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What is on the MCAT: How to Use MCAT Content Outlines

What’s on the MCAT

If you are a pre-medical student, you need to know what’s on the MCAT. You certainly do not want to take an exam without knowing what is tested. If you don’t know what is tested on the MCAT, you should definitely take a look at the content outlines created by the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges). This article will provide the subjects tested on the MCAT, and explain what two factors you should consider as you read through the AAMC’s MCAT content outlines.

Subjects on the MCAT

Here is a full list of the subjects tested on the MCAT:

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

You will note that the AAMC is not very specific about any of the subjects except biochemistry, stating that you only need knowledge from a first-semester course. However, none of the content on the MCAT is 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, 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 these topics. This may change in the future though.

Distribution of Subjects on the MCAT

The MCAT contains four sections and the distributions of the subjects are as follows:

  • 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 it is not an easy section. To learn how to prepare for this section, read our previous post on How to Study for the MCAT CARS.
  • 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

As you can see, the most 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.

Foundational Concepts on the MCAT

The MCAT tests a lot of different concepts. That’s a fact! To prepare for the exam, pre-medical students are often told that they should take the classes tested on the MCAT. It’s great advice but also not perfect. College classes differ drastically from college to college. What you learned in your general chemistry class is likely different from what another student learned at another university. In fact, you might have learned different concepts from your peers at the same school if you took the class with different professors. The big question then is, did you learn everything that you need to know for the MCAT?

To be honest, the chances that you learned everything in your classes that you need for the MCAT is low. It’s mainly because your college designs your classes while the AAMC designs the MCAT. Your college and the AAMC are two entirely separate organizations. They do not necessarily agree with what they believe a student should learn from a general chemistry or physics class. This is why you need to read the AAMC content outlines for the MCAT.

This document includes the full list of concepts that students are expected to know for the MCAT for each subject. As you study for the MCAT, you should make sure to go through the entire document and compile a list of all the concepts that are foreign to you. These are likely topics that you did not learn in your college classes but are still important for you to learn.

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills

From the content outlines, 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.

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. The AAMC content outlines do contain practice questions designed to illustrate the reasoning skills required for the exam. Students should make sure to answer these questions in preparation for the MCAT. Remember too that Magoosh also offers our own MCAT prep.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of how to use AAMC’s MCAT content outlines. If you are looking for more study tips, make sure to check out the top five strategies for MCAT success and the biggest study mistakes on the MCAT.

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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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