The vast majority of the MCAT involves problem-solving using information from a passage and an understanding of key premed science topics. Most of the time you won’t be asked to recall specific information to answer a question. Normally I tell students to not even waste time memorizing information because there is just way too much.
The key to doing well on the MCAT is to focus on understanding things.
For instance, don’t just memorize the equation for the force of a block sliding down a ramp, understand why this occurs and you can logically come up with the equation.
However, there are some things on the MCAT that you need to simply memorize.
Below is a list of information broken down by topic that you should purely memorize for the MCAT.
Chemistry, Physics, and Math
Tips for memorizing equations: You do not want to memorize all the long physics and chemistry equations. What you want to do is memorize the simple equations, such as F=ma, and have a good understanding of the larger equations.
The reality is that you will not be asked to recall a long physics passage from memory. Rather, there are clues in the passage that you can use in conjunction with basic equations to figure out almost every answer.
However, here are some things you should memorize instead of just relying on your understanding of the material:
- Polyatomic ions
- Radioactive decay particles
- Gibbs free energy equation
- Common strong acids and bases
- Henderson-Hasselbalch equation
- Separation techniques (chromatography, distillation, blots, etc.)
- Work formula
- Buoyancy force equation
- Mirror and lens equation
- Snell’s law
- Every amino acid (Know their name, how to draw them, their characteristics, and their shorthand.)
- Major Metabolic Pathways (From glycolysis to beta-oxidation. Memorize every step and the net ATP produced with each pathway. This includes the pathway deviations for things like fatty acid synthesis.)
- Endocrine system
- Enzyme inhibitors (Memorize the 4 types)
- The start codon and the 3 stop codons in DNA replication
- Mitosis and meiosis steps
- Hardy Weinberg equation
- CNS (Functions of different parts of the brain)
- Renin, angiotensin, and aldosterone system
The psychology section is different. There aren’t any formulas to memorize, but there are a lot of terms you simply need to know and be able to recall.
Therefore, my recommendation is to either create flashcards or obtain flashcards (We recommend Kaplan’s MCAT flashcards!) for all the psychology/sociology terms, theories, and concepts that you can expect on the MCAT.
Use these flashcards throughout your MCAT studies so that you can recall any important psychology/sociology information the MCAT throws at you.
Here are certain memoizable psychology/sociology concepts that tend to be more prominent on the MCAT:
- Piaget’s stages of development
- Kohlberg’s stages of moral development
- Stages of sleep
- Broca’s region vs Wernicke’s area
- Functions of each brain region
- Major psychology disorders
- Types of learning
- Reinforcement schedules
Obviously, there is nothing to memorize in the CARS section. The ONLY way you can improve your score in CARS is to do practice passage after practice passage.
Make sure you are constantly practicing CARS. Here are our recommended resources where you will find all the CARS practice you will ever need.
Once again, I wanted to keep this list as short as possible. This is not a comprehensive list of what can be tested on the MCAT.
If you have the time to memorize the content listed above, that will give you an edge on the exam. However, if you don’t have much time, make sure you know all the amino acids by heart because those will ALWAYS be on the MCAT. If you can’t recall a specific amino acid abbreviation, you are straight out of luck.
The majority of information on the MCAT can come from a good understanding of the material. The best way you can study for the MCAT is to do practice problem after practice problem. Here is a post on lots of great resources you can purchase for extra practice problems.
Constantly practicing MCAT problems will force your brain to actively learn the material being tested. In addition to this, you are putting yourself into the “MCAT mindset.”
Putting yourself in the “MCAT mindset” means understanding how the AAMC formulates their passages and problems. Knowing how the AAMC likes to word things is very important when figuring out how to dissect their complicated passages and avoid their traps.
Brain Dump During the Tutorial
During the actual MCAT exam, you will be given a 10-minute tutorial of the test format. You will not need this tutorial because you will have already practiced the MCAT.
Instead of skipping the 10-minute tutorial, spend those 10 minutes brain dumping as much information on your scratch paper as possible. You can then keep this scratch paper throughout all sections of the exam!
I started with writing out and drawing all the amino acids so that I did not even have to think about them during the exam. This ends up taking most of the 10 minutes. After this, I would write out as much as possible from the list above. Usually, there is just enough time to write down some important equations from physics and chemistry.
In general, memorizing this short list of content in addition to having a good understanding of all the other material on the MCAT is all you need to get a good score.
However, this will only get you so far. If you want a competitive score, you need to make sure you are constantly practicing MCAT problems.