Learn to Succeed on the MCAT Physical Sciences Section

Study for the physical sciences section by reviewing premed course material and major concepts.

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Reviewing notes from introductory physics and chemistry courses can help during MCAT physical science study practice.

The Association of American Medical Colleges designs the physical sciences section of the MCAT exam to reflect physics and chemistry content that is covered in introductory courses at most colleges.

The first step in MCAT preparation is to enroll in these courses before taking the test. When taking these courses, focus on understanding the basic principles behind the material, rather than simply memorizing facts and equations. When it comes time to review for the MCAT, which may come months later, you'll only have to refresh yourself on the material rather than learn it all over again.

[Learn how to prepare for the MCAT as a premed student.]

Though it may seem overwhelming to review the entirety of what you learned in both general chemistry and physics courses, the MCAT covers only the certain subsets of these fields that are most relevant to the study of medicine.

The section covers physics and general chemistry with 52 multiple-choice questions, 39 of which will be passage-based. The distribution of chemistry versus physics questions is approximately 50-50, so you should study both areas equally.

High-yield topics to study in chemistry include electronic structure and orbitals, classification of the elements, ionic and covalent bonds, stoichiometry, thermodynamics, reaction kinetics and equilibrium, acid-base chemistry and electrochemistry. Concepts to learn and practice in physics include kinetics, forces, equilibrium and momentum, energy, wave physics, electricity and magnetism, optics and circuits.

The physical sciences section is given just as much weight as the other two sections on the test, biological sciences and verbal reasoning. Like the others, the physical sciences section is scored on a scale of 1 to 15.

Consider either working with an MCAT tutor or work through an MCAT review book. Find a review book that presents information in a way that best suits your learning style, as most of them will cover the same material.

[Understand these three common MCAT truths and myths.]

Notes from your introductory physics and chemistry courses and class materials may also be helpful, particularly if you find other review resources to be inadequate and not tailored to you.

The key to doing well on the physical sciences portion of the MCAT is completing as many practice questions as possible in order to learn the material and develop problem-solving skills. This is in contrast to the biological sciences section, where much of your prep should be spent simply reviewing content.

Some of the questions you'll encounter on the MCAT may test you on concepts you've never seen before. More often than not, these questions will test your ability to comprehend new information and apply your problem-solving skills, rather than the content itself.

Working through plenty of practice questions will not only help you solidify basic equations and key concepts in your mind, but will also expand your repertoire of problem-solving techniques – which is your most valuable tool.

[Find study tips for the biological sciences MCAT section.]

Complete a set of questions each study day after you've covered your scheduled review material. Try to work in random questions on other topics you've either never covered or covered in days previously, as this will force you to expand your learning and improve memory recall.

The crux of preparation for the physical sciences section of the MCAT lies in the development of problem-solving skills through practice and focused review of relevant topics covered in the section. With these strategies in hand, you can earn a great score on what many consider the most difficult section of the MCAT.

Anubodh "Sunny" Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and is a medical student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.