If you’re a pre-med student worrying about the physics portion of the MCAT, we’ve got you covered! Keep reading as we review everything you need to know for the MCAT physics.
The Medical College Admission Test, or the MCAT, is a computerized test that prospective medical students must take. The test evaluates students’ critical thinking skills and knowledge of scientific concepts and formulas.
There are 30 test dates throughout the year, and scores are released about 30-35 days after you take the test.
The MCAT is divided into four sections, and physics makes up a quarter of the content. That’s a pretty significant portion of the test. Even if you ace the other sections, performing poorly in the physics section can significantly impact your final score.
We’ve put together a thorough guide to the physics section on the MCAT, along with sample questions and answers, so you can feel prepared and confident to ace all four sections going into the MCAT.
Physics makes up about 25% of the content on the MCAT. The MCAT consists of four sections:
For each section, except for the Critical Analysis section, test takers will be given 95 minutes to answer 59 questions. The 59 questions are broken down as such:
The second section, “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems,” is where you will encounter most MCAT physics questions. However, the first three sections are science-based and will cover introductory biology, chemistry, and physics.
You should focus on learning and understanding high-yield MCAT physics topics rather than low-yield MCAT physics topics. These will be covered in more detail next!
There is a lot you need to know about the MCAT physics. For most pre-med students, physics is one of the most challenging courses they must take. With long and complex math formulas, thinking about preparing for the physics questions on the MCAT may be daunting.
There is some good news for students who aren’t big physics fans: most of the physics content on the MCAT focuses on critical thinking skills rather than testing your math skills. There are, however, a wide range of high-yield physics topics that you need to know, which include:
Focus on these areas of physics as you study to ensure you have a thorough understanding before you take the MCAT. As you study and prepare, remember you will not have a calculator while taking the test. You will, however, have access to a periodic table.
Understanding how to study for MCAT physics is crucial for success on the exam. 25% of the questions on the MCAT are physics questions. Additionally, you’ll encounter other questions on the MCAT that may not be strictly physics-related but will still require you to flex some physics knowledge.
Med schools use MCAT scores to determine applicants’ eligibility for admission. This makes it a critical test for any aspiring medical school student. To do your best and achieve your highest score, ensure that you prepare sufficiently.
To help you prepare for the MCAT physics, we’ve highlighted some key steps to maximize your study time and go into the test confident in your knowledge.
Most students who fail the MCAT have not dedicated enough time to studying for the test. It is generally recommended that you spend at least twelve weeks studying for the test and at least 20 hours a week or more on MCAT prep.
In total, it is recommended that you spend 250-300 hours studying.
Consistently review core physics equations and units. The MCAT tests students on their foundational knowledge of physics, so thoroughly understanding equations will be extremely beneficial when you take the exam.
A useful approach to analyzing figures, graphs, and tables on the MCAT is called the TAID P approach. It can be broken down as follows:
While this may seem like a lot of steps, you should be able to complete this approach in less than 30 seconds. Doing so will ensure you properly interpret the visual data you’re given!
Even if a question doesn’t explicitly involve numbers or formulas, using them can help you find the right answer.
For instance, consider you’re given this question:
At which location in the body is the buoyant force the greatest when a person is floating in a pool?
There are no numbers involved but there is a formula that can help you answer this question. The formula for buoyant force, B = ρ * g * V: ρ is the fluid density, g is the gravitational acceleration, and V is the volume of the fluid displaced.
It might be easier to imagine the person’s body as a container floating in the water, with the head as the top of the container and the feet as the bottom.
Since fluid density (ρ) and gravitational acceleration (g) remain constant, we focus on the variable "V" representing the volume of water displaced. According to the formula B = ρ * g * V, the volume displaced is directly proportional to the depth or height submerged.
If we define the top of the water level as height 0, where would the volume of displaced water be the greatest—corresponding to the person's head, hands, abdomen, or feet? The feet! Understanding these relationships and using formulas for these tricky questions can help you see them more clearly.
If you are in the process of, or will soon be taking an introductory physics course, keep your notes and assignments organized! These are reliable (and free!) study materials for the MCAT physics. Keeping class materials will also save you time and energy as you won’t have to scavenge the internet for resources.
Since you will have a time limit for completing the MCAT, one of the best ways to prepare for the test is to take practice tests and time yourself as you do.
You have 95 minutes to answer 59 questions. This gives you about one minute and thirty-six seconds to answer each question.
Continue to take practice tests and time yourself to build your concentration and stamina. Once you begin the MCAT, you’ll want to be prepared to accurately but quickly answer each question within the allotted time. Taking practice tests is the best way to do this!
Rest is integral for the duration of your MCAT prep up until test day. If your brain is exhausted, it won’t retain as much information as it will when you feel rested and energized. Don’t burn yourself out while studying. Take lots of breaks when needed, and have healthy snacks as you study.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to take some days off from MCAT prep. If you give yourself enough time to study beforehand and stick to a schedule, we encourage you to block out some time for some rest!
The MCAT evaluates students' knowledge and understanding of foundational science concepts and equations.
While the multiple-choice questions are designed to test the students’ reasoning skills rather than math skills. This is one reason you should focus on working towards understanding equations and theories rather than simply memorizing them.
To prepare for the MCAT physics section, practice MCAT physics sample questions to familiarize yourself with the format and content.
Here are some sample MCAT physics questions from McGraw-Hill Education, broken down into categories they relate to.
On a graph that has a quantity measured in newtons on the y-axis and a quantity measured in meters on the x-axis, what units would identify the quantities associated with the slope and with the area?
(A) The slope would have units of N/m, and the area would have units of N·m.
(B) The slope would have units of N·m, and the area would have units of N/m.
(C) The slope would have units of N, and the area would have units of N·m.
(D) The slope would have units of m/N, and the area would have units of N·m.
Explanation: Analysis of units can be an important tool for determining the meaning of slope and area in situations where you have some difficulty understanding the meanings of these quantities. Slope is “rise over run,” or y-axis quantity divided by x-axis quantity. In this case, the slope is newtons per meter (N/m), which might be the spring constant, for example, if the graph is spring force versus spring extension. The area under the graph has units determined by multiplying the units on the axes. In this case, the units are newton-meters (N·m), which would be the work done in stretching a spring a given distance for the example described.
An automobile towing a trailer accelerates on a level road. The force that the automobile exerts on the trailer is:
(A) equal to the force that the trailer exerts on the road.
(B) greater than the force that the trailer exerts on the automobile.
(C) equal to the force that the trailer exerts on the automobile.
(D) equal to the force that the road exerts on the trailer.
Explanation: According to Newton’s third law of motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, with action and reaction forces on separate bodies. In this case, the force of the car pulling forward on the trailer is matched by the force of the trailer pulling backward on the car.
What happens to the kinetic energy of a space vehicle moving in circular orbit around Earth when the vehicle transfers into an orbit farther from the center of Earth?
(A) Its kinetic energy increases because the vehicle now has less gravitational potential energy.
(B) Its kinetic energy increases because more work must be done by gravity to keep it in the higher orbit.
(C) Its kinetic energy decreases because the vehicle does not move as fast in its orbit when it is farther from Earth.
(D) Its kinetic energy decreases because the gravitational potential energy is less, and they must remain equal to each other
Explanation: The space vehicle moves more slowly in its orbit when it is farther from Earth. As the vehicle moves farther away, the gravitational force of Earth on the satellite is less, and this provides the centripetal force to keep the object in orbit.
The mixture of fundamental frequencies and overtones that produces the sound unique to a musical instrument is called:
Explanation: The mixture of fundamental frequencies and overtones created by a musical instrument is called the quality. Quality describes the sound of a specific instrument, created by resonance of all parts of the instrument.
A negatively charged rod is brought near a second rod that is neutral and suspended by a nonconducting string. The second rod begins to move toward the negative rod, showing attraction of the two rods. After the first rod is removed without touching the second rod, the second rod:
(A) has no net charge.
(B) has a positive net charge.
(C) has a negative net charge.
(D) is polarized, with one end negative and one end positive.
Explanation: The key idea here is that the first rod did not touch the second rod and was kept in place while the ground wire was cut. While the negatively charged rod was near the second rod, a polarization of charge occurred in the second rod, meaning that the charges in the rod separated. Electrons moved to the end of the rod that was farthest from the first rod and then to the ground, leaving the first rod with a positive charge. Since the negatively charged rod was kept near the second rod while the ground wire was cut, the separation of charge was maintained, so the second rod was left with a net positive charge.
These MCAT physics review questions should give you a sense of the structure of physics questions on the MCAT, as well as the range of topics you will have to answer on the test. As you can see, the MCAT tests your critical thinking and reasoning skills, not necessarily your ability to write out an equation.
If you want even more practice, check out more sample MCAT questions.
Do you still have some questions about MCAT physics? No problem! We’ll answer some frequently asked questions below.
Yes, the physics on the MCAT is quite hard. Most students already find physics challenging, and the MCAT asks some grueling questions. However, don’t let this scare you. The physics section is more than manageable with consistent review and practice tests.
Foundational physics equations and concepts will be on the MCAT. Key concepts in introductory physics include:
Core theories and laws will also appear on the MCAT. Some basic physics principles are:
The test covers introductory physics, so using your class notes and assignments is an excellent base for discovering what you can expect.
Technically, Physics 1 is enough for the MCAT. Physics 1 will introduce you to foundational concepts and essential units in physics, which are tested on the MCAT.
While physics covers a significant portion of the test, you will also be tested on other subjects. In short, having an advanced understanding of physics is not necessary to do well on the MCAT.
With this said, some med schools require students to take Physics 2. While registering for courses, double-check your school’s requirements to ensure you have the necessary prerequisites.
The MCAT includes both Physics 1 and Physics 2. The focus is more on Physics 1, but since the physics section is weighted heavily on the test, it is in your best interest to take Physics 2.
Yes, it is possible to self-study physics for the MCAT. While taking formal coursework in physics is recommended to gain a solid understanding of the subject, self-study is a viable option if you are motivated and committed to the process.
Here are some tips you can follow to self-study physics for the MCAT:
Remember, self-studying physics for the MCAT requires discipline and dedication. It is crucial to allocate sufficient time for studying and regularly reviewing the material.
Physics comprises approximately 25 percent of the Chemical and Physical section, one of the four sections of the MCAT. Given that the MCAT consists of 230 questions, we can anticipate approximately 12 to 18 questions dedicated to physics throughout the exam. Thus, physics constitutes five to eight percent of the MCAT.
Physics is included on the MCAT (Medical College because it assesses aspiring medical students' understanding of fundamental scientific principles, problem-solving abilities, and their application in biological systems.
Physics also assesses critical thinking skills and takes an interdisciplinary approach necessary for medical professionals to diagnose and solve clinical problems.
The MCAT is no joke; aspiring med students should not take it lightly. You will need to excel in all test sections to score well and get admitted into the school of your choice.
A lot is at stake, but don’t let this overwhelm you! Doing well on the MCAT is achievable if you familiarize yourself with the expectations and dedicate enough time to study. You’re already demonstrating initiative in preparation by familiarizing yourself with how to study for the MCAT and MCAT physics questions.
Best of luck!