A Basic Guide to the MCAT Sections

The MCAT or the Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized test that is used as a part of the admissions process for medical schools. There are four MCAT sections: Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Critical Analysis and the test is 7.5 hours long. It is administered several times a year all over the United States.

Almost every medical school in the United States requires MCAT scores for admissions. Additionally, many more are switching to MCAT in lieu of other tests. It is administered several times a year all over the United States.

A blue stethoscope next to a laptop.

Why You Should Be Familiar with the MCAT Sections

Knowing the breakdown of any test is key to boosting your grades in that test. The same reasoning also applies to the MCAT.

Knowing how many sections are on the MCAT as well as what subjects are on the MCAT helps you better understand what to focus on. While it’s always advisable to study the entire test portion, having a calculated approach towards the test helps you manage your prep time better. It also helps to reduce your stress levels and increases your chances of acing the test.

Think about it, you wouldn’t want to spend most of your preparatory time on a segment that hardly accounts for 10% of the exam, would you? It would be far smarter to spend more time on MCAT sections that account for more points or marks since that will help you to score higher marks.

Here’s what you should know about the MCAT sections and subjects.

How many sections are on the MCAT?

There are four MCAT sections: Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Critical Analysis.

The test scores each section from 119 to 132, with a 125 median. Marked separately, each section then adds to the overall score. The overall total score ranges from 472 to 528, with a 500 median.

There are 59 questions in each of the first three sections of the MCAT. The time allotted for each section is 95 minutes.

The last section – Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – includes 53 questions for test-takers to complete in 90 minutes.

What are the sections of the MCAT?

The MCAT is a pretty long test of almost 7.5 hours with four sections that cover:

  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. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The test is set up to assess your content knowledge in General Biology, Physics, General and Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Sociology, and Psychology. More importantly, the test also assesses your critical analysis and reasoning skills. The questions are asked in such a way that there is no straightforward answer. Instead, they are framed as complex problems so as to force you to first interpret the question.

To ace this test, you need to do more than just memorize the content in the subjects covered. You also have to determine what exactly the question is asking so that you can answer it correctly. Only those test takers who have mastered the technique of interpreting the questions correctly manage to get high scores in all the MCAT sections.

What subjects are on the MCAT? How are they broken down?

Here is the individual breakup of each section:

MCAT Section 1: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

There are 59 multiple choice questions in this section. Introductory Biology and Biochemistry account for a majority of the questions with 65% and 25% questions belonging to these segments respectively. The remaining 5% questions cover General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry respectively.

You get 95 minutes to answer the questions in this section.

MCAT Section 2: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section also has 59 multi-choice questions but it has a more distributed approach towards the different subjects. General Chemistry accounts for the first 30% of the questions. From there, a quarter of the questions cover the fields of Introductory Physics and First-Semester Biochemistry. Organic Chemistry and Introductory Biology account for 15% and 5% respectively.

You get 95 minutes to answer the questions in this section.

MCAT Section 3: Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

In this section, Introductory Psychology accounts for 65% of the total 59 multiple-choice questions. Additionally, the Introductory Psychology section focuses on the biologically relevant aspects of psychology. Introductory Sociology, and Introductory Biology account for 30% and 5% respectively.

You get 95 minutes to answer the questions in this section.

MCAT Section 4: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

This section has only 53 multiple-choice questions. While there are no set categories for this section, about 50% of the questions will be drawn from a variety of Humanities disciplines. The section can include ethics, dance, art, literature, philosophy, popular culture, religion, and also music. The remaining 50% will cover Social Sciences, which may include archaeology, anthropology, history, geography, linguistics, economics, and more. This MCAT section is formatted in the same way as the reading comprehension section in other standardized tests.

You get 90 minutes to answer the questions in this section.

Final thoughts on taking the MCAT

Your MCAT scores have a direct impact on your chances of getting into medical school. The higher your score, the better your chances of getting accepted. If you have plans of applying to medical school, you must start studying for the test early. This will give you enough time to cover all the test material and also answer a few practice tests. Answering the practice tests will help you get a better understanding of how the questions are formatted. You will also learn how to interpret and solve the complex problems to maximize your score in all the MCAT sections.

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