Key Foundational MCAT Skills

By section of the MCAT Exam

The Four Sections Of The MCAT

The MCAT exam tests for mastery of basic concepts in physics, biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, sociology, and psychology. Additionally, it serves to assess examinees’ capacity for problem solving and critical thinking. The four sections of the exam, in the order they appear, are:

Click on the links below to learn more:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. CARS - Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

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Getting into your top-choice medical school is a highly competitive process and so you'll want to prepare thoroughly for the MCAT. The MCAT exam is unlike any other standardized test. Even the most gifted students will often score poorly on this test unless they are aware of the correct approach to taking the MCAT.

Overview of the MCAT

Section by Section

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT

Three Key Concepts Tested

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT is a 95-minute section containing 59 multiple-choice questions.

This section asks you to combine your knowledge of three key foundational concepts in the biological and biochemical sciences with your scientific inquiry, reasoning, and research and statistics skills to solve problems that demonstrate readiness for medical school.

Foundational Concept 1:

Biomolecules have unique properties that determine how they contribute to the structure and function of cells, and how they participate in the processes necessary to maintain life.
  • 1A: Structure and function of proteins and their constituent amino acids
  • 1B: Transmission of genetic information from the gene to the protein
  • 1C: Transmission of heritable information from generation to generation and the processes that increase genetic diversity
  • 1D: Principles of bioenergetics and fuel molecule metabolism
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Foundational Concept 2:

Highly-organized assemblies of molecules, cells, and organs interact to carry out the functions of living organisms.

  • 2A: Assemblies of molecules, cells, and groups of cells within single cellular and multicellular organisms
  • 2B: The structure, growth, physiology, and genetics of prokaryotes and viruses
  • 2C: Processes of cell division, differentiation, and specialization
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Foundational Concept 3:

Complex systems of tissues and organs sense the internal and external environments of multicellular organisms, and through integrated functioning, maintain a stable internal environment within an ever-changing external environment.

  • 3A: Structure and functions of the nervous and endocrine systems and ways in which these systems coordinate the organ systems
  • 3B: Structure and integrative functions of the main organ systems
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The Chemical and Physical Foundations Section

Chemical and Physical Foundations section of MCAT

Two Key Concepts Tested

The Chemical and Physical Sciences section of the MCAT is a 95-minute section containing 59 multiple-choice questions.

This section asks you to combine your knowledge of two key foundational concepts in the chemical and physical sciences with your scientific inquiry, reasoning, and research and statistics skills to solve problems that demonstrate readiness for medical school.

Foundational Concept 4:

Complex living organisms transport materials, sense their environment, process signals, and respond to changes using processes that can be understood in terms of physical principles.

  • 4A: Translational motion, forces, work, energy, and equilibrium in living systems
  • 4B: Importance of fluids for the circulation of blood, gas movement, and gas exchange
  • 4C: Electrochemistry and electrical circuits and their elements
  • 4D: How light and sound interact with matter
  • 4E: Atoms, nuclear decay, electronic structure, and atomic chemical behavior
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Foundational Concept 5:

The principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions form the basis for a broader understanding of the molecular dynamics of living systems.

  • 5A: Unique nature of water and its solutions
  • 5B: Nature of molecules and intermolecular interactions
  • 5C: Separation and purification methods
  • 5D: Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules
  • 5E: Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics
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The Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior Section

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior Section

Five Key Concepts Tested

The Behavioral Sciences section of the MCAT is a 95-minute section containing 59 multiple-choice questions.

This section tests your knowledge and use of five key foundational concepts in psychology, sociology, biology, research methods, and statistics that provide a solid foundation for learning in medical school about the behavioral and socio-cultural determinants of health and health outcomes.

Foundational Concept 6:

Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world.

  • 6A: Sensing the environment
  • 6B: Making sense of the environment
  • 6C: Responding to the world
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Foundational Concept 7:

Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior and behavior change.

  • 7A: Individual influences on behavior
  • 7B: Social processes that influence human behavior
  • 7C: Attitude and behavior change
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Foundational Concept 8:

Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors influence the way we think about ourselves and others, as well as how we interact with others.

  • 8A: Self-identity
  • 8B: Social thinking
  • 8C: Social interactions
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Foundational Concept 9:

Cultural and social differences influence well-being.

  • 9A: Understanding social structure
  • 9B: Demographic characteristics and processes
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Foundational Concept 10:

Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being.

  • 10A: Social inequality
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The CARS Section - Critical Analysis and Reasoning

CARS section of MCAT

Three Key Skills Tested

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills - CARS section of the MCAT is a 90-minute section containing 53 multiple-choice questions.

This section of the MCAT exam includes passages and questions that test your ability to comprehend what you read and has been developed specifically to measure the analysis and reasoning skills you will need to be successful in medical school. You will be asked to read and think about passages from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, then answer a series of questions.

These passages are relatively short, typically between 500 and 600 words, but they are complex, often thought-provoking pieces of writing with sophisticated vocabulary and, at times, intricate writing styles. Everything you need to know to answer test questions is in the passages and the questions themselves. No additional coursework or specific knowledge is required. You will not only need to assess the content, but also need to consider the authors’ intentions and tones and the words they used to express their points of view.

Skill 1 (30%):

Foundations of Comprehension

  • Understanding the basic components of the text.
  • Inferring meaning from rhetorical devices, word choice, and text structure.
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Skill 2 (30%):

Reasoning Within the Text

  • Integrating different components of the text to increase comprehension.
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Skill 3 (40%):

Reasoning Beyond the Text

  • Applying or extrapolating ideas from the passage to new contexts.
  • Assessing the impact of introducing new factors, information, or conditions to ideas from the passage.

Passage Types:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills passages come from a variety of humanities and social sciences disciplines.

Humanities (50%):

Passages in the humanities are drawn from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to):

  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Dance
  • Ethics
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Popular Culture
  • Religion
  • Theater
  • Studies of Diverse Cultures
Social Science (50%):

Social sciences passages are also drawn from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to):

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Geography
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science
  • Population Health
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Studies of Diverse Cultures
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