How to Prepare for Biology MCAT : Complete Guide

June 25, 2024

minute read

The MCAT exam evaluates your readiness for medical school. As a result, much of the science content is focused on biology, living systems, and the human body. Therefore, you must have a strong foundation in these subjects, specifically biology, to succeed on the MCAT. 

Biology mainly focuses on living things and how they process. While you may have an introductory biology background prior to taking the MCAT, some MCAT test-takers claim that the biology concepts covered on the MCAT still gave them a hard time. 

If you are worried and concerned about encountering the same issue, you are in the right place. 

We are here to guide you in preparing for MCAT biology and answer every question you might have about this part of the MCAT!

What is MCAT Biology? 

Biology is the study of life. Biologists generally research the composition, function, development, origin, evolution, and distribution of living things. 

Biology is significant because it aids in understanding how organisms function and interact on various levels. 

Researchers have produced more food to feed a growing human population thanks to advances in biology. They have also been able to understand better how humans may respond to environmental change and develop better medications and treatments for diseases.

Unsurprisingly, the MCAT puts a lot of emphasis on biology. Only one of the four MCAT sections— Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) —will not assess your biology knowledge. 

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section covers 65% of biology, meaning 39 (out of 59) questions are about biology.
  • Introductory biology - 65%
  • First-semester biochemistry - 25%
  • General chemistry - 5%
  • Organic chemistry - 5%

In addition, 5% of the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems focus on biology, making it 3 (out of 59) questions.

However, remember that you do not need to be a biologist to master these MCAT sections, even though there is a lot of material to cover in your biology review. We strongly suggest you enroll in various biology and biochemistry classes to prepare for the exam. 

Taking more than simply introductory courses might be a good idea. But unfortunately, the entire MCAT biology curriculum is not covered in introductory biology courses at all schools and universities. Discover what courses your university provides to help you with this challenging subject's MCAT.

Summary Table of Biology Distribution in the MCAT

MCAT Section

Biology Subject


Number of Questions 

(out of 59)

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Introductory Biology



Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

Introductory Biology



Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Introductory Biology



Total Number of MCAT Biology Questions: 45

Biology Topics to Study for the MCAT

Premed students who did not major in biology or biological science typically feared the biology part. They fear that they will not do well and that medical schools may wonder if a student is up to the academic demands of medical school based on a poor biology/biochemistry score. 

If that describes you, do not be concerned. As long as you know the topics that matter, that is what is essential. 

Please see below the list of topics you need to study for the MCAT.

How Much Time Should You Give Yourself to Study for the MCAT Biology?

On average, prospective medical students report spending 3 to 6 months seriously preparing for the exam. This included reviewing the material again, taking practice exams, attending study sessions, and doing similar activities. 

Within this time frame of 3-6 months, you need to divide your time studying for all four sections of the MCAT

On average, you have to spend 6 hours (maximum) studying daily. This excludes your rest day, of course. 

You then need to allot at least 2 hours per section, depending on your timetable for that day. However, note that depending on other obligations, this may vary.

Since MCAT biology is covered in three sections of the MCAT, mainly on the bio/biochem part (65% - 39 questions), your first study phase for this section should mainly focus on MCAT biology. First, work on improving your background knowledge and skills on the different systems in the human body. 

Biology (along with chemistry) questions takes up the majority of the MCAT content. Therefore, you must exert an extra amount of time and effort studying and preparing for it in order to achieve a competitive score on the MCAT. 

The MCAT is a challenging exam that tests critical thinking abilities in addition to academic content. Therefore, individuals who want to succeed must also be prepared to make a serious effort to prepare effectively.

12 Tips and Strategies to Prepare for the MCAT Biology

Studying smart is key in the weeks or months leading to your MCAT. There will be numerous concepts to cover, so ensure that you employ the best and most proven tips and strategies. 

To assist you in achieving your score goal in the MCAT biology section, here are some tricks and techniques.

Start Early

Compared to MCAT physics, biology is far more prevalent on the test. 

For this reason, especially if it has been some time since you last took the introductory biology and biochemistry courses, we strongly suggest you start your MCAT preparation at least six months before your scheduled MCAT test date. You might be shocked by how challenging the MCAT is until you realize how many biology terms, concepts, and themes you must know.

Know the Foundations of Biology 

Understand the fundamentals of your organ systems

Although you do not need to recall every tiny aspect of every pathway, you should be aware of the broad functions of each organ system and how that organ system is set up to carry out those functions.

Do Not Be Afraid to Draw

Understanding the content requires being able to visualize what you are reading about. 

You can better recall the knowledge by drawing it (quickly) along with your outline and referring to it when responding to MCAT Biology practice questions.

Consider the Big Picture

Ask yourself why the author included certain elements and how those aspects relate to the paragraph as a whole as you read. 

You can also glimpse this wider picture as you read by making notes about relevant concepts from your studies.

Take Practice Exams

Many different third-party assessments are available, and those are great to use when you are first starting to study. Take the AAMC practice exams as soon as the test date approaches. 

Take every single AAMC practice test since those are the ones most similar to the actual thing.

Devote More Attention to High-Yield Topics 

As you study regularly, add practice Bio/Biochem questions. Test preparation approaches like spaced repetition and frequent reinforcement are essential for memory retention for high-yield subjects like amino acids. It is crucial to revisit these subjects frequently because of this.

Utilize MCAT Flashcards 

Most MCAT test-takers have attested to the effectiveness of flashcards for MCAT preparation. Therefore, if you want to ace the MCAT with limited resources, try using flashcards. They are sold by the AAMC and other MCAT prep service providers. 

Just ensure to remove flashcards you have already mastered, so they do not take up your time anymore. Then, bring your flashcards with you anywhere, anytime, to maximize their use.

Try Mnemonic Devices  

Just like flashcards, using mnemonics is also an effective and reliable way to prepare for MCAT biology since this part of the exam involves a lot of terms and concepts to be memorized. 

Using mnemonic devices can aid you in recalling MCAT biology ideas more easily. Additionally, you can personalize it by incorporating your family and friends' names instead of using ready-made mnemonic devices. 

Additional Resource: 

Enhance Your Analytical Skills

You must go beyond memorizing facts for this section as it assesses your ability to evaluate information more critically. 

The more practice you have with information manipulation and analysis through practice exams, the better you will be able to demonstrate your skills on test day.

Learn How to Read and Analyze Graphs, Tables, and Charts

We advise developing your abilities in graphs, figures, and table interpretation in addition to acquiring the material you will need to know for this section. 

By improving these abilities, you will be able to comprehend questions quickly and simply, giving you more time, energy, and mental resources for the test's questions.

Learn How to Read Actively

Active reading is genuinely grasping and internalizing the information offered to you instead of merely reading a text passively. 

When you actively read a passage, you will spend less time returning to it during the test and rediscovering the content.

Try Reading Challenging Biology Passages 

Reading articles about biology in journals, newspapers, or magazines will help you familiarize yourself with biology subjects and hone your reading abilities (which is helpful for all sections of the MCAT, especially CARS). 

Try reading books by doctors that frequently address clinical scenarios and make mention of biology topics. These books are often delightful to read and will also help you perform well on the entire MCAT, not simply biology.

Incorporate Pathways and Arrows into your Problem Solving!

This is more of a strategic tool to use when tackling biology passages where we really emphasize finding a clean, logical flow of information, especially with so much information within the passage!

Try to use pathways and arrows to build a step by step flow of information to help you solve the problems. If you can develop a “this leads to this” thinking, it makes all the information and flow more one-dimensional so that you can take a step by step approach to finding the answer while blocking out all the unnecessary details!

Try to Use the “If, Then..” Approach!

This is a great way to not just develop a logical pattern and flow of information, but also even test yourself if you understood what the passage stated.

“If this increases, then this will decrease” or “If this is inhibited, then this will happen” are just some examples of how to utilize this way of thinking. You can even use this as a building block to make pathways and arrows as discussed in an earlier tip!

MCAT Biology Preparation Resources

As you study for the MCAT, we recommend using the different MCAT biology prep resources. They will surely help improve your score and prepare you for the MCAT.  Here are some of them:

Additional FAQs – Preparing for MCAT Biology

Is MCAT Biology Difficult?

MCAT biology, just like the other subjects required for the MCAT, is just as challenging. 

If you did not major in biology in your undergraduate studies, learning and studying for the different concepts required could be tough. Because of this, we strongly advise that you start preparing early for the MCAT. This should give you enough time to study for MCAT biology.

What Biology is Needed for the MCAT?

When you take the MCAT, you must have a deep understanding and a background in introductory biology. This includes the basic concepts of biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics. An understanding of these topics is essential to comprehend the operations of living systems.

How Can I Improve My MCAT Biology Score? 

There are various ways to improve and get a strong score in MCAT biology. 

Knowledge of your amino acids is one of the most crucial pieces of advice we can provide you. Therefore, many questions will be dealing with them. 

Make sure you can name all 20 amino acids by their one-letter codes, three-letter codes, structures, and characteristics.

How Many Biology Questions are There on the MCAT? 

There will be a total of 45 (out of 230) questions on the MCAT that are biology-related. Thirty-nine (39) will come from MCAT Bio/Biochem, while the MCAT Chem/Phys and MCAT Psych/Soc will have three (3) questions each. 

Biology, together with chemistry, accounts for a huge amount of MCAT questions. Therefore, it is a must that you do not take for granted these two MCAT subjects.

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