What are the most high-yield MCAT topics? This is a question that occurs to many pre-med students wondering how to study for the MCAT. There’s no denying that in order to achieve an excellent MCAT score, you’ll have to combine strategic learning with hard work to make the most of your prep time. But are there certain topics that are highly tested on the MCAT? Should you be prioritizing these topics over others? These are the questions we will help you answer in this blog. We will also provide you with some top tips to help you study effectively for any MCAT topic.

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What Are High-Yield MCAT Topics? 

Studying for the MCAT requires you to learn a huge volume of information that you’ll be tested on in the 3 science MCAT sections: MCAT Biology, MCAT Chemistry, and MCAT Psychology. As you plan out your MCAT study schedule, it’s important to research the test content and format, so you can use your time efficiently at each stage. Knowing the relative importance of each topic can help you identify which ones are the most “high-yield” and therefore make strategic use of your limited time to achieve the best results.  

The Association of American Colleges (AAMC) identifies certain disciplines and foundational concepts for each science section in the MCAT. These constitute the key science topics you will have to study for the exam. 

To understand what are the high-yield MCAT topics, let’s look at the AAMC data about the relative importance of different subjects in the MCAT exam. 

The breakdown of questions per discipline in the MCAT looks like this:

To better understand what this means, let’s look at the percentage of questions per topic in each of the science MCAT sections.

Chemical and Physical Foundations (MCAT Chemistry)

Biology and Biochemical Foundations (MCAT Biology)

Psychological and Sociological Foundations (MCAT Psychology)

This data should help you understand the relative importance of specific topics on the MCAT. As we can see, Biology is an extremely important subject on the MCAT, with 45 out of 230 questions dedicated to Biology alone, and Biology questions appearing in each of the science sections. Though many students make the mistake of neglecting their MCAT Psychology prep in favor of the hard sciences, in fact, Psychology is another “high-yield” MCAT topic. With 38 questions dedicated to it, statistically speaking, it’s the second-highest tested on topic in the MCAT, after Biology!

If you would like tips on the MCAT Biology section, check this out:

Keep in mind that there are some topics that may seem “low-yield” when you look at the data given above but may have an indirect “high-yield” impact. For example, Organic Chemistry only makes up 15% of the MCAT Chemistry section and 5% of the MCAT Biology section. But there are many other questions that may not directly test you on Organic Chemistry topics but will indirectly test your knowledge of those concepts. For instance, Biochemistry questions often require Organic Chemistry knowledge to find the correct answer. 

Similarly, we do not recommend using the above data to determine “low-yield” topics. For example, there are only 15 MCAT Physics questions. But these 15 questions are critical to help you get a good score on the MCAT Chemistry section. Therefore, you must spend sufficient time learning the MCAT Physics equations and other critical concepts related to MCAT Physics in order to achieve an overall good score. An amazing score in one section and a poor score in another won’t help your medical school application, as most admissions committees review your “total” MCAT score as well as section-wise scores to understand your academic proficiency.

This infographic covers tips for the MCAT Chemistry and Physics sections:

Wondering about the relative importance of specific topics within each of these disciplines? 

Let’s look at a summary of the most important topics per section as per the AAMC data: 

MCAT Biology

55% of the questions test your knowledge of foundational concept 1, which includes the following topics:

  • Structure and function of proteins and their constituent amino acids
  • Transmission of genetic information from the gene to the protein
  • Transmission of heritable information from generation to generation and the processes that increase genetic diversity
  • Principles of bioenergetics and fuel molecule metabolism 

MCAT Chemistry

60% of the questions test your knowledge of foundational concept 5, which includes the following topics:

  • Unique nature of water and its solutions
  • Nature of molecules and intermolecular interactions
  • Separation and purification methods
  • Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules
  • Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics 

MCAT Psychology

35% of the questions test your knowledge of foundational concept 7, which includes the following topics:

  • Individual influences on behavior
  • Social processes that influence human behavior
  • Attitude and behavior change 

Take a look at this infographic for MCAT Psychology and Sociology tips:

Should You Focus on High-Yield MCAT Topics?

First of all, keep one thing in mind: all the foundational concepts are important. You cannot achieve a good MCAT score without reviewing and being thoroughly familiar with each of them. So, we do not recommend any strategy where you prioritize studying high-yield MCAT topics at the cost of low-yield MCAT topics. 

Remember that the actual MCAT exam is unpredictable and there’s no way to know what the individual distribution of questions within the broad topic categories will be. Additionally, the foundational concepts are exactly that: “foundational” or essential topics that you need to know to ace the MCAT exam. As we mentioned above, there might be specific topics that only have 5% of direct questions, but there could be a much larger number of indirect questions that require you to recall knowledge of that topic. 

Having said that, strategic planning and targeted studying should definitely be a key aspect of your MCAT prep. You know how hard the MCAT is and that it is testing you on a wide range of science topics. There is a lot of information you need to learn. Paying close attention to the breakdown of topics tested on the MCAT can help you plan out how much time to devote to each foundational concept. In this way, you can also analyze your strengths and weaknesses and devote more time to your weakest topics. 

Remember that it’s not just about learning but also reviewing concepts – through the weeks or months of prep, you’ll have to ensure that you find time to revise older content, so it stays fresh in your mind. 

We recommend a balanced study schedule that provides enough time to make you proficient in every foundational concept and be an expert in the “high-yield” ones. During your revision period, you can refer to the official AAMC MCAT content breakdown to guide you on which topics to prioritize. And make sure you’re not wasting time studying for topics that won’t appear on the test at all. 

Even if you’re strapped for time, we don’t recommend skipping any topics! Instead, you can make the best use of your limited time in other ways. For instance, you can opt to take on extra help in the form of an MCAT tutor or an MCAT prep course. This kind of professional help might just be what you need to create an effective, personalized study schedule that addresses your biggest areas for improvement and helps you develop the skills and strategies you need to tackle the MCAT exam. 

Considering how long the MCAT is and how challenging the test format can be, you can’t rely solely on rote memorization of high-yield MCAT topics to achieve a good result. Instead, you should focus on developing strategies that will help you answer any question you face, regardless of the content.

Interested in some important stats and some of our top tips for MCAT studying? This infographic is for you:

Top 5 Tips For Studying Any MCAT Topic

Keep these tips in mind as you’re studying for the MCAT to set yourself up for a successful MCAT result. 

Tailor your prep

As we mentioned above, one of the most important initial steps during your MCAT test prep is to find out exactly what you’ll be tested on and to focus only on those topics. The AAMC provides detailed information about the concepts that will be covered in each MCAT section. You can refer to our section above to further understand the breakdown of topics by percentage in each section and let that guide you as you create your study schedule, gather study materials for each topic, make flashcards, etc. 

Remember that the MCAT tests you on a lot of basic scientific concepts that will be referenced in multiple questions. Many questions ask you to recall and synthesize your knowledge of multiple basic concepts. So, make sure you understand these basic concepts very well and don’t waste your time getting lost in very advanced topics that are highly unlikely to appear on the MCAT. 

Create a balanced, consistent study schedule

It's critical that you create a well-planned MCAT study schedule that includes enough time to study each MCAT foundational topic and key scientific concept. Your schedule should also include enough time for your MCAT CARS reading, practicing with question banks, and conducting mock exams. Without the latter, you won’t be able to build the critical skills required for the MCAT.

Looking for help prepping for the MCAT CARS section? This video is for you!

Typically, to be fully prepared for the MCAT, you should be studying 5 to 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, over a period of at least 8 to 12 weeks. Of course, this timeline varies from individual to individual, but this timeframe is based on the average prep hours of former candidates (now physicians) who were very successful on their MCAT.

Remember: consistency is key. Make sure you study consistently through your MCAT study schedule, devoting a steady number of hours per week for MCAT prep. You’ll need to rotate between different sections and topics to ensure the knowledge stays fresh in your mind. Even if you feel confident in a specific topic already (say, if you covered it during a recent course during your undergrad education), make sure you revisit it during your prep and understand how to apply that knowledge within the MCAT test format. 

Tip: If you’re struggling to improve your MCAT CARS score, maybe you haven’t devoted enough time to reading, analyzing, and explaining challenging materials during your prep. MCAT CARS is one area where “high-yield” topics don’t matter since this section doesn’t test any content recall. Rather, it focuses on specific skills such as critical thinking and reasoning. To improve your MCAT timing and performance in this section, we recommend spending a few hours every week reading articles from humanities and social sciences journals, philosophy books, and classics of literature. Make sure you engage with the material and spend time identifying the key themes, points, and supporting evidence in each paragraph you read.  

Get reliable study materials

Make sure you have enough study materials to study each MCAT topic. Ensure you include materials that will help you prepare for the actual MCAT format as well as the specific content. Along with your textbooks, course notes, and exam content guidebooks, you will also need section-wise practice question banks and mock exams. Additionally, your rigorous MCAT prep will be made much easier with study tools like flashcards and expert lesson plans. It’s okay if you find that there are certain topics that you need outside help with! Sometimes, it’s hard to identify your own areas for improvement and an expert’s consultation can help you get back on track and refine your strategies. Through an MCAT course or tutor, you could also gain access to a broader range of study materials and personalized feedback for each practice question. 

Focus on active learning

The MCAT exam tests you on subject recall as well as your understanding of key concepts. This means you need to analyze concepts, synthesize disparate information, and apply your knowledge to arrive at the answer. So, no matter what topic you’re studying, make sure you’re not just focused on reading, taking notes, and memorization. Prioritize “active learning” during your content review. Here are some useful active learning strategies: drawing visuals, explaining concepts out loud in your own words, trying to teach scientific topics to a friend, creating your own flashcards, etc. 

Practice questions and mock tests

In addition to content recall, the MCAT requires the building of additional skills like critical thinking, statistical analysis, and logical reasoning. Active learning and additional reading can definitely help towards building these skills, but you can only perfect them by putting them to the test via practice questions and mock exams. That’s why your schedule must include time for practice sessions and mock exams as well as content review. These skills can’t be gained in a day or even a week, and only steady, strategic studying and practice can help you build them. 

Also, the MCAT test format can be very confusing if you don't know the right strategies to tackle the different types of questions. That's why it's so important to combine your content review and section-wise practice with learning strategies to approach MCAT passages. You can't predict exactly which topics will appear on the MCAT, but with the right strategies in your mind, you can ace the test regardless of the content of questions in the final exam.

As you’re practicing, make sure you focus on analysis of your wrong answers. It’s important to review your incorrect answers, understand why you got them wrong, and then re-do them after a short break to test your understanding again. 

Some practice question banks and mock MCAT exams provide detailed explanations for each question. You can refer to these, or you can opt to get professional help from MCAT consultants so you can get customized feedback for every question and understand what you did wrong. The great thing about consulting with professionals is that they can also provide you with tested and proven strategies to approach passages and work out the right answer for next time.

FAQs

1. What are high-yield MCAT topics?

Generally speaking, some disciplines have a larger number of questions devoted to them in the MCAT than others. For instance, Biology has the highest number of questions (45), followed by Psychology (38), and Biochemistry (30). Similarly, some foundational concepts have a higher percentage of questions within each section. Foundational concepts 1, 5, and 7 are the most tested within their MCAT Biology, MCAT Chemistry, and MCAT Psychology sections, respectively.

2. Should I focus only on high-yield MCAT topics?

No! We do not recommend this strategy. Remember, you cannot predict the exact composition of questions in your MCAT exam; previous MCAT exams aren’t an exact indicator of future “high-yield” topics. AAMC’s guide about the relative importance of specific topics can definitely help you refine your review schedule and plan for your strengths and weaknesses. However, you should still aim to be proficient in every single MCAT foundational concept and scientific topic to ensure a high overall score.

3. Which foundational concepts are the most tested on the MCAT?

The MCAT Biology section includes maximum percentage of questions related to foundational concept 1, the MCAT Chemistry section includes maximum percentage of questions related to foundational concept 5, and the MCAT Psychology section includes maximum number of questions related to foundational concept 7. These sections cover the following sub-topics:

  • Structure and function of proteins and their constituent amino acids
  • Transmission of genetic information from the gene to the protein
  • Transmission of heritable information from generation to generation and the processes that increase genetic diversity
  • Principles of bioenergetics and fuel molecule metabolism
  • Unique nature of water and its solutions
  • Nature of molecules and intermolecular interactions
  • Separation and purification methods
  • Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules
  • Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics
  • Individual influences on behavior
  • Social processes that influence human behavior
  • Attitude and behavior change
4. Are there any low-yield MCAT topics I can skip?

No, we don’t recommend skipping any MCAT topics, even if you’re strapped for time. To achieve a high overall score, you’ll need consistent section-wise scores, and the only way to get those is to be familiar with each foundational concept. Moreover, while certain topics, such as Inorganic Chemistry, may have fewer direct questions, you still need to use your knowledge of them indirectly to answer many other questions.

5. How to study for challenging MCAT topics?

The best way to study for challenging MCAT topics is to focus on active learning. It’s critical to not only know but also understand each topic and to be able to extrapolate and apply that knowledge within varying contexts. Try different active learning techniques such as making flash cards, drawing visuals, explaining concepts out loud in your own words, trying to communicate key points to a friend, etc. Practicing with question banks and mock tests is also a key aspect of MCAT prep, irrespective of which section or topic you’re preparing for. It may also help to get additional assistance in the form of an MCAT tutor to help you identify your mistakes and work out a reliable strategy to handle the tough questions.

6. What kind of study schedule should I create for the MCAT?

Your MCAT study schedule should be consistent and balanced. Try to aim for at least 3 to 4 months of studying, with a consistent amount of time set aside every week for MCAT prep. Rotate through different topics and sections, and make sure you provide time for practicing and mock tests as well as content review and extra MCAT CARS reading.

7. How much time should I spend on each MCAT section during prep?

All 4 sections of the MCAT are weighted equally, which means there’s no benefit to prioritizing one section over another. Instead, we’d recommend doing an early MCAT diagnostic test to analyze your own strengths and weaknesses and spending more time prepping for your weakest MCAT sections. At the same time, don’t forget to periodically return to your “best” topics and review the content to ensure that it stays fresh in your mind.

8. Which is the easiest MCAT section?

The answer to this question depends on you! There’s no one section that is objectively easier for all students. If you have a strong educational background in social sciences and humanities, you might find the MCAT Psychology and MCAT CARS sections easier. On the other hand, if you’ve taken advanced Biology and Biochemistry courses then the MCAT Biology and MCAT Chemistry sections might be easier for you. The important thing is to make sure you review all the foundational concepts and build all the critical skills required to ace the MCAT.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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