What's on the MCAT Exam?

A medical student studying internal organs for the MCAT exam

Are you considering applying to medical school? If so, you’ve likely heard about the MCAT exam – a critical medical school admissions process component. The MCAT exam assesses your knowledge and critical thinking skills in several key subject areas. But what’s on the MCAT exam, exactly? How many questions are on the MCAT exam?

We’ll dive into these questions and explore the ins and outs of the MCAT exam, so you can feel prepared and confident as you begin your medical school journey.

What is the MCAT Exam?

The MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test, a standardized exam administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The MCAT is typically required for admission to medical schools in the United States and Canada, and it’s designed to assess your knowledge and critical thinking skills in several key subject areas. The MCAT is a computer-based test that is offered year-round at testing centers around the world.

What’s on the MCAT Exam?

The MCAT exam consists of four sections, each focusing on a different subject area. The four sections are:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The first three sections of the MCAT exam are multiple-choice, while the fourth comprises passages and questions requiring you to analyze and interpret information.

Sections of MCAT Exam

How Many Questions are on the MCAT Exam?

Each section of the MCAT exam contains a different number of questions; here is a breakdown of each:

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living SystemsNumber of questions: 59Time allocation: 95-minute sectionTopics covered: Basic biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological SystemsNumber of questions: 59Time allocation: 95-minute sectionTopics covered: Basic biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of BehaviorNumber of questions: 59Time allocation: 95-minute sectionTopics covered: Introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis and Reasoning SkillsNumber of questions: 53Time allocation: 90-minute sectionTopics covered: Passages from social sciences and humanities disciplines

In total, the MCAT exam consists of 230 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 7.5 hours to complete, including breaks.

MCAT Sections Explained

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The MCAT exam’s Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBLS) section evaluates an applicant’s comprehension and knowledge of fundamental biology and biochemistry concepts related to living organisms. This section consists of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts for 95 minutes. It accounts for approximately 25% of the total MCAT score.

The BBLS section covers four main areas: Molecular Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, and Human Anatomy and Physiology. The topics tested include:

  • Molecular Biology: DNA replication, transcription, and translation, gene regulation, and protein structure and function.
  • Genetics: Inheritance patterns, genetic disorders, and population genetics.
  • Cellular Biology: Cellular structures, functions, communication, and metabolism.
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology: Human organ systems and their functions, homeostasis, and disease mechanisms.

The section evaluates an applicant’s capacity to apply scientific principles and concepts to real-world situations and scenarios, particularly those encountered in medical practice. The questions assess knowledge, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze and interpret data.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS) section of the MCAT exam tests an applicant’s knowledge and understanding of the fundamental chemistry and physics concepts related to biological systems. The section is composed of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts for 95 minutes. The CPBS section comprises approximately 25% of the total MCAT score.

The CPBS section covers four main areas: General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Physics. The topics tested include:

  • General Chemistry: Atomic structure, periodicity, stoichiometry, solutions, gases, and thermodynamics.
  • Organic Chemistry: Structure and bonding, nomenclature, functional groups, stereochemistry, reactions, and mechanisms.
  • Biochemistry: Macromolecules, enzymes, metabolism, and genetics.
  • Physics: Mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves and optics, and thermodynamics.

The section tests an applicant’s ability to apply scientific concepts and principles to real-world situations and scenarios, especially those encountered in medical practice. The questions are designed to test knowledge, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze and interpret data.

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Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (PSBB) section of the MCAT exam evaluates how an applicant understands the fundamental concepts in psychology, sociology, and biology to behavior and mental processes. This section consists of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts 95 minutes, comprising approximately 25% of the total MCAT score.

The PSBB section tests three primary areas: Introductory Psychology, Introductory Sociology, and Biological and Biochemical Processes Related to Behavior. The topics covered include:

  • Introductory Psychology: Sensation and perception, learning and memory, motivation and emotion, and social psychology.
  • Introductory Sociology: Social structures, social institutions, social inequality, and social change.
  • Biological and Biochemical Processes Related to Behavior: The nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system; genetic and environmental influences on behavior; and the effects of drugs and toxins on behavior.

The PSBB section assesses an applicant’s ability to apply scientific concepts and principles to real-world scenarios, especially those relevant to medical practice. The questions test knowledge, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze and interpret data.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT exam assesses an applicant’s ability to read and comprehend complex passages, analyze arguments, and make reasoned judgments about them. This section consists of 53 multiple-choice questions and lasts 90 minutes, comprising approximately 25% of the total MCAT score.

The CARS section evaluates an applicant’s ability to identify and analyze arguments, evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions based on the information provided. The section aims to test the applicant’s critical thinking and reasoning skills, including understanding complex texts and making inferences based on evidence.

The section contains passages from various subjects, including humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, to ensure that all applicants have an equal chance to demonstrate their analytical and reasoning abilities. The passages are followed by questions that require applicants to evaluate and analyze arguments, identify assumptions, and draw logical conclusions based on the information provided.

To prepare for the CARS section, developing strong reading comprehension and analytical skills is essential. Applicants should practice reading and analyzing complex texts from various disciplines, paying particular attention to the author’s argument, evidence, and assumptions.

What Skills Are Tested on the MCAT Exam?

In addition to the content covered in each section, the MCAT exam is designed to assess your critical thinking skills. Here are the skills that the exam tests:

Scientific Reasoning and Problem Solving

The MCAT exam will test your ability to analyze and interpret information, apply scientific concepts to new situations, and solve problems. You will need to be able to use your knowledge of scientific concepts and principles in a wide range of scenarios, including those that may be unfamiliar or complex.

Identifying key information, making logical connections between concepts, and using critical thinking skills to solve problems are essential.

Reasoning Within the Disciplines

The MCAT exam requires you to be able to apply knowledge from different scientific disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. You will need to understand how these other disciplines intersect and be able to apply their principles and concepts to real-world scenarios.

This requires a strong foundational knowledge of each discipline and the ability to recognize how they are interconnected.

Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning

The MCAT exam will test your ability to analyze and interpret data, graphs, and charts and to understand basic statistical concepts. You will need to be able to identify trends, patterns, and relationships within the data and use this information to draw conclusions and make predictions.

This needs a strong understanding of statistical principles and the ability to apply them to real-world scenarios.

Reading and Writing Skills

The MCAT exam requires strong reading and writing skills. You will need to be able to read and understand complex passages, identify key information, and conclude. Additionally, you will need to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively through writing.

You must organize your thoughts, use proper grammar and syntax, and effectively convey your ideas to the reader.

Interpersonal and Social Skills

The MCAT exam requires understanding the social and cultural context in which medicine is practiced. You must communicate effectively with patients, colleagues, and the broader community. This requires recognizing cultural differences, understanding social dynamics, and effectively communicating with people from diverse backgrounds.

Additionally, you will need to demonstrate empathy and ethical decision-making skills to provide adequate care to patients.

What’s on MCAT Exam?

Wrapping Up

The MCAT exam is a challenging but essential part of medical school admissions. By understanding what’s on the MCAT exam, how many questions are on the MCAT exam, and what skills are tested, you can prepare effectively and feel confident on test day.

Remember to give yourself time to prepare, use various study materials, and prioritize self-care. You can achieve your medical school dreams with the right mindset and approach.



Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When should I take the MCAT exam?

Most students take the MCAT exam the year before their expected entry into medical school. You should take the MCAT exam by May or June if you plan to apply to medical school in the same year.

What should I do if I don’t perform well on the MCAT exam?

If you don’t perform as well as you’d like on the MCAT exam, don’t panic. You can retake the exam up to three times in a single testing year, and many medical schools will only consider your highest score. Additionally, consider contacting our MCAT tutoring for additional support and guidance.

How can I prepare for the MCAT exam?

Preparing for the MCAT exam requires a lot of time and effort. You should start by creating a study plan that works for you and includes various study materials, such as textbooks, practice exams, and review books. You should also take a prep course or work with a tutor to ensure you’re fully prepared. Finally, ensure to take care of yourself during the preparation process by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy food.

What are some tips for taking the MCAT exam?

On test day, arrive early and bring all required documents. During the exam, read each question carefully and use the process of elimination to eliminate wrong answers. Also, manage your time effectively by pacing and taking breaks when needed. Finally, stay calm and confident, and trust in your preparation.

What is the hardest section on the MCAT?

The difficulty level of each section on the MCAT can vary depending on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. However, many students find the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section the most challenging part of the exam.

This section requires reading comprehension, critical thinking, and reasoning skills to understand and evaluate complex passages and arguments. The passages cover many subjects, including humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, making them challenging to prepare for.

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