Tag Archive: college freshmen

What’s NOT on the MCAT?

Everyone talks about what you can expect to see on the MCAT, but it’s hard to figure out what information won’t be on the exam. For some topics (like quantum physics or astronomy), it’s commonly understood that they’re not tested. However, there are topics covered in intro-level science courses that are often confused for being tested on the MCAT. So, we’ve compiled a list of topics that will not be on the exam!

Writing

  • Starting January 2013, there won’t be a writing section on the MCAT!  The only sections will be Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and Biological Sciences. There will also be an optional section at the end of the test that is intended to be a transition into the MCAT in 2015, but will not contribute to your overall score. Save your essay-writing chops for med school apps!

Verbal

  • Poetry or other expressive/nonstandard forms of writing.  While some social sciences passages may discuss poetry, you will not need to read and interpret poetry or other highly abstract/metaphorical texts.
  • Primary research literature.  Although natural sciences passages in the verbal section will discuss science, students often mistakenly think that reading primary research literature will be good practice for the verbal section.  This is simply not true.  The style of writing in research articles is substantially different from science writing intended for a general audience.  If you want more accurate practice, read review articles or science articles written for the public.
  • Specific content.  Although you may see passages about science, history, etc., you will not be tested on any specific content outside of information given in the passages.  Best practices for verbal say to leave your knowledge at the door and use only that information from the passage; do not rely on your background knowledge to answer questions on this section.

Physics

  • Calculus. Calculus is often integrated in physics classes, however, the only physics you are responsible for is non-calc based. That said, you should be familiar with the area under the curve and the equations/relationships where it is useful, as well as understanding the meaning of the slope of a graph.
  • Optical Diagrams. While you should know the Thin Lens Equation and the rules surrounding real/virtual and upright/inverted images for various lenses and mirrors, you will not be asked to interpret optical diagrams with rays of light. If you want to study this topic to get a better general understanding of lenses and mirrors, go for it, but you won’t be tested on such diagrams explicitly.
  • Constants. (It’s generally accepted that you will be given any and all constants you need to solve a problem – however, knowing some common ones may increase your speed on certain questions). The same is not true of equations – there are many of these you must know off-hand, like Snell’s Law, the Thin Lens Equation, Archimedes’ Principle, etc.

General Chemistry

  • Individual values for electronegativity. While you should know periodic table trends, you do not need to know the actual values. Any questions that involve distinguishing electronegativity between two elements will be clearly distinguished and easy to identify based on the general trends.
  • Solubility tables. These are good to know, however, the exam provides the solubility information needed to answer a given question. Therefore, you can get away without necessarily knowing your solubility tables. One caveat is your expectation to know which compounds are unquestionably soluble (e.g. NaCl, HCl, NaOH, etc.).

Organic Chemistry

  • NMR ppm shifts. While you need to know how to interpret peak splitting and peak area, you don’t need to be able to identify the specific functional group at various ppm shifts. Any problems that you see with NMR can be solved without memorizing these shifts.
  • Most IR spectroscopy peaks. The only ones ever really tested are C=O (narrow peak at 1700-1800 cm-1) and -OH (broad peak at 3200-3500 cm-1). Technically, other key functional groups are fair game, but in reality they almost never show up on the exam.
  • 13C NMR. General concepts around symmetry and peak height/splitting are still true for 13C NMR and therefore fair game for the exam. However, you likely won’t see anything about 13C NMR, especially anything that you don’t already know about 1H NMR.
  • Electron Pushing. Intro organic chemistry classes often go into electron pushing for understanding mechanisms. While this may be helpful to understand the steps of a reaction or why a reaction would occur, you will not be tested on electron-pushing diagrams explicitly nor will you be required to draw any electron-pushing diagrams.
  • Aromatics – naming and reactions. These are often confused as being on the exam, and even show up in many MCAT textbooks, but they are not on the MCAT syllabus.  Reactions like Friedel-Crafts or biochemical pathways that incorporate aromatics will not be on the exam without sufficient context for you to answer the question. However, do understand the electronic and basic reactivity properties of benzene, for example (like other alkenes, benzene is considered to be electron-withdrawing).

Biology

  • Non-human anatomy/physiology. While you do not need to know animal anatomy and physiology, certain questions may describe non-human anatomical/physiological structures and ask you to compare them to analogous human structures or systems.
  • Plants. You will not need to know anything about plant anatomy or physiology.  Plants may show up in genetics or population/evolution questions, but they will not require specific knowledge of plants.
  • Fungi. These are on the syllabus and questions regarding fungi have come up before, however, studying this topic in depth is very low-yield. At most you may see a single question testing basic features of fungi (e.g. life cycle). If a passage is provided regarding non-human physiology, there will very likely be adequate context to answer the questions without prior knowledge.
  • Names and structures of amino acids. You should know the four categories of amino acids: polar, non-polar, positively-charged and negatively-charged. However, you do not need to know the names or structures of any amino acid (except perhaps glycine, which has a hydrogen rather than an -R group). Amino acid structures will be given to you or described sufficiently to answer the question.
  • Enzymes and intermediate compound names for the steps of the major biochemical reactions including glycolysis, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain, and fermentation.  You should know the major reactants and products, what kinases do in general, and various big-picture takeaways from these pathways, but you do not need to know the intricacies as studied in many biochem classes.


The complete syllabus for the MCAT can be found here: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/about/

Do you have more things to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll add them to the list! All student additions will be marked with *.

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