MCAT, the abbreviated form of Medical College Admission Test, is a standardized test used by all medical schools in the United States to assess applicants for entry into their medical programs.
If anything, MCAT can be overwhelming to study for, even for the smartest students. Within a daunting seven and a half hours, the exam will test almost everything you have learned during your undergraduate studies.
If you are looking to tackle the MCAT, the best way around is by studying it one section at a time. If you are wondering what are the MCAT sections and what they cover, this article will give you all the answers you need and the best study habits to boost your score.
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Under the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you will solve 59 questions leveraging your knowledge of biological and biochemical concepts, paired with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. Here’s how you can stay well prepared for this section:
- Focus on Basic Concepts and Principles–
When preparing for this section, it is crucial to memorize the basic concepts and principles. You should also learn to integrate, analyze, and apply the information from the subjects and disciplines alongside memorizing.
- Remember How to Interpret Charts and Data–
When completing the biology and biochemistry section of the MCAT, you should aim to not spend much time on the charts and graphs. Sharpen your analysis skills by practicing reading and interpreting charts and data quickly.
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
Featuring 59 questions that ask you to solve problems by combining your understanding of chemical and physical foundational concepts with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills, the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section typically takes 95 minutes to complete. Below given are a few tips that will help you prepare well for this section of the MCAT.
- Research the Most Commonly Tested Concepts–
While preparing, research the most commonly tested MCAT concepts and try to have a broad understanding of these subjects. While these concepts are certainly not enough to tackle this entire section, it will definitely help you have the upper hand.
- Review Both Concepts and Critical Reasoning–
There are some concepts that are must-know in this section and have appeared the most frequently over the years. However, these concepts aren’t enough to get a better score. You might get unlucky and end up with questions from the less common topics. So, prepare yourself for the exam and make sure you review all topics alongside critical reasoning.
- Know What Tools You’ll Be Given–
When you begin preparing for this section, learn which tools you will be provided with on the test day. For instance, you will be given a periodic table of elements, so don’t waste time memorizing those.
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section deals with problems that test your knowledge of foundational concepts alongside your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. Fifty-nine questions long, here are some tips to prepare for this section.
- Understand Statistical Methodology–
As this section integrates and tests sociology, psychology, and biology concepts using statistical models, your best option is to study from several different MCAT review books. Reading review books will help you go through the concepts that you have been exposed to previously, resulting in better memorizations, and in turn, better scores.
- Use Flashcards to Help with Memorization–
Another way to memorize efficiently is by using flashcards that cover all the materials in this section. You can easily find such flashcards online prepared by students who previously took the MCAT. This helps save time and helps memorize theories faster.
- Review First Semester Data and Graph Analysis–
This section heavily tests your analytical skills and ability to interpret data, meaning you will be dealing with lots of graphs and data sets. Though it seems tedious, review the basic concepts from your first semester data and charts to see significant score improvement.
- Be Prepared to Compare and Contrast Conceptual Frameworks–
Alongside studying the materials, it is also essential that you test yourself with practice questions and passages. While you might understand the concepts, the test requires you to compare ideas and draw relationships from sociology, psychology, and biology. Practice exams will expose you to passages and practice questions, which will help solidify the memorized materials, identify your weaknesses, and eventually give insight into how the material will appear on the test day.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Unlike the other three sections of the MCAT, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section is one of the trickiest to prepare for. It tests your ability to interpret information without applying background knowledge through multiple passages accompanied by 53 different questions. Here are a few steps that will help you boost your preparation for this CARS section:
- Quickly Identify the Concept of Each Passage–
CARS passage can be divided into two categories—humanities and social sciences. The humanities assessment can be anything from academic commentaries on art or ethics to literary passages taking from primary texts. On the other hand, social science passages are texts on history, anthropology, psychology, geography, or linguistics. Distinguishing between these two types of passages will make it easy for you to identify how you should approach its question.
- Use Tone and Diction to Determine Passage Categories–
Besides identifying a passage by its subject, you can tell humanities from social sciences passage by analyzing its tone, diction, and relative apparent subjectivity. For instance, a social sciences passage will more likely be written in an objective tone, while a humanities passage will seem like it’s written in an argumentative tone.
Additionally, word choices will offer clues about the type of passage you are reading. For example, identify words specific to the overall subject of a passage—words like ‘pirouette’ in a discussion about dance or ‘civilizations’ in a passage about anthropology—and use it to identify whether the passage is from social sciences or humanities.
- Don’t Read the Passages Like You’d Read a Textbook–
Regardless of the type of passage, identifying the text’s central idea, understanding the author’s tone, and quickly going through the associated questions before reading the passage will help you catch some extra points.
For social sciences passages, avoid getting caught up in the jargon and use the context clues to find the meaning of words you aren’t familiar with. When it comes to humanities passages, pay attention to how the author interrelates various ideas as supporting evidence for the main argument.
Enjoy the Process
Throughout your preparation, try to enjoy the time you spent studying for the MCAT. The test day is the finale of a series of effort and hard work you have put into preparing yourself to be a medical professional. Remember, your hard work will pay off great dividends during the application and interview process, and carry on with positivity.