MCAT Math Requirements, Explained

Posted in: MCAT

March 12, 2019 | by Alexis

The good news is that the MCAT doesn’t feature much math (no calculus!), but the bad news is that it doesn’t allow you any help (no calculators!)

The math on the MCAT is relatively basic; there isn’t much of a math component on the test at all. The test is much more conceptual than quantitative. This means that it focuses on your ability to understand the why and how of concepts, and doesn’t bother to stump you with difficult math problems.

Below are tips to help you to work quickly and to avoid mistakes.

MCAT math topics and requirements

You can expect to see the following math topics:

  • Trigonometry (angles, values of sin/cos/tan)
  • Geometry (shapes, area, volume)
  • Vectors
  • Powers and roots (exponents)
  • Scientific notation
  • Ratios, decimals and percentages
  • Unit conversion and dimensional analysis
  • Graphs (interpreting, relating to equations)
  • Logarithms and log scales

MCAT Math Tip 1: Keep Track of Units

You must know all the units of all common quantities used in the MCAT sciences. Sometimes, the test will ask you merely to do unit analysis to find the answer without involving calculating numbers. Jump at these opportunities to showcase your skills and knowledge of units! Keep your units labeled throughout your calculations to ensure that you’re solving for the right answer, and watch out for conversions of scales (i.e. nanometers vs. kilometers)

MCAT Math Tip 2: Round

Most of the numbers and values you encounter on the MCAT are “awkward” numbers that don’t lend themselves to easy calculations. You’ll want to practice rounding by working through as many MCAT problems as you can. Remember, you just have to get close enough to one of the four answer choices to pick it! You should also train yourself to predict in which direction your rounded answer will deviate from the actual answer (with lots of sample practice sample calculations that will give you a good sense of how close your number is to the real answer).

MCAT Math Tip 3: Triage Math questions

Knowing how and where to spend your time on the MCAT is important. If it’s going to take more than 60 seconds to find the answer, maybe you should consider guessing and moving on. If you can eliminate one or two of the answer choices through logic rather than math, then you can make an educated guess that much more quickly. Remember that the test will surely include a few convoluted calculations that can bog you down and waste your time. Don’t dwell on them and instead move on to questions you have a better shot at answering quickly and correctly.

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