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5 Must Know Physics Concepts

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 isn’t like a final exam that only covers the material you learn in one college class. Instead, the MCAT encompasses many classes, including general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. That’s a lot of quarters/semesters of classes and the MCAT is one big exam that tests them all. So, yes, the MCAT is a tough exam. The good news is that reading this post will help you out. Here, we describe 5 must know physics concepts for the MCAT.

Must Know Physics Concepts

Daniele Pugliesi

5 Must Know Physics Concepts

  1. Units and Dimensions. This is a basic topic but one just as important as all the others. You need to know SI units for the physical dimensions to understand the context of physics questions on the exam and to answer them. This also includes knowing unit conversions, such as V = J/C and J = kg·m/s2.
  2. Forces. Just about everything in physics involves forces. In order for an object to start moving, its velocity has to change. In order for the velocity to change, the object must experience acceleration. The only way to provide acceleration is with a force. For the MCAT, you will want to know how to draw free body diagrams and apply Newton’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd laws to do force calculations.
  3. Fluids. On the old MCAT, students could get passages on any random chemistry or physics topic. Students complained because many of these passages seemed to have nothing to do with medicine. The good news is that all of the passages on the new MCAT are biologically relevant. As more than half of the human body is water, you can see why fluids is one of the must know physics concepts. You will need to apply concepts including buoyancy, density, hydrostatic pressure, continuity, and Bernoulli’s equation to answer MCAT physics questions.
  4. Waves. The two most relevant waves to humans are light and sound. Both type of waves are key to our ability to perceive the world. For the MCAT, you will need to understand the general properties of a wave, including energy, wavelength, speed, and frequency. Specifically for sound, you need to know how sound is produced, how the loudness of sound is quantified, and how sound is affected by the Doppler effect. Specifically for light, you need to know how geometrical optics can be used to resolve visual defects (myopia and hyperopia) and how reflection and refraction affect light rays.
  5. Radioactive Decay. Radioactivity may sound more like a general chemistry topic but the MCAT also classifies it as a physics topic. On the MCAT, you will need to be able to recognize the different types of radioactive decay (α, β, and γ) and do half-life calculations.

Additional MCAT Physics Topics

The five topics that we’ve described above are not all guaranteed to show up on your exam. They are must know physics 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 physics topics should definitely be your priority!

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About Ken

Ken is a former blog writer for Magoosh who left to focus on developing novel and effective ways to help students achieve success on the MCAT exam.


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