If you are applying to medical school, then you will need to take the MCAT test to complete your application.

Medical school is both prestigious and brutally difficult. It makes sense for the entry level exam to be equivalently difficult.

How hard is the MCAT? How can you get ready for it?

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

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How Hard is the MCAT?

First of all, the MCAT is ridiculously long.

The test will take you 7.5 hours to complete, which will be mentally and physically strenuous. Compare the length of the MCAT with other grad school standardized tests.

LSAT – 3.5 hours long
GRE – 3.75 hours long
GMAT – 3.75 hours long
MCAT – 7.5 hours long

The MCAT is double the length of other standardized tests.

That time does include two breaks that are 10 minutes each and a 30 minute lunch break. You could skip those breaks to cut your time down (assuming you are a robot, or possibly insane).

The MCAT test content is also much more complicated than other grad school standardized tests.

Just compare Kaplan’s MCAT review book with their GRE, GMAT, and LSAT books.

Kaplan GRE Prep Plus 2019 – 696 pages
Kaplan GMAT Prep Plus 2019 – 1,188 pages
Kaplan LSAT Unlocked 2018-2019 – 972 pages

Kaplan MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2019-20203,288 pages total

The review books for the MCAT are longer than the review books for the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT combined!

It’s a lot of information to have to learn, especially for an entry exam. Here’s a video with a quick summary of the MCAT test.

MCAT Summary Video – MCAT Sections, Scheduling the MCAT, Studying for the MCAT

The MCAT test consists of 4 sections:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

What is the hardest MCAT test section?

You might also be interested in our article discussing the latest MCAT score percentiles.

MCAT Biology Isn’t So Hard

MCAT Biology Topics Breakdown 2018

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section on the MCAT is mostly introductory biology (65% of the section). There is also a big chunk of first semester biochemistry (25%) and a little bit of general chemistry (5%) and organic chemistry (5%).

These stats came from the “What’s on the MCAT Exam” page on the AAMC website.

The specific topics tested in this section (according to Kaplan) are:

MCAT Biology Subjects

  • The Cell
  • Reproduction
  • Embryogenesis and Development
  • The Nervous System
  • The Endocrine System
  • The Respiratory System
  • The Cardiovascular System
  • The Immune System
  • The Digestive System
  • The Excretory System
  • The Musculoskeletal System
  • Genetics and Evolution

MCAT Biochemistry Subjects

  • Amino Acids, Peptides and Proteins
  • Enzymes
  • Nonenzymatic proteins
  • Carbohydrate structure
  • Carbohydrate metabolism
  • Lipids and lipid metabolism
  • DNA and RNA
  • Biological Membranes
  • Regulation of metabolism

It’s probably an overstatement to say that the biology on the MCAT is easy, but at least it’s not high level biology. If you took a biology course during your undergrad, then this section shouldn’t be too difficult for you.

MCAT Biology Is Not So Hard

If you are reviewing for the MCAT, then you should check out the free Khan Academy MCAT videos. You can find all of them on the MCAT page on Khan Academy’s website. A sample video is included below.

Khan Academy MCAT Video – Structure of the Nervous System – Organ Systems

Physics and Chemistry on the MCAT (Especially MCAT Organic Chemistry) is Somewhat Harder

MCAT Physics and Chemistry Topics Breakdown 2018

The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section on the MCAT is split pretty evenly between three main topics:

  • General chemistry – 30%
  • First-semester biochemistry – 25%
  • Introductory physics – 25%

There is also some organic chemistry (15%) and introductory biology (5%).

Here are the topic breakdowns (again from Kaplan).

MCAT General Chemistry Subjects

  • Atomic Structure
  • The Periodic Table
  • Bonding and Chemical Interactions
  • Stoichiometry
  • Chemical Kinetics
  • Equilibrium
  • Thermochemistry
  • The Gas Phase
  • Solutions
  • Acids and Bases
  • RedOx Reactions
  • Electrochemistry

MCAT Physics Subjects

  • Units and Dimensional Analysis
  • Kinematics
  • Work and Energy
  • Fluids
  • Waves and Sound
  • Light and Optics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Electrostatics
  • Circuits
  • Magnetism
  • Atomic and Nuclear Phenomena

MCAT Organic Chemistry Subjects

  • Nomenclature
  • Isomers
  • Bonding
  • Alcohols and Ethers
  • Aldehydes and Ketones
  • Carboxylic Acids and Derivatives
  • Nucleophiles and Electrophiles
  • RedOx Reactions
  • Nitrogen-Containing Compounds
  • Phosphorus-Containing Compounds
  • Spectroscopy
  • Laboratory Techniques and Separations

MCAT Biochemistry Subjects

  • Amino Acids, Peptides and Proteins
  • Enzymes
  • Nonenzymatic Proteins
  • Carbohydrate Structure
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Lipids and Lipid Metabolism
  • DNA and RNA
  • Biological Membranes
  • Regulation of Metabolism

MCAT Psychology and Sociology

MCAT Psychology - Topics Breakdown 2018

The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section of the MCAT is mostly psychology questions along with a decent chunk of sociology.

  • Introductory Psychology – 65%
  • Introductory Sociology – 30%
  • Introductory Biology – 5%

As you can tell from the topic descriptions, the material tested in this section is fairly basic. Here are the sections topics (from Kaplan).

MCAT Behavioral Science Subjects

  • Neurobiology
  • Sensation and Perception
  • Learning and Memory
  • Cognition and Consciousness
  • Language Development
  • Motivation and Emotion
  • Identity and Personality
  • Psychological Disorders
  • Social Processes and Behavior
  • Social Interaction
  • Social Thinking and Attitudes
  • Social Structure and Stratification

MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (MCAT CARS)


The MCAT CARS section is split fairly evenly between:

  • Foundations of Comprehension – Do you understand the core ideas of the passage?
  • Reasoning within the Text – Do you understand the relationship between two or more ideas from within the passage?
  • Reasoning Beyond the Text – Can you understand the relationship between the passage a completely separate piece of information?

Reasoning Beyond the Text is considered the most difficult question type in this MCAT section because you will have to understand two passages and decipher the relationship between the two.

Here is another video from the Khan Academy MCAT review series that you might find helpful.

MCAT CARS Overview – MCAT – Khan Academy

If the MCAT is So Hard, How Should You Prepare?

The MCAT is a very difficult test. The sheer volume of information you will be tested on is pretty amazing.

You will need to be up to speed on physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, sociology, and critical reading skills.

If you want to get a good score on the MCAT, then you will need to begin studying early so you can absorb the required information. You will also need a daily plan to make sure you cover all of the topics in time to take the test.

An easy hack is to purchase an MCAT prep program, like Kaplan or Magoosh.

Magoosh offers a 7 day free trial so you can try it before you buy it.


Is the MCAT hard?

The short answer is yes, the MCAT is very difficult.

The test is long, the amount of material you will be tested on is ridiculous, and the topics are not easy.

But no one has ever said that becoming a doctor should be easy.

Make sure you prepare thoroughly for taking the MCAT. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready.

If you do, then your chances of getting a good score on the MCAT test and getting into medical school will be much, much better.

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