MCAT Sections: What’s on the MCAT?

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The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a 7.5-hour standardized exam that is split into four multiple choice sections. The test is designed to assess the foundational science knowledge and critical thinking skills of students applying to medical school. Each MCAT section takes considerable time to prepare for, and the test’s difficulty should not be taken lightly.

In this post, we break down what to expect from the four MCAT sections, including test length, number of questions, and what you will be tested on.

 

MCAT Section Breakdown

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is broken up into four sections, each worth 132 for a total perfect MCAT score of 528.

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/BioChem)
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)

MCAT Sections Chart

The first step to acing this important exam is understanding what you will be tested on in the four sections (CPBS, CARS, BBLS, and PSBB) and why.

 

1 | Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

  • First semester biochemistry: 25%
  • Introductory biology: 5%
  • General chemistry: 30%
  • Organic chemistry: 15%
  • Introductory physics: 25%

The CPBS MCAT section integrates the basic physical sciences (i.e., chemistry and physics) with biology and is designed to test one’s knowledge of the physical principles that govern life.

This section tests introductory biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. You will have access to a periodic table for this section. Below is a pie chart detailing the breakdown of questions on the CPBS section:

Possessing a foundational knowledge of applied physical concepts is vital for premed students to succeed in medical school and beyond. For instance, fluid dynamics is a basic physics topic that is central to understanding how the heart transports blood to all parts of the body. Furthermore, an understanding of the chemistry behind molecular diffusion is vital to appreciating the kidney’s ability to maintain homeostasis.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

 

2 | Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

Time: 90 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of questions: 53 total (all passage-related)

  • Foundations of Comprehension: 30%
  • Reasoning Within the Text: 30%
  • Reasoning Beyond the Text: 40%

The CARS section is designed to assess one’s ability to comprehend and analyze information in the moment. You are required to read and comprehend complex passages quickly to test your analytical and reasoning skills.

This entire section requires you to read brief passages (500-600 words) related to the humanities or social sciences and answer questions about them. These passages are often written with excessively complex language and esoteric vocabulary. Applicants will need to read between the lines to determine the answers.

All of the information you need to answer the questions is provided in the passages, so studying for this section is a lot different. Instead of memorizing information, you need to build and practice certain skills in order to do well on the CARS section.

Just because this section doesn’t require traditional studying doesn’t make it less important. You should dedicate significant time to preparing for the CARS section. Complete practice passages regularly and build your critical thinking and reading comprehension skills over time. Read complex texts and improve your reading speed through consistent practice.

Read our MCAT CARS Section Guide to learn more about the CARS format, study strategies, and FAQs.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

 

3 | Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBLS)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

  • First semester biochemistry: 25%
  • Introductory biology: 65%
  • General chemistry: 5%
  • Organic chemistry: 5%

The BBLS section tests one’s understanding of the constituents of cells and organs as well as how these systems work together to sustain life (i.e., growth, homeostasis, reproduction, adaptation.)

Core concepts are derived from introductory biology, general chemistry, biochemistry, and organic chemistry; however, the distribution is different from the CPBS section, as demonstrated in the pie chart below. Cellular and molecular biology are emphasized in this section, and test takers will have access to the periodic table.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

 

4 | Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (PSBB)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

  • Introductory psychology: 65%
  • Introductory sociology: 30%
  • Introductory biology: 5%

The PSBB section tests one’s understanding of how human society, culture, and behaviors shape health. It requires knowledge of both sociology and psychology in the context of biology.

This section is important because physicians serve patients from diverse backgrounds and must understand how internal and external human-associated factors affect behaviors. Aspiring medical students need to appreciate the socioeconomic determinants of health and how one’s access to resources directly impacts one’s life.

The MCAT is a grueling marathon of an exam that tests one’s ability to absorb and retain a high-volume of basic information related to medicine. It also measures one’s ability to perform well on difficult standardized tests, which is integral at virtually all levels of medical training and practice.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

 

Preparing for the MCAT

We have a number of free MCAT resources available on the Med School Insiders blog, including how to fix your MCAT studying, how to decide when you’re ready to take the MCAT, and tips for success on test day.

We also offer MCAT tutoring tailored to your specific strengths and weaknesses. We’ll work with you to determine where you can make the greatest improvements. You’ll be matched with a top-scoring tutor for a custom-built strategy and one-on-one mentorship.

Learn more about our MCAT tutoring services and comprehensive admissions packages.

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