How to Read MCAT Science Passages

September 6, 2023
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 09/06/23

Want to learn how to read MCAT science passages? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this portion of the exam.

A student studying for the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized exam administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It is a crucial component of medical school admissions in the United States, Canada, and other countries around the world. 

Covering a myriad of disciplines from biochemistry to behavioral psychology, the MCAT is designed to assess a candidate's readiness for medical school and their ability to apply critical thinking, scientific knowledge, and problem-solving skills in various medical contexts. 

A critical task to get a high MCAT score is learning how to read and comprehend science passages, both easily and efficiently. We’ll break down everything you need to know about the MCAT science passages and provide a few key tips to help you succeed. Let’s get started!

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Understanding the Structure of MCAT Science Passages

For the most part, science passages can be broken down into an introduction, a body section, and a conclusion. Here is a deeper dive into each of these parts:


The passage will always open with an introductory sentence or section that offers context and background information about the MCAT topic. It may outline the purpose of the study, introduce the main subject, and establish the overall focus of the passage. 

The introduction typically ends by mentioning additional background information, such as key terms, historical context, or explanations of scientific principles that are essential to understanding the passage's content.

Body (and the Experiment)

The body paragraphs that follow further explain the topic, providing evidence to support the points outlined in the introduction. For research-based passages, this section will include the experimental design or methodology that’s used in the study. It explains how data was collected, procedures were conducted, and variables were controlled.

Many science passages include data presentation in the form of tables, graphs, charts, or figures. This section illustrates the results of the experiments and provides quantitative information to support the passage's main points.

At the end of the body paragraphs, the author analyzes and interprets the data presented in the previous section. They will offer an interpretation of the results and connect them to broader scientific concepts or implications.


The passage typically ends with one or two concluding paragraphs that summarize the main points and findings presented in the passage. It may also provide insights into future research directions or potential applications of the study's findings.

Strategies to Effectively Read MCAT Science Passages

Here are some MCAT science passage strategies that can use to help you master this crucial skill.

1. Skim First, Details Later

If you start by paying attention to the details, you could get yourself lost in the passages filled with complex information. So instead, quickly skim the passage first, so you get an overview of the topic, main ideas, and structure. Pay attention to section headings, figures, and bolded or italicized text to grasp the organization of the passage.

As you read, you should underline or highlight key information, unfamiliar terms, and main ideas so you actually process what you’ve skimmed and have a better idea of what you’ve read. You can also write brief notes or questions in the margins to aid your understanding and serve as references when answering questions.

Another important thing to do while skimming is to take a moment to summarize the main points of each section in your own words. This reinforces your understanding and helps you retain information. Once again, focus on the larger ideas rather than minute details for this part.

2. Identify Main Ideas 

After skimming, you need to identify the primary purpose of the passage and its central ideas. Understanding the main focus will help you stay focused while reading the details.

Be aware of the author's tone and perspective toward the information presented throughout the passage. Understanding the author's attitude can help you interpret the content further, such as whether or not something presented is a good thing. You can also identify any biases that come in handy with answering questions.

You should also stay engaged with the text by underlining key information and even asking yourself questions as you skim the passage. This can help you determine how well you understood the content and make it easier to identify important sections later on, saving yourself time. 

3. Look at the Question and Look for Answers

Now that you have a rough idea of what the passage is about, you can look at the question and begin a more detailed search. 

One thing to help you locate the information you seek is to make mental connections between different paragraphs and sections as you read. Understanding how each part relates to the whole passage can enhance your comprehension. It gives you a mental map you can use to navigate the passage’s most important.

And remember, identifying supporting evidence for an answer is inconceivably important. If you are unable to find a piece of evidence to supports your answer, it’s possible that it might be incorrect. 

Challenge yourself to locate the evidence within the passage and use your critical reasoning to establish the connection between the evidence and your answer.

What Should You Do If You Don’t Understand a Science Passage?

A frustrated student studying for the MCAT

Feeling overwhelmed or stressed can make it more challenging to comprehend the passage. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it's okay to encounter difficult material. 

For one, science passages may contain long and complex sentences. Break them down into smaller chunks to grasp the meaning better. If need be, you can focus on grammar, pinpointing the subject, verb, and object to understand the relationships between various elements. 

Second, pay attention to any data, graphs, or figures presented in the passage. They are a less textual method of providing crucial supporting evidence for the author's claims and can help you answer related questions.

As you read, highlight or underline information that seems very important, such as main ideas, supporting evidence, and repeated terms. If you come across unfamiliar terminology or concepts, try to derive their meanings from surrounding sentences or the author's explanations.

FAQs: How to Read MCAT Science Passages

Still have a few questions on how to read MCAT science passages. Take a lok at our answers to these frequently asked questions for more information.

1. How Should I Analyze MCAT Science Passages?

To effectively analyze MCAT science passages, start by identifying main ideas and crucial information. Stay engaged while reading, tracking paragraph relationships. Take effective notes to summarize key points and create a passage roadmap for better organization. 

2. How Do I Read MCAT Passages Fast?

To read MCAT passages quickly, focus on developing personalized reading habits and strategies through consistent practice. The key objective is to efficiently absorb and organize intricate yet interconnected scientific information in minimal time. Prioritize logical understanding while honing your skills through regular practice sessions.

3. How Many Science Passages Are on the MCAT?

The exact number of science passages on the MCAT isn't fixed, but you can anticipate around 38-44 passages. It's important to note that the MCAT undergoes periodic updates, so it's advisable to refer to the official AAMC website for the most up-to-date information on the test's structure and content.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to read MCAT science passages is crucial for excelling on this challenging exam. Through active reading, effective analysis, and strategic note-taking, you'll confidently navigate complex scientific content. 

Remember to be patient with yourself while making the most of your time. Consistent practice with diverse science passages will sharpen your comprehension and critical thinking skills, enabling you to approach each question strategically, regardless of the topic.

Embrace the opportunity to delve into the world of science, cultivate your analytical abilities, and refine your information extraction skills. By implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can confidently tackle science passages and conquer the MCAT exam. Best of luck!

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