MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section: Exam Format

February 20, 2024

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Chemistry and physics are just two of the many science disciplines you must study as you prepare for the MCAT. While you may have a strong background in these two subjects, it may not be enough. You must gain a deeper understanding of what this section of the MCAT is. 

If you are looking for a guide to understanding the exam format for the Chemistry and Physics section, then this article is just for you.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section Overview

The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section (also known as the Chem/Phys section) challenges you to use scientific investigation and reasoning in conjunction with your understanding of fundamental chemistry and physics ideas. 

Your knowledge of how human tissues, organs, and organ systems operate mechanically, physically, and biochemically will be tested in this part. 

It also assesses your comprehension of the fundamental chemistry and physics concepts that underlie the mechanisms working within the human body and your capacity for analyzing and applying your knowledge of these concepts to living systems.

The Chemistry and Physics sections aim to:

  • Test concepts taught in introductory biology sequences, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics
  • Test biochem concepts and ideas at the level taught in many universities and colleges in first-semester biochemistry courses
  • Test concepts taught in introductory biology sequences, organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry, and molecular biology at the level taught in many universities and colleges in first-semester biochemistry courses
  • Test fundamental research methods and statistics concepts deemed essential by many baccalaureate faculty.

Chemistry and Physics: Structure of the Section 

You will have 95 minutes to finish the 59 questions in this 25% of the test, made up of chemistry and physics questions. 

Your scores will range from 118 to 132. 

Here is the Chemistry and Physics section content breakdown:

  • General Chemistry-30%
  • First-semester Biochemistry-25%
  • Introductory Physics-25%
  • Organic Chemistry-15%
  • Introductory Biology-5%

Ten passages from the Chemistry and Physics sections will be presented to you, followed by four to seven questions regarding each text. 

Although different passages will concentrate on various skills, the questions will target the four scientific and reasoning skills listed. In addition, there will be 15 different questions that are unrelated to the ten passages. 

The MCAT's Chemistry/Physics section is graded on a curved scale from 118 to 132, with 125 established as the mean for all test-takers. Therefore, there are no set amount of correct or incorrect questions that a given scaled score corresponds to. 

Instead, the difficulty of each test is adjusted according to the performance of the test-takers on that particular day and the relative difficulty of that particular test version.

Foundational Concepts Needed for the MCAT's Chemistry and Physics Section:

Foundational Concept 4 – 40%

Physically explicable processes are used by complex living things to transfer materials, sense their environment, decipher messages, and react to changes.

Foundational Concept 5 – 60% 

A deeper understanding of the molecular dynamics of living systems is based on the laws that govern chemical interactions and reactions.

Skills Needed for the Chemistry and Physics Section:

Skill 1: Scientific Principles Understanding – 35%

Demonstrate knowledge of scientific principles and concepts. Find the links between ideas that are closely related.

Skill 2: Problem-solving and Scientific Reasoning – 45%

Think about the scientific theories, models, and concepts. Examine and evaluate the theories and forecasts made by science.

Skill 3: Reasoning about Research Design and Execution – 10% 

Show that you understand the main ideas behind the scientific inquiry. Think about how research could affect ethics.

Skill 4: Data-based Statistical Inference – 10% 

Analyze data presented in graphs, figures, and tables to identify patterns. Evaluate the results using logic, then draw conclusions.

Chemistry and Physics Section Topics to Study

You need fully comprehend the following topics in order to effectively study for the MCAT's Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems section:

General Chemistry: 

Biochemistry:

Physics:

Organic Chemistry

Biology

How Can I Improve My Chem/Phys Score on the MCAT?

Remember that the Chemistry and Physics section demands more than just comprehension of science-related material. You must employ four distinct scientific Inquiry and reasoning skills because the MCAT is essentially a test of critical thinking. 

The secret to getting a high score on the Chem/Phys section is understanding how to comprehend and solve more challenging issues using knowledge from physics and chemistry. 

Below are proven and effective tips and strategies you can employ while studying for the MCAT's Chemistry and Physics section.

Take an Untimed MCAT Chemistry and Physics Practice Test. 

Forget about how fast you should be working. Complete calmness is required as you practice, particularly for math questions. You will feel more confident after taking an untimed test like this one for the MCAT Chemistry and Physics section. 

Repeat it for a shorter time each time as your confidence grows. Keep doing this until you can continue operating efficiently in less than 95 minutes.

Be Familiar with the Key Formulas and Their Units.

Any formula you see on an AAMC practice question, whether from the question packs or one of the five AAMC full-length tests, is considered a significant formula for the MCAT. 

A formula is a fair game for your actual exam if it appears on the AAMC practice questions. This definition can also be used to examine the practice questions. It is a significant formula if it appears in a practice question or exam.

Utilize Sample Questions and Practice Exams.

For this part of the test, practice questions are perhaps most crucial because you need to practice understanding problems and swiftly solving mathematical equations. 

While learning facts by heart will be beneficial, you will start to notice actual progress when you put what you have learned into practice.

Learn How to Perform Simple Math Without a Calculator.

You might discover that you run out of time trying to answer all the questions in this section if you cannot do basic math without having to use a calculator. 

Remember that you will only have a few seconds to answer each question in the Chemistry and Physics section, so practice answering questions a lot. Also, you will get more proficient at math without a calculator as you practice.

Analyze Your Answers.

After completing the questions, study the reasons for both the correct and incorrect responses. 

Read the explanations; they will help you learn more, support your arguments, and allow you to reflect on how you answered the question and what you might do the next time differently.

Know the Highest Yield Topics. 

More than understanding the specifics, value the high yield topics. When you know that some information will not likely be on the exam, resist the urge to spend time learning them. 

The notion that one does not need to be a chemical or math genius to grasp this exam is one of the concepts that the 130+ scorers in this section most frequently agreed with.

Write the Units Every Time.

Be familiar with unit conversion. You should convert units until they match the units of the answer alternatives even if you do not remember the equation you need, which requires converting between powers of 10. 

Use Mnemonics. 

Mnemonics are one of the best chemistry and physics preparation tips for memorizing information and simplifying life. 

Many people who score 510 or higher frequently employ mnemonic devices. They do not just think things up. We advise you to use mnemonics as they do, which is among the best techniques.

Additional FAQs – MCAT Chem/Phys Section

Which Section of the MCAT Has Chemistry and Physics Questions?

The MCAT's Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section has chemistry and physics questions. It includes:
general chemistry (30%), 
biochemistry (25%), 
organic chemistry (15%), and physics (25%). 
Additionally, it has 5% of biology questions.

How Long is the MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section?

The MCAT's Chemistry and Physics section is the first section (of four) and lasts for 95 minutes. There are 59 questions to answer. It is then followed by an optional ten-minute break.

Am I Allowed to Use a Calculator in the MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section?

You are not allowed to use a calculator on the Chemistry and Physics section. 

Therefore, you must practice performing mathematical operations by hand. The amount of math you will need to perform is not that extensive.

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