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MCAT Sections

  • by Allison Chae
  • Apr 05, 2013
  • MCAT Blog, MCAT Info, MCAT Long Form

The new 2013 MCAT has three scored sections that test your basic science and critical thinking skills.

Test Day follows this outline:

  •  Optional Tutorial, 10 minutes
  • Non-disclosure Agreement, 10 minutes
  • Physical Sciences, 70 minutes
  • Optional Break, 10 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning, 60 minutes
  • Optional Break, 10 minutes
  • Biological Sciences, 70 minutes
  • Optional Void Scores, 5 minutes
  • Optional Break, 10 minutes
  • Optional Trial Section, 45 minutes
  • Satisfaction Survey, 10 minutes


Optional Tutorial


You may skip the tutorial. You shouldn’t. While it introduces basic elements of the interface that you should already know, the tutorial is your chance to get settled in your surroundings. Make sure your chair is comfortable, and that any noise-blocking earplugs or headphones they’ve provided are also comfortable.


Non-disclosure Agreement


To take the MCAT, you’ll have to agree not to memorize the questions and then distribute them online later. Although they list 10 minutes for this section, it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to skim through the page and click “I Agree”. It feels sort of like those agreements you click on iTunes – you know you should read it, but since you’re going to say “yes” no matter what, you just scroll to the bottom and click through.


Physical Sciences


The PS section is 50% physics and 50% general chemistry. The questions are presented as stand-alone multiple choice questions and as questions that follow a reading passage on a basic science topic.


Passages:         7  (4-7 questions on each)

Passage-based Questions:       39

Independent Questions:          13

Total Questions:                      52


You’re only given 70 minutes to complete the questions, and students routinely say this is one of the hardest sections to finish on time. You’ll be expected to answer each independent question in a minute or less, and then to complete each passage in around 8 minutes.


Keep in mind that 8 minutes includes the time to read and analyze the entire passage, answer the questions (including lengthy calculations!). Success on this section requires focused practice to make the best use of your time.


Optional Break


Between each section you’re offered a break. They may be listed as optional, but you shouldn’t treat them that way. Always use your break! Get up, leave the test room, move around, and have a drink of water. Keeping your mind focused means keeping your body loose and relaxed. So use those breaks!


Verbal Reasoning


The VR section gives you 60 minutes to read 7 passages and answer 40 questions. Students very often report having trouble finishing this section on time. The reading passages are long, abstract, and more than anything else, they’re really (really!) boring.


You’ve got to push your way through a six to seven hundred word passage on topics ranging from philosophy to economics to politics and then answer tricky deduction and inference questions. Since most MCAT test-takers major in things like biology or biochemistry or biological psychology or ecobiology or (you get the idea), it can be tough to change gears and think through such unfamiliar topics.


Biological Sciences


The BS section is around 75% biology and 25% organic chemistry. Its structure and timing exactly match the breakdown in physical sciences.


The good news is that this is the section that will probably feel the most comfortable – it will test a lot of the biology concepts that you’ve focused on throughout your undergraduate course work. The down side is that it’s the last scored section, so you’ve got to make sure to keep your stamina and focus up for the long haul.


Option to Void Scores


The test will let you void your score. You almost certainly should not do this. It’ll mean that your test is never scored – you can’t change your mind later.


The rule of thumb is simple: if you’re even asking yourself the question, “Should I void my score?” then the answer is a resounding “No!”. If, instead, you’re asking yourself the question, “Uh-oh, when can I void my score?” then maybe you should consider it.


Everyone gets Test Day jitters. Everyone feels like they didn’t do as well as they’d like, or that they struggled on the exam. That’s normal and shouldn’t make you void your score. You should only cancel the test if you left several passages completely blank, or had to leave the test room due to sudden illness.


Optional Trial Section


The MCAT will get a major makeover in 2015, and the AAMC is testing out new questions using an optional trial section at the end of the test. If you take the section they’ll give you a $30 Amazon gift card – and you’ll get a sneak peek at what the test will look like in the future.


If you’re curious about the section and would like the gift card, go ahead and take it. On the other hand, if you’re burned out and just wanna get out of the there, don’t bother.


Satisfaction Survey


Test Day ends with a short survey that provides the AAMC with the data they need to fully research the MCAT. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Answer the questions and you’re free to go!


Each section on the test carries its own particular challenges and pitfalls. By reading through the basics of what to expect, you’ve taken an important first step. Now that you know what each section includes, you’ll want to start practicing sample questions. Check out for some sample questions and contact NextStep to arrange a free consultation with an MCAT tutor.