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How to Study MCAT Chemistry

The MCAT is a science heavy exam. Each section has a certain focus which tests the major subjects medical schools require as prerequisites. One section is devoted to Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, which focuses mostly on chemistry and physics principles. There are 59 questions in this section, and about 70% will focus on the chemistry topics. In addition, about 35% of the questions in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations section will cover chemistry topics. This post will go over how to study MCAT chemistry.

What is tested in MCAT chemistry?

The AAMC releases information on the approximate breakdown of content for the MCAT.  For the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section, roughly 30% will be general chemistry, and 15% will be organic chemistry. There is also 25% biochemistry, 5% biology, and 25% physics. The way they test these topics will be broken up into different “skills” that vary from basic understanding of formulas, to problem-solving, to applications in research, to data and statistical analysis.

How to Study MCAT Chemistry

There are some principles of studying for the MCAT that apply to all sections. One is to start early and come up with a study plan. The earlier you start, the more time you will have to identify weaknesses and improve on them. Another is to study hard in the prerequisite classes for medical school—in this case, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. No MCAT prep course or tutor will go into as much depth as a college level course in these subjects. Review courses and prep courses are meant as review for concepts you have already learned. The better you do in your basic science courses and the better you learn the topics taught in them, the better you will do in both your MCAT and your medical school application.

Prioritize the Following

1. Know Your Amino Acids! This will be crucial for the biology and chemistry sections. As each wave of MCAT students confronts the new exam, they all say the same thing: Knowing your amino acids is non-negotiable if you want to score well.

2. Various Hormones and Signaling Molecules in the Body. I know this sounds more like biology, but it appears in chemistry, too. Ideally, you want to know where a hormone is made, its molecular structure and properties, and what it does.

3. Be Wise with Flashcards: When learning factual content, use flashcards and use them smartly. You want to be able to recall terms as well as recognize them, so set them up in a way where you can quiz yourself based on either side of the card. You might even consider creating duplicate flashcards on terms so you can test yourself on different aspects, like molecular structures, notation, and how they relate to physiology.

4. Tack it to Your Fridge! One other reinforcement method for important processes like energy pathways, kinetics, and enzyme functions is to print out a copy of a diagram describing those processes and place it somewhere you will see it all the time, like next to your bed or on your refrigerator. This will help burn it into your brain! Memorizing things is all about wearing that groove into your brain by seeing and using the material enough times.

MCAT Chemistry Resources

Some specific resources to use when studying include the AAMC Content Outlines. The AAMC, who designs the MCAT questions, use this outline when creating tests. This can serve as a road map for topics that you need to know. AAMC also releases a set of questions specific to chemistry content. It’s $15, but worth the investment to expose yourself to true MCAT chemistry question types. It won’t be enough for thorough MCAT studying, but should be supplemented with other types of question banks. Finally, a full-length MCAT from the AAMC will not only help you get a good feel for the MCAT chemistry topics, but also what a simulated exam feels like. This costs $35, but is again worth the investment. AAMC practice exams were perhaps the single best practice and predictor for me when I took the MCAT. Magoosh also offers MCAT prep to help meet your MCAT chemistry needs.
This post contains tips from Travis O’Rear. Thanks for your helpful input!

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