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Bio/Biochem passages are some of the most frustrating things a student can encounter during MCAT prep.
The passages are very complicated, there are acronyms everywhere, the graphs are confusing, and the lists go on for what feels like forever.
Making sense of bio/biochem was difficult for a lot of your mentors here at MCAT Mastery as well, including Aly.
You've probably met Aly in other videos; she's a retaker, 520 scorer, and soon to be MS1!
With some key strategies Aly was able to overcome her bio/biochem challenges and score a 131 (99th percentile) in bio/biochem!
In this video, Aly shares her top strategies to help you learn:
→ Deciphering the coded messages every B/B passage gives you.
→ Why you don't need to rely too much background knowledge to answer B/B questions.
→ How making connections the MCAT expects of you, to find the right answer.
→ The right way to tackle the graphs in B/B passages.
And much more.
We've also summarized some key MCAT bio/biochem strategies from the video below
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 1: Use The Passage
Let’s face it. MCAT bio/biochem questions are difficult because the passages are so complicated.
A lot of the time, the questions aren’t directly related to the content but are related to the passage, whether it be an experiment, data or just something that was mentioned in the passage that’s coupled with a concept that you should be familiar with for the MCAT.
What most test-takers do in this section (where questions are passage-based instead of content-based) is that they come in with a lot of background knowledge on MCAT biology and biochemistry. But this can actually hurt your score. Why?
Because it’s easy to get into the habit of diving deeper for the specifics and reaching your brain for really niche information about topics when, in reality, the MCAT is asking for something simpler…
And it’s so easy to get caught in that rabbithole of overthinking one word and relating it to all different kinds of concepts. To put it simply…
The passage is your best friend.
The coded answers are often just right in front of you.
When you look at things this way, you can actually look at the passage as a puzzle piece where, at first, it will be confusing and difficult.
The secret is that you need to start going through the passage and shake the answers out—because they are there.
Don’t be intimidated; you know what you’re doing! Just remember that you don’t need to overthink the passages and make them far out than what they actually are.For more tips on how to uncover the information buried in bio/biochem passages, check out our article that covers strategic highlighting, how top-scoring mentors are able to increase their score in a short span of time.
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 2: Know Format of The Passage
There are few types of passages in the section and, of course, you’ll never know exactly what you’re given. But…
There are patterns!
Identifying these patterns will help you get comfortable with passages (and the section as a whole), even if they first come across as intimidating.
B/B passages are where students without a strong biochemistry background get confused because they’re not familiar with the formatting.
Let’s dive into an example…
You might encounter an abbreviation in the passage, something like “E-127A” when describing an experiment. This type of format—with the letters and the positions switched—comes up all the time.
If you weren’t aware, all that this is saying is that Alanine has substituted in for Glutamate, where Glutamate is normally the amino acid at position 127. They have simply swapped and nothing else in the protein has changed.
What are we looking at then?
So in these types of formats, you can ask:
Did that make the protein nonfunctional?
> Because in this case, it means that Glutamate was really important.
Did it make it even better?
> Well, maybe Alanine is involved in some interaction that’s improving protein to protein interactions.
So if there’s anything confusing you as you’re reading the passages, and you’re noticing that it comes up every once in a while like that format, don’t brush it off and think “Oh, I kinda understand that. Now let’s move on.”…
Take the time to understand it. Look it up, speak to some friends who are confident in that type of format, and make sure you figure it out before you move on.
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 3: Interconnected Concepts
This bio/biochem strategy is super helpful because most people get too caught up trying to find answers and forget that many concepts are interconnected.
For example, let’s say you were asked: What happens during glycolysi?
Many people would approach this through memorizing the process. But does that really help someone understand it in terms of the entire cell? What about the macro or big picture?
A good practice for thinking of concepts as interconnected would be to have a whiteboard, draw a massive cell, put glycolysis in the cytosol where it belongs, and write out the entire process along with the final product: pyruvate.
After, draw an arrow from pyruvate to the PDH and ask:
- What happens to the PDH?
- Where does it go after?
- How does that relate to the shuttles in the mitochondria?
- How does that relate to gluconeogenesis and the pentose-phosphate pathway?
Why is this important?
Now you’ve looked at the macro and micro scale of the entire process. You understood that by understanding a single topic that the passage is asking you about, you can actually use that knowledge to understand and answer the rest of the passages with the same topic.
By looking at things interconnectedly, you are able to draw out the connections that MCAT wants you to make.
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 4: Mnemonics
Mnemonics are learning techniques that help you memorize long and complicated concepts. They can come in the form of a song, rhyme, acronym, image, phrase, or sentence.
Make use of this helpful MCAT to help you remember certain facts or large amounts of information and, especially on test day, you might end up forgetting them.
Bio/biochem can be pretty overwhelming with terms, too, so having a handy mnemonics arsenal is incredibly useful.
Here’s an example of some of the mnemonics we came up with:
The TCA: Can I Keep Some Succinate For Myself?
Glycolysis: Goodness Gracious, Father Franklin Didn’t Go Buy Perfect Pumpkins To Prepare Pies.
When you’re using mnemonics for enzymes, think about what the enzyme is actually doing. Let’s look at a few examples:
- What is a synthase?
- What will the product look like?
- Could you draw it?
Dehydrogenases remove hydrogens.
- NAD ---> NADH
Kinases involves phosphate and ATP.
- What should the product look like? Could you draw it?
If you haven’t used these, try it for yourself! Even the weirdest and funniest ones work….
At the end of the day, your mnemonic should make sense to you and make sure that you understand these pathways instead of just memorizing them.
For more helpful mnemonics that’ll help you on the bio/biochem section of the MCAT, check out our infographic here!
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 5: How to Approach B/B Graphs
This next MCAT bio/biochem strategy will help you deal with something many students hate to see and that's graphs.
The bio/biochem section is full of graphs and tables to show and present data. A lot of times, these are difficult to understand because the points and bars can have a lot of going on.
But before you get bogged down by the details, take a look at the X and Y axes…
Even if there’s other data in the graph or table that’s screaming at you to be noticed or you think is significant, you’ll never be able to understand anything if you don’t take a look at the X and Y axes. If you’re still confused after the axes, there’s usually an explanation in the passage either right above or below the graph as well.
Another important thing to note when approaching graphs is to look at them from a macro level. If you don’t understand the graph at a macro level, you’ll never be able to figure out the information you need to draw from it because you won’t be able to fully interpret that graph. And graph interpretation is huge for both bio/biochem (and psych/soc as well).
If you’re struggling with graphs, spend time with them during your practice and review and, if you’re still stumped, figure out why. Unfortunately, you can’t escape them, so might as well get used to them.
The bio/biochem section gives you coded help in the passage! You just need enough practice to figure out how to decipher them.
MCAT Bio/Biochem Strategy 6: Get Help on How to Study Bio/Biochem From Top Scorers
If you found Aly's strategies helpful and are looking for more ways to improve your bio/biochem score, you should check out our Chem/Phys & Bio/Biochem Mastery Course.
Aly and other top scoring mentors here at MCAT Mastery have worked hard to share their best strategies and tips in this course so that you don't have to struggle as much as they did preparing for the MCAT.
In the course, Aly dissects over 20 AAMC B/B passages, showing you her thought process on how she analyzes the passages, the question stems, the graphs, and the answer choices to make sure you understand how to tackle these tough questions with as little difficulty as possible!
B/B is tough, but the section gives you coded help in its passages. All you need to do is practice enough until you're able to decipher them. Make sure you know your amino acids, kinetics, and viruses and bacteria cold for this section in terms of content. Otherwise, these strategies may be able to help you with this section
Lastly, don't get too discouraged when preparing for the MCAT...
Remember that writing the MCAT is something that doesn't come naturally for most people and moments of frustration and struggle are just part of the process.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors