Bonding on the MCAT

Table of Contents

If you’re coming from our “Bonding and Chemical Reactions” chapter overview in our general chemistry module, this chapter overview might seem like a refresher of that other overview and in a way, it is!

When you think of organic chemistry, perhaps images of arrow drawing and electron pairs come to mind; however, keep in mind that the ultimate result of these processes is either the formation or breaking of bonds!

This chapter overview will cover some of the basics in bonding in the context of organic chemistry. Let’s get started!

Bonding on the MCAT: What You Need to Know

Topics on organic chemistry will be tested on the Chem/Phys and the Bio/Biochem section of the MCAT and can appear both as passage based and fundamental discrete questions. 

Luckily, this section is not as heavily focused or tested on compared to other topics! Questions covering bonding are a bit more vague as we’ll get into shortly.

Introductory organic chemistry accounts for 15% of the content covered in the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems and 5% of the content covered in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Important Sub-Topics: Bonding

As mentioned above, questions on bonding are a bit more obscure as the MCAT probably won’t test questions covering organic chemistry bonding directly; rather, they’ll expect you to apply the concepts learned here to passage content!

Similarly, the content covered in this chapter overview and the individual articles will also serve as a good basis for understanding the organic chemistry reactions involving nucleophiles and electrophiles.

1. Review of Dipoles and Polarity

Let’s first start with a general review of dipole moments and the charge polarization generated by them! Recall that a dipole occurs between 2 bonded atoms that differ in electronegativity.

This difference in their electronegativities generates an uneven distribution of electrons where the more electronegative atom “attracts” the electrons within the bond! As a result, one atom has a positive dipole while the other has a negative dipole. 

A common textbook example is water: within the water molecule, the oxygen atom has a higher electronegativity than the hydrogen atoms and “pulls” the negatively charged electrons towards itself, which results in its overall negative dipole. Because the hydrogens have the electrons “stripped away”, they retain a positive dipole!
water molecule

As shown, this dipole generates a polarization of charge in the water molecule. While topics on molecular dipoles and polarity are usually placed in the context of intermolecular forces, they too have important implications in organic chemistry reactions, as we’ll cover in the next section!

(Coming Soon!) Full Study Notes : Dipoles and Polarities

For more in-depth discussion of dipoles and polarities as well as our other chapter overview and articles located in the general chemistry module, check out these detailed lesson notes created by top MCAT scorers. 

2. Dipoles and Polarity in Nucleophilic Additions/Substitutions

To understand the implications of dipoles and polarity in nucleophilic reactions with electrophilic species, let’s first differentiate between nucleophilic and electrophilic molecules!

Nucleophilic molecules are electron rich molecules that are attracted to the overall positive charge to an electron poor molecule. Conversely, electrophilic molecules are electron poor molecules that can be targeted by nucleophiles – as such, most electrophiles are usually positively charged.

Note that nucleophiles and electrophiles can also be defined as Lewis bases and acids, respectively, via the ability to donate or accept electron pairs; however, we wanted to include their general charges to connect with the topic of dipoles and polarity. 

These ideas are important as dipoles within a molecule can cause a polarity of charge. As such, polarization of charge can cause one portion of the molecule to have a positive charge which, in most cases, allows it to function as an electrophile and be targeted by a nucleophile! Let’s look at the most high yield example: the carbonyl group.

molecular dipole

As shown, the dipole created by the carbonyl functional group results in a charge polarization where the carbon atom gains a positive dipole. This also gives the carbonyl carbon electrophilic character to where it can be targeted by a nucleophile! 

Shown below is the esterification (formation of an ester) from a carboxylic acid and an alcohol. Though not all the steps and products are shown, note the importance of the alcohol’s nucleophilic targeting on the electrophilic carbonyl carbon!

acidic condition

(Coming Soon!) Full Study Notes: Organic nucleophilic additions and substitution reactions 

For more in-depth discussion of the importance of discussing dipoles and polarity in regard to organic nucleophilic additions and substitution reactions is a little more clear, check out these detailed lesson notes created by top MCAT scorers. 

Important Definitions and Key Terms

Below are some high yield definitions and key terms to refer to when reviewing concepts and ideas about organic chemistry bonding!




The unequal distribution of electrons generated by 2 bonded atoms with differing electronegativities


Refers to the separation of charge within a molecule


An electron rich species which is attracted to the overall positive charge of a electron poor species; also defined as a Lewis base due to its ability to donate an electron pair


An electron poor species – generally positive – which can be targeted by a nucleophile; also defined as a Lewis acid due to its ability to accept an electron pair

Additional Reading Links (Coming Soon!) – Study Notes for Bonding on the MCAT

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