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Tackling Math Concepts and Problems on the MCAT

How comfortable are you with math? Is it a subject that you have always enjoyed, or a subject that you dread? Did you know that many math concepts are applied on the MCAT every year?

Understandably, this subject is likely not the first thing that you thought of when preparing for the MCAT, but it is imperative to reflect upon it. Even if you did not initially plan to study math as a standalone subject, math is crucial to solving many problems in Chemistry, Biology, and other major MCAT sections. In this regard, it is almost impossible to ignore, especially when you want to achieve a high score.

If this is a subject that you particularly enjoy, this may not be something that worries you. However, many students (and maybe even yourself) may feel the complete opposite, and the thought of math problems on the MCAT may leave you feeling rather discouraged and intimidated.

If you are feeling uncertain and unsure of how to approach math in the MCAT, many positive viewpoints can help alleviate the tension that you are currently experiencing. We hope that many of these can build your confidence and ensure you that MCAT math applications can be more approachable than you believed.

First, one of the great things about the MCAT is that since all students are prohibited from using calculators on the exam, all math problems provided can be solved without one. This can provide some much-needed reassurance that the complexity of these problems is significantly reduced from the problems that you may have experienced in your college STEM courses. In addition, this simplicity completely dissipates potential human errors found in improper calculator use, which can increase your chances of arriving at correct solutions!

Second, general math problems have a limited extension in terms of difficulty level. Although calculus is a commonly-recommended course for many pre-med students, it is not on the MCAT. Therefore, you can limit your studying approach to the following math topics: simple multiplication, division, and arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, proportions, logarithms, introductory statistics, and mathematical research methods. Hopefully, this particular piece of newfound knowledge has provided you with significant peace of mind!

Third, studying these math concepts can be easily done through both MCAT review books and websites! Although admittedly many MCAT review materials still do not commonly highlight math in comparison to many of the other topics, the internet has made it very simple and easy to find math problems connected to the math topics previously expressed. For starters, a sample of these types of questions is provided below for your convenience. Questions like these could easily be found through Quizlet, Anki, and general internet searches!:

  1. A man attempts to swim directly south to cross a 50 ft wide river. The current forces him to swim 55 degrees southeast for 100 ft. How far from his original goal did he end up?

    1. 17 ft

    2. 7 ft

    3. 70 ft

    4. 77 ft

  2. What is the percent increase from 23 to 58?

    1. 50%

    2. 60%

    3. 70%

    4. 67%

  3. Find the exact values of the following (in the respective order): Sin 0°, Sin 30°, Sin 45°, Sin 60°, Sin 90°

    1. 0, ½, sqrt(2)/2, sqrt(3)/2, 1

    2. 1, ½, sqrt(3)/2, sqrt(2)/2, 0

    3. 1, sqrt(3)/2, sqrt(2)/2, 0, ½

    4. 0, ½, 1, sqrt(2)/2, sqrt(3)/2

  4. There are approximately ___ radians in one circle. Thus, if something is rotating at 12 rad/s, you know that it is making two revolutions per second (rev/s).

    1. 2

    2. 4

    3. 5

    4. 6

  5. All the angles in any triangle must add up to what?

    1. 90°

    2. 160°

    3. 180°

    4. 360°

ANSWER KEY: 1C, 2B, 3A, 4D, 5C

After completing those practice problems, how do you feel now about their inclusion in the MCAT? Even if you are not as familiar with some of these concepts, we hope that this article has alleviated some of the fears that you have about math and the MCAT as a whole! An important last note for you to remember: although the MCAT does not test specifically on these math topics (as math does not have its own designated section), these are all necessary to replicate in the higher-order questions presented in both the biological and physical science contexts of the exam.

Thank you so much for reading, and good luck with your math and MCAT endeavors!

Ashlyn Southerland

Shemassian Academic Consulting. (n.d.). Math for the MCAT - Everything You Need to Know.

The Princeton Review. (n.d.). How to Survive MCAT Math Without a Calculator.


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