Dr. Jordan Bilezikian Reviewed By: Dr. Jordan Bilezikian
Authored By: Dave Evangelisti
What is on the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is the assessment used to decide which students are prepared to enter medical school and continue their path into the medical field. It is one of the single most effective deciding methods for medical schools (along with GPA).

While most people may know what the MCAT is, some wonder what is on the MCAT. The four main MCAT sections are used to assess critical thinking and problem-solving skills on top of scientific knowledge.

We have written up a comprehensive guide to tell you what is on the MCAT and explain the MCAT sections.

Summary: Learn more about the MCAT and the different sections. For help studying, consider using a MCAT prep course.

Overview of the MCAT Sections

Each section of the MCAT focuses on a different subject of scientific study. Through the 230 multiple-choice questions, test takers will be quizzed on the various MCAT topics. Below you can see what areas are covered and how long is devoted to each section of the MCAT.

If you want to practice each section, you can use our free MCAT practice test to prepare.

MCAT Subject Details
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes to complete
  • Tests basic biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes to complete
  • Tests basic biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes to complete
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  • 53 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes to complete
  • Similar to reading comprehension sections on other standardized tests
  • Passages from a variety of humanities and social science disciplines

Information about the MCAT

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MCAT Sections Breakdown

Now that you have a basic understanding of the topics on the MCAT, we are going to take a moment to break down the MCAT sections in deeper detail to ensure you fully understand what awaits you on the MCAT.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

As the title explains, this section will require you to use both biology and biochemistry to explain the unique process that living creatures complete, including reproduction, growth, maintaining a stable internal environment, and more.

Each of the first three MCAT sections is divided into multiple focal concepts to help break up the test into digestible categories. Here is what you can expect the disciplines and concepts to look like on the MCAT:

Disciplines

  • First-semester biochemistry, 25%
  • Introductory biology, 65%
  • General chemistry, 5%
  • Organic chemistry, 5%

Concepts

  • Biomolecules, 55%
  • Cells, 20%
  • Organs and tissues, 25%

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills

  • Knowledge of scientific principles, 35%
  • Scientific reasoning and problem-solving, 45%
  • Reasoning about the design and execution of research, 10%
  • Data-based statistical reasoning, 10%

Note that these percentages are close to what you will see, but may vary based on which version of the test you are given.

Resources provided for this section: Periodic Table

Learn more about the breakdown of this MCAT section here.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This MCAT section asks you to use your knowledge of chemical and physical concepts to explain how human tissues, organs, and organ systems function. This includes the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions, including interactions and reactions.

Just like the first section, this is divided into concepts and disciplines to help you anticipate what this MCAT topic holds:

Disciplines

  • First-semester biochemistry, 25%
  • Introductory biology, 5%
  • General chemistry, 30%
  • Organic chemistry, 15%
  • Introductory physics, 25%

Concepts

  • Physical principles of complex organism processes, 40%
  • Governing principles of interactions and reactions in living systems, 60%

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills

  • Knowledge of scientific principles, 35%
  • Scientific reasoning and problem-solving, 45%
  • Reasoning about the design and execution of research, 10%
  • Data-based statistical reasoning, 10%

Note that these percentages are close to what you will see, but may vary based on which version of the test you are given.

Resources for this section: Periodic Table

Learn more about the breakdown of this MCAT section here.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This MCAT section breakdown focuses most on the minds of living things and how that influences behavior. From interactions and biases about others to cultural and social differences to the perception of self and cause of behaviors, this section encompasses it all.

Boasting the most concepts of the first three sections, this MCAT topic is broken into five main concepts to understand in the worlds of psychology, sociology, and behavioral science. The disciplines and concepts include:

Disciplines

  • Introductory psychology, 65% *
  • Introductory sociology, 30%
  • Introductory biology, 5%

Concepts

  • Factors that change perceptions and reactions to the world, 25%
  • Factors that influence behavior and behavioral changes, 35%
  • Factors that influence self-perception, perception of and interactions with others, 20%
  • Cultural and social differences that influence well-being, 15%
  • Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being, 5%

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills

  • Knowledge of scientific principles, 35%
  • Scientific reasoning and problem-solving, 45%
  • Reasoning about the design and execution of research, 10%
  • Data-based statistical reasoning, 10%

Note that these percentages are close to what you will see, but may vary based on which version of the test you are given. This section includes 5% of questions that rely on biological understandings of psychology.

No extra resources are provided for this section.

Advice: keep up to date with the current DSM and the practices in it.

Learn more about the breakdown of this MCAT section here.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

This section of the MCAT is most different from the ones that come prior. Made up of multiple short (500 to 600 word) passages, this section asks you to read through the thought-provoking and sophisticated writings to answer 53 questions about the passages.

Unlike the first three topics, the breakdown of this MCAT section is in skills instead of concepts. Here are some skills to sharpen before taking the MCAT:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

  • Foundations of comprehension, 30%
  • Reasoning within the text, 30%
  • Reasoning beyond the text, 40%

Passage Content:

  • Humanities, 50%
  • Social sciences, 50%

Note that these percentages are close to what you will see, but may vary based on which version of the test you are given.

No extra resources are provided for this section.

Learn more about the breakdown of this MCAT section here.

Now that you understand how the breakdown of the various sections of the MCAT, it is important to learn how the MCAT is structured.

MCAT Test Makeup

Developed almost 100 years ago, the MCAT was structured specifically to test various skills and knowledge of the sciences. To best prepare for the examination, you must know what to expect when given your test.

How long is the MCAT?

The MCAT is approximately seven and a half hours long. The topics are divided into three 95-minute sections and one 90-minute section. Test takers will be given two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute break during the exam.

How many questions are on the MCAT?

The MCAT is composed of 230 multiple-choice questions. The first three sections all have 59 questions and the final section has just 53 questions.

Is the MCAT multiple-choice?

Yes, the MCAT is completely multiple-choice. There are no short-answer or essay questions on the test.

MCAT Administration

Now that you understand what will be on the MCAT, you may be wondering how to take the MCAT. There are numerous offerings of times and locations to take the MCAT, so do not stress. Below is all the information you need to go take your MCAT.

When is the MCAT Offered?

There are 30 times the MCAT is offered throughout the year. Various MCAT dates from January to September are available to best fit into all medical students’ schedules. Be sure to check the registration deadline before trying to apply for a test date.

How much does it cost to take the MCAT?

The MCAT costs at least $325. If you register late, an additional fee will be charged to you. If you reside outside of the United States, a $120 international registration fee will be added to your amount. If you need to change your testing location or date, you will be charged an additional fee that is lower the further in advance you make the change. If you have to cancel, a refund will be administered, but the price varies based on how far in advance you cancel.

Fee assistance programs are available to people who cannot afford the price of the test. You can learn more about assistance programs and test fees here.

What is on the MCAT FAQs

What subjects are covered on the MCAT?

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Physics

What do you need to know for the MCAT?

  • 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

Is it hard to pass the MCAT?

The MCAT is a difficult test, but you can make it more manageable by studying diligently and efficiently.

Can you use a calculator on the MCAT?

No, you are not allowed to use a calculator, so you need to practice doing quick arithmetic equations by hand.

Official Resources Regarding What is on the MCAT

Here are some important resources from the AAMC to help you prepare for taking your MCAT:

Test-Guide

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