Effective Approaches for Mastering Every MCAT® Section

A pre-med student incorporating MCAT strategies into their UWorld content review
Want to know how to approach each section of the MCAT? Here are the best test taking strategies to help you maximize practice time and get the score you're hoping for.
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A pre-med student incorporating MCAT strategies into their UWorld content review
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By: Clara Sun

The MCAT is a daunting exam. I remember how frustrated I felt when I didn’t see my practice scores increase, even though I was studying for hours every day, every week. For me, there was a lot of trial and error in finding the best ways to approach each section of the MCAT. 

By the last month of my studying, I found MCAT strategies that really helped me jump to my target practice score. These strategies may not work for everyone, but I found them to be very helpful, especially for tackling the CARS section. Check out my suggested strategies for each MCAT section below.

Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems 

  1. Review how to read different types of visual data (histograms, bar graphs, diagrams etc.) and statistics.
  2. Recognize which results are considered statistically significant.
    • Usually indicated by an asterisk (*), non-overlapping standard error bars on graphs, or p-values less than 0.05.
  3. Highlight exceptions to common assumptions.
  4. Ask yourself, “What is the question asking me to understand about the results?”
  5. Memorize organic structures/functional groups, common chemical reactions, and experimental techniques (eg, chromatography).
  6. Memorize all the physics equations.
    • More importantly, focus on the relationships between the equations and understand the meaning behind each variable.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

  1. First, read through the passage while highlighting names, dates, and important concepts or quotes.
  2. Read in an excited voice to stay engaged (even if you think the topic is boring).
  3. After reading the passage and before moving on to the associated questions, summarize the main idea of the passage and the author’s perspective towards the passage topic.
  4. Read the first question and try to answer it before looking at the answer choices.
    • This will prevent you from being persuaded by an attractive but incorrect answer.
    • See which answer choice may be closest to what you initially expected.
  5. Go back to the passage to confirm each answer choice.
  6. Flag questions you are not sure of and answer questions in such a manner that you have 3–5 minutes left at the end of the CARS section to review your flagged questions.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  1. Use the same first 4 strategies listed for the Chemical & Physical Foundations section.
  2. Memorize all the amino acids (and properties of their side chains), and biochemical pathways (eg, glycolysis, Krebs cycle).
  3. Ensure you understand how each organ system works and what could happen if there is a change in system function due to altered gene expression or environmental factors. 
  4. If the passage describes a research experiment you don’t understand at first, stay level-headed, focus on what you do know, read through it again more slowly, and analyze the provided figures.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

  1. Use the same first 4 strategies listed for the Chemical & Physical Foundations section. 
  2. Understand the important theories, how they differ from each other, and how these theories can be applied.
  3. Flashcards are a great study tool, but remember to avoid only memorizing a strict definition for concepts.
    • Focus on understanding their underlying principles so that you can apply them.
  4. Memorize the function of key brain regions, know ear and eye anatomy, understand how the senses work.

I hope you find these high-yield tips helpful! The MCAT is a confidence challenge as well, so do your best to stay rested and keep a positive outlook going into test day.

Headshot of Clara Sun - guest writer for UWorld MCAT Blog

About Clara Sun

Clara is a third-year medical student and is a graduate from the University of Miami. She started her Instagram blog to offer pre-med, MCAT, application, and medical school advice. Every month she shares stories from colleagues in different aspects of healthcare and career stages, such as nursing, PA, resident, healthcare consultant, including free research resources, scholarships, and how-to guides as well. Follow her on Instagram @the.medisun.blog for more insights!

Are you a pre-med student preparing to take your MCAT? Discover why UWorld is the industry leader in high-stakes medical exam preparation. With thousands of MCAT-style questions, detailed rationales for all answer options, vivid illustrations, and unparalleled performance tracking, you will be confident and prepared for success on exam day. Start your FREE trial today!

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