Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of MCAT test takers increase their scores to competitive levels and it’s obvious that Chem/Phys and CARS are two of the most challenging sections for most.
As we research and interview 515+ scorers and their strategies they used to dominate the MCAT, we also single out those who scored over 130 (we usually single out 132 scorers) in particular sections and try to drill down on the most powerful strategies they used for those specific sections.
In this post, we’re going to provide you with some of the most effective 130+ C/P scorer "quick strategies" which you can apply right away to increase your C/P score fast and get over the 129 mark yourself.
With that said, let’s begin…
An interesting problem a lot of premeds face for this section is low scores because of mental pressure that is a result of the timer running. When we’re going slow, we try to speed up. In our hurry, our reasoning abilities aren’t as strong and our score suffers.
This section doesn’t require you to have some super reasoning abilities. In fact, it just requires basic math and simple reasoning. Every premed has the cognitive abilities to conquer this section.
The key is to take a C/P exam that’s not timed. Forget about how fast you’re working. Go through it in a state of complete calmness. Especially for math problems. Work through those at a slow pace. Go through the passages and graphs and really try to figure out the right answer. If you forget something, guess, make a note of it, and move on.
Most of the time you’ll notice that the right answer is always there in your head, if you just give it a little time and push for it to come up.
Once you do an untimed test like this for C/P, your confidence will increase. As your confidence increases, do it again but with less time. Keep this going until you can maintain your efficiency in under 135 minutes.
This is one of the sections where you can improve your score DRAMATICALLY with practice.
Every 130+ scorer in this section greatly emphasized the importance of practice and how practice is what makes this section in particular, one that you can truly master.
Practice unit conversions, working with equations, dividing and multiplying scientific notations, rounding, etc. If you lack understanding, go in-depth with external resources like Khan Academy videos. Or ask someone.
However, like we’ve mentioned already, make an honest attempt at reasoning out the answer. Reasoning also requires practice and as you get better at it, your confidence will increase, including the speed at which you get right answers.
You must also do as many problems as you can. Find a good resource that gives you a lot of problems for C/P and use those to increase your math + problem solving skills you need.
When you build this muscle, you’ll not only get stronger at problem solving which is extremely important, but you’ll also make a lot less calculation mistakes (if any).
Generally, most external resources that provide you with practice problems for C/P, give you much harder problems than what you’ll see on AAMC exams. Which is a good thing because when it comes to the actual exam, you’ll fly through it!
You also need to apply effective strategies for reviewing your practice. We cover the most recommended (by top MCAT scorers) and most effective practice and review strategies in the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide. Here we’ll list out a few...
Once you’ve done the questions, look into why you got the answer right AND why you got the answer wrong. Read the explanations – they’ll reinforce your rationale, you’ll learn better, and you’ll be able to critically look at how you thought about the question and what you can do differently next time.
You also need to ask yourself the right questions when you’re reviewing. Asking yourself the right questions can make the difference between seeing a higher score on your next practice exam or a lower/same score. It’s extremely key.
One of our bonus resources for anyone who downloads the strategy guide, is the ‘Mistake Analysis & Tracker Worksheet’ that is a template to use when you’re reviewing, with prewritten questions to ask yourself, so you can track with top scorer level efficiency.
Two (of the many) highly effective questions you can ask yourself are:
Did I get this wrong because I misinterpreted key information in the passage and/or question?
If you keep coming back to this being your most common issue, it simply means that you need to get yourself better focused, with increased stamina. There are several ways to do this which we cover in the strategy guide PDF – one is to simply practice more, as much as you can.
Did I get this wrong because I didn’t know or improperly applied equations/concepts?
If you keep coming back to this being your most common issue, it simply means that you need to brush up on your content knowledge. Content review is a good idea here. Also if you really want to take this a step further, make notecards. We cover proven top scorer strategies for creating extremely effective notecards in the strategy guide as well.
Of course, be sure to make use of every single AAMC C/P resource; Physics QB, Chem QB and C/P Section Bank.
You've studied hard for this section of the MCAT... It's time to study smart.
For C/P, it’s recommended to give your most attention to getting the basics and foundations down, instead of details (even though certain details can be useful).
Go broad, especially when you’re starting out. You want to have conceptual knowledge of the topics. Once you get to that point, THEN focus all your time on grasping high-yield topics like redox, acid/base, electrochemistry, etc. (The ‘48 Must-Know MCAT Topics Checklist’ has a list of high-yield topics that have a 90% chance of showing up on the MCAT – it’s a key resource we offer as a free bonus to joining the VIP MCAT Master’s club, that we recommend you download asap.)
If you want a 130+ in C/P, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll happen if you don’t master the basics and master the highest yield topics. Value these MORE than learning the details. Once you’ve achieved complete dominance over these, then go to the small details. Don’t get sucked into learning details, wasting time, when you know those details are probably not going to be on the exam.
One of the most agreed upon ideas from 130+ scorers in this section is that one doesn’t have to be a chemistry or math genius to master this section.
The main skills you need in this section revolve around simple equations, foundational concepts, etc. The key is to be aware of when you need to make use of them and also to be able to use them with confidence and speed. At the same time, completely minimizing any possibility of making silly mistakes.
First and foremost, rounding and scientific notation is something 130+ C/P scorers recommend to get very comfortable with. Simply because it makes doing the math in problems a lot easier.
Generally, however, you won’t find complicated math problems on the exam. They’re usually very simple and one-step problems. Equations you’ll need are also simple like f=mg or e=hv, etc. When you catch yourself doing some complicated multi-step problem that takes more than a minute, consider that a red flag to reassess your approach.
Also, a lot of top scorers claim that knowing units is absolutely necessary. It’s claimed to be one of the most important skills to have on this section.
Get comfortable with converting units. To the point where even if you don’t remember an equation you require, convert units until they match the units of the answer options (which requires converting between powers of 10). Write out the units every time.
A lot of the math requires dividing by negative exponents or multiplying different units together. With the time pressure, it’s easy to get worried if the answer you got isn’t included in the answer choices. Which is why it’s important to be able to convert those units with ease. Also know the prefixes like centi, tera, pico, etc.
A great mnemonic to help you with C/P is LARS (Left Add, Right Subtract). Essentially, if you toggle one decimal to the right, you subtract an exponent from the power of 10. And if you move one decimal to the left, you add. So 6.7 x 10^4 = 67 x 10^3. Simple? Yes – but extremely helpful in this section.
By the way, mnemonics are one of the greatest MCAT prep hacks for memorization and for making life during MCAT prep a lot easier. A lot of 510+ scorers use mnemonics and they don’t just make them up on their own. They use some of the best ones out there and we recommend you do the same. Instead of you wasting time and energy trying to find the best, most reliable, mnemonics, we have an entire list readily available for you...
There’s a private section on our site dedicated specifically for learning all the MCAT mnemonics you’ll ever need – access to this section is granted for free as a free bonus to anyone who downloads the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide! Check it out when you have a chance 🙂
Also, another note on mnemonics: use them as much as you need to memorize but be sure to give your maximum effort to actually understand concepts and not just memorize them.
The MCAT forces you to apply the concept in ways you probably never have applied them before, which means that if you just ‘know’ concepts and don’t ‘understand’ them, you’re going to have a hard time with this exam. Memorization is step 1, understanding is step 2. Don’t mistake them to be the same thing.
You've studied hard for this section of the MCAT... It's time to study smart.
Miriam Alghothani dominated C/P with a 130 (97th percentile) and here's what she said about it:
"That was the section I feared most, thinking it would be my worst section, which really motivated me to practice, practice, and practice more. I always thought that Chemistry and Physics would be the hardest because they were my least two favorite subjects.
Additionally, throughout my undergrad major, I always worked very very hard and barely managed to earn A if I did. However, for the MCAT, I consistently scored highest in Chem/Phys during my practice, because I figured out that it was always the same concept tested in different words. The Organic Chemistry was always the same with different molecules. I learned to master the concepts before practicing and testing myself.
I felt the same about the biochemistry section. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the physics and chemistry because a lot of the passages contain difficult info. If you learn to brush the difficult concepts away, and focus on the main concepts that you have already established, you can get the answer right.
My biggest strategy was not getting caught with the difficult equations and concepts of each passage. Many of the questions, even though they were passage based questions, could be considered stand alone questions.
MCAT Mastery's strategy guide kept my confidence so high that I improved my already highest section in such little time, after having to write the MCAT a second time."
Miriam increased her MCAT score by 20 points; from 489 to 509. You can read her full story here to find out how she did that, plus you can get her overall inspiring MCAT advice!
C/P Resource Recommendations
When it comes to resources for this section, EK C/P books are well spoken of by 510+ scorers. Supplementing with online videos from KA or YT are also constantly recommended by top scorers.
“For chemical and physical foundations I used the Kaplan Physics MCAT book, practice exams and questions, flashcards of important equations, and supplemented concepts with YouTube videos.” – Troy Delmotsch, a 512 scorer
By the way, Troy is a VIP MCAT Mastery member who leveraged our top scorer strategies to increase his MCAT score by 13 points in only 3 ½ weeks! In fact, you can read all about his MCAT success story here.
PLUS Troy has joined The MCAT Mastery Team and is now a tutor and available to work with you one-on-one on C/P strategy or anything else you need to increase your score just like he did! You can find out more about working with him here.
Also, if you’re currently taking any relevant Chem or Physics courses right now, take advantage of this! This is likely the case if you haven’t started MCAT prep yet. But if you are in such a course, do all you can to really understand concept in great depth. Start supplementing with KA or YT videos to really get deep into different topics.
As with most sections on the MCAT, you’ll come across really strange/difficult passages. For this section in particular, you’ll realize that these passages generally have the most direct and obvious questions. So don’t worry when you come across one of these passages! Instead, turn your attention to little details that might hint at a specific C/P concept you should know.
C/P Section Mistake On Exam Day
One of the top scorers we interviewed, Peter Kim, who scored a 513 on the MCAT, received his worst score on C/P. We believe you should learn from the successes AND the mistakes of others before you. Here's what Peter said about his C/P experience and what he would do differently...
"I scored lowest on Chemistry/Physics... I spent the least amount of time studying this section since it was consistently my highest score throughout the study period. On test day, I was shocked at how much organic chemistry there was, as it was a weakness that I had not covered in detail. I figured that it would be low yield.
If I could do this differently, I would never assume that a certain topic would not come up just because it is considered "low yield". There is no low yield on the MCAT and anything on the AAMC outline is fair game!"
We highly recommend listening to Peter's full inspiring interview here, where he unveils his story about how he increased his score from a 501 to 513 in just weeks before his exam date! Peter is also available to work with you one-on-one!
Chem/Phys is one of the most frustrating sections on the MCAT.
Many times we've heard members of the MCAT Mastery Community reach out and tell us that just when they think they understand the material, they go to a passage and everything looks foreign. Or how annoying it is to get caught up with verbiage and end up running out of time - not only on C/P but also on Bio!
Running out of time is one of the biggest drawbacks that need to be fixed right away. Unfortunately C/P is the first section tested so if you run out of time or mess up on there in some other way, it's easy to go through the whole MCAT feeling demoralized, which is not good for your overall score.
C/P is also one of the easiest sections to plateau on, with scores not increasing no matter what you do and you get to a point where you just feel "stuck".
The point is, we get it. C/P sucks and without increasing your score in this section to at least a decent level, med-school admission is out of reach.
Here's what we have to say to you if you're struggling with C/P...
You can get through this.
And we're not just offering lip service, we know you can get through this! We've seen it happen many times, where someone couldn't figure C/P out until something shifted and they became 510 or 515+ scorers.
What shifted? They got some clarity.
Often, students have made this section a lot harder in their minds than it actually is. What helps, is getting some clarity. We've learned this from all the 90+ percentile scorers we've interviewed and researched.
They got clarity once they took a step back and realized they just needed to change their approach to the questions, passages, and how they were studying for the MCAT overall.
The few strategies you learned in this post, gave you clarity on what you need to do. Those who increased their C/P and overall MCAT scores enhanced their MCAT studying approach by using smart MCAT study and test-taking strategy.
It's about knowing what to focus on and what not to focus on. It's about going over practice tests in a way that most other students don't do. It's about knowing how to the passages, the questions, and answer choices, to constantly and strategically choose the right answer. And there's SO MUCH more to it...
We don't know how to say it more clearly...
Get and apply the MCAT prep strategies others have used to increase their scores by 10, 12, even 15+ points to achieve competitive scores and gain admission into the med-school of their dreams, so you can do the same.
That's the smartest, easiest, and fastest way for you to get clarity, to get the most optimal approach to studying for the MCAT, and to increase your MCAT score to a competitive level that gets med-schools knocking at your door.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors
Every year MCAT Mastery helps thousands of premeds in achieving their target MCAT score goal so they can get into the med-school of their dreams. The dedicated team at MCAT Mastery accomplishes this by conducting ongoing research and paid interviews with 90+ percentile MCAT scorers, to bring you the most credible, most proven MCAT prep strategies on the planet.
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