Details of Physical Sciences Tested on MCAT
In addition to testing the critical thinking and problem solving skills of medical school applicants, MCAT also attempts to evaluate their cognition of Physical and Biological Science concepts at the undergraduate level. Physical Sciences (PS), Biological Sciences (BS), and Verbal Reasoning (VR) are three parts of the test, wherein the candidates need to answer multiple-choice questions. The Writing Sample part of the test aims to evaluate the writing skills of the prospective medical students with two sample writings. While the official AAMC MCAT site remains the best place for you to understand what is being tested in each part, many other online resources can help you get an overview of the content tested. Here is what you want to know about the Physics part in the test.
Types of Questions
The Physical Sciences part of the exam includes topics from both Basic Physics and General Chemistry. The questions are mixed up and are almost divided between these two subject areas. There are 52 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 70 minutes. And contrary to popular belief, the test is to evaluate your understanding of the subjects at introductory levels only (undergraduate level) and not at any advanced level. However, the structure followed is that of passages and questions-where the passages describe ideas and experiments. The passages with each set of questions could be in either of the following formats for Physics, with approximately the same number of questions in all formats:
1. Information presentation: Passages are in the form of journal articles or textbook material.
2. Problem solving: Passages detail problems of Physics. The accompanying questions call for analytical skills to assess the situation and ability to choose appropriate methods to solve the problem.
3. Persuasive argument: Argument type passages present single viewpoints and sometimes contradicting viewpoints of relevant topics and the questions ask you to assess the validity of the arguments presented.
4. Research study: These passages of research studies present methods, results, rationale, etc. of the research project and the accompanying questions are intended to test your understanding of the project.
The way in which information is presented in these passages in the form of articles, editorials, or research matter calls for skills in data analysis and interpretation to answer the questions drawn from them. This also suggests that you need to be familiar with the conventions and techniques of problem solving in physics. As a whole, this passage-based structure of the test is designed to analyze your ability for quick assessment and comprehension of the given situations, and also your ability to use information appropriately.
Here is an outline of the Physics content covered as part of the Physical Sciences section:
- Translation Motion
- Force and Motion, Gravitation
- Equilibrium and Momentum
- Work and Energy
- Waves and Periodic Motion
- Fluids and Solids
- Electrostatics and Electromagnetism
- Electronic Circuit Elements
- Light and Geometrical Optics
- Atomic and Nuclear Structure
A more detailed outline of the Physics content is available at the official AAMC MCAT website: https://www.aamc.org/students/download/85562/data/ps_topics.pdf
In addition to Physics, General Chemistry topics are also tested as part of the Physical Sciences part of the test. The broader areas of chemistry topics covered include Electronic Structure and Periodic Table, Bonding, Phases and Phase Equilibria, Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry, Acids and Bases, Solutions, and Electrochemistry.
Points to Remember
- Though the Physics part content covers almost all topics of your undergraduate level Physics courses, some of these topics might not be included in the MCAT test, as they might not be relevant for medical studies. Also, some of the topics might get more importance and coverage in the test, based on their relative relevance.
- Not all undergraduate courses might cover and treat all the Physics topics in the same way. Depending on individual institutions, there could be differences in undergraduate Physics topics. However, there are plenty of resources online and offline, including text books that could give you an understanding of all the relevant topics for Physics.
- In addition to having a thorough understanding of the relevant topics and concepts, you should also be thoroughly familiar with the commonly used constants and equations in Physics. Some of the conversion factors and constants are usually provided as part of the question paper, in addition to a periodic table of elements.
- An understanding of the basic level science concepts and an ability to perform arithmetic calculations like proportion, ratio, percentage, arithmetic mean, etc. is a must. The basic knowledge of Trigonometry is also required (sine, cosine, tangent, inverse functions, etc.). You should also be familiar with metric units. Conversion factors between metric and British systems will be provided as part of the question paper, if required. However, an understanding of Calculus is not required for the exam.
- There are a number of practice tests and questions available online for free, including that from AAMC, and those from big names like Kaplan and Princeton Review. Many of these question papers are exactly in the same model as that of the original exam. Make use of these to get an idea of the topics covered over years and also to familiarize yourself with the nature and pattern of questions for the Physics test.
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