Complimentary 1-hour tutoring consultation Schedule Now

Complimentary 1-hour tutoring consultation
Schedule Now

Blog / How To Read MCAT Science Passages

How to Read MCAT Science Passages

Written by Nassim on Sep 11, 2023

There’s a lot to understand about MCAT science passages. In this post, we’re going to show you how to read MCAT science passages, the best way to approach MCAR science passages, and how you can approach the MCAT with confidence. Reading these passages can be daunting, but with our tips, you’ll be able to breeze through them. So without further ado, let’s get started!


What is the structure of the MCAT science passage?

Whether you’re taking a practice test or the real thing, understanding the structure of an MCAT science passage can help you maximize your score. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The passage will be divided into three sections: the introductory paragraph, the body, and the conclusion.
  • The introductory paragraph will provide an overview of the topic and introduce the main points that will be covered in the body.
  • The body of the passage will present the supporting evidence for those points. It will be organized logically, with each paragraph building on the one before it.
  • The conclusion will summarize the main points of the passage and explain how they contribute to our understanding of the topic.

By familiarizing yourself with this structure, you’ll be able to quickly identify the key information in each section and use it to answer questions correctly. So when you sit down to take your next test, don’t forget to keep this helpful advice in mind!

How To Read MCAT Science Passages to Get the Best Results

At first, the science sections on the MCAT can seem challenging; however, with the right strategy, you can breeze through them and make them your strongest point on the MCAT! 

One aspect of the science sections that can make them seem particularly challenging is the large amount of information in each passage. But you don’t need to memorize ALL the information in the passage to answer questions effectively! The success formula is to hone in on the specific details within each passage that are most likely to be tested.  

To approach MCAT sciences passages with this strategy, you’ll need to highlight the “key terms” you encounter as you read through each passage. Also, if it is included in the passage, emphasize the definition of the term. Then, as you continue to answer the exercises, you will find that most of the questions asked in the science section of the MCAT are based on these “important terms” that are scattered throughout the passage. 

For example, suppose you’re reading a passage in biology, and you come across the term “retrovirus” in that passage. From content reviews, you need to know that viruses, especially retroviruses, are concepts that are tested in MCAT. With that in mind, we need to emphasize the term “retrovirus” and ask ourselves questions such as “what is a retrovirus, and how does it work.” These are likely to be the types of questions asked. 

 Another area of ​​the science section that many students find difficult is the interpretation of graphs. Specifically, many students are frustrated when they can’t interpret the graph while reading a sentence. Interpreting graphs/data is an essential skill in approaching MCAT’s scientific passages. But remember that you are rarely asked about every graph/table/graph in a particular passage. If you are reading an academic paper and cannot interpret the graph, skip it and read the rest of the text till the end.

You only need to spend extra time interpreting it if the question asks you to refer to that particular graphic! In the following, we’ll dive more into detail on how to deal with the challenges of MCAT science passages.

MCAT TIP: The MCAT is not strictly testing how well you know a subject, but rather, how well you comprehend the subject. Meaning it’s not enough to just know equations and data, you need to know how to contextualize that data into different topics. 

Simulate the Test as Much as Possible 

The MCAT is a long, challenging exam, and it’s important to be as prepared as possible before you take it. One way to do that is to familiarize yourself with the types of passages you’ll find on the MCAT. The science passages can be especially challenging, but by familiarize yourself with the question style of the MCAT, the better prepared you will be. 

One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with how the MCAT will test your science knowledge is to practice with the Jack Westin Question Bank.

Contextualize the Science Content

Try to find out what is the main concept that the question is asking you. Once you have a grasp of the main idea, you can begin to break down the information in the passage. Read each sentence carefully and consider how it contributes to the overall argument. As you read, make sure to take note of any key terms or concepts that are essential to understanding the passage. If something is unclear, reread the sentence or section several times until it makes sense. 

Finally, once you have finished reading the passage, take a few moments to reflect on what you have learned. What implications does the information in the passage have for other areas of science? How could it be used in further research? By taking the time to truly engage with an MCAT science passage, you will be better prepared to answer related questions on test day.


What to do when you don’t understand an MCAT science passage?

The broad theme of the MCAT exam is a rare application of basic knowledge. Therefore, passages often represent well-known phenomena in complex systems or expect the candidate to predict the new scenario’s outcome. Because of this, you’re likely to see something you’ve never read on the day of the test, which is easy to manage. So here’s how to deal with this: 

Don’t panic! Take a deep breath. MCAT is a scaled test, meaning that it is compared to the performance of others. If you think this passage is impossible, others may be struggling with it as well. Therefore, if you answer some of these questions incorrectly, they will not automatically become the default. 

1- Pull out everything you can see from the passage. 

It’s important to think about the science passage on the MCAT. What does it say? What are the main points? What are the details that support those points? Once you’ve pulled everything you can out of the passage, you’ll be in a much better position to answer the questions.

2- Appropriately emphasize keywords and important information. 

With the new MCAT exam, each question is displayed on a different screen, so it’s quite a challenge to skim all the questions before reading the passage. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention to the keywords when reading. That simplifies getting back to the essence after reaching the question.  

You may encounter one of these terms that almost no one knows, so they will probably ask you about it. However, be careful not to overemphasize it. 

3- Answer the questions you can. 

Many passage-based questions are Free Standing Questions (FSQ) in disguise. Understanding the passage and validating the conclusions and answers based on specific parts of the passage can be helpful but not always necessary. You can answer questions with the scientific knowledge you already have from time to time.


4- Use hints on answer options to avoid wrong answer choices. 

You can answer at least one answer option based on an exclusion in most cases. This gives you a 75 percent chance of making a correct guess. Fortunately, you’re not blindly guessing. It is well-founded and based on the information you receive from the passage. 

The “extreme” answer is probably incorrect (words such as “always” and “never” are considered extreme). Suppose you think the extreme answer is correct (for example, “the Krebs cycle never occurs in red blood cells”). In that case, you should find a specific part of the passage that supports it. This can mean that it is specifically mentioned or that something in the passage supports a conclusion that leads you to your conclusion. This example supports the conclusion that glycolytic products never enter the Krebs cycle if the passage states that “red blood cells are anaerobic.” It requires the presence of oxygen for subsequent oxidative phosphorylation. 

We also know that the unit provides a large amount of information. Suppose you can estimate the number of digits in the correct answer. In that case, you can confidently rule out at least one and often two wrong answers. The unit may also give you clues about the calculations needed to answer the question. If you find a unit that you know can be disassembled, use dimensional analysis to see if you can work in the opposite direction to get the correct answer. For example, if you find a possible answer in Newton, make sure you are looking for a calculation that will eventually give you [kg * (m / s2)]. 


We hope that this blog has helped you feel more confident about reading the MCAT science passages on the MCAT. Remember, practice makes perfect! So make sure to read as many science passages as possible in order to get comfortable with the material. In our other blog posts, we offer even more tips and strategies for acing the MCAT. 

If you’re looking for the best way to approach mcat science passages, be sure to check out the Jack Westin MCAT Science Complete Course, attend a FREE Live Session, or enjoy our FREE Jack Westin Question Bank.


Billing Information
We had trouble validating your card. It's possible your card provider is preventing us from charging the card. Please contact your card provider or customer support.
{{ cardForm.errors.get('number') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('zip') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('coupon') }}
Tax: {{ taxAmount(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }}

Total Price Including Tax: {{ priceWithTax(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }} / {{ selectedPlan.interval | capitalize }}