MCAT Section-by-Section Breakdown

A detailed look at the MCAT

It's long, broad, and intense, but the MCAT exam is a test just like any other test—and to succeed at it, you’ll need to know what you’re up against. Here’s an MCAT section-by-section breakdown, including approximate section length, the number of questions you’ll need to answer, and the academic disciplines each section emphasizes. Each section on the exam will be scored using a 118 to 132 range, with a median score of 125. You'll receive a score for each section, plus an overall score. Total scores will be centered at 500, with ranges from 472 to 528.  

We’ll wrap up with a few study tips at the end of this page. 

MCAT Section #1
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 

This section tests your knowledge of fundamental concepts that govern processes unique to living organisms (growing, reproducing, responding, metabolizing, and adapting). It also tests your understanding of how cells and organ systems accomplish these processes, as well as your ability to reason about these processes.
 
Number of MCAT questions: 59
Time: 95 minutes
Types of questions: Passage-based and discrete
Academic disciplines:

  • First-semester biochemistry, 25%
  • Introductory biology, 65%
  • General chemistry, 5%
  • Organic chemistry, 5%

MCAT Section #2
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section tests your understanding of the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of human tissues, organs, and organ systems. It also tests your knowledge of the basic chemical and physical principles that underlie the mechanisms operating in the human body and your ability to reason about and apply your understanding of these principles to living systems.
 
Number of MCAT questions: 59
Time: 95 minutes
Types of questions: Passage-based and discrete
Academic disciplines:

  • First-semester biochemistry, 25%
  • Introductory biology, 5%
  • General chemistry, 30%
  • Organic chemistry, 15%
  • Introductory physics, 25%

MCAT Section #3
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This section tests your understanding of how concepts in psychology, sociology, and biology apply to the sociocultural and behavioral aspects of human health. You will also need to demonstrate your ability to use research methods and statistics.
 
Number of MCAT questions: 59
Time: 95 minutes
Types of questions: Passage-based and discrete
Academic disciplines:

  • Introductory psychology, 65%
  • Introductory sociology, 30%
  • Introductory biology, 5%

Note: The introductory psychology section will include biologically relevant psychology questions. 

MCAT Section #4
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

As before, this section will require no specific content knowledge. This MCAT section will ask you to read passages and answer questions to demonstrate critical thinking abilities. Complex, thought-provoking passages will be excerpted from books, journals, and magazines representing a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, including concepts from cultural studies, population health, ethics, and philosophy. 

Number of MCAT questions: 53
Time: 90 minutes:
Academic disciplines that may be drawn from:

  • Humanities, 50%
    • May include art, dance, ethics, literature, music, philosophy, popular culture, religion, theater, studies of diverse cultures
  • Social Sciences, 50%
    • May include anthropology, archaeology, economics, education, geography, history, linguistics, political science, population health, psychology, sociology, studies of diverse cultures          

Two MCAT Study Tips

  • For MCAT sections 1-3: As you complete your prerequisite course work for these three sections, practice applying the concepts. Developing the habit of using challenge questions at the end of your textbook chapters can help you build the stamina and agility needed to conquer these sections.
  • For MCAT section 4: Become a voracious reader. Digesting and discussing novels, biographies, news, and academic journals will build your critical analysis and reasoning abilities. Even better, practice these skills by joining a discussion group such as a book club or debate team.

Want more tips? Good overall study habits can help get you on the right track as you prepare for this exam. Check out some tried-and-true MCAT study tips from Jamie Miller, Senior Associate Director of Admissions.

For more detailed information and sample questions, you can access an interactive tool from the Association of American Medical Colleges.