The Complete MCAT Topics List

Stethoscope over pile of books representing MCAT topics by subject - image by Magoosh

If you are a pre-medical student, you need to study the MCAT subjects (Medical College Admission Test) in advance! To help you out, Magoosh has compiled a complete list of MCAT topics for you to reference as you prep. Click below to download Magoosh’s Complete MCAT Topics List PDF!

Click to download the complete MCAT topics list PDF - Magoosh

In this PDF, you’ll see these MCAT topics examined in various sections:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Sociological, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Note that Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills does not test scientific knowledge (think of it more like a verbal reasoning test), so this section does not appear on the MCAT topics list.


 

Table of Contents


 

The MCAT Subjects

Broadly, the MCAT exam tests your understanding of the following subjects:

  • First-semester biochemistry
  • Introductory biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Introductory physics
  • Introductory psychology
  • Introductory sociology

Within Magoosh’s downloadable PDF, you’ll see that we’ve organized the topics and sub-topics into a thorough and organized list. Within this list of MCAT topics, you’ll learn about each subject on a more detailed level—from amino acids to zymogen.


 

Prepping for the MCAT Subjects

So what courses do you need to take for the MCAT? To cover all of the topics above, here’s what you should be taking in terms of the major topic areas: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.

MCAT SubjectsRecommended Number of Semesters TakenRecommended Number of Quarters Taken
General Chemistry23*
Organic Chemistry23*
Physics23*
Biology23*
Biochemistry11
Psychology11
Sociology11

*Check with your undergraduate institution to find out how their curricula map onto semesters for physical sciences and biological sciences.

Keep in mind that while the MCAT is certainly challenging, the content itself is not particularly advanced. Most of the material is covered in the prerequisite courses required for medical school. The standard one year of biology, two years of chemistry (this includes organic!), and one year of physics is what most pre-medical students take.

Psychology and sociology are unique as newly-tested subjects on the MCAT. Most medical schools do not explicitly require students to take classes on psych or soc, however. Nevertheless, this may change in the future, and you’ll need some knowledge of these social sciences to succeed on the MCAT.
 
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Distribution of MCAT Topics

As you scan the PDF, you’ll see that we’ve organized the MCAT topics into three color-coded groups. Why? Because these topic groupings correspond to the MCAT sections that test scientific knowledge:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 30% general chemistry, 25% biochemistry, 25% physics, 15% organic chemistry, 5% biology
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: There is no science content tested on this section, but that doesn’t make CARS an easy section!
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 65% biology, 25% biochemistry, 5% general chemistry, 5% organic chemistry
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 65% psychology, 30% sociology, 5% biology

 
The most heavily tested subjects on the MCAT are biology, psychology, and biochemistry. This is drastically different from the old MCAT. To adapt to the new exam, you will need to prioritize these subjects in your studies. And Magoosh’s list of MCAT topics will help you do this efficiently!
 
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Foundational Concepts on the MCAT

What courses will teach you the material that the MCAT tests? It’s tricky to say. College classes differ drastically from college to college. However, to be honest, the chances that you learned everything in your classes that you need for the MCAT is low. This is mainly because your college designs your classes while the AAMC designs the MCAT.

This is why it’s so beneficial to read the full list of MCAT topics.These are likely topics that you either did not learn in your college classes or that you have forgotten. Your genetics knowledge may be top-notch but your inorganic chemistry weak; maybe your biochem section was awesome but your organic chem class was sub-par. It’s key to know your strengths and weaknesses as you get started!

Keep in mind, as well, that CARS tests critical thinking and problem solving more generally. No matter what courses you took in college, you’re unlikely to have encountered anything exactly like this section. It’s key to practice with these questions extensively before test day so you can ace them in less time, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the perception that there’s too much text!
 
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Where does the MCAT get challenging?

From the content outline, you will see that the MCAT tests a lot of science. However, a student that can only recite scientific facts will not do well on the test. Students are also expected to be able to understand scientific reasoning in the context of research experiments.

This means being familiar with experimental design, clinical research, and knowing how to interpret tables of data with standard deviations, correlation coefficients, and confidence intervals. Keep in mind that you won’t encounter any advanced statistics; just make sure you understand the general meanings of these terms and how they’re numerically or symbolically represented.

In addition, there are questions that require students to think critically about novel information introduced in the passages of the exam. These skills are tough to learn by reading and are often better attained by doing practice problems. Students should make sure to answer plenty of practice questions in preparation for the MCAT! Remember that Magoosh also offers our own MCAT prep.
 
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How to Use Our Complete List of MCAT Topics

The MCAT is many things: long, complex, broad, a time crunch… The good news? Luckily for you, we’ve put all the terms together and then collapsed a few terms here and there so that you can see everything in one place!

MCAT Topics and Subjects Table of Contents - Magoosh

So, how should you use Magoosh’s list of MCAT topics?

  1. Once you’ve downloaded it, skim through the PDF. You’ll find that we’ve taken the information the AAMC provides and made it much, much easier to process. Our MCAT topics list is easy to read, with handy checkboxes to mark what you’ve covered, color-coding by category, and large fonts.
  2. Next, review the list and circle topics that you’re less familiar with. This will help prioritize your studies. Then, as you go through the topics, check off what you’ve covered. As you can see, we’ve broken down larger topics into subtopics to make sure that you haven’t missed anything!
  3. Looking at Magoosh’s list of MCAT topics, you might recognize some of them—and you should! Magoosh’s list is based on the content outlines created by the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges). However, while the AAMC tells you exactly what to study, they do not make the lists available in one place. So Magoosh has done the work for you and created the only MCAT topics list you’ll need!

 
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A Final Word on the MCAT Topics

As you can see, the MCAT goes far beyond just basic bio and physics content! It’s vital to use an MCAT content outline to ensure you’re thoroughly studying everything that the MCAT tests. But, as you’ll see on MCAT practice tests, knowledge of scientific concepts isn’t the only thing you’ll need on test day or for med school admissions!

To ensure you’re thoroughly prepared to get great MCAT scores (and a high percentile rank), check out Magoosh’s advice for succeeding on the MCAT by checking out the top five strategies for MCAT success and the biggest study mistakes on the MCAT.

Get a free MCAT practice test!

Author

  • 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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