The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, often abbreviated as the Chem/Physics section, requires you to solve problems based on knowledge of chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. The content on this section of the test also includes biochemistry and a small amount of biology. In addition, you’ll need to be familiar with basic math, which must be managed without a calculator.
However, you should keep in mind that the MCAT requires more than just an understanding of science content. The MCAT is primarily a test of critical thinking, and you are required to use four specific Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills. Knowing how to use chemistry and physics information to interpret and solve more difficult problems is the key to a great MCAT score.
Without a strong knowledge of foundational content in the sciences, it is difficult to do well on the MCAT.
Chemistry and Physics Subjects on the MCAT
The undergraduate courses that are reflected in the Chem/Physics section of the MCAT include:
- Introductory General Chemistry (30%)
- Introductory Physics (25%)
- Introductory Organic Chemistry (15%)
- First-semester Biochemistry (25%)
- Introductory Biology (5%)
Exam Tip: A periodic table is available during the MCAT, but a calculator is not.
General Chemistry Subjects to Study for the MCAT
In order to study effectively for the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you should thoroughly understand these chemistry topics:
- Acids and Bases
- Atomic Structure
- Bonding and Chemical Interactions
- Chemical Kinetics
- The Gas Phase
- Redox Reactions
General Physics Subjects to Study for the MCAT
In order to study effectively for the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you should thoroughly understand these physics topics:
- Atomic and Nuclear Phenomena
- Light and Optics
- Units and Dimensional Analysis
- Waves and Sound
- Work and Energy
General Organic Chemistry Subjects to Study for the MCAT
In order to study effectively for the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you should thoroughly understand these organic chemistry topics:
- Alcohols and Ethers
- Aldehydes and Ketones
- Carboxylic Acids and Derivatives
- Laboratory Techniques and Separations
- Nitrogen-Containing Compounds
- Nucleophiles and Electrophiles
- Phosphorus-Containing Compounds
- Redox reactions
General Biochemistry Subjects to Study for the MCAT
In order to study effectively for the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you should thoroughly understand these biochemistry topics:
- Amino Acids, Peptides and Proteins
- Biological Membranes
- Carbohydrate metabolism
- Carbohydrate structure
- DNA & RNA
- Lipids and lipid metabolism
- Non-enzymatic proteins
- Regulation of metabolism
General Biology Subjects to Study for the MCAT
You’ll also need to be familiar with what’s tested on the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT.
MCAT Chemistry: Critical Reasoning
The AAMC has defined the four critical thinking skills required on the MCAT as Scientific Reasoning and Inquiry Skills, or SIRS.
These four skills are tested in all of the science sections of the MCAT (Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior).
MCAT Organic Chemistry Lesson
MCAT Chemistry: Structure of the Section
The MCAT will present you with ten passages based on chemistry and physics subjects, and then present four to seven questions about each passage. The questions will address the four Scientific and Reasoning Skills listed, although different passages will focus on different skills. You will also be asked 15 discrete questions that are completely separate from the ten passages. These discrete questions test both your science knowledge and application of that knowledge based on these four skills, although they tend more toward Skill 1.
The chem/physics section of the MCAT is scored on a scale of 118-132, with the median score of all test takers set to be 125. A given scaled score does not correspond to any specific number of right or wrong questions. According to the AAMC, “The MCAT exam is not graded on a curve. Instead, the MCAT exam is scaled and equated so that scores have the same meaning, no matter when you test or who tests at the same time you did.” The score for this section of the test is combined with the other three sections to provide your overall score which ranges from 472 to 528.
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MCAT Chem/Physics Length, Format, Score, and Topics
The chem/physics section of the MCAT is the first section, and is followed by an optional ten-minute break.
|Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section|
|44 passage-based questions|
|15 discrete (non-passage based) questions|
|Score||Between 118 and 132|
|Topics tested||General Chemistry: 30%|
|Organic Chemistry: 15%|
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MCAT Chemistry and Physics: What the AAMC Says
The AAMC provides specific descriptions of the topics covered within the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT. These topics are subdivided into Foundational Concepts 4 and 5, each of which has several sub-categories.
You can also visit the AAMC site to learn more about the construction of the MCAT.
MCAT Chemistry and Physics: Foundational Topics
This foundational concept is about the physical processes that allow complex organisms to transport materials, sense their environment, process signals, and respond to changes. This is further subdivided into five categories:
- Translational motion, forces, work, energy, and equilibrium in living systems
- Importance of fluids for the circulation of blood, gas movement, and gas exchange
- Electrochemistry and electrical circuits and their elements
- How light and sound interact with matter
- Atoms, nuclear decay, electronic structure, and atomic chemical behavior
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This foundational concept is about the principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions which form the basis for a broader understanding of the molecular dynamics of living systems. This is further subdivided into five categories:
- Unique nature of water and its solutions
- Nature of molecules and intermolecular interactions
- Separation and purification methods
- Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules
- Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics