What Are High-Yield MCAT Topics? Study Tips & Resources

High-Yield MCAT Topics List & How to Study

Dr. Ken Tao

Posted in: MCAT

Table of Contents

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a critical component of your med school application. Mastering the MCAT requires hard work and a strategic approach to studying, and central to this strategy is understanding and focusing appropriately on high-yield MCAT topics.

In the context of MCAT prep, ‘high yield‘ refers to topics that are most frequently tested on the exam. These subjects hold significant weight in determining your MCAT score. They encompass foundational concepts and core principles that the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) deems essential for future medical professionals.

Understanding these high-yield topics isn’t just about memorizing facts or equations. It’s about comprehending key concepts like amino acids, proteins, enzymes, thermodynamics, and kinetics. It also involves applying this knowledge to solve complex problems, reflecting the critical thinking skills necessary for success in medical school and beyond.

Focusing on these high-yield areas during test prep will not only save you study time but also ensure you’re tho~prepared for the most important sections of the MCAT. Especially if you’re retaking the exam, these topics may be the key to your success.

Want the best chance at acing the MCAT? Work with the best tutors.

MCAT Section Breakdown by Subject

There are four sections of the MCAT. Of those, three are science sections, and the fourth (CARS) is reading comprehension-focused.

According to the AAMC, here are the subjects you can expect to see in each science section (each of which contains 59 questions) and the percentage of questions based on that subject.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems:

  • 65% introductory biology — ~38 questions
  • 25% biochemistry — ~15 questions
  • 5% general chemistry — ~3 questions
  • 5% organic chemistry — ~3 questions

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems:

  • 30% general chemistry — ~18 questions
  • 25% biochemistry — ~15 questions
  • 25% physics — ~15 questions
  • 15% organic chemistry — ~9 questions
  • 5% introductory biology — ~3 questions

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior:

  • 65% introductory psychology — ~38 questions
  • 30% introductory sociology — ~18 questions
  • 5% introductory biology — ~3 questions

Looking at the list and percentages, it’s simple to extrapolate which subjects you should focus on most heavily for the highest impact. For instance, if you spend the majority of your time studying introductory biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, and introductory psychology, you’ve covered a large portion of the exam’s content.

List of High-Yield MCAT Topics

In addition to high-yield MCAT subjects, there are also high-yield MCAT topics.

Our team of expert tutors analyzed the official AAMC MCAT practice exams to determine which science topics are tested the most. We tallied the total number of AAMC questions related to each topic and then compared topics to determine which are the highest yield.

(For example, if there were 35 questions related to the citric acid cycle and only 15 questions related to sound & sound waves, then the citric acid cycle would be considered higher-yield.)

Here are the high-yield MCAT topics according to our analysis:

High-Yield Topic MCAT Sections Academic Disciplines What’s Involved
Amino Acids Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry Understand the absolute configuration, chirality, and specific rotation of amino acids and their significance in protein structure.
Lipids Chem/Phys Biochemistry Learn lipid structure, including steroids, terpenes, and prostaglandins, and their biochemical roles.
Carbohydrates Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry Comprehend carbohydrate nomenclature, classification, and isomerism, and their role in cellular structure and metabolism.
Gel Electrophoresis & Blotting Techniques Bio/Biochem Biochemistry Familiarize with gel electrophoresis, Southern and Western blotting techniques, and their applications in DNA, RNA, and protein analysis.
Protein Structure & Function Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry, Biology Understand the primary, secondary, tertiary, & quaternary structures of proteins and their implications for protein function and enzymatic activity.
Enzymes & Enzyme Kinetics Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry, Biology Study enzyme functions in biological reactions, enzyme kinetics, and factors affecting enzyme activity.
Nucleotides & Nucleic Acids Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry, Biology Learn about nucleotides, nucleosides, and their structures, functions, and roles in genetic information storage.
Glycolysis & Gluconeogenesis Bio/Biochem Biochemistry, Biology Understand the processes, substrates, and products of aerobic glycolysis and gluconeogenesis.
Citric Acid Cycle Bio/Biochem Biochemistry, Biology Comprehend Acetyl-CoA production, citric acid cycle reactions, and their biochemical significance.
Beta Oxidation & Fatty Acid Synthesis Bio/Biochem Biochemistry, Biology Learn the oxidation of fatty acids, differences between saturated and unsaturated fats, and the significance of fatty acid synthesis.
Electron Transport Chain & ATP Synthase Bio/Biochem Biochemistry, Biology Study the components and functions of the electron transport chain and ATP synthase in energy production.
Transcription & Translation Bio/Biochem Biology Understand the roles of tRNA, rRNA, and the mechanisms of transcription and translation in protein synthesis.
Eukaryotic Chromosomes Bio/Biochem Biology Learn about chromosomal proteins, DNA organization in chromosomes, and their genetic implications.
Prokaryotic Gene Expression Bio/Biochem Biology Study the operon concept, gene repression and induction, and their roles in prokaryotic gene expression.
Eukaryotic Gene Expression Bio/Biochem Biology Comprehend transcriptional regulation, DNA binding proteins, and their roles in eukaryotic gene expression.
DNA Replication & Repair Bio/Biochem Biology Understand the mechanisms of DNA replication, strand separation, and the significance of DNA repair processes.
Thermodynamics Bio/Biochem, Chem/Phys Biochemistry, General Chemistry Study bioenergetics, free energy, and equilibrium constant, and their relevance in biochemical reactions.
Kinetics Chem/Phys General Chemistry Learn about reaction rates, factors affecting reaction rates, and their implications in chemical reactions.
Temperature & Phase Changes Chem/Phys General Chemistry Comprehend heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, phase diagrams, and their significance in physical chemistry.
Chromatography Techniques Chem/Phys Organic Chemistry Understand various chromatography techniques, their principles, and applications in separating mixtures.
Aldehydes & Ketones Chem/Phys Organic Chemistry Learn the nomenclature, physical properties, and importance of aldehydes and ketones in organic chemistry.
Alcohols Chem/Phys Organic Chemistry Study the nomenclature, physical properties, and reactions of alcohols and their significance in organic reactions.
Carboxylic Acids Chem/Phys Organic Chemistry Understand the nomenclature, physical properties, and importance of carboxylic acids in organic chemistry.
Acid Derivatives Chem/Phys Organic Chemistry Learn about anhydrides, amides, esters, their structures, and their roles in organic chemistry.
Nervous system Psych/Soc, Bio/Biochem Biology, Psychology Comprehend the major functions, high-level control, and integration of the nervous system.
Neurotransmitters Psych/Soc, Bio/Biochem Biology, Psychology Study neurotransmitters, their influence on behavior and cognitive functions, and their relevance in the nervous system.
Nervous system disorders Psych/Soc, Bio/Biochem Biology, Psychology Understand the biological bases of nervous system disorders (Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s), their symptoms, and their treatments.
Brain areas that control language & speech Psych/Soc Biology, Psychology Learn theories of language development and brain areas involved in language processing and speech.
Consciousness-Altering Drugs Psych/Soc Psychology, Biology Understand types of consciousness-altering drugs, their effects, and their implications for consciousness and behavior.
Sleep & Sleep Cycles Psych/Soc Psychology, Biology Study stages of sleep, sleep cycles, and changes in physiological parameters during sleep.
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development Psych/Soc Psychology Comprehend Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and their significance in cognitive psychology.
Heuristics & Biases Psych/Soc Psychology Learn about various heuristics and biases, their effects on decision-making and judgment.
Memory Psych/Soc Psychology Understand the encoding process, types of memory, and factors affecting memory retention and recall.
Theories of personality Psych/Soc Psychology Study different theories of personality, including the psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait, & social-cognitive perspectives.
Psychological disorders Psych/Soc Psychology Comprehend different types of psychological disorders, their symptoms, and approaches to treatment.
Attitudes Psych/Soc Psychology Learn about the components of attitudes (cognitive, affective, behavioral), their formation, and their influence on behavior.

Remember, while these high-yield topics are crucial for a good MCAT score, it’s important to have a comprehensive grasp of all MCAT content. Use this list as a guide to focus your study plan, but be sure to cover all areas for well-rounded preparation.

Read Next: 2024 MCAT Test and Score Release Dates 

High-Yield Topic Study Strategies

Mastering the high-yield topics on the MCAT is not just about what you study, but how you study. Two of our tutors, Ethan Bott and Camille Villar, shared their proven strategies to optimize your study plan.

  • Balance high-yield and other topics: Focus predominantly on high-yield topics, but don’t neglect other areas. After all, if you don’t have a grasp of vital basics, you may struggle to draw necessary conclusions during the exam.
  • Identify what is high-yield for you: Certain topics appear most often on the exam, but your own needs might mean that what’s the most effective for you is a little different.
  • Prepare by excelling in your MCAT-related classes: Camille emphasized that she believes she passed with a high score, in part, due to her dedication in undergrad classes related to MCAT topics.
  • Study in the best way for YOU: If flashcards work to help you grasp information, take full advantage of them. If not, then don’t. Avoid forcing study methods that you don’t respond well to just because they worked for someone else.
  • Make a schedule that fits your schedule and needs: Ethan suggests that even short, daily study sessions can lead to significant improvement over time. Break your study sessions into manageable chunks. Long sessions can lead to diminished attention and retention.
  • Prioritize concepts, not memorization: While there are certain things you need to memorize for the MCAT, in general you should focus on understanding rather than memorizing. When doing content review, make sure you grasp the underlying ideas, not just surface-level facts
  • Use practice tests effectively: Practice under real test conditions, including timed sections and breaks, to build mental endurance. Ethan recommends practicing full-length blocks of questions and incorporating practice exams that mimic the actual test environment.
  • Spend time strengthening your weak areas: Camille, who struggled with immunology, revisited the entire Kaplan chapter and used a whiteboard to draw and understand the relationships between different immune cells. Ethan tackled difficult topics like electrolytic cells using supplemental resources like Khan Academy and explaining concepts out loud.
  • Use flashcards: Flashcards, especially digital ones that use spaced repetition algorithms, are excellent for retaining high-yield facts and concepts. Regularly review notes and flashcards to reinforce your understanding of key topics.
  • Work with a tutor: Many premed students can benefit from MCAT tutoring, especially if you find it challenging to do well on a practice MCAT exam. Consider an MCAT tutor to increase your score by an average of 12 points.

The 6 Best Study Resources for MCAT High-Yield Topics

Depending on your study style, choose resources that help you learn what you need to know in the way you’ll best retain the material. These are our favorites:

Related: Requesting MCAT Special Accommodations & Extended Testing Time 

FAQs

The top three highest-yield subjects on the MCAT, based on how often they appear on the exam, are:
  • Biochemistry: This subject is heavily emphasized on the MCAT, reflecting its importance in medical education and practice. Topics in biochemistry, including amino acids, proteins, and enzyme kinetics, are integral parts of the exam, especially in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section.
  • Psychology and Sociology: These subjects form the core of the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section. This section assesses your understanding of behavioral and sociocultural determinants of health and is a significant portion of the MCAT.
  • Biology: Specifically, human biology, including cell biology, genetics, and physiology, is a major focus. Biology topics are extensively covered in both the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems and the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems sections.
Many students and tutors consider the CARS section to be the hardest to improve on the MCAT. To excel in this section, pre-meds must be able to understand, interpret, and use critical thinking when reading complex passage questions. There’s no content to study for CARS, which is why so many students struggle to raise their scores. There’s also a degree of subjectivity to questions in the CARS section, making it difficult for many students to master.

How to Improve Your MCAT Score by 12+ Points

The best way to improve your MCAT score is with dedicated tutors who are experts on specific MCAT questions and sections. MedSchoolCoach tutors are all 520+ MCAT scorers, trained to help you identify and master the high-yield topics most likely to help you improve your score.

Get personalized MCAT tutoring with the best tutors in the country.
Ken Tao, PhD

Ken Tao, PhD

Ken is the Director of MCAT at MedSchoolCoach. He is an alumnus of UC Berkeley and Harvard University, boasts degrees in Bioengineering, Molecular and Cell Biology, and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Ken previously worked with undergraduate students at Princeton Review where he was the only tutor certified in all subjects. Ken was one of the highest rated MCAT tutors ever and a teacher trainer. He founded Magoosh's MCAT division and has written content for dozen's of MCAT books and guides.

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