Performing well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) may be difficult, but your ideal score is not out of reach. When you’re putting together a study plan and trying to figure out how to perform your best on the test, sometimes it can be helpful to break it down section by section. The MCAT is made up of four sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Biochem)
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
All four sections are weighed equally and take about the same time to complete. Today, we’re going to look at the Bio/Biochem section. This section may seem particularly scary if you didn’t major in biology or a similar field. Other people may overlook this section, thinking they need to spend more time on a section they tend to struggle with, such as CARS. Nonetheless, this is an important area to master because the MCAT is testing whether you’re ready to learn more about the living body in medical school.
What’s on the Bio/Biochem Section?
According to The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC),
The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section asks you to solve problems by combining your knowledge of biological and biochemical concepts with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. This section tests processes that are unique to living organisms, such as growing and reproducing, maintaining a constant internal environment, acquiring materials and energy, sensing and responding to environmental changes, and adapting. It also tests how cells and organ systems within an organism act independently and in concert to accomplish these processes, and it asks you to reason about these processes at various levels of biological organization within a living system.
– The AAMC
The Bio/Biochem section accounts for 25% of the test, and you will be given 95 minutes to complete the 59 questions in the section. Possible scores on Bio/Biochem range from 118-132. It’s made up of a combination of passage based questions and discrete questions.
This section tests introductory level knowledge, first-semester biochemistry, first-semester cellular and molecular biology, research methods, and statistics concepts. It also requires you to show scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills. The content breakdown for this section is as follows:
- 25% First-semester biochemistry
- 65% Introductory biology
- 5% General chemistry
- 5% Organic chemistry
Following are the scientific inquiry and reasoning skills you’ll need to understand for this section, according to AAMC:
- Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles: This includes demonstrating your understanding of the concepts and principles themselves as well as identifying relationships between concepts.
- Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving: This includes reasoning when it comes to principles, theories, and models. You will also need to be able to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations and predictions.
- Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research: This includes understanding scientific research and being able to reason about ethical issues.
- Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning: This includes interpreting tables, figures, and graphs. You’ll also need to be able to draw conclusions from and reason about data.
While there is a lot of information you’ll need to know to do well on this section of the MCAT, you can rest assured that you will have access to a periodic table. The fact that you will be provided with this information is a testament to the fact that the Bio/Biochem section tests the way you analyze and manipulate scientific data just as much as it tests the information you have memorized and comprehended.
Finally, the Bio/Biochem section tests your understanding of three foundational concepts:
- Biomolecules have unique properties that determine how they contribute to the structure and function of cells and how they participate in the processes necessary to maintain life. (55% of the section)
- Highly organized assemblies of molecules, cells, and organs interact to carry out the functions of living organisms. (20% of the section)
- Complex systems of tissues and organs sense the internal and external environments of multicellular organisms, and through integrated functioning, maintain a stable internal environment within an ever-changing external environment. (25% of the section)
To can learn more about exactly what the AAMC includes on this section, visit their detailed breakdown of the Bio/Biochem section of the MCAT. This is a lot of information to not only understand but to be able to think critically about. How exactly do you prepare for such a robust and thorough MCAT section?
How to Study for Bio/Biochem
Of course, it will be important to have a thorough understanding of the above information if you want to do well on the Bio/Biochem section, but how do you accomplish that? As with most of the MCAT, the Bio/Biochem section will test you on your application, not just your memorization. It is worth noting, however, that this section is one of the most memorization intensive sections on the MCAT. It includes topics such as amino acids and metabolic pathways that are heavy on memorization.
You’ll need to make sure you understand a lot of factual information, such as:
- Cell biology
- How bodily systems work together to sustain life
- Organ system functions and structure
- Amino acid codes, structures, and chemical properties
- Metabolic pathways
…and much, much more. Beyond that basic understanding, you’ll need to be able to apply and reason about this information.
We suggest beginning your studying about three to six months before your MCAT test date, depending on how many hours you can devote to studying per day. This gives you enough time to learn the information but doesn’t leave you with so much extra time that you begin to forget the information.
To memorize and comprehend information, it’s helpful to begin studying for Bio/Biochem with a tool like Memm. We’ll create a customized study schedule for you that gives you control over your preparation. You’ll also have access to high-quality sheets and cards.
Once you’ve begun to review and study biology and biochemistry, begin to take MCAT practice tests. There are a wide variety of third-party tests to choose from, and those are excellent during the beginning stages of your studying. Once you get closer to your test date, begin to take the AAMC practice tests. Those are the closest to the real thing, so make sure you take every single AAMC practice test.
In addition to practice tests, incorporate practice Bio/Biochem questions into your regular studying. Test preparation techniques such as spaced repetition and periodic reinforcement are necessary in order to retain information regarding high yield topics like amino acids. That’s why it’s important to regularly return to these topics.
Because the section tests the way you can think critically about information, it’s imperative you take your preparation beyond spewing out facts. The more you practice analyzing and manipulating information via practice tests, the better you’ll be able to demonstrate your skills on test day.
When you begin studying, you will likely focus on all four sections equally. As time goes on and you identify your strengths and weaknesses, you may find that you devote more or less of your time to Bio/Biochem than other sections. This is a sign that you are studying efficiently and aren’t wasting a lot of time reviewing the information you’ve already mastered.
In addition to learning the content you’ll need to know for this section, we also recommend strengthening your skills in two areas: active reading and graph, figure, and table interpretation. Strengthening these skills will help you make sense of questions quickly and easily, leaving energy, time, and brainpower to answer the questions on the test.
Active reading involves not just passively reading a passage but truly understanding and internalizing the information presented to you. When you read a passage actively, you’ll spend less time returning to the passage and reinterpreting information as you take the test. Some strategies to practice active reading include:
- Highlighting the passage as you read
- Taking notes
- Writing a brief summary of the passage
- Drawing pictures or diagrams to accompany the passage
- Organizing the presented information
- Pulling out and rewriting important information
- Extracting data
Practice reading passages this way when you’re studying for the MCAT. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at active reading, and you’ll find that you’re able to understand passages and their important information swiftly.
Interpreting graphs, figures, and tables is essential to success on the Bio/Biochem section as well. Similar to active reading, the more you practice this skill, the more easily it will come to you on test day. You should be able to identify the following information on any graph, figure, or table:
- Independent variable
- Dependent variable
Every time you complete practice questions, make a point to interpret graphs, figures, and tables and identify the above information.
It’s important to focus on high yield information when you’re studying for the MCAT. Below are some resources you may find helpful as you study for the Bio/Biochem section of the MCAT.
- A detailed breakdown of the Bio/Biochem section from AAMC
- Memm (comprehensive sheets and high-quality cards)
- MCAT tutoring
- AAMC Practice Tests
- AAMC Practice Questions
Of all the resources above, we recommend prioritizing AAMC materials, as they will be most similar to what you will see on test day.
Read our MCAT Study Guide which covers how the MCAT is scored, 7 MCAT study strategies, MCAT resources, FAQs, and more.
How to Succeed on MCAT Test Day
There are a lot of resources out there to help you do well on the Bio/Biochem section of the MCAT. Try not to fall into the trap of believing you need to use every single preparation material. You’ll definitely want to be sure to use AAMC’s materials but beyond that, use what makes sense and what works for you.
Memm can help you organize your test prep so your studying is broken down into manageable chunks. With so much information that you need to understand, analyze, and manipulate for the Bio/Biochem section of the MCAT, you need a tool that is thorough and that doesn’t waste time on low-yield information.
Med School Insiders offers tailored MCAT tutoring designed around your strengths and weaknesses to help you make the greatest improvements. Learn more about our MCAT tutoring services and comprehensive admissions packages.