Information on the MCAT & Practise Questions

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Practising for the MCAT

If you’re applying to medical school, you must submit excellent MCAT scores that are no more than three years old. Practicing example MCAT questions is one of the best ways to revise and will help you achieve the highest score you can. You can always check through our MCAT FAQs if you have any questions.

Sections of the MCAT

The MCAT has 230 multiple-choice questions. The test is divided into four categories:

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems – this has 59 questions in total, 44 passage-based questions and 15 discrete questions. There is a 95-minute time limit.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems – this has 59 questions in total, 44 passage-based questions and 15 discrete questions. There is a 95-minute time limit.

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior – this has 59 questions in total, 44 passage-based questions and 15 discrete questions. There is a 95-minute time limit.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – this section has 53 questions in total which are all passage-based. There is a 90-minute time limit.

Remember to practice both types of MCAT questions – passage-based and discrete.

– Passage-based MCAT questions have comprehensive paragraphs which describe a scientific situation. Use the passage to answer the question
– Discrete MCAT questions don’t include the descriptive passage

You should start preparing for the MCAT at least six months in advance. Here are some sample topics you might be asked about:

– Heat generation in brown fat
– Apoptosis in multicellular organisms
– The world’s fastest mammal
– Ray of light on an air bubble
– Similarities of the personalities of twins
– Neurotransmitters and skeletal muscle control
– The happy American

Check out these example MCAT questions to test yourself and get an idea of what the exam will be like.

Example MCAT questions

Section one: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems

These example MCAT questions will test your knowledge of biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and biochemistry.

A passage-based example MCAT question:

Heat generation in brown fat

The production of ATP in the mitochondria has been long known to depend on the proton gradient that is setup by the electron transport chain. Briefly, electrons from energy-rich molecules like glucose and fatty acids are transported to the inner mitochondrial membrane, which contains specialized proteins that can receive and donate electrons to the next electron acceptor in the chain. The flow of electrons eventually combine with oxygen to form water, but this flow of electrons is also coupled to the energy-requiring process of pumping protons from the inner mitochondrial matrix to the inter-membrane space. ATP Synthase, a multi-unit protein situated in the inner mitochondrial membrane, is the only passage for protons back into the mitochondrial matrix. When protons flow down their gradient through the ATP Synthase, sufficient energy is available to catalyze the phosphorylation of ADP to yield ATP. In addition to ATP Synthase, researchers recently discovered another protein channel situated in the inner mitochondrial matrix that allows the passage of protons back into the mitochondrial matrix. They named these channels “uncoupling proteins” (UCPs) because they do not have any enzymatic activity to catalyze the production of ATP and therefore allow protons to flow down their gradient back into the mitochondrial matrix without utilizing this energy for the synthesis of ATP. In an animal model, researchers noted the following about the UCP to ATP Synthase ratio in brown fat and white fat:

example MCAT question

 

Question: From the details in the passage, what can you say about the ΔH value for the flow of protons through UCPs?
Brown fat is most abundant in infants to generate body heat since newborns cannot shiver to stay warm. White fat is used to store energy in the form of triglycerides and is usually 20-25% percent of an adult human’s body weight.

Please choose from one of the following options.

1) ΔH <0, endothermic

2) ΔH >0, endothermic

3) ΔH >0, exothermic

4) ΔH <0, exothermic

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option four.

 

A discrete example MCAT question:

Apoptosis in multicellular organisms

Apoptosis is the process of programmed cell death that can occur in multicellular organisms. The proteins involved in apoptosis are associated with pathways for cell cycle arrest and DNA repair.

These processes are mostly regulated through the interplay of various proteins involved in feedback loops including some of the ones shown in Figure 1.

 

example MCAT question

Figure one: Feedback loops forming a regulatory network affecting apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and DNA repair.
According to figure one, CDK2 activity would most reasonably increase due to all of the following except:

1) Degradation of p21

2) High cyclin G concentrations

3) A mutation in the gene that produces PTEN

4) High p53 concentrations

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option four.

Section two: chemical and physical foundations of biological systems

These example MCAT questions will test your knowledge of biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics.

A passage-based example MCAT question:

The world’s fastest mammal

The cheetah is the fastest mammal in the world, with a maximum accelerative ability of roughly 9 m/s squared. Scientists have attributed this remarkable ability to the cheetah’s unique physical composition. Evolutionary specialization led to the species’ small, lithe build, which makes the cat aerodynamic.

The cheetah’s respiratory and circulatory system are abnormally large to allow for quicker oxygen uptake. Finally, its exceptionally long, muscular tail acts as a counter-torque mechanism to maintain the cheetah’s balance and center of mass during high-speed chases. See figure one.

example MCAT question

Figure one: While chasing prey, the cheetah’s tail acts as a rudder and counters the body’s movement during sharp turns.

 

Scientists interested in further studying the physical properties of cheetahs travel to the African savannah. There, they observe a cheetah that is hiding in the tall brush. A gazelle runs right past the hiding cheetah. Immediately after the gazelle passes the cheetah, the cheetah starts to pursue the unsuspecting gazelle. The velocity vs. time graphs for the animals in this scenario are given below. At time t=0 seconds the cheetah emerges from the brush.

example MCAT question

Figure two: The velocity vs time graph of both the cheetah and the gazelle.

 

How would you describe the acceleration of the gazelle and the cheetah as shown by the graph?

Please choose from one of the following options.

1) Both the gazelle and the cheetah are accelerating at a constant rate.

2) The gazelle has zero acceleration and the cheetah has increasing acceleration.

3) The gazelle has zero acceleration and the cheetah has constant acceleration.

4) The gazelle has constant acceleration and the cheetah has increasing acceleration.

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option three.

 

A discrete example MCAT question:

Ray of light on an air bubble

A spherical air bubble is rising in a test tube which is illuminated from one side by a flashlight.

example MCAT question

What happens to a ray of light incident on the air bubble at A?

1) Reflection at both surfaces

2) Reflection at A; no reflection at B

3) Reflection at B; no reflection at A

4) No reflection at either surface

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option one.

 

Section three: psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior

These example MCAT questions will test your knowledge of psychology, sociology and biology.

A passage-based example MCAT question:

How similar are the personalities of twins?

Over the course of one decade, a continued observation of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, reared apart after being separated during infancy, sought to clarify the sources of human psychological differences.

The study subjected 100 sets of raised-apart twins to 333 days of intensive physical and psychological assessment. In support of previous studies, the 333-day observation concluded an approximate 70%, percent association of IQ variance with genetic variance in the separated monozygotic twin population. Other areas of significant similarity between reared-apart monozygotic twins and those reared together include: temperament, personality, occupational interest, and social attitudes.

A consolidated report related to personality is presented in the table below. These findings support the hypothesis that genetic variance affects psychological variance through the indirect influence of the environment surrounding development. Strong genetic influence of psychological and behavioral traits does not diminish the value of propaedeutic intervention including parenting and education.

 

As environmental differences are more tightly controlled in a given population, the heritability of studied traits in that population is:

1) Unaffected

2) Increased

3) Directed

4) Decreased

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option two.

 

A discrete example MCAT question:

Neurotransmitters and skeletal muscle control

Mary woke up and could not move a muscle. It was as if her head commanded her to get out of bed, and her body failed to respond accordingly.

 

Which of the following neurotransmitters is critical for skeletal muscle control and could be causing this problem?

1) Catecholamine

2) Acetylcholine

3) Frataxin

4) Cortisol

The correct answer to this example MCAT question is option two.

 

Section four: critical analysis and reasoning skills

These example MCAT questions will test your comprehension, analysis and reasoning skills.

A passage-based example MCAT question:

The happy American

Americans are a “positive” people. This is their reputation as well as their self-image. In the well-worn stereotype, they are upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic.

Who would be churlish enough to challenge these happy features of the American personality? Take the business of positive “affect,” which refers to the mood they display to others through their smiles, their greetings, their professions of confidence and optimism. Scientists have found that the mere act of smiling can generate positive feelings within us, at least if the smile is not forced. In addition, recent studies show that happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person’s good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others. Furthermore, psychologists agree that positive feelings can actually lengthen our lives and improve our health. People who report having positive feelings are more likely to participate in a rich social life, and social connectedness turns out to be an important defense against depression, which is a known risk factor for many physical illnesses.

It is a sign of progress, then, that economists have begun to show an interest in using happiness rather than just the gross national product as a measure of an economy’s success. Happiness is, of course, a slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries, and even if they were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when they ask people if they are happy, they are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments.

Surprisingly, when psychologists measure the relative happiness of nations, they routinely find that Americans are not, even in prosperous times and despite their vaunted positivity, very happy at all. A recent meta-analysis of over a hundred studies of self-reported happiness worldwide found Americans ranking only twenty-third. Americans account for two-thirds of the global market for antidepressants, which happen also to be the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States.

How can Americans be so surpassingly “positive” in self-image and stereotype without being the world’s happiest and best-off people? The answer is that positivity is not so much their condition as it is part of their ideology—the way they explain the world and think they ought to function within it. That ideology is “positive thinking,” by which they usually mean two things. One is the generic content of positive thinking—that is, the positive thought itself—which can be summarized as “Things are pretty good right now, at least if you are willing to see silver linings, make lemonade out of lemons, etc., and things are going to get a whole lot better.”

The second thing they mean by “positive thinking” is this practice of trying to think in a positive way. There is, they are told, a practical reason for undertaking this effort: positive thinking supposedly not only makes us feel optimistic but actually makes happy outcomes more likely. How can the mere process of thinking do this? In the rational explanation that many psychologists would offer today, optimism improves health, personal efficacy, confidence, and resilience, making it easier for us to accomplish our goals. A far less rational theory also runs rampant in American ideology—the idea that our thoughts can, in some mysterious way, directly affect the physical world. Negative thoughts somehow produce negative outcomes, while positive thoughts realize themselves in the form of health, prosperity, and success. For both rational and mystical reasons, then, the effort of positive thinking is said to be well worth our time and attention.

 

According to the passage, positive feelings are:

Please choose from one of the following options.

1) Universal

2) Hereditary

3) Contagious

4) Ephermal

The correct answer in this example MCAT question is option three. There are no discrete questions in the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section.

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