How to conquer the biology/biochemistry MCAT section

biochemistry biology MCAT

Long paragraphs. Confusing graphs. Convoluted protein names. If this all sounds a bit too familiar, you’re probably thinking of the Biology/Biochemistry section on the MCAT. Even as a Biochemistry major, I still found this as one of the more difficult sections on the MCAT, so do not panic if you feel like you’re not making any progress – you are not alone!

As with all MCAT topics, this section of the test can certainly be conquered with the correct preparation and test taking strategies! That said, I highly recommend that you take at least one undergraduate-level Biochemistry course or its equivalent before working on this section, since a working background knowledge of biochemistry will set you up well for success. Now, without further ado, here are three of highest-yield tips for getting the best score possible! 

1. Highlight key terms and words you know 

Highlighting should serve two things: (1) it should jog your memory about the fundamentals of the question and (2) it should serve as a sign post for possible questions that may refer to the specific process (that way, you can save time and refer to your highlights instead of re-reading the passage to find the relevant sentence). Be sure to only highlight the key terms and phrases that are biochemically relevant. These biochemically relevant phrases may include enzyme names, processes, key reactants/products, experiment results, etc. So, for example, I would consider highlighting terms like “phosphorylate,” “inhibits,” “tyrosine kinase,” “glucokinase,” etc. 

2. Think about what the AAMC would ask

I often get asked: how do I know I’m improving on the MCAT? Of course, seeing a score jump is one way to assess progress. Another, subtler way to mark improvement in your MCAT test taking skills is whether or not you are actively thinking about possible questions the AAMC could ask while you are reading the passage. This skill takes time to master and demonstrates how well you understand the structure and goals of the test. For instance, I remember every time I would see “kinase” or “phosphorylate” in a passage, I would instantly think of the three amino acids that can be phosphorylated: serine, threonine, tyrosine. And why can they be phosphorylated? Because they contain the OH group in their side chain. And what is the purpose of phosphorylating this protein? To either activate or inactivate the protein—it depends! Practicing this skill of actively thinking and reading the passages (instead of passively reading) will set you up for answering questions quicker! 

3. Draw out pathways

This is probably one of the biggest tips that helped improve my scores and avoid the intimidation from long B/B passages. Oftentimes, a B/B passage will talk about a particular pathway and then ask you to apply the knowledge to answer a question about that pathway. These questions are significantly easier if you take the time to draw out the passage on a sheet of paper instead of trying to reason it out in your head, especially for the more convoluted pathways. 

Bonus: Practice

And finally, the biggest tip of them all: practice. Answering practice questions (UWorld is the gold standard) and, eventually, taking practice tests is the tried-and-true way to conquer the B/B section. Seeing multiple questions back to back, experiencing how the AAMC likes to ask questions, and seeing how scary the B/B passages can be is the only way to gauge gaps in knowledge, actively think from the AAMC point of view, and to lose the B/B fear! 

Carlos attended The University of Texas at Austin for his undergraduate education, where he graduated with a BS in Biochemistry (Research Distinction, Highest Honors). He is now pursuing an MD degree at Harvard Medical School.

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