Are you planning on applying to medical school? You probably already know that most programs require you to take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. This exam is separated into three sections: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and Biological Sciences. Many students view taking the MCAT as one of the most stressful tasks of their undergraduate years, but don’t worry! With a little information, you’ll be able to tackle this test without hesitation. Let’s start with the first section to be administered on test day: Physical Sciences. Whether you need top MCAT tutors in New York, MCAT tutors in Chicago, or top MCAT tutors in Los Angeles, working with a pro may take your studies to the next level.
Like the rest of the exam, the Physical Sciences portion of the MCAT is mostly passage-based, meaning that most questions relate to a short explanatory passage. Of the 52 total questions on the test, 39 are associated with one of the seven total passages; this generally works out to 5 or 6 questions per passage. The remaining 13 questions are discrete or “stand-alone.” Since these are not associated with any given material, you’ll need to rely on the information in the question stem and on your outside knowledge. Now, you may have heard that the Physical Sciences section includes both physics and general chemistry. About half of the questions test your understanding of physics. Concepts to review include kinematics, forces, wave behavior, fluids and flow, and circuits; although you are required to know a few equations from memory, these are generally simple, such as Coulomb’s law and V = IR. The rest of the exam covers general chemistry. Make sure that you understand periodic trends, galvanic and electrolytic cells, ideal gas behavior, and acid/base problems. You may be required to perform some basic calculations, but you will not be permitted to use a calculator (don’t worry, you shouldn’t need one). The test administrators will also provide several sheets of scratch paper for your use.
You will be given 70 minutes to complete this portion of the exam. If you approach the test with confidence and a solid strategy, this should be plenty of time. So, what’s the best way to attack the questions? Many students prefer to answer the discrete questions first, since they can be finished without the added time commitment of reading several paragraphs. When you’ve finished the stand-alone questions as best you can, move on to the passages. Although you shouldn’t waste more than a minute or two choosing which passage to tackle first, it is important to begin with the areas you find less difficult. This will both maximize your points and help boost your confidence for the rest of the exam. How do you assess a passage in only a few seconds? Here, as in other testing situations, the best possible advice is to know yourself. Do you have a lot of laboratory experience? Many Physical Sciences passages are set up as descriptions of experiments, with hypotheses that were tested and conclusions that were drawn. Are you confused by lab work, but prefer factual information? Look for a passage that give background information about a specific topic. Play to your strengths! Varsity Tutors offers resources like free MCAT Physical Sciences Practice Tests to help with your self-paced study, or you may want to consider an MCAT Physical Sciences tutor.
Finally, one aspect of the science MCAT sections that many students find intimidating is the presence of graphs and tables in most passages. Don’t let these scare you! A good tip is to read the passage first, write down a few words to summarize any graphs or tables, and then move on to the questions. This might take an extra minute or so, but you will have the advantage of understanding the passage more fully. In addition to the MCAT Physical Sciences Help Section and MCAT Physical Sciences tutoring, you may also want to consider using some of our MCAT Physical Sciences flashcards.
As always, practice as much as you can with actual passages! You can use Varsity Tutors’ MCAT Physical Sciences resources to help you practice reading MCAT Physical Science passages and answering MCAT Physical Science questions. Varsity Tutors’ free MCAT Physical Science Diagnostic Tests can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and after that, you can practice answering free MCAT Physical Science questions based on the topics you understand least well. Doing this will help you improve both your understanding of MCAT Physical Science material and the way in which it is formatted. You’ll quickly learn patterns that will help you immensely. Good luck!