If You Know All of These Words, You Might Be Able to Pass the MCAT


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Phil Boorman/Cultura/Getty

About This Quiz

The medical field has lingo all its own. If you're lucky enough not to have to see a doctor or go to the pharmacy very often, you might still know this just from watching medical dramas. Every decade, it seems, these shows get more realistic and use more specific language. If you've only been watching sitcoms or legal dramas, this can get frankly confusing. Hypoperfusion? Aspiration? Glial cells?

We'll step in and help you out here. "Perfusion" is, in general, the way bodily fluids saturate target tissues, thus providing them with needed nutrients. "Hypo-" means "low or insufficient." So "hypoperfusion" means a bodily fluid isn't circulating adequately and getting where it needs to be. Glial cells, meanwhile, are non-neuron brain cells. They are important to cerebral metabolism and produce myelin, which insulates nerves. As far as "aspiration" goes, we can't tell you that; it'd be a spoiler. 

As you might expect, having a grounding in Latin and Greek will go a long way in this quiz. So will knowing the terms used in medical illustration and description -- like "superior" and "inferior," or "ventral" and "dorsal," or "medial." These are all "directions" used in the map of the human body. 

Don't worry: "superior" and "inferior" don't have anything to do with success and failure. However, we hope your performance on this quiz will be superior!

If a drug is "topical," how is it taken?

Usually, a "topical" drug is applied to the skin. This can also be a mucous surface, though, that isn't thought of as "skin" - like the cornea.


A device that lets someone listen to heart and breath sounds is called what?

A stethoscope is perhaps the most commonly recognized piece of medical equipment. It can be used to hear any noises in the body, but most often the heartbeat and breathing sounds.


Which of these goes in the outer ear?

An otoscope is that short, roughly trapezoidal thing a doctor sticks into your ear when you might have an infection. And you always flinch, even when you know it's going to be painless!


Where would you find gastric juices?

"Gastric" and "gastro-" refer to the stomach. And no, "juices" is not a real anatomical term, but it's how people often refer to the substances secreted during digestion.


The femoral artery is named for what other body part?

The femoral artery is named for the femur. That's the long bone in the upper half of the leg, under the quadricep muscle.


Which of these means "little brain"?

Don't be confused by "petit mal." That's a type of seizure, not a part of the brain. "Cerebellum," on the other hand, is a diminutive of "cerebrum," for "brain." It is part of the hindbrain.


Which of these combats a fever?

This word is related to the Greek "pyros," for "fire." If Latin had been the base, it would have been an "anti-ignetic."


The predecessor to bone is called _____.

Sometimes, cartilage is replaced by bone. But other times, cartilage structures last a lifetime - in your nose, for example.


Which of these words refers broadly to the nature and course of a disease?

"Pathology" is a word that refers broadly to disease. It can even be mental illness, as in "psychopathlogy."


Something that causes cancer is called what?

You probably recognize the suffix "-gen" as having the meaning of "causing." The root "carcino-" is from the Greek "karkinos," for "crab."


The name "ovary" comes from the Latin word meaning ____.

The root is the word "ovum," meaning "egg." The ovaries, of course, are where egg cells are produced in females.


Which of these takes its name from the Latin word for "mouse"?

The Latin word "musculus" means "little mouse." The ancients must have been autopsying some fairly weak specimens when they came up with this particular word!


What does a sphygmomanometer measure?

This unusually long and complicated name - even for medical terminology - means a blood pressure device. The old-fashioned kind used a stethoscope; newer ones do not.


"Patella" is the anatomic word for what body part?

Fun fact: At birth, a human patella is cartilage. Later it ossifies, or turns into bone.


To take in matter via suction - often breathing - is called what?

You'll sometimes hear this word in relation to choking. A person might aspirate food into her windpipe, causing a blockage.


Which of these is the best definition of "biopsy"?

You might associate the word "biopsy" strictly with the removal of tissue using a needle. But it also refers to the examination of the tissue, usually under a microscope.


"Dermatitis" is a disease of what part of the body?

Any time you see the prefix "derm-" you know you're dealing with the skin. You might remember from middle-school biology that the skin is the body's largest organ, though we don't always think of it that way.


What kind of cells are "neurons"?

Neurons are found in the brain, but also other parts of the nervous system. Fun fact: There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, dwarfing the number other animals have.


What does "histology" specifically refer to?

This is a term that often comes up in relation to biopsies. Histology is a subject that deals with how human, animal and plant tissues function.


Anything "renal" deals with the ______.

You might have heard this one specifically as the term "renal function." This refers to how well the kidneys are working.


A "keratinocyte" is found in what part of the body?

Most of the cells of your epidermis are keratinocytes. Your doctor might refer to them as "basal cells."


What is the transparent outer covering of the eye called?

Don't be fooled by "eyelid"! It is a covering, but not a transparent one. "Lens" is also close -- the cornea is curved in such a way that it serves as a preliminary lens, but the true lens is inside the eye.


If a wound or fracture is "stellate," what shape does it have?

"Stellate" is, of course, from the Latin "stella," for "star." To use an unfortunate example, some exit wounds from gunshots are "stellate."


What is ataxia?

Ataxia is a nervous system problem, though it manifests in muscle movements. For example, ataxic patients often have difficulty with walking, or an abnormal gait.


Anything "olfactory" has to do with what?

Your brain has "olfactory receptor cells" that allow it to process scents. This actually plays into survival - for ages, it's kept humans from eating food that has gone bad.


What kind of cell is a "lipocyte"?

Fat cells are called "lipocytes" or "adipocytes." We think of fat as merely inert, but it is living tissue, with cells that are born, grow and die.


Anything "endocrine" deals with what?

Although "hormones" is a word that brings up images of emotional excess - testosterone, for example - there are dozens of these chemical messengers in the body. They do vital jobs, too. Consider insulin, which regulates blood sugar and is essential to life.


Something dealing with the liver is ______.

This word comes down to us from the Greek. "Hepatikos" is that language's word for "liver."


A problem caused by medical intervention is called what?

Iatrogenic injury is a favorite topic - and, frankly, selling point - of alternative-medicine practitioners. However, iatrogenesis should be put into the context of the vast numbers of patients that modern medicine treats. Conversely, any fair assessment of the injury done by alternative practitioners includes ongoing chronic illness that could have been effectively treated by the modern standard of care.


What is the opposite of "anterior"?

"Anterior" and "posterior" are terms from medical illustration and descriptions. They mean "in front" and "behind," respectively.


A drug that prevents a biological process is called what?

Naturally, this word comes from the verb "inhibit," meaning "to lessen or prevent." A common one is the proton pump inhibitor, which impedes the production of stomach acid.


The prefix "cephalo-" refers to which part of the body?

This can get a little confusing. "Neuro-" refers specifically to the brain cells. "Cranial" is about the skull. "Cephalo-" is a broader term, dealing with the brain, skull or head.


True or false: "Antagonist" is a word used in medicine.

An "antagonist" is a drug or hormone that opposes the action of another one. The opposite term is "agonist," which speeds or amplifies the action.


In what part of the body is the pons found?

The pons is at the base of the brain. Its name is the Latin word for "bridge."


Which of these is the best definition of "homeostasis"?

Unless under serious stress from illness or injury, the body maintains norms in terms of temperature, blood pH, blood pressure, and so on. Many of these functions are ruled by the pituitary gland in the brain.


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