The MCAT subjects you can expect to see on the test are, naturally, very science heavy. The MCAT is comprised of 4 main sections, three of which are focused on the sciences. The final section of the test, the MCAT CARS, covers more of the social sciences and humanities subjects. Discovering the MCAT’s subjects and key topics is one of the first steps premeds take to learn . Reviewing the test’s content is an important part of your overall , so in this blog we’ll look at the MCAT’s subjects in detail, what’s covered on the test, what makes these subjects hard and how to approach the many different MCAT subjects.
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The MCAT subjects, as you might expect, are heavy on science. The MCAT is designed to assess your knowledge and readiness for medical school, so it naturally will test you on the knowledge you learned in your courses during your undergrad. A majority of the MCAT subjects tested are in the fields of various sciences, but not all! The MCAT is divided into 4 distinct sections, each with its own challenges.
Here’s a detailed look at the 4 main sections of the MCAT:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: In the section, you’ll use your knowledge of biological and biochemical concepts and your scientific reasoning to solve problems.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: The and sections test you on a variety of subjects, asking you to solve problems with reasoning and the interpretation of scientific data.
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: Once again, the and sociology section asks you to use reasoning and application of foundational concepts to answer tough questions about human behavior.
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Often called the hardest section of the MCAT, CARS will test you on your verbal reasoning and reading comprehension ability.
High Yield MCAT Subjects
Each of these 4 main sections are broken down into several foundational MCAT subjects. The 7 primary MCAT subjects are:
- General Biology
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
The MCAT tests you on your foundational knowledge in all of these subjects, but mainly, it assesses your critical reasoning and analysis skills in these core areas.
The are important to review so you have a sense of what particular topics are covered in each section. This can help guide and focus your studying for the test but be aware that the MCAT’s high-yield topics are not the only subjects on the test.
Skipping the low-yield topics might save you some time but can adversely affect your if you incorrectly answer too many “low-yield” questions. It’s also important to note that acing the test requires some cross-disciplinary knowledge. Your knowledge of a low-yield topic may actually help you indirectly to answer a tricky question on a high-yield topic.
Below we’ve listed some of the key scientific MCAT subjects you can expect to see as examples:
As we can see, the test leans heavily on MCAT biology questions. Combined, there are more biology (45 questions) and biochemical (30 questions) on the MCAT than any other subject, including CARS. The runner-up, with 38 questions, is the MCAT psychology section.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the test’s core sections, by MCAT subject:
Biology and Biochemistry
Chemistry and Physics
Psychology and Sociology
We mentioned earlier that the MCAT CARS section asks you to use critical analysis and reasoning, and reading comprehension to answer problems, presented to you in a passage-based format.
But what subjects are actually featured in CARS?
The CARS section is broken down, 50/50 between the social sciences and humanities. Here’s a sampling of some of the MCAT subjects you might see on CARS:
- Arts – Dance, theater, music
- Political Science
- Popular Culture
- Psychology and sociology
The CARS questions can cover almost any subject, so if you’re not familiar with one of the topics, don’t worry. Each of the passages in the CARS section have several multiple-choice questions for you to answer. All of the information you need to answer the questions is in the question itself and the passage.
The unique part of CARS is that it requires no previous knowledge on your part, unlike the science-related MCAT subjects. A CARS passage may discuss a topic you know absolutely nothing about. This is normal! The passage will provide you the information needed to correctly answer the question.
What this means is that you won’t just be tested on your ability to find the answers within the text. The CARS passages will discuss ideas or theories from a wide range of disciplines, then ask you to answer questions based on what you read and your understanding of the text. You’ll often need to reason out the answer based on what the author’s point of view is or what the author’s intention is, either implied or direct. So, while the answer may not always be explicitly stated in the passage you read, you may need to draw conclusions based on the provided information.
Unlike the SAT or ACT, two other standardized tests you may have taken to get into your undergraduate program, the MCAT does not have a dedicated math section. Plus, there is no calculus on the MCAT.
Any mathematical equations featured on the test are foundational:
- Arithmetic – Includes addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, proportions, ratios, percentages
- Conversions – Conversion factors will be provided, i.e. metric-English or metric-metric
- Exponents – Also covers related topics such as scientific notation and estimates of square roots.
- Exponentials – Logarithms, semi-log and log-log graphs
- Algebra – Covers concepts such as isolating a variable, slope-intercept and simultaneous equations.
- Trigonometry – Includes sine, cosine, and tangent functions as well as inverse functions, and sine and cosine values of common angles.
- Basic statistics – Includes mean, median, mode, standard deviation, and interpretation of p and r values.
Any math-based problems on the MCAT appear, of course, mostly in the physics and chemistry sections. However, the MCAT does not allow you the use of a calculator, so you’ll need to do any computation without one.
The good news is, the MCAT is a highly conceptual exam, so there is very little need for complex mathematical computation. As in you won’t be presented with a blank box and asked to fill in the correct mathematical answer. All of the questions on the MCAT are multiple-choice, so the correct answer to any math-based problem is provided, it’s just up to you to find it using the data you’re given in the question.
Learning is a highly useful skill for any math-based questions on the MCAT. The MCAT has a pretty intense timer, and you’ll have approximately just over a minute to answer the questions in the MCAT physics and chemistry sections. Without the benefit of a calculator, you’ll need to practice deciphering math problems, scientific data and making approximations to answer questions quickly and accurately.
Based on the number and complexity of the MCAT subjects above, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There is a huge amount of knowledge covered and key concepts. Fortunately, you don’t need to memorize absolutely everything to ace this difficult test.
? There’s no denying that completing the test itself is very hard, but what makes the MCAT so difficult is not the need to memorize everything from your coursework and recall all the scientific knowledge. The MCAT is trickier than this, and you can’t ace it by memorization. In fact, it’s discouraged to try and memorize everything for your MCAT!
The MCAT tests you on your ability to apply the knowledge you’ve learned in your undergraduate and premed years. It relies on your reasoning skill, your comprehension and your ability to apply these foundational scientific concepts to the passage-based problems featured on the test.
Here’s a summary of how to approach your MCAT studying:
Of course, knowing the MCAT subjects isn’t enough! The MCAT is conceptual exam, but it requires more than knowledge to achieve a good score. To truly ace it, you need to know both the content and employ the right strategies in each of the MCAT sections.
We recommend starting with an to both get an initial look at what’s on the MCAT and how it’s structured, and to give yourself a good idea of how hard it is. An initial MCAT practice test can tell you what MCAT subjects are more difficult for you, and which are easier. From there, you can start building your study plan.
Next, we’ll go over some of the key strategies and tips you need to know for each of the MCAT subjects and main sections.
1. MCAT Subject Strategies for Biology
Divided up by subject, the MCAT’s content is mostly biology and biochemistry. To ace these particular sections and make it through this biggest part of the test, there is no way around content review. Content review is important for much of the MCAT, but along with reviewing the MCAT subjects, the other key to scoring well on the test is, of course, practice.
Completing and reviewing regular practice passages will have multiple benefits for you studying, including:
- Giving you a better idea of what types of biology and biochemistry subject questions are on the MCAT, how they are structured
- Helping you to develop your test-taking stamina and
- What the high-yield and low-yield biology MCAT questions are
- What MCAT subjects in the biology section are your strongest and weakest overall
2. MCAT Subject Strategies for Chemistry and Physics
Splitting your studying and practice into sections helps you break down the MCAT’s length and volume, as well as pinpoint which specific subjects are most difficult for you.
Another big benefit of using practice tests and questions is that you can make note of what and formulas are most often used and therefore important to know for the real test. The MCAT doesn’t allow the use of a formula sheet, so you will need to memorize important formulas at least so you can recall them during your exam! You will, however, have access to the for these sections.
3. MCAT Subject Strategies for Psychology and Sociology
The MCAT psychology and sociology subject passages won’t typically use equations or require as much content review like the previous two sections. However, it’s still wise to use to study for this section. Just as you do for MCAT biology subjects, you need to have an understanding of foundational concepts of psychology and sociology, and be able to apply that knowledge to any data or text you’re given to find the answer to the questions.
Moreover, you’ll approach this section from the viewpoint of a future doctor. Meaning, its underlying purpose is to understand how you will interact with and view your future patients and their care. Specifically, the test is designed to evaluate your approach to patient care from a psychosocial standpoint rather than purely your understanding of biological and biochemical functions.
4. MCAT Subject Strategies for CARS
To prepare for this final section, once again sample are a key to your . This section of the MCAT might be the most straightforward for you, since it requires no background knowledge of MCAT subjects, only the right strategy and approach.
Or, this might be the worst section for you because it relies so heavily on your reading comprehension and critical analysis. Fortunately, there are ways to if you find that your score on any practice tests is not where you want it to be.
Critical reading and reading comprehension are skills that can be developed over time. The downside is, the only way to get better is through practice. Which means regularly taking practice CARS tests and regularly reading the types of materials you would expect to see on CARS. Remember to check out so you can “grade” your practice questions and learn how to improve.
The MCAT covers a wide variety of different subjects, and it’s a good step to get a handle on each and every one during your studying. While the MCAT CARS is often considered the toughest MCAT section, the hardest MCAT subject will vary.
One test-taker might find the biology subjects to be harder than chemistry, because of the huge amount of information covered. Or you might struggle more with physics and math than biology subjects. Others might have a strong scientific background but find themselves struggling with the sociology subjects on the MCAT.
This is the reason why it’s good to review the MCAT’s subjects and core topics. You’ll be able to gauge which sections might be hardest for you and plan your better. You’ll be able to dedicate a little more time to the MCAT subjects you find the most difficult or get help from an in how to study for them.
1. What subjects are covered on the MCAT?
The MCAT has four main sections, covering science-related topics in biology and biochemistry, physics and chemistry, psychology and sociology. The last section is the MCAT CARS, or Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section. The CARS section primarily covers topics in the social sciences and humanities.
2. What is the hardest subject on the MCAT?
The hardest part of the MCAT is usually the CARS section, according to a majority of test-takers. This is because the CARS requires intensive reading of complex and verbose passages and it covers a variety of disciplines you may not have any background knowledge. The short time limit and high number of questions can also cause students to struggle on this section.
However, the toughest MCAT subject might vary from individual to individual. Students without a science background might find the MCAT biology section is the hardest because of the large volume of information and complex concepts covered. Test-takers who struggle with math might find the MCAT physics and chemistry sections take them a little longer since the MCAT prohibits the use of a calculator and doesn’t provide a formula sheet.
3. What is the easiest subject on the MCAT?
The psychology and sociology section of the MCAT is usually considered the easiest, as the passages are fairly straightforward and the concepts tested are less complex than the “core” sciences.
4. What are the 7 MCAT subjects?
The 7 key MCAT subjects you’ll be tested on are: General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology. Remember that you won’t just be tested on your knowledge of these concepts, but your critical analysis and reasoning skills within these disciplines.
5. What are the 4 MCAT sections?
The 4 MCAT sections are:
- 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
6. Does the MCAT have any calculus?
No, the MCAT has NO calculus at all. However, there are some foundational math-based problems covered on the test, primarily in arithmetic, algebra and trigonometry.
7. What kind of math is covered on the MCAT?
The math-based problems on the MCAT are primarily in arithmetic, algebra and trigonometry, but you may also see basic statistics, geometry, conversions, exponents and exponentials covered.
8. What non-science subjects are on the MCAT?
The non-science MCAT subjects are primarily found in the CARS section. The topics covered in the CARS passages are usually in the arts, philosophy, economics, political science, religion, sociology and psychology and even popular culture.