• Julianna Kearney

MCAT Monday: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills - Practice Set #2

In the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT, you will be asked to read nine passages and answer 5-7 questions for each passage. Passages will be focused on either the humanities or social sciences, and you are not expected to already know information about these topics. Everything you need to know is in the passages.


You can also watch videos about foundations of comprehension, reasoning within the text, and reasoning beyond the text.

Practice Questions:

Politically motivated fearmongering about vaccination is putting children in our community in danger. During the Republican presidential primaries leading up to the 2012 election, former representative Michelle Bachmann criticized Governor Rick Perry’s mandate for the HPV vaccine, which protects against a cancer-causing virus. She claimed at the time that she had met parents who believed that the vaccine gave their daughters “mental retardation.” These statements introduced a new precedent of injecting issues of vaccine safety into presidential politics. The American Academy of Pediatrics made emphatic statements at the time to clarify that the HPV vaccine does not cause mental retardation, but by this point the damage had been done: fear had taken hold in parents’ minds.

In 2015, with the presidential election around the corner and a widespread measles outbreak on our minds, the dangerous mix of immunization paranoia and politics continues. Senator Rand Paul, physician and presidential hopeful, claims to have met “many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” a statement that is dubious at best. His words are grounded in a fraudulent study that has long since been retracted and its author now discredited. Governor Chris Christie has also entered into the debate by stating, “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.” By employing the rhetoric of individual rights and a fear of big government, those in public office often attempt to score cheap political points and win public acceptance. Politicians like Senator Paul and Governor Christie are brandishing discredited ideas as tenable arguments against clear evidence-based recommendations to vaccinate, sowing confusion amongst parents.

According to the World Health Organization, measles is a leading cause of death worldwide, despite the universal availability of a widely researched and safe vaccine against it. The disease killed over 145,000 individuals, most of them children under 5 years of age, in 2013. Immunization against diseases like measles not only protects those that receive the vaccines but also helps to protect those who are not eligible to receive them, such as young infants and children with deficient immune systems. It is these children who are also at the highest risk of grave complications ranging from encephalitis to pneumonia, and depend on the rest of us to protect them.

It is no secret that vaccination rates across the country are falling. Based on CDC data, the nationwide measles, mumps and rubella vaccination rate among 19-35 month-olds is 91.9%, down from a rate of 92.3% in 2006. Rates are falling most in Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Connecticut and Virginia. More and more parents will choose to opt out of immunizing their children for fear of side effects, thanks to the dissemination of groundless claims. In response to the current epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released a recent statement once again exhorting parents to vaccinate their children, reiterating what they have said for decades: the measles vaccine is safe and effective.

We are already burdened with a wide number of celebrities, discredited researchers, and physicians relying on anecdotes and hearsay who are more than willing to use the vaccine controversy to gain quick publicity. Politicians should be clear to the public on the proven science of vaccines and should avoid muddying the waters further. It would be better for the candidates, too: it is widely believed that Michelle Bachmann lost credibility because of her statements on vaccines in 2008. Senator Paul and Governor Christie should learn a lesson from her failure and be willing to communicate a clear message to the public: vaccines are safe and are effective at protecting against dangerous diseases. Unnecessary vaccine exemptions put our greatest asset – our children – at risk.

1. It can be inferred from the author’s discussion of individual choice in paragraph 2 that the author believes that such rights: Choose 1 answer:

  • A: are political values that are being exploited by politicians to frame the vaccine debate.

  • B: should be temporarily restricted to halt the rise of vaccine-preventable diseases.

  • C: cannot be preserved without policies that protect public health.

  • D: are more important than our desire to vaccinate.

2. Suppose that a national program, initially launched in 2006, in which 19-35 month-old babies were given free vaccinations in rural areas, was recently ended because it was too expensive. How would this new information impact the author’s main point about the consequences of politicization of vaccine safety on vaccination rates? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: It would be strengthened, since the drop in vaccinations has likely led to an increase in infant deaths.

  • B: It would be strengthened, since politicization of vaccine safety has led to defunding of key programs.

  • C: It would be weakened, since the drop in vaccination rates is explained by lesser availability of vaccines in rural areas.

  • D: It would be weakened, since rural constituents are more likely to hold conservative values.

3. The passage author’s main message is best described by which of the following statements? Politicians are disseminating fear about vaccines due to their: Choose 1 answer:

  • A: ignorance

  • B: economic greed

  • C: opportunism

  • D: conservatism

4. The function of paragraph 3 mentioning the World Health Organization’s assessment of worldwide deaths due to measles is to: Choose 1 answer:

  • A: suggest that American politicization of vaccine safety has global consequences.

  • B: illustrate the global disparity that exists among children in terms of vaccine access.

  • C: argue that misinformation about vaccine safety is an international phenomenon.

  • D: emphasize the importance of preventing potentially fatal diseases with vaccination.

5. Which of the following assumptions is most central to the author’s argument?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Recent decreases in vaccinations are largely due to politicians’ dissemination of false information.

  • B: Politician Michelle Bachmann's statements are the only reason vaccines became a political issue.

  • C: There is no longer a need for the medical community to research the effectiveness of vaccines.

  • D: The general public is not intelligent enough to be able to judge what is false from what is credible.

6. Which of the following hypothetical politicians is acting most consistent with the author’s recommendations? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: one that encourages parents to exercise their choice

  • B: one that never mentions the issue of vaccination

  • C: one that reaffirms what their voters already believe

  • D: one that argues for zero exemptions from government required vaccination

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