MCAT Chemistry: What You Need to Know

August 16, 2023
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

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

Reviewed: 8/14/23

Concerned about the chemistry section of the MCAT? This article will answer all your MCAT chemistry questions. 

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is crucial for aspiring medical students, testing their knowledge and skills across various disciplines. Among these, MCAT Chemistry is a fundamental component that evaluates a candidate's understanding of chemical principles and their applications in a medical context. 

This article delves into the essentials of MCAT Chemistry, providing the knowledge you need to excel in this critical exam section, including MCAT chemistry questions. Whether you're just starting your MCAT preparation or looking to reinforce your understanding, join us as we unravel the key concepts and strategies for success in MCAT Chemistry.

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What Is Tested On The MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section?

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The MCAT Chemistry and Physics sections assess a candidate's understanding of key scientific principles and their application in medicine. These sections evaluate an applicant's ability to analyze and solve problems using scientific reasoning, critical thinking, and mathematical skills. Let's look at what is typically tested in each section.

MCAT Chemistry

The Chemistry section of the MCAT focuses on the foundational concepts of general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. It examines a candidate's knowledge and comprehension of chemical properties, reactions, and their implications in biological systems. 

General Chemistry

This area covers principles such as atomic structure, periodic trends, chemical bonding, thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, acids and bases, and electrochemistry. 

Organic Chemistry 

This section explores organic compounds' structure, properties, and reactions. Topics include nomenclature, stereochemistry, functional groups, reaction mechanisms, and spectroscopy. 


Biochemistry plays a significant role in MCAT Chemistry. It covers biological systems' chemical principles and reactions, including enzyme kinetics, metabolism, amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids.

MCAT Physics

The Physics section of the MCAT focuses on the fundamental principles of physics and their application to the human body and medical scenarios. This section assesses a candidate's ability to apply physics concepts to solve problems and analyze physical phenomena. 

Chemistry and physics overlap significantly on the MCAT, so it'll be essential to have a thorough understanding of the MCAT physics section as you prep for chemistry and vice versa. The physics section is crucial because it provides a foundation for comprehending the underlying principles that govern chemical reactions and the behavior of matter. 

Concepts such as energy, forces, and motion are fundamental to both disciplines, and a solid grasp of physics principles enhances your ability to analyze chemical phenomena accurately.


This area encompasses classical mechanics, including concepts such as motion, forces, energy, work, momentum, and rotational motion. Understanding these principles is crucial for analyzing the mechanics of human movements, such as walking, running, and jumping.

Electricity and Magnetism

This section covers electric fields, circuits, electromagnetic waves, and electromagnetic radiation. Knowledge of electricity and magnetism is important for understanding the functioning of the nervous system, the principles of medical imaging techniques, and the use of medical devices.

Waves and Optics

This area explores the properties of waves, including sound and light waves, and the principles of optics, such as reflection, refraction, lenses, and mirrors. Understanding these concepts is vital for comprehending the principles underlying hearing, vision, and medical imaging technologies.

Thermodynamics and Fluids

This section covers the principles of thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics. Topics include energy transfer, heat engines, ideal gases, and fluid properties. Understanding these concepts is important for analyzing physiological processes, such as thermoregulation, and understanding the behavior of fluids in the human body.

MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section Format

Both the MCAT Chemistry and Physics sections consist of 59 multiple-choice questions, which must be completed within 95 minutes each. These questions are divided into discrete questions and passage-based questions.

Discrete questions are stand-alone and do not require any specific passage to answer. They assess your knowledge of specific chemistry or physics concepts and principles. 

Passage-based questions present a passage or experiment scenario, followed by questions related to the information provided. These questions test your ability to analyze and interpret scientific data, apply concepts, and draw conclusions. 

Both the Chemistry and Physics sections of the MCAT are computer-based, and you'll have access to an electronic periodic table, relevant formulas, and necessary constants during the exam.

Chemistry Content to Study for the MCAT

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When preparing for the MCAT Chemistry section, it's important to have a solid understanding of the key topics and content areas that are commonly tested. Here are some essential chemistry concepts and content areas to focus on during your MCAT preparation.

General Chemistry

General concepts to know include: 

  • Atomic structure and the periodic table
  • Chemical bonding, including Lewis structures and molecular geometry
  • Thermodynamics and thermochemistry
  • Chemical kinetics and equilibrium
  • Acids and bases, including pH and pKa
  • Redox reactions and electrochemistry
  • Nuclear chemistry and radioactive decay

These concepts will act as the building blocks to more in-depth chemistry.

Organic Chemistry

Here are the key points of focus:

  • Nomenclature and isomerism
  • Functional groups and their reactions (e.g., alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, alcohols, carbonyl compounds)
  • Reaction mechanisms, including nucleophilic substitution, elimination, and addition reactions
  • Stereochemistry, including chirality and enantiomers
  • Spectroscopy techniques (e.g., infrared spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance)
  • Aromaticity and aromatic compounds

Organic chemistry is useful in the research and development of medicine. 


Biochemistry topics to know include:

  • Structure and function of biomolecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids
  • Enzyme Kinetics and Catalysis
  • Metabolism and metabolic pathways (e.g., glycolysis, Krebs cycle, oxidative phosphorylation)
  • Bioenergetics and thermodynamics in biological systems
  • DNA replication, transcription, and translation
  • Cell signaling and communication

Biochemistry shows us how the building blocks of our body function daily. 

Laboratory Techniques

Laboratory techniques to know include: 

  • Basic laboratory techniques, such as titrations, chromatography, and spectroscopy
  • Analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry and spectroscopic methods
  • Separation and purification techniques
  • Data analysis and interpretation of experimental results

Laboratory techniques will be extremely useful as you continue in your education.

How to Prepare for MCAT Chemistry Section

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Preparing for the MCAT Chemistry section requires a comprehensive study plan and effective preparation strategies. Here are some tips to help you prepare and excel in the MCAT Chemistry section:

Review the Content

Start by reviewing the key chemistry topics covered in the MCAT, such as general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. Use reliable study materials, textbooks, and online resources to ensure a solid foundation in these areas.

Practice MCAT-Style Questions

Familiarize yourself with the questions commonly asked in the MCAT Chemistry section. Obtain practice question banks, MCAT prep books, or online resources that offer MCAT-style questions specific to chemistry.

Analyze and Learn from Mistakes

Analyze any mistakes you made during practice exams and identify the areas where you need improvement. Focus on understanding the reasoning behind the correct answers and learn from your errors.

Utilize Additional Resources

Supplement your studying with additional resources like online video lectures, study groups, tutorials, or interactive websites. These resources can provide different perspectives and explanations to reinforce your understanding of challenging concepts.

Simulate the Exam Experience

As your exam date approaches, incorporate full-length practice exams into your study routine. This will help you gauge your overall readiness and familiarize you with the format, timing, and endurance required for the MCAT Chemistry section.

Seek Expert Guidance

If you encounter persistent difficulties or need additional clarification, consider seeking guidance from a tutor, mentor, or subject matter expert. They can provide personalized instruction and address your specific challenges.

MCAT Chemistry Questions

One of the best ways to study for the MCAT is through practice questions. Here is a sample question for the chemistry section. 

Question: Researchers recently reported the design of a glucose/O2 galvanic cell. A description of the cell is provided below. It may be helpful to draw out the cell.

Essentially, the researchers used enzymes naturally found in the body to facilitate the oxidation and reduction reactions involving glucose and oxygen, respectively, in the two separate half cells of the galvanic cell. Because only one enzyme was used in the oxidation of glucose, the oxidation of glucose was not complete (i.e., no carbon dioxide was produced).

A carbon-based metal served as an anode and cathode in both cells; each electrode was attached by a wire that stretched between the two half cells to serve as a passage for electrons. The shape and small size of the pores in the electrodes allow electron transfer to occur more efficiently with biological enzymes whose functional groups were buried deep inside the protein. The flow of electrons, or current, created by this galvanic cell was enough to power a Light-Emitting Diode inserted into the wire circuit between the two half cells, demonstrating its electrical-powering abilities.

Reuillard, B. et al. High power enzymatic biofuel cell based on naphthoquinone-mediated oxidation of glucose by glucose oxidase in a carbon nanotube 3D matrix. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 15, 4892–4896 (2013).

Which of the following designations for the oxidation and reduction half cells is correct? 

  1. O2 is oxidized at the anode, glucose is reduced at the cathode
  2. Glucose is oxidized at the anode, O2 is reduced at the cathode
  3. Glucose is oxidized at the cathode, O2 is reduced at the anode
  4. O2 is oxidized at the cathode, glucose is reduced at the anode

Answer: B) Glucose is oxidized at the anode, O2 is reduced at the cathode

Other sample questions will follow a similar format to the example above. Questions may be stand-alone or have a series of questions based on a longer passage. The chemistry section of the MCAT may seem very broad. However, some topics appear more than others. You can learn more about these topics in our article on high-yield topics.

FAQs: MCAT Chemistry

Here are a few commonly asked questions about the chemistry section of the MCAT.

1. Is MCAT Chemistry Hard?

The difficulty of the MCAT chemistry section can vary depending on an individual's background, preparation, and level of understanding of the subject. For some students, MCAT chemistry may be challenging due to the breadth of topics covered, the level of detail required, and the need to apply critical thinking skills to solve complex problems. 

With proper study strategies, dedicated practice, and a solid chemistry foundation, it is possible to excel in this section of the MCAT. 

2. Is Chemistry on the MCAT?

Chemistry is one of the four main sections tested on the MCAT. The chemistry section focuses on the fundamental principles of general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry.

3. How Much Chemistry Do You Need for the MCAT?

To perform well on the MCAT, you need a solid understanding of general, organic, and biochemistry chemistry. These topics include principles of atomic structure, chemical bonding, thermodynamics, kinetics, acid-base chemistry, reaction mechanisms, and biomolecules.

4. How Do I Do Well in the MCAT Chemistry Section?

To do well in MCAT chemistry, it's important to thoroughly review and understand the key concepts, practice solving various chemistry problems, utilize study resources such as textbooks and online materials, take practice exams, and seek clarification when needed.

Final Thoughts

A strong foundation in MCAT chemistry is crucial for success in this section. With proper preparation and a thorough understanding of the material, you can confidently approach MCAT chemistry and increase your chances of performing well on this important exam.

Best of luck!

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