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5 Must Know Organic Chemistry Concepts

MCAT Organic Chemistry - image by Magoosh

One of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to prepare for the MCAT is the wide breadth of material covered on the exam. The MCAT encompasses general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. That’s a lot of quarters’ (or semesters’) worth of classes, and the MCAT is one big exam that tests them all! The good news is that reading this post will help you out, with 5 must know organic chemistry concepts for the MCAT.

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5 Must Know Organic Chemistry Concepts

A major difference between the MCAT and college organic chemistry exams is the exam format. In your college class, you may have been asked to draw molecules and arrow-pushing diagrams. The MCAT is a multiple-choice test and doesn’t contain any free-response questions. In addition, the MCAT focuses more on the foundational concepts of organic chemistry than specific reaction types.

  1. Structure and Stability. This is a basic topic but one just as important as all the others. A lot of organic chemistry questions on the MCAT can actually be answered by choosing the answer choice with the most stable molecule. Factors that you have to consider include resonance, ring strain, induction, and unfavorable interactions due to sterics.
  2. Amino Acids. You may have heard that biochemistry is a big deal on the new MCAT and it’s true. One of the major biochemistry topics, amino acids, is also an organic chemistry topic. For the exam, you need to know the structure of the side chains, the pKa of the side chain (if applicable), the one-letter code, and the three-letter code for each amino acid. In addition, you need to be able to classify each as hydrophobic, hydrophilic, acidic, or basic.
  3. Separations and Purifications. If you’ve taken organic chemistry lab, then you may recall that much of the experiments involved separating and purifying compounds. For the MCAT, you will have to recall some of those commons techniques that you may have used such as thin layer chromatography, distillation, and liquid-liquid extraction. In addition, you will need to know some more advanced techniques, including column chromatography, gas chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography, size-exclusion chromatography, affinity chromatography, and ion-exchange chromatography.
  4. Absorption Spectroscopy. An equally important but distinct set of laboratory techniques is absorption spectroscopy. As opposed to separating compounds, these techniques focus on identifying specific features of the compounds. For the MCAT, you need to be familiar with NMR spectroscopy, UV/VIS spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy.
  5. Carbonyl Chemistry. One of the most important functional groups in biology is the carbonyl group. Numerous biochemical reactions in the body involve carbonyl functional group reactions. For the MCAT, you need to know nucleophilic addition reactions, how enolates are formed, and the reduction/oxidation of carbonyl groups.

Additional MCAT Organic Chemistry Topics

The five topics that we’ve described above are not all guaranteed to show up on your exam. They are must know organic chemistry concepts because they have appeared the most frequently over many administrations of the exam. On average, students do see these concepts more often than the others.

However, your test may not be like the average exam. You might get unlucky and end up with questions on less common topics. To best prepare yourself for the exam, you will want to make sure to review all of the topics described in the AAMC Content Outlines. This document contains a list of all the concepts that can be tested on the MCAT. If you are in a time crunch though, these 5 must know organic chemistry topics should definitely be your priority!

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