MCAT Sections: What is on the MCAT Exam?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an online standardized test required for medical school admissions. This test is 7.5 hours long and is designed to assess an applicant’s foundational knowledge as well as critical thinking on the topics required to study medicine. Understanding the topics and breakdown of all four MCAT sections is critical to preparing and performing well on your test.

This post will break down all you need to know about the MCAT sections, including section topics, length, and the number of questions.

MCAT Sections Breakdown

The four MCAT Sections are listed below in the order they appear within the MCAT.

SectionSection ConceptsNumber of Questions/Time Allotted
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)Basic concepts in chemistry and physics and their applications to mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of human tissues, organs, and organ systems59 questions / 95 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)Critical analysis and reasoning about passages from various topics in the social sciences and humanities53 questions / 90 minutes
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/BioChem)Basic concepts in biology and biochemistry and their applications to growing/reproduction, maintaining internal environments, acquiring materials/energy, sensing/responding to changes, and adapting59 questions / 95 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)Basic concepts in psychology, sociology and biology and how they influence perceptions and reactions to the world59 questions / 95 minutes

Within each MCAT section, there will be approximately 10 passages which are usually an excerpt/summary of a scientific article. These passages are usually a few paragraphs in length and are followed by various multiple-choice questions. Most questions (44 questions) in each section of the MCAT will be passage-based and require the analysis of data or topics that were mentioned in each article. Some questions (15 questions) are freestanding questions and can be answered independently of any material presented during the test. The CARS section of the MCAT is the only exception to this rule, with all questions being based on passage materials.

An important point of distinction for the MCAT is that it is not exactly a content test. This does not mean that you don’t need a solid foundation of scientific knowledge covered in your undergraduate studies. However, since most of the questions you encounter on the MCAT are passage-based your science knowledge alone won’t get you a high score. To score high on the MCAT your ability to think critically and reason through unfamiliar material using existing knowledge is key.

Each section of the MCAT is separated by an optional 10-minute break or 30-minute lunch break.

SectionTime
Tutorial10 Minutes
Chem/Phys Section95 Minutes
Break10 Minutes
CARS Section 90 Minutes
Lunch Break30 Minutes
Bio/BioChem Section 95 Minutes
Break10 Minutes
Psych/Soc Section 95 Minutes
Optional Void Period5 Minutes
End of Test Survey5 Minutes

MCAT Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

Time: 95 Minutes

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-based, 15 free-standing)

This section of the MCAT is designed to test the following:

  • Introductory-level biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics concepts
  • First year biochemistry concepts
  • First year molecular biology topics
  • Basic research methods and statistics concepts
  • Scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the natural sciences

An approximation of the percentage of questions (plus/minus 5%) that draw on specific disciplines are:

MCAT Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section Breakdown

A full breakdown of this MCAT section can be found here on the AAMC website.

MCAT Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Time: 90 Minutes

Number of Questions: 53 total (All passage related)

The CARS section of the MCAT is one of the most important sections for those attempting to apply to Canadian medical schools. It is similar to many reading comprehension tests that students have encountered.

Students are presented with a non-science passage on subjects such as history, philosophy, economics, politics, or art and are then asked to answer questions that are based solely on what the author wrote and how they wrote it. To answer these questions, test writers will be required to understand the main ideas and points of the passage and analyze them. These passages often include overly complex language and vocabulary.

An approximation of the percentage of questions (plus/minus 5%) that draw on specific disciplines are:

MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Breakdown

A full breakdown of this MCAT section can be found here on the AAMC website.

MCAT Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Time: 95 Minutes

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-based, 15 free-standing)

This section of the MCAT is designed to test the following:

  • Introductory-level biology, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry concepts;
  • First year biochemistry concepts
  • First year cellular and molecular biology topics
  • Basic research methods and statistics concepts
  • Scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the natural sciences

An approximation of the percentage of questions (plus/minus 5%) that draw on specific disciplines are:

MCAT Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems   Breakdown

A full breakdown of this MCAT section can be found here on the AAMC website.

MCAT Section 4: Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Time: 95 Minutes

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-based, 15 free-standing)

This section of the MCAT is designed to test the following:

  • Psychology, sociology, and biology concepts
  • First year psychology and sociology
  • Biology concepts that relate to mental processes and behavior
  • test basic research methods and statistics concepts described by many baccalaureate Basic research methods and statistics concepts
  • Scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the natural sciences

An approximation of the percentage of questions (plus/minus 5%) that draw on specific disciplines are:

MCAT Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Breakdown

A full breakdown of this MCAT section can be found here on the AAMC website.

Next Steps

Now that you have an understanding of the MCAT sections it’s important to learn about how each section is scored, undergraduate courses to prepare you for the MCAT, as well as how your MCAT score is used by the admissions teams of various universities.

Already started studying for the MCAT? Check out our recommendations on the best free and paid resources to help you succeed on the MCAT:

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