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MCAT Physics: What You Need To Know

January 25, 2023
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How Much Physics is On the MCAT?What Do You Need to Know for MCAT Physics?How to Study for MCAT PhysicsMCAT Physics QuestionsFAQs: MCAT Physics

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

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

Reviewed: 01/24/23

If you’re a pre-med student worrying about the physics portion of the MCAT, we’ve got you covered! Keep reading as we go over 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 is designed to evaluate 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 broken down 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.

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How Much Physics Is On 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 a total of 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 the majority of physics questions. However, the first three sections are science-based and will cover content from introductory biology, chemistry, and physics.

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What Do You Need to Know for MCAT Physics?

For most pre-med students, physics is one of the most challenging courses they need to 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 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, keep in mind that you will not have a calculator while taking the test. You will, however, have access to a periodic table.

How to Study for MCAT Physics

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, making it a critical test for any aspiring medical school student. To do your best and achieve the highest score you can, 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. 

Dedicate Enough Time 

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 a total of 250-300 hours studying

Memorize Core Equations and Units 

Consistently review core physics equations and units. The MCAT tests students on their foundational knowledge of physics, so having a thorough understanding of equations will be extremely beneficial when you take the exam. 

Review Your Class Notes 

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 go scavenging the internet for resources. 

Take Practice Tests 

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

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 make sure to have some healthy snacks around 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 and relaxation!

MCAT Physics Questions

The MCAT is meant to evaluate students' knowledge and understanding of foundational science concepts and equations. 

While the questions are multiple-choice, they are designed to test the students’ reasoning skills rather than math skills. This is one reason why you should focus on working towards an understanding of equations and theories rather than simply memorizing them. 

Here are some sample MCAT physics questions from McGraw-Hill Education, broken down into categories they relate to. 

Translational Motion 

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.

Answer: (A) 

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.

Equilibrium 

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. 

Answer: (C) 

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.

Work and Energy 

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

Answer: (C) 

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.

Sound

The mixture of fundamental frequencies and overtones that produces the sound unique to a musical instrument is called: 

(A) pitch. 

(B) harmony. 

(C) quality. 

(D) synchrony.

Answer: (C) 

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.

Electrostatics 

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.

Answer: (B) 

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 practice 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.

FAQs: MCAT Physics

Do you still have some questions about MCAT physics? No problem! We’ll answer some frequently asked questions below. 

1. Is the Physics on the MCAT Hard?

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. 

2. What Physics is on the MCAT?

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. 

3. Is Physics 1 Enough for MCAT?

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 prerequisites you need. 

4. Is the MCAT Physics 1 or 2?

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.

Final Thoughts

The MCAT is no joke, and aspiring med students should not take it lightly. You will need to excel on all sections of the test to score well and get admitted into the school of your choice. 

There is a lot at stake, but don’t let this overwhelm you! Doing well on the MCAT is definitely 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!

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