MCAT Test Sections 2021: Comprehensive Format Breakdown

MCAT Test Sections 2020

Taking the MCAT is no walk in the park for most students, but you can make it less terrifying on your part by preparing for it well ahead of time like doing some practice tests or by taking the best MCAT prep course. Part of the entire process is to know the various subjects on the MCAT so you’ll know what to study.

There are 4 MCAT sections in the test and they’re broken down into different subjects. 

MCAT Subjects: What subjects are on the MCAT?

  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

All sections on the MCAT has a score that ranges between 118 and 132. Adding the scores from each section will give you a total MCAT score of between 472 and 528. 

To increase your acceptance rate in any college, aim for a score of between 510 and 518. 

MCAT breakdown: What is on the MCAT

For a majority of the MCAT test sections, students must demonstrate 4 skills: 

Data-based and Statistical Reasoning

This will test how you interpret patterns in data through tables, graphs, and figures presentations.

Scientific Reasoning and Problem Solving

This will test your reasoning, analysis, and evaluation skills on different scientific theories, models, and principles.

Knowledge of Scientific Concepts & Principles

You will be asked to demonstrate your understanding of the scientific principles and concepts you’ve learned over the years.

Reasoning about Design and Execution of the Research

Concerns more on reasoning in regards to ethical research issues and your understanding of any essential components found in scientific research. 

For the CARS MCAT section, this will test mostly your verbal reasoning skills and your ability to analyze various scenarios in the social sciences, humanities, ethics, philosophy, and health. 

MCAT Structure: MCAT subject breakdown

We mentioned earlier that the overall MCAT format on each of the subjects will test and ask students to demonstrate 4 skills throughout the exam. 

That’s not all though. The subjects on MCAT will also test you in two key areas:

  1. Foundational Concepts
  2. Academic Discipline

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The MCAT test format for this section of the exam focuses on organic & inorganic chemistry, biology, cellular and molecular biology, and biochemistry. 

Mostly, it tests processes like adapting, growing, reproducing, acquiring materials & energy, that are unique to living organisms. 

Number of questions: 59

Time Allotted: 95 minutes

Foundational Concepts: 

  • Foundational Concepts 1 – 55%
  • Foundational Concepts 2 – 20%
  • Foundational Concepts 3 – 25%

Academic Discipline: 

  • Biology (Introductory level) – 65%
  • General chemistry – 5%
  • Organic chemistry – 5%
  • Biochemistry (First semester) – 25%

Topics covered in Foundational Concepts: 

Here is a brief MCAT overview of the topics covered. Take note that this isn’t the full list.

  • Protein Structure
  • Amino Acids
  • Enzyme Structure and Function
  • Genetic Code
  • Eukaryotic Chromosome Organization
  • Nucleic Acid Structure and Function
  • Mendelian Concepts
  • Evolution (Speciation, natural selection, etc.)
  • Carbohydrates
  • Metabolism of Fatty Acids and Proteins

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The MCAT format for this section covers the chemical and physical principles that operate in the human body. 

This also includes your understanding of the functions for organs, organ systems, and human tissues (mechanical, biochemical, and physical). 

Number of questions: 59

Time Allotted: 95 minutes

Foundational Concepts: 

  • Foundational Concepts 4 – 40%
  • Foundational Concepts 5 – 60%

Academic Discipline: 

  • Physics (Introductory) – 25%
  • General chemistry – 30%
  • Organic chemistry – 15%
  • Biochemistry (First semester) – 25%
  • Biology (Introductory) – 5%

Topics covered in Foundational Concepts: 

Here is a brief MCAT section breakdown of the topics covered. Note this isn’t the full list.

  • Work, Force, & Equilibrium (Physics)
  • Periodic Motion
  • Gas Phase
  • Fluids
  • Magnetism
  • Stoichiometry
  • Periodic Table – Element Classification & Variations of Chemical Properties
  • Titration
  • Solubility
  • Intermolecular Forces
  • Separations & Purifications
  • Thermodynamics & Thermochemistry

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The MCAT test structure for this MCAT subject will test your knowledge on the following:

  • Behavior, behavioral change
  • Social & cultural differences 
  • Biological, psychological, and social factors that influence perceptions and reactions

Number of questions: 59

Time Allotted: 95 minutes

Foundational Concepts: 

  • Foundational Concepts 6 – 25%
  • Foundational Concepts 7 – 35%
  • Foundational Concepts 8 – 20%
  • Foundational Concepts 9 – 15%
  • Foundational Concepts 10 – 5%

Academic Discipline: 

  • Psychology (Introductory) – 65%
  • Biology (Introductory) – 5%
  • Sociology (Introductory) – 30%

Topics covered in Foundational Concepts: 

Here is a brief MCAT breakdown of some of the topics covered. 

  • Sensory Processing
  • Perception
  • Cognition
  • Consciousness
  • Emotion & Stress
  • Personality
  • Psychological Disorders
  • Socialization
  • Normative and Non-normative behavior
  • Associative Learning
  • Self-identity, self-concept, & social identity
  • Elements of Social Interaction
  • Culture
  • Demographic Shifts & social change
  • Spatial Inequality

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The MCAT format for the CARS takes a unique approach. Rather than focus on specific content knowledge, you’ll be asked to read passages and demonstrate your comprehension, analysis, and reasoning skills. 

The disciplines involved center around humanities and social sciences. 

Number of questions: 53

Time Allotted: 90 minutes

  • Social Science – 50%
  • Humanities – 50%

CARS Skills: 

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

 Topics covered: 

The passages will draw from both social science and humanities disciplines such as:

  • Ethics
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Theater
  • Religion
  • Art
  • History
  • Sociology
  • Population Health
  • Geography
  • Economics
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

Frequently asked questions

The length of the MCAT exam is 7 hours and 30 minutes, including the allotted break in between MCAT sections.

The best time to take the MCAT is at least 1 year before your medical school application. The 1-year gap should give you a lot of time to prepare and plan for your study schedule and get a thorough understanding of what does the MCAT cover.

Conclusion: MCAT Study Tips & Advice

Focus on building strong science background, particularly in the fields of biology, biochemistry, and psychology. 

Make good use of practice exams on every MCAT subject to build your stamina and endurance. 

Finally, familiarize yourself with academic journals, biographies, and novels to help you in the CARS section. 

We hope you found this article helpful in your MCAT prep journey. Here’s a detailed list of the MCAT sections breakdown (1). You should also check out The MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2020 (2) so you can better plan your next course of action.

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