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The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), a required part of the admissions process at most medical schools in the United States, includes four separate sections. Two of the MCAT® sections are used to assess the test-taker’s factual knowledge of the physical and biological sciences, respectively. A third section evaluates the test-taker’s critical thinking and reasoning skills. The fourth and final MCAT® section appraises the test-taker’s written communication abilities.
Successful completion of the two scientific knowledge MCAT® sections typically requires significant prior university-level coursework in the sciences. Indeed, many undergraduate students interested in applying to medical school specifically choose science courses that cover topics included on the MCAT® sections. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the body that oversees the MCAT® exam, most MCAT® test-takers have completed at least one year of biology coursework, one year of physics coursework and two years of chemistry coursework, all at the university level.
The first MCAT® section covers the physical sciences, specifically general chemistry and physics. To prepare for the chemistry questions, test-takers should have a thorough understanding of the periodic table of the elements and the principles of chemical processes and molecular bonding, among other topics. The physics questions require knowledge of fundamental physical laws and a firm understanding of things such as motion, energy, light and atomic structure.
The next MCAT® section assesses knowledge of the biological sciences, including organic chemistry. Topics included on this section range widely from enzyme structure to evolution. Test-takers require a thorough understanding of molecular biology, including the structure and function of DNA; and microbiology, including knowledge of viral, bacterial and eukaryotic cell characteristics. Additionally, test-takers should have knowledge of all the major biological systems of larger animals. Finally, organic chemistry topics range from covalent bonds to the characteristics of biological molecules.
The third of the four MCAT® sections evaluates the test-taker’s verbal reasoning skills. In this section, specific factual knowledge is not required. Rather, the questions aim at assessing reading comprehension, critical evaluation, logical thinking and analytical skills. Typically, test-takers prepare for this section of the MCAT® primarily by taking MCAT® practice tests.
The final MCAT® section requires the test-taker to write an essay that is used to assess grammar, structure and organizational skills. Each MCAT® writing section includes a topic statement followed by three writing tasks. All three writing tasks are to be clearly addressed in the body of the essay as they relate to the topic statement. The official MCAT® website includes an index of more than 100 topic-and-task example sets for test-takers to use in practicing for this section of the MCAT®.
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