What are the high-yield MCAT topics? This is a question that occurs to many premed 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.

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Breakdown of High-Yield MCAT Topics High Yield MCAT Biology Topics High Yield MCAT Chemistry and Physics Topics High Yield MCAT Psychology and Sociology Topics Should You Focus on High-Yield MCAT Topics? FAQs

Breakdown of High-Yield MCAT Topics

tested on in the 3 science MCAT sections:

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 thus make strategic use of your limited time to achieve the best results. Don’t forget to learn the best MCAT CARS strategy, too!

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

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

The MCAT science sections also evaluate the following scientific and reasoning skills:

  1. Skill 1: Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles (35% of questions)
  2. Skill 2: Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving (45% of questions)
  3. Skill 3: Reasoning about the Design and Execution of Research/Experiments (10% of questions)
  4. Skill 4: Data-Based Statistical Reasoning (10% of questions)

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!

Keep in mind that there are some topics that may seem “low-yield” when you look at the data given above but that 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 test you directly 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. 

While there is a huge volume of information to cover for the MCAT topics, a combination of content review and regular practice applying your knowledge is key, says Dr. Neel Mistry, one of our admissions experts.

“Doing a combination of content review and passage questions was most helpful. This helped ensure that I was staying up to date with the required textbook knowledge while applying it to passage-based questions on a regular basis … My main advice is ensuring you study all the sections regularly, with an emphasis on the section you are weakest in.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD

 

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. Dr. Monica Taneja, one of our admissions experts, advises dedicating most of the time you have to key MCAT concepts by discipline:

“My weakest section was physics. The MCAT strategy that worked for me was knowing what I was up against (question subject breakdown) and focusing on what I could realistically review in the time that I had. I didn’t have time to relearn all of general physics and the number of physics question is about 5% of the exam compared to biology/biochem or psych/soc which are almost 20% each. I focused on refining my strongest points, reviewing topics I had grasped previously, and focusing on high yield for the items I didn’t know.” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

 

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-specific scores to understand your academic proficiency.

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

High Yield MCAT Biology Topics

Biology and Biochemical Foundations (MCAT Biology)

More than half (55%) of the questions test your knowledge of foundational concept 1, which includes the following topics:

  • Structure and function of proteins, such as enzymes, 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

Around 20% of the MCAT biology questions cover your knowledge of foundational concept 2, covering molecules, cells and viruses and more:

  • Assemblies of molecules, cells, and groups of cells within single cellular and multicellular organisms
  • The structure, growth, physiology, and genetics of prokaryotes and viruses
  • Processes of cell division, differentiation, and specialization

Finally, 25% of the questions cover topics under foundational concept 3:


“Drawing amino acids, drawing TCA/glycolysis, writing out any sort of process insteps, anything kinesthetic helped more with [MCAT biology] … If you are studying glycolysis – a flowchart helps more than putting this entire concept on a flashcard. If looking at differences between insulin and glucagon–a Venn diagram works better than a flowchart. Amino acids can be grouped by properties using mnemonics, but could also be drawn and put in a table.” – Dr. Noah Heichel, DO

 

Are you a non-science major looking for help with your MCAT prep? Check this out:

High Yield MCAT Chemistry and Physics Topics

Chemical and Physical Foundations (MCAT Chemistry)

One-third of the questions (40%) examine your knowledge of foundational concept 4:

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

About two-thirds (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 

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

High Yield MCAT Psychology and Sociology Topics

Psychological and Sociological Foundations (MCAT Psychology)

About a third (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 

“Flashcards actually helped me jump almost 3 points in my [MCAT psych/soc] section, even in the week before the exam, this was my weakest subject, but it was my highest score on my exam.” – Dr. Noah Heichel, DO.


Here are the other topics covered on the MCAT psychology questions:

Foundational concept 6 (25% of questions)

  • Sensing the environment
  • Making sense of the environment
  • Responding to the world

Foundational concept 8 (20% of questions)

  • Self-identity 
  • Social thinking
  • Social interactions

Foundational concept 9 (15% of questions)

  • Understanding social structure 
  • Demographic characteristics and processes

Foundational concept 10 (5% of questions)

  • Social inequality

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

Should You Focus on High-Yield MCAT Topics?

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 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. 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 core component of your MCAT prep. 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. However, don’t forget to review even your best subjects, even if you’re confident in them!

For me, I was not a science major, so I knew the two science sections required my biggest focus. I could more easily do well in CARS/Psyc, but devoting a large portion to science study was important for me to pass those sections. I think it's important not to ignore your strengths as half the exam is not scientific so you do not need to be a science major to do well.” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD

 

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 be just what you need to create an effective, personalized MCAT study schedule that addresses your biggest areas for improvement and helps you develop the skills and strategies you need to tackle the MCAT. 

FAQs

1. What are high-yield MCAT topics?

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.

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. 

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. All the sections test your knowledge of scientific concepts and your scientific reasoning and problem-solving.

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.

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.

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.

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

All 4 sections of the MCAT are weighted equally. We 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?

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.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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