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A Guide to MCAT Topics and Sections

  • by Sam
  • Jun 04, 2018
  • MCAT Blog, Pre-Med Support

Each of the four sections of the MCAT has it’s own set of topics and subtopics. There’s a lot to cover for this exam and it can seem overwhelming at first. Stop for a moment. Take a deep breath; it’s really not as bad as it seems.

The best place to start is the beginning, which may seem obvious to some of you. But, knowing what topics will be covered in each of the sections will help you set up your MCAT study plan and create a strategy for success. You can choose which topics to focus on now and which to work on later.

In addition to the science subjects, the MCAT will also be testing you on four scientific inquiry and reasoning skills:

Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles
Scientific Reasoning and Problem Solving
Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research
Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning

Luckily for you, the AAMC provides a subject breakdown for each of the sections of the exam as well as a list of topics that are covered. We have provided a brief overview of everything you need to know about the MCAT exam sections and topics:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chem/ Phys section will have 59 questions broken down as:

25% Basic Biochemistry
5% Introductory Biology
30% General Chemistry
15% Organic Chemistry
25% Introductory Physics

Below is a short list of some of the topics that can be covered in this section:

Carbohydrates Solubility
Doppler Effect Gravity
Fluids Friction
Electrostatics Drag
Ohm’s Law 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 of this exam, there is no previous knowledge required to be successful in this section. CARS focuses more on skill than knowledge; you will need to demonstrate your ability to understand and interpret what you’ve read. Due to the nature of the questions, you will need to focus on practice versus memorization to do well.

The skills measured in this section are important for success in medical school and the career that follows. Being a doctor is not all about the science and medical knowledge; doctors need to be able to interpret and understand many complex concepts to be successful.

The passages in this section will focus on either humanities or social service. You will face 9 passages with 5-7 questions following each for a total of 53 questions. Questions will test you on a variety of skills:

30% Comprehension
30% Reasoning Within the Text
40% Reasoning Beyond the Text

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The Bio/ Biochem section will have 59 questions broken down as:

25% Basic Biochemistry
65% Introductory Biology
5% General Chemistry
5% Organic Chemistry

This section focuses on living systems as the name suggests; so, you’ll want to know about the body and how it functions. Below is a short list of some of the topics that can be covered in this section:

DNA Reproductive System
Genetics Nervous System
Circulatory System Endocrine System
Lymphatic System Evolution
Immune 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:

65% Introductory Psychology
30% Introductory Sociology
5% Introductory Biology

The topics tested in this section may not necessarily help doctors in diagnosing a patient. Instead, they may help them understand their patients and their circumstances, which is often equally as important.

Below is a short list of some of the topics that can be covered 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 Prep Plan

The courses you take in your undergraduate studies, will cover many of the topics tested on the MCAT. The introductory courses you’re taking may not be enough to master the material, though, and you’ll want to have an in-depth understanding of these topics if you expect to do well on test day.

Let Next Step help you master the material. You can schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Academic Managers to go over your MCAT prep needs and see if we’d be a good fit. We offer one-on-one MCAT tutoring as well as an online MCAT course. Each provides students with a customized study plan that will focus on each student’s individual needs. Students will build a solid foundation of content as well as a successful strategy for tackling the difficult exam. 

If you’re just starting out with your MCAT prep, you’ll want to begin with a diagnostic exam. We have a free MCAT practice bundle that gives students access to a half-length diagnostic exam, our first full-length exam, and a demo of our online course. We also offer several practice exam bundles and many MCAT books to help you with your MCAT prep.

From all of us here at Next Step, we wish you the best of luck!

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