy?


Session 13

Books, books, everywhere there's books! Overwhelming, isn't it? Today, Ryan and Bryan will help you with where you need to start, the right kinds of books you need to have to study for the MCAT, and what features you need to look for when evaluating a particular book.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Buy-another-book-itis: A disease where you think your score is not going u as much as you want so you buy another book. Then you amass this enormous library of books as if this translates into a good MCAT score.

What you actually need to do:

Just buy one high quality set of books from a reputable MCAT company.

You have a lot of choices for MCAT books.

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Only buy books from companies that actually work with real live human beings.

These companies include all the big national companies, Next Step, The Berkeley Review, Kaplan, Princeton, etc. There's a certain institutional knowledge that comes from working with real MCAT students translating into much better books. Don't buy the Barron's book.

  1. Stick with only one set of books.

Don't go nuts buying a billion different sets of books. Next Step books are great but you could pick up a set of books from other companies.

  1. Really learn the books you have.

You could get tempted to read through them very quickly and superficially and expect to get high scores and if you don't you buy more books. Instead, go back and re-read the books you've already got. Read them more thoroughly and more carefully than you ever had to any textbook that you ever would have bought for a class. Think of your MCAT books as a musical score than a textbook. You have to master it. And that's how well you have to know your MCAT books.

What features to look for when evaluating a book:

Look at the practice that comes with the book (passages, questions, online resources, etc.) In the end, success on the MCAT is all about practice, practice, practice.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

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Oct 26, 2016
12: Is an MCAT Study Group Helpful to Prepare for the MCAT?


Session 12

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about using study groups to study for the MCAT. What are the advantages of joining study groups? This is a perfect example of what Ryan is constantly advocating to students. It's all about collaboration, not competition.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

According to Bryan, the BEST way to prepare for the MCAT is forming study groups. And it's absolutely free!

Two simple factors that correlate with MCAT success:

  1. Having the right attitude

Have the right attitude and you can and will succeed. You don't have to be a genius for the MCAT. You just need to have the right attitude and the right work ethic for it.

Two big components:


Positive mindset

  1. Study groups

If you have a good, strong study group, that vastly increases your chances of success. And this is how you study in med school.

How to pick people in your study group:

  • Personal chemistry - make sure it's somebody you can get along well with
  • Getting the smartest guy in your study group is a big mistake. Instead, put up a set of complementing strengths and weaknesses.
  • Put a study group together of 3 or 4 people where each person has their area of expertise. Smart people teaching you is not the advantage here, but you get to teach them based off of your strengths and turning those strengths into total mastery.

What is the best way to learn?

If say, you're good at organic chemistry but terrible at psychology, you would want to get someone in your study group who's bad at organic chemistry but who's good at psychology. You're going to have to explain stuff to him, that's why you want that person in your study group because the single best way to learn anything in life is to teach it to other people.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

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Go to so they can help match you up with students to form your best study group.The last couple weeks we've covered MCAT courses and 1-on-1 MCAT tutoring. Did you know that Bryan thinks that study groups are the best way to prepare?

Oct 19, 2016
11: Is One-on-One Tutoring for the MCAT Worth it?


Session 11

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about tutoring and whether you should be doing it instead of taking a course or self-studying. Is tutoring right for you? How do you know it's right for you?

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Tutoring will help anyone. It's never bad. But can you do it just as well with a course or self-studying?

Home tutoring demographics:

  1. Elite kids or the "goners"

These are the students who want to get 99th percentile level performance. They may already be at 89th percentile but find it's not good enough for them and want a 99.9.

If you're performing at that level, no generic course is going to be good enough because the courses are generally designed to serve the broad base of students. So you need to work with a tutor at the very top of the scale.

  1. Struggling students

If you really find yourself struggling and you're pretty low on the scale like 5th or 10th percentile, something is not working for you. Trying to self-diagnose that won't get you there. Taking a course often won't work because courses are into the broad middle.

  1. The nontraditional students

These students have been out of school for 2 or 12 or over  20 years. They've been out of school for so long that they need custom guidance to their unique situation to really help them improve.

  1. Students who have already taken a course and not getting what they wanted

These are the students who really tried hard to self-study but they just couldn't get there. Or they took a course which helped but it didn't get them the score improvement they needed. They realize they're going to have to retake the MCAT or take it the third time and have to get the best possible help this time so their next take of the MCAT is their last take.

These different groups mentioned above are those groups for whom home tutoring was particularly advantageous. If price is not a concern to you, tutoring is always the best choice.

But knowing that with price that is just about the same, you would rather want to have one-on-one tutoring given that everything is going to be customized to YOU.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

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Oct 12, 2016
10: Do I Need to Take an MCAT Prep Course?


Session 10

In this week's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk all about courses. Do you really need to take an MCAT course or can you just self-study it?

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

You can't know until you get started. Learn by doing and that's how you get going.

To figure out whether or not a course makes sense to you, the first thing to do is to take a diagnostic test which Next Step offers for free. (The also give out the diagnostic and full-length test for free if you sign up for one of their courses)

Bottom Line: Find a way to take an actual diagnostic test and see where you're starting from.

If you're naturally good at standardized tests and only need to bring your score up a few points, then you don't need a course. You can just self-study.

If you really think you're going to need much more help then decide whether you start out by self--studying.

  • Go to free Khan Academy videos.
  • Pick up a set of MCAT prep books.
  • Spend a month prepping on your own and see what kind of progress you can make.
  • If it's just not coming together, consider going for a more in-depth premium level prep product like a prep course or one-on-one tutoring.

You have to understand it's a big commitment in terms of time and money. So it's okay to try to dip your toes into self-studying first before jumping entirely into getting courses.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

Next Step’s free diagnostic test

Khan Academy videos

Oct 05, 2016
9 : What Prereqs Do I Have to Have to take the MCAT?


Session 9

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about the prerequisite "coursework" you have to take to prepare for the MCAT. How much weight should you put into the MCAT side of things? Or can you just skip a couple of classes and take a test before finishing these classes?

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

How much weight should you put into the MCAT side of things?

Do what the medical school is telling you to do. If they tell you to do xyz to apply to their school then you have to do xyz.

Do you have to take the coursework before the MCAT?

AAMC - a year each of Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biology and a semester each of Psychology, Sociology, and Biochemistry.

Bryan's recommendations:

A year of biology is almost certainly not going to be enough. Biology is the most tested topic on the MCAT (in all three science sections).

It's recommended to do the first year of biology but before you take the MCAT, try to get an upper or upper middle level course on Cell Biology and a mid or upper level course in something like Molecular Genetics.

Taking a couple of upper level courses of Biology that operate at levels of Cell, Molecular, etc., is going to be tremendously valuable for the MCAT.

Is a semester of Psychology enough?

Bryan recommends you take a whole year of it. Psychology is the second most tested science (in terms of countable number of questions). It's best to take a full year of Freshman psychology (Psych 101 and Psych 102).

Places where you can cut corners:

2nd semester of Organic Chemistry and the 2nd semester of Physics are not as valuable. There are not so many O. Chem and Physics questions on the MCAT. Although they have value for your grades. they have almost no value for the MCAT, So focusing on these two won't pay as big dividends as Biology and Psychology.

Is there the option to self-study?

Yes. You shouldn't do that with more than one semester's worth of content. Otherwise, trying to teach multiple semesters worth of material while also prepping for the MCAT is highly, highly difficult. Bryan has never seen a student do this successfully in his 15 years of experience.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

Sep 28, 2016
8: How am I Expected to Know Everything on the MCAT?


Session 8

In today's episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about how much stuff is actually on the MCAT. If you’re scared about taking the MCAT thinking about how much of a beast it is then it’s time to face your fears and start with listening to this episode as Ryan and Bryan give you a little taste of what the MCAT is really like in terms of its depth. Honestly, it’s not as bad as you think it is. However, that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels because  then again, you need to understand that the MCAT is a unique beast of its own.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

The outline itself is 126 pages long. It's intimidatingly broad, but extremely shallow (a classic mile-wide but an inch-deep)

Yes, you have to know Physiology. Physics, and Organic Chemistry but you don't have to know the level of detail that you probably had to know for your college classes.

MCAT Prep books are much slimmer than your stack of college books. It looks like a lot, but it's not that bad.

The real trick:

The breadth creates a variety of material that can be tough to juggle all at once.

What you need to equip yourself with:

Coming up with learning techniques to amalgamate all different kinds of information.

How do you work through so much information?

Challenge yourself and ask yourself, what are you the most terrified of?

What topics really scare you? Then those are the things that you need to start with.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

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Sep 21, 2016