Preparing for the MCAT

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If you’ve decided to apply to medical school in the United States or Canada, you’ll likely need to take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT for short.

The MCAT is a multiple choice, computer-based exam that’s designed to test your critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, and their overall goal is to make sure that you have a good foundational understanding of both the scientific and cultural complexities of medicine.

Okay - so the MCAT itself has four sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems or Chem/Phys for short, Critical analysis and Reasoning Skills or CARS for short, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems or Bio/Biochem for short, and lastly Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior or Psych/Soc for short.

The first, third, and fourth sections have 59 questions each with a time limit of 95 minutes per section.

Each section has 10 passages with 4 to 6 questions per passage.

There are also 15 independent questions that are not associated with a passage.

In the second section, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, or CARS section, there are 53 questions that you have to answer in 90 minutes.

This section has 9 passages with 5 to 7 questions per passage.

In total, the exam lasts about seven and a half hours, if you include the time for breaks.

So let’s go section by section. Let’s start with the chem/phys section which consists of 30% general chemistry, 25% biochemistry, 25% physics, 15% organic chemistry, and 5% biology.

Topics in this section include Newtonian mechanics, electrostatics and electrodynamics, waves and optics, atomic structure, molecular structure and interactions, solutions and acid/base chemistry, electrochemistry, separation and purification techniques, thermodynamics and kinetics, and the structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules.

Next, there’s the Bio/Biochem section which consists of 65% biology, 25% biochemistry, 5% general chemistry, and 5% organic chemistry.

Topics in this section include the biological macromolecules like carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, biochemical pathways for energy production, cell biology, microbiology, genetics, and physiology.

Then, there’s the Psych/Soc section which consists of 65% psychology, 30% sociology, and 5% biology.

Topics in this section include cognition and consciousness, language development, emotion and motivation, learning and memory, sensation and perception, identity and personality, as well as major psychological disorders.

Sociology topics focus on social structures, social thinking and attitudes, as well as societal stratification and inequality.

There are four types of questions that you’ll get on these topics.

The first type is a “knowledge of scientific concepts and principles” question, which might ask you to make connections between different scientific principles.

For instance, a biology question might ask you to identify the structural similarities between cells in the heart and the liver.

The second type is a “scientific reasoning and problem solving” question, which will ask you to apply scientific principles across disciplines or in new situations.

So a physics question might ask you to use a formula about force to make predictions about the likelihood of a bone fractures if a certain force is applied to the arm.

The third type of question is a “design and execution of research” question, which might ask you to evaluate scientific research.

A psychology question might ask you to choose the best way to measure a stress response within a certain group of individuals.

Finally, the fourth type of question is a “data-based and statistical reasoning” question, which might ask you to interpret data from figures, tables, or charts.

A sociology question might ask you to find the correlation between socioeconomic level and heart disease from a table of data.

Now, there’s also the CARS section, which is a little different in that it does not test you on science-based topics, but instead it asks you to think critically about material from a really wide range of disciplines.

About half of the questions will come from texts from the humanities, like literature, art, philosophy, and history.

The other half will come from texts from the social sciences, like anthropology, political science, or economics.