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A Guide to MCAT Topics and Sections

The thought of studying for and taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) can be overwhelming. There’s so much content to cover, and it can be challenging to figure out where to start (more on this to come). Before we get ahead of ourselves on how to prep for the MCAT though, let’s keep first things first: what topics does the MCAT test?

The Topics on the MCAT

The MCAT exam tests you on the following topics and skills:

  1. 1. Introductory Psychology
  2. 2. Introductory Sociology
  3. 3. General Chemistry
  4. 4. Organic Chemistry
  5. 5. Introductory Physics
  6. 6. First-Semester Biochemistry
  7. 7. Introductory Biology
  8. 8. Basic Research Methods and Statistics
  9. 9. Reading Comprehension
  10. 10. Critical Analysis and Reasoning

Additionally, the MCAT will test you on the following four scientific inquiry and reasoning skills:

  1. 1. Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles
  2. 2. Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving
  3. 3. Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research
  4. 4. Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning

Thankfully, the AAMC provides a detailed breakdown for each MCAT exam section and a list of the topics it covers. For your convenience, we’ve extracted some of the most important information from this 100+ page AAMC document. Read on for a brief overview encompassing everything MCAT test takers need to know about the exam’s sections and topics.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chem/Phys section will have 59 questions consisting of:

  1. – 25% First-Semester Biochemistry
  2. – 5% Introductory Biology
  3. – 30% General Chemistry
  4. – 15% Organic Chemistry
  5. – 25% Introductory Physics

Here is a short list of some topics the MCAT tests in this section:

Work and Energy Solubility
Electrochemistry Kinematics
Fluids Radioactive Decay
Kinetics Stoichiometry
Circuits Waves
Lenses and Mirrors Translational Motion
Magnetism Thermodynamics
Acids/Bases Periodic Trends

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

The CARS section is unique. Unlike the other sections, no background content knowledge is necessary for this part of the MCAT. Instead, CARS rewards well-developed reading comprehension, critical thinking skills, and test-taking strategies, meaning that ample practice with CARS-style passages is critical to scoring well.

You may be wondering why this MCAT section even exists at all—we’re going to be treating patients, not dissecting philosophy passages, right? But being a physician is more than just having science and medical knowledge; doctors must comprehend, interpret, and synthesize large amounts of information (and not just scientific information) to make effective clinical decisions.

Half of the CARS passages you’ll see come from the humanities and the other half from the social sciences. You’ll face nine passages, each with five to seven associated questions, 53 in total. Developing an effective CARS strategy will help you get through this section. Each question tests you on a variety of skills, including:

  1. – 30% Comprehension
  2. – 30% Reasoning Within the Text
  3. – 40% Reasoning Beyond the Text

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The Bio/Biochem section will have 59 questions composed of:

  1. – 25% First-Semester Biochemistry
  2. – 65% Introductory Biology
  3. – 5% General Chemistry
  4. – 5% Organic Chemistry

As its name suggests, this MCAT section focuses on living systems, so you’ll need to be familiar with the body and how it functions. We’ve listed some of the tested Bio/Biochem section topics:

DNA Reproductive System
Genetics Nervous System
Enzymes Endocrine System
Metabolism Evolution
Circulatory System Amino Acids and Proteins
Digestive System Lipids
Muscular and Skeletal Systems Meiosis and Mitosis

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The Psych/Soc section will have 59 questions broken down as:

  1. – 65% Introductory Psychology
  2. – 30% Introductory Sociology
  3. – 5% Introductory Biology

Some of the tested topics in this MCAT section may not necessarily help you diagnose a patient. However, they can help you understand your future patients’ behavior and circumstances, which is often equally important.

Here is a short list of topics the MCAT might test in this section:

Cognitive Functions Conditioning
Emotion and Stress Central Nervous System
Memory Bias, Prejudice, and Discrimination
Sleep Psychological Development
Social Change and Inequality Psychological Disorders

Your MCAT Test Prep Plan

Your undergraduate (and possibly graduate) coursework will cover many MCAT  topics. However, you may not entirely master the material the first time around. You’ll need in-depth understanding to excel on test day, and we can help you get there.

If you’re just starting your MCAT prep, you’ll want to begin by taking an MCAT diagnostic test. Take advantage of Blueprint’s free, half-length MCAT diagnostic, complete with detailed analytics that will evaluate where you currently stand and which content areas and skills you need to work on to reach your goal score. Afterward, you can sign up for a free trial of our Online MCAT Prep Course and take a free full-length MCAT practice exam.

You can also schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced MCAT Advisors to discuss your unique MCAT preparation needs and determine if an MCAT prep course or one-on-one MCAT tutoring would be best for you. Good luck, future doctor!