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A Comprehensive Guide to the MCAT: Tips for Each Section

As many of you already know, one of the major requirements for applying to medical schools is the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). This is a multiple-choice, computer-based, standardized exam by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The MCAT is designed in a way that correlates to the success of the applicant in medical school and is a way to identify those who can survive the complex and quickly changing field of medicine. While it can be stressful to think about preparing for the exam and trying to improve your score, knowing how to prepare will help improve your chances for an above-average MCAT score.

Overview of the MCAT

The MCAT consists of 4 sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS); Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. Even though the four sections cover the same number of topics, only some of the science topics have the same weight in the final MCAT score. For instance, biology is about 65% of the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems and is the most crucial subject in the MCAT. General chemistry is the next important subject of the MCAT, with it being 30% of the Chemistry and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences. Physics is about 25% of the Chemistry and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences. The last important subject to focus on is organic chemistry, which is 15% of the chemistry and physical foundations of biological sciences.

Each of the four sections has a score range of 118 to 132, which adds up to a total MCAT score of 472 to 528. The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences is 59 questions with 10 passages, 44 are passage-based questions, and 15 discrete questions. The CARS section consists of 53 questions with nine passages. The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems has 59 questions, the same as the Chemistry and Physics section, with the composition of the questions. The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section also has 95 questions with the same composition of questions as CARS and the Chemical and Physics sections.

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills for the MCAT

The AAMC has determined four specific Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills required to do well on the MCAT. These inquiries include Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles, Scientific Reasoning and Problem Solving, Reasoning About the Design and Execution of the Research, and Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning. Considering this, knowing the science content alone will not generate a high score on the MCAT. Instead, these skills are needed for you to utilize the information from the pre-med classes you’ve taken to draw inferences and conclusions. For example, you’ll be shown a short passage on a science topic and must be able to use your science knowledge and critical reasoning skills to answer the questions.

Tips for the Chemistry and Physics Section

One of the most important tips is to review how to decipher the different types of data like histograms and bar graphs) and statistics. Also, looking at the exceptions to common assumptions and which results are statistically significant (p-values being less than 0.05 is one way) are two other tips for getting through the section. Asking yourself, “What is the question asking me to understand about the results?” is another method to go about the questions for this section It is important to memorize organic structures, functional groups, common chemical reactions, and experimental techniques like chromatography and physics equations. For the physics equations, focus on the relationships between the equations and understand the definition of each variable.

Tips for the CARS Section

When first given a passage, read through the passage while noting down names, dates, and important topics and quotes. Engaging with the text, like reading the passage with an exciting voice, is another way to remember details from the passage. Before answering the questions, summarize the main ideas of the passage and the author’s perspective on the topic. One method for answering the questions is to read the question and come up with the answer without looking at the answer choices to avoid being distracted by an incorrect answer. Go back to the passage to ensure you can support your chosen answer. And finally, if you’re unsure about the questions, don’t waste too much time on them, and go back to them after you’re done with the section. The same can be applied for each section to not waste too much time on one question you’re unsure of.

Tips for the Biology and Biochemical Section

It is a highly emphasized tip to memorize all the amino acids, properties of their side chains, and biochemical pathways such as glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. Also, understanding how each organ system works and the effects of altered gene expression on system function. If there are questions about a research experiment you don’t understand, read through the passage carefully and analyze the figures given. Being level-headed on questions like this will ensure less time panicking.

Tips for the Psych, Social, and Biological Foundations Section

Going through the theories for psychology, how to apply them, and understanding the application of the theories is the way to succeed in this section. Using flashcards for all the sections, but especially this section, can be helpful in memorizing the concept’s underlying principles. Finally, learning the functions of key brain parts, the anatomy of the eye and ear, and understanding how the senses work.


While there is a lot of memorization and content to review for the MCAT, doing so is needed to do well, as well as taking many practice tests to get used to the timing for each section and knowing how much time to spend on each question. Sources like Kaplan and Princeton have practice questions and guides for each section of the MCAT to go over. Good luck studying, and take care of yourself while studying!

Thank you for reading,

Siri Nikku




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