MCAT Chemistry: What You Need to Know

April 25, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Are you concerned about the chemistry section of the MCAT? This article will answer all your MCAT chemistry questions. 

Imagine you're a medical school applicant, nervously awaiting the start of the MCAT exam. As you flip through the test booklet, your eyes land on the chemistry section, and your heart races. You've spent countless hours studying, but the fear of the unknown still lingers. Sound familiar?

The chemistry section of the MCAT is notorious for being one of the most challenging parts of the exam. It covers a wide range of topics, from atomic structure and chemical reactions to biochemistry and organic compounds. But here's the good news: with the right preparation and study strategies, you can conquer the MCAT chemistry section and boost your chances of getting into your top medical school.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore what's tested on the exam, break down the section format, and highlight the key content areas you must focus on. We'll also share proven study tips and strategies to help you prepare effectively and efficiently. And to top it off, we'll provide sample MCAT chemistry questions to give you a taste of what to expect on test day.

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What Is Tested On The MCAT Chemistry and Physics Section?

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 Section Format

The MCAT Chemistry sections consist of 59 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 95 minutes. The questions are divided into two types:

  1. Discrete questions: Stand-alone questions that test knowledge of specific concepts and principles.
  2. Passage-based questions: Questions related to a provided passage or experiment scenario, assessing the ability to analyze and interpret scientific data.

The section is computer-based, and an electronic periodic table, relevant formulas, and necessary constants are provided during the exam. Effective time management and a balance between discrete and passage-based questions are crucial for success.

Chemistry Content to Study for the MCAT

To excel in the MCAT Chemistry section, focus on these key content areas:

  1. General Chemistry: atomic structure, bonding, thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, acids and bases, redox reactions, radioactive decay
  2. Organic Chemistry: nomenclature, functional groups, reaction mechanisms, stereochemistry, spectroscopy, aromatic compounds
  3. Biochemistry: biomolecules (proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids), enzyme kinetics, metabolism, bioenergetics, DNA replication, cell communication
  4. Laboratory Techniques: titrations, chromatography, spectroscopy, data analysis

Thoroughly review these topics using reliable study materials, textbooks, and practice questions to build a strong foundation in chemistry principles and their applications in biological systems.

How to Prepare for MCAT Chemistry Section

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

1. Create a Study Schedule

Break down your study plan into manageable chunks, focusing on specific topics each week. Dedicate more time to challenging topics like thermodynamics, kinetics, and organic reaction mechanisms. Allocate time for regular practice questions and full-length exams to assess your progress.

2. Master High-Yield Concepts

Focus on frequently tested concepts such as acid-base chemistry, electrochemistry, and biochemical pathways. Concentrate on frequently tested concepts such as acid-base chemistry, electrochemistry, and biochemical pathways. Understand the principles behind key organic reactions like SN1, SN2, E1, and E2. Memorize important formulas, constants, and amino acid structures to save time during the exam.

3. Use Active Learning Techniques

Create concept maps, flowcharts, or summary sheets to visualize connections between topics. Teaching complex concepts to a study partner or explaining them out loud can reinforce your understanding. Engage in group discussions or study sessions to explore different problem-solving approaches and gain new perspectives.

4. Strengthen Your Problem-Solving Skills

Practice translating word problems into chemical equations or mathematical expressions. Break down complex problems into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Develop a systematic approach to analyzing data, graphs, and experimental results in passage-based questions.

5. Implement Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Practice time management techniques to ensure you can complete all questions within the allotted time. Identify and tackle discrete questions first before moving on to passage-based questions. If you encounter a difficult question, eliminate incorrect answer choices and make an educated guess.

6. Review and Adapt Your Study Plan

Regularly assess your progress using practice exams and identify areas that need more attention. Adjust your study plan based on your performance, allocating more time to weak areas. Seek feedback from instructors, tutors, or high-scoring peers to refine your understanding and approach.

By implementing these specific strategies and tailoring them to your individual needs, you can effectively prepare for the MCAT Chemistry section and maximize your performance on test day. Remember, consistent effort, targeted practice, and a well-structured study plan are key to success in conquering this particular section.

MCAT Chemistry Questions

To excel in the MCAT Chemistry section, it's important to develop a strategic approach to answering questions. Here are some valuable tips and practice examples to help you understand various types of chemistry questions you may encounter on the exam.

1. Read the Questions Carefully

Before attempting to answer a question, take the time to read it thoroughly. Pay attention to key details, such as units, specific conditions, or limiting reagents. Identify what the question is asking and the information provided.

Example: How many grams of NaOH are needed to prepare 500 mL of a 0.2 M solution?

In this question, you need to calculate the mass of NaOH required to make a 500 mL solution with a concentration of 0.2 M.

2. Break Down Complex Questions

Some questions may involve multiple steps or require the application of several concepts. Break down the question into smaller, manageable parts and solve them systematically.

Example: A 25.0 mL sample of 0.100 M HCl is titrated with 0.100 M NaOH. The pH of the solution is measured after each addition of NaOH. Which of the following represents the titration curve for this experiment?

To answer this question, consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the type of titration (strong acid-strong base).
  2. Determine the equivalence point volume.
  3. Analyze the pH changes during the titration.
  4. Select the titration curve that matches the expected pH profile.

3. Use Provided Formulas and Constants

The chemistry section provides a list of relevant formulas and constants. Familiarize yourself with these resources and use them to solve problems efficiently.

Example: Calculate the work done (in joules) when a gas expands from 2.0 L to 4.0 L against a constant external pressure of 1.5 atm.

To solve this question, use the work formula provided: W = -PΔV

  • P = 1.5 atm
  • ΔV = 4.0 L - 2.0 L = 2.0 L
  • W = -(1.5 atm)(2.0 L) = -3.0 L·atm
  • Convert L·atm to joules using the conversion factor: 1 L·atm = 101.3 J
  • W = -3.0 L·atm × (101.3 J / 1 L·atm) = -304 J

4. Analyze Experimental Data

Some questions may present experimental data in various forms, such as tables or text descriptions. Practice interpreting the given information and extracting relevant data to answer the questions.

Example: The data below shows the change in concentration of reactant A over time for a first-order reaction.

Time (min) | [A] (M)

0          | 1.00

10         | 0.50

20         | 0.25

30         | 0.125

What is the rate constant (k) for this reaction?

To determine the rate constant:

  1. Identify the reaction order (first-order) based on the concentration changes over time. In this case, the concentration of A is halved every 10 minutes, indicating a first-order reaction.
  2. Use the integrated rate law for a first-order reaction: ln[A]t = -kt + ln[A]0
  3. Choose two data points from the table and substitute the values into the equation.
  4. Solve for the rate constant (k).

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

The best way to improve your performance on MCAT Chemistry questions is through consistent practice. Solve a wide variety of questions from different topics to build your problem-solving skills and identify areas for improvement.

  • Use MCAT practice question banks and full-length practice exams.
  • Analyze your mistakes and review the concepts behind each question.
  • Time yourself to simulate exam conditions and improve your pacing.

By following these tips and practicing regularly, you'll be well-prepared to tackle the MCAT Chemistry questions with confidence. Remember to stay focused, manage your time effectively, and approach each question systematically.

To find out how well you’ll do on the chemistry section of the MCAT, take our free MCAT pop quiz.

FAQs: MCAT Chemistry

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

1. Is MCAT Chemistry Hard?

The chemistry section on the MCAT is known to be one of the most challenging sections. You need to understand the fundamental equations, not just memorize them.

2. Is Chemistry on the MCAT?

Yes, 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?

In total, chemistry-related content (general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry) constitutes roughly 30-40% of the entire MCAT exam. 


  • General Chemistry makes up approximately 30% of the Chem/Phys section
  • Organic Chemistry accounts for around 15% of the Chem/Phys section
  • Biochemistry is tested in the Bio/Biochem section, along with biology

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

To excel in the MCAT Chemistry section, follow these key strategies:

  • Review fundamental concepts: Thoroughly study general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry topics, ensuring a solid grasp of principles, reactions, and mechanisms.
  • Practice regularly: Solve a wide variety of chemistry problems, focusing on MCAT-style questions to familiarize yourself with the exam format and develop problem-solving skills.
  • Use quality study resources: Utilize textbooks, online materials, and MCAT prep courses that provide comprehensive coverage of chemistry topics and offer practice questions.
  • Analyze mistakes: Review incorrect answers from practice questions and exams, identifying areas for improvement and clarifying challenging concepts.
  • Simulate test conditions: Take full-length practice exams under timed conditions to build endurance, improve pacing, and assess your readiness for the actual MCAT.

By dedicating time to thorough content review, active practice, and strategic preparation, you can build the knowledge and skills necessary to perform well in the chemistry section.

Final Thoughts

Mastering MCAT Chemistry is an important step on your journey to becoming a successful medical school applicant. By dedicating yourself to thorough content review, active practice, and strategic preparation, you can build the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in this challenging section of the exam.

Remember, the key to success lies in your ability to not only understand the fundamental principles of chemistry but also to apply them to complex biological systems and medical scenarios. Through consistent effort and a well-structured study plan, you can develop the problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills that will set you apart from other applicants.

With the right mindset and preparation, you have the power to conquer this section and prove to medical schools that you have what it takes to succeed as a future physician. Good luck on your MCAT journey!

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