In addition to meeting the requirements for application to each medical school, it is highly recommended that students wishing to take the MCAT take certain courses to prepare themselves for the content on the test. This post breaks down a full list of courses to take for the MCAT based on current medical students’ advice.
Which Courses Should You Take for the MCAT?
Choosing which courses to take during your undergraduate study is one of the most stressful considerations along your premedical journey. When deciding between undergraduate courses to take for the MCAT, there is one primary consideration that one has to make. Can I maintain a high GPA while taking an exciting course that will also prepare me for the MCAT?
Your GPA is the most essential part of your application. Many schools will not even look at your application if your GPA does not meet a cut-off. While you can retake your MCAT, improving your GPA is much more challenging. The following is a complete list of considerations for which undergraduate courses to take:
- Does the course satisfy my requirements for graduation?
- Is the course a requirement for the medical schools I want to apply to?
- Do I need this course to do upper-year courses?
- Will this course help me with my MCAT?
- Can I get a high grade on this course?
There are many alternate considerations that students may want to take into account. For example, you may want to look into who the teacher is, whether there are good notes from past years, if friends are taking the course, etc.
When focusing solely on the MCAT, these are the most helpful courses to take listed by importance. These decisions were made based on how much breadth they cover and how many essential skills they cover.
Most Time Effective MCAT Course to Take
These courses lay the foundation for most topics covered on the MCAT. If you have a limited amount of time we recommend focusing on these courses:
- One year of Introductory Biology: Covers all the non-human biology on the MCAT including DNA replication, cell division, prokaryotes and eukaryotes, Mendelian genetics, evolution, protein transcription and translation, cell membranes, mutations
- One year of General Chemistry: Covers all the non-organic chem components of the chemistry section.
- One year of Organic Chemistry: Covers the basics of functional groups, chemical reactions, reaction mechanisms, stereochemistry and key methods for experimental design such as chromatography.
- One year of Physics: Covers all of the physics section including work and energy, kinematics, kinetics, thermodynamics, lenses/mirrors, electricity, sound and light waves, fluids, basic nuclear physics, gases, vectors and scalars.
Self Studiable Material
These topics are covered in the MCAT and should be learned. If your schedule allows it we recommend taking these courses. However, this material is usually less academically intensive and can be self-studied if you are strapped for time.
- One semester of Biochemistry: Covers the basics of amino acids, enzyme kinetics, and molecular structure of nucleic acids, carbohydrates and fats. Major metabolic pathways like glycolysis, fermentation, Krebs etc.
- One semester of Introductory Psychology: Covers the basics of the entire psych section. It will likely not be fully comprehensive but should cover: perception, behaviour, mental illness, CNS hormones, learning theories, and cognition.
- One semester of Introductory Sociology: Covers the basics of the sociology section, although the sociology section does not have much material and many people are able to do well with no prior knowledge.
Additional MCAT Prerequisite Courses
These topics will show up on the MCAT, however, not in large quantities. Taking these courses can be helpful to prospective test-takers. When deciding whether to take these courses try to also think about what topics you’re genuinely interested in as well as how the course may affect your overall GPA. If the course covers topics you do not enjoy and has the potential to significantly reduce your GPA it probably shouldn’t be taken.
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Cellular and Molecular Biology
- Statistics and Epidemiology
- Introductory Neuroscience
- Research Methods
- Brain and Behavior/Physiological Psych
- Advanced Function/Calculus
- Calculus-Based Physics
Recommended Schedule for MCAT Prerequisites
The following is an example schedule of when to take the coursework recommended above. Many MCAT test-takers will take their MCAT either after their 2nd year of undergraduate study or 3rd year of undergraduate study. Edit the schedule based on your preferences and needs.
Year 1: Semester 1
- Introductory Biology I
- General Chemistry I
- Physics I
- Introductory Psychology (Or in 2nd year)
Year 1: Semester 2
- Introductory Biology II
- General Chemistry II
- Physics II
- Introductory Sociology (Or in 2nd year)
Year 2: Semester 1
- Organic Chemistry I
- Advanced Function/Calculus/Statistics (Optional)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology I (Optional)
Year 2: Semester 2
- Organic Chemistry II
- Cellular and Molecular Biology (Optional)
- Advanced Function/Calculus/Statistics (Optional)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology II (Optional)
Year 3: Semesters 1 and 2
- You can choose any of the optional courses or opt to study whatever interests you