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MCAT Content / Outline / AAMC MCAT Science Outline

AAMC MCAT Science Outline

Topic: Outline

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Advanced Solutions for the AAMC Practice Materials


Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Foundational Concept 1


Content Category 1A: Structure and function of proteins and their constituent amino acids


Amino Acids (BC, OC)

  • Description
    • Absolute configuration at the α position
    • Amino acids as dipolar ions
    • Classifications
      • Acidic or basic
      • Hydrophobic or hydrophilic
  • Reactions
    • Sulfur linkage for cysteine and cystine
    • Peptide linkage: polypeptides and proteins
    • Hydrolysis

Protein Structure (BIO, BC, OC)

  • Structure
    • 1° structure of proteins
    • 2° structure of proteins
    • 3° structure of proteins; role of proline, cystine, hydrophobic bonding
    • 4° structure of proteins (BIO,BC)
  • Conformational stability
    • Denaturing and folding
    • Hydrophobic interactions
    • Solvation layer (entropy) (BC)
  • Separation techniques
    • Isoelectric point
    • Electrophoresis

Non-Enzymatic Protein Function (BIO, BC)

Enzyme Structure and Function (BIO, BC)

Control of Enzyme Activity (BIO, BC)

Content Category 1B: Transmission of genetic information from the gene to the protein


Nucleic Acid Structure and Function (BIO, BC)

DNA Replication (BIO)

Repair of DNA (BIO)

Genetic Code (BIO)

Transcription (BIO)

Translation (BIO)

Eukaryotic Chromosome Organization (BIO)

Control of Gene Expression in Prokaryotes (BIO)

Control of Gene Expression in Eukaryotes (BIO)

Recombinant DNA and Biotechnology (BIO)

Content Category 1C: Transmission of heritable information from generation to generation and the processes that increase genetic diversity


Evidence that DNA is Genetic Material (BIO)

Mendelian Concepts (BIO)

Meiosis and Other Factors Affecting Genetic Variability (BIO)

Analytic Methods (BIO)

Evolution (BIO)

Content Category 1D: Principles of bioenergetics and fuel molecule metabolism


Principles of Bioenergetics (BC, GC)

Carbohydrates (BC, OC)

Glycolysis, Gluconeogenesis, and the Pentose Phosphate Pathway (BIO, BC)

Principles of Metabolic Regulation (BC)

Citric Acid Cycle (BIO, BC)

Metabolism of Fatty Acids and Proteins (BIO, BC)

Oxidative Phosphorylation (BIO, BC)

Hormonal Regulation and Integration of Metabolism (BC)


Foundational Concept 2


Category 2A: Assemblies of molecules, cells, and groups of cells within single cellular and multicellular organisms


Plasma Membrane (BIO, BC)

Membrane-Bound Organelles and Defining Characteristics of Eukaryotic Cells (BIO)

Cytoskeleton (BIO)

Tissues Formed From Eukaryotic Cells (BIO)

Content Category 2B: The structure, growth, physiology, and genetics of prokaryotes and viruses


Cell Theory (BIO)

Classification and Structure of Prokaryotic Cells (BIO)

Growth and Physiology of Prokaryotic Cells (BIO)

Genetics of Prokaryotic Cells (BIO)

Virus Structure (BIO)

Viral Life Cycle (BIO)

Content Category 2C: Processes of cell division, differentiation, and specialization


Mitosis (BIO)

Biosignalling (BC)

Reproductive System (BIO)

Embryogenesis (BIO)

Mechanisms of Development (BIO)


Foundational Concept 3


Content Category 3A: Structure and functions of the nervous and endocrine systems and ways in which these systems coordinate the organ systems


Nervous System: Structure and Function (BIO)

Nerve Cell (BIO)

Electrochemistry (GC)

Biosignalling (BC)

Lipids (BC, OC)

Endocrine System: Hormones and Their Sources (BIO)

Endocrine System: Mechanisms of Hormone Action (BIO)

Category 3B: Structure and integrative functions of the main organ systems


Respiratory System (BIO)

Circulatory System (BIO)

Lymphatic System (BIO)

Immune System (BIO)

Digestive System (BIO)

  • Ingestion
    • Saliva as lubrication and source of enzymes
    • Ingestion; esophagus, transport function
  • Stomach
    • Storage and churning of food
    • Low pH, gastric juice, mucal protection against self-destruction
    • Production of digestive enzymes, site of digestion
    • Structure (gross)
  • Liver
    • Structural relationship of liver within gastrointestinal system
    • Production of bile
    • Role in blood glucose regulation, detoxification
  • Bile
    • Storage in gall bladder
    • Function
  • Pancreas
    • Production of enzymes
    • Transport of enzymes to small intestine
  • Small intestine
    • Absorption of food molecules and water
    • Function and structure of villi
    • Production of enzymes, site of digestion
    • Neutralization of stomach acid
    • Structure (anatomic subdivisions)
  • Large intestine
    • Absorption of water
    • Bacterial flora
    • Structure (gross)
  • Rectum: storage and elimination of waste, feces
  • Muscular control
    • Peristalsis
  • Endocrine control
    • Hormones
    • Target tissues
  • Nervous control: the enteric nervous system

Excretory System (BIO)

Reproductive System (BIO)

Muscle System (BIO)

Specialized Cell – Muscle Cell (BIO)

Skeletal System (BIO)

Skin System (BIO)


Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
Foundational Concept 4


Content Category 4A: Translational motion, forces, work, energy, and equilibrium in living systems


Translational Motion (PHY)

Force (PHY)

Equilibrium (PHY)

Work (PHY)

Energy of Point Object Systems (PHY)

Periodic Motion (PHY)

Content Category 4B: Importance of fluids for the circulation of blood, gas movement, and gas exchange


Fluids (PHY)

Circulatory System (BIO)

Gas Phase (GC, PHY)

Content Category 4C: Electrochemistry and electrical circuits and their elements


Electrostatics (PHY)

Circuit Elements (PHY)

Magnetism (PHY)

Electrochemistry (GC)

  • Electrolytic Cell
    • Electrolysis
    • Anode, cathode
    • Electrolyte
    • Faraday’s Law relating amount of elements deposited (or gas liberated) at an electrode to current
    • Electron flow; oxidation, and reduction at the electrodes
  • Galvanic or Voltaic cells
    • Half-reactions
    • Reduction potentials; cell potential
    • Direction of electron flow
  • Concentration Cell
  • Batteries
    • Electromotive force, Voltage
    • Lead-storage batteries
    • Nickel-cadmium batteries

Specialized Cell – Nerve Cell (BIO)

Content Category 4D: How light and sound interact with matter


Sound (PHY)

Light, Electromagnetic Radiation (PHY)

Molecular Structure and Absorption Spectra (OC)

  • Infrared Region
    • Intramolecular vibrations and rotations
    • Recognizing common characteristic group absorptions, fingerprint region
  • Visible Region
    • Absorption in visible region gives complementary color (e.g., carotene)
    • Effect of structural changes on absorption (e.g., indicators)
  • Ultraviolet Region
    • π-Electron and non-bonding electron transitions
    • Conjugated systems
  • NMR Spectroscopy
    • Protons in a magnetic field; equivalent protons
    • Spin-spin splitting

Geometrical Optics (PHY)

Content Category 4E: Atoms, nuclear decay, electronic structure, and atomic chemical behavior


Atomic Nucleus (PHY, GC)

Electronic Structure (PHY, GC)

The Periodic Table – Classification of Elements into Groups by Electronic Structure (GC)

The Periodic Table – Variations of Chemical Properties with Group and Row (GC)

Stoichiometry (GC)


Foundational Concept 5


Content Category 5A: Unique nature of water and its solutions


Acid/Base Equilibria (GC, BC)

Ions in Solutions (GC, BC)

Solubility (GC)

Titration (GC)

Content Category 5B: Nature of molecules and intermolecular interactions


Covalent Bond (GC)

  • Lewis Electron Dot formulas
    • Resonance structures
    • Formal charge
    • Lewis acids and bases
  • Partial ionic character
    • Role of electronegativity in determining charge distribution
    • Dipole Moment
  • Sigma and Pi bonds
    • Hybrid orbitals: sp3 , sp2 , sp and respective geometries
    • Valence shell electron pair repulsion and the prediction of shapes of molecules (e.g., NH3, H2O, CO2)
    • Structural formulas for molecules involving H, C, N, O, F, S, P, Si, Cl
    • Delocalized electrons and resonance in ions and molecules
  • Multiple bonding
    • Effect on bond length and bond energies
    • Rigidity in molecular structure
  • Stereochemistry of covalently bonded molecules (OC)
    • Isomers
      • Structural isomers
      • Stereoisomers (e.g., diastereomers, enantiomers, cis/trans isomers)
      • Conformational isomers
    • Polarization of light, specific rotation
    • Absolute and relative configuration
      • Conventions for writing R and S forms
      • Conventions for writing E and Z forms

Liquid Phase – Intermolecular Forces (GC)

Content Category 5C: Separation and purification methods


Separations and Purifications (OC, BC)

Content Category 5D: Structure, function, and reactivity of biologically-relevant molecules


Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids (BC, BIO)

Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins (OC, BC)

  • Amino acids: description
    • Absolute configuration at the α position
    • Dipolar ions
    • Classification
      • Acidic or basic
      • Hydrophilic or hydrophobic
    • Synthesis of α-amino acids (OC)
      • Strecker Synthesis
      • Gabriel Synthesis
  • Peptides and proteins: reactions
    • Sulfur linkage for cysteine and cystine
    • Peptide linkage: polypeptides and proteins
    • Hydrolysis (BC)
  • General Principles
    • Primary structure of proteins
    • Secondary structure of proteins
    • Tertiary structure of proteins
    • Isoelectric point

The Three-Dimensional Protein Structure (BC)

Non-Enzymatic Protein Function (BC)

Lipids (BC, OC)

  • Description, Types
    • Storage
      • Triacyl glycerols
      • Free fatty acids: saponification
    • Structural
      • Phospholipids and phosphatids
      • Sphingolipids (BC)
      • Waxes
    • Signals/cofactors
      • Fat-soluble vitamins
      • Steroids
      • Prostaglandins (BC)

Carbohydrates (OC)

Aldehydes and Ketones (OC)

  • Description
    • Nomenclature
    • Physical properties
  • Important reactions
    • Nucleophilic addition reactions at C=O bond
      • Acetal, hemiacetal
      • Imine, enamine
      • Hydride reagents
      • Cyanohydrin
    • Oxidation of aldehydes
    • Reactions at adjacent positions: enolate chemistry
      • Keto-enol tautomerism (α-racemization)
      • Aldol condensation, retro-aldol
      • Kinetic versus thermodynamic enolate
  • General principles
    • Effect of substituents on reactivity of C=O; steric hindrance
    • Acidity of α-H; carbanions

Alcohols (OC)

  • Description
    • Nomenclature
    • Physical properties (acidity, hydrogen bonding)
  • Important Reactions
    • Oxidation
    • Substitution reactions: SN1 or SN2
    • Protection of alcohols
    • Preparation of mesylates and tosylates

Carboxylic Acids (OC)

  • Description
    • Nomenclature
    • Physical properties
  • Important reactions
    • Carboxyl group reactions
      • Amides (and lactam), esters (and lactone), anhydride formation
      • Reduction
      • Decarboxylation
    • Reactions at 2-position, substitution

Acid Derivatives (Anhydrides, Amides, Esters) (OC)

  • Description
    • Nomenclature
    • Physical properties
  • Important Reactions
    • Nucleophilic substitution
    • Transesterification
    • Hydrolysis of amides
  • General Principles
    • Relative reactivity of acid derivatives
    • Steric effects
    • Electronic effects
    • Strain (e.g., β-lactams)

Phenols (OC, BC)

Polycyclic and Heterocyclic Aromatic Compounds (OC, BC)

Content Category 5E: Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics


Enzymes (BC, BIO)

Principles of Bioenergetics (BC)

Energy Changes in Chemical Reactions – Thermochemistry, Thermodynamics (GC, PHY)

Rate Processes in Chemical Reactions – Kinetics and Equilibrium (GC)


Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Foundational Concept 6


Content Category 6A: Sensing the environment


Sensory Processing (PSY, BIO)

  • Sensation
    • Threshold
    • Weber’s Law (PSY)
    • Signal detection theory (PSY)
    • Sensory adaptation
    • Psychophysics
  • Sensory Receptors
    • Sensory pathways
    • Types of sensory receptor

Vision (PSY, BIO)

Hearing (PSY, BIO)

Other Senses (PSY, BIO)

Perception (PSY)

Content Category 6B: Making sense of the environment


Attention (PSY)

Cognition (PSY)

Consciousness (PSY)

  • States of consciousness
    • Alertness (PSY, BIO)
    • Sleep
      • Stages of sleep
      • Sleep cycles and changes to sleep cycles
      • Sleep and circadian rhythms (PSY, BIO)
      • Dreaming
      • Sleep–wake disorders
    • Hypnosis and meditation
  • Consciousness-altering drugs
    • Types of consciousness-altering drugs and their effects on the nervous system and behavior
    • Drug addiction and the reward pathway in the brain

Memory (PSY)

  • Encoding
    • Process of encoding information
    • Processes that aid in encoding memories
  • Storage
    • Types of memory storage (e.g., sensory, working, long-term)
    • Semantic networks and spreading activation
  • Retrieval
    • Recall, recognition, and relearning
    • Retrieval cues
    • The role of emotion in retrieving memories (PSY, BIO)
    • Processes that aid retrieval
  • Forgetting
    • Aging and memory
    • Memory dysfunctions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome)
    • Decay
    • Interference
    • Memory construction and source monitoring
  • Changes in Synaptic Connections Underlie Memory and Learning
    • Neural plasticity
    • Memory and learning
    • Long-term potentiation

Language (PSY)

Content Category 6C: Responding to the world


Emotion (PSY)

Stress (PSY)


Foundational Concept 7


Content Category 7A: Individual influences on behavior


Biological Bases of Behavior (PSY, BIO)

Personality (PSY)

Psychological Disorders (PSY)

  • Understanding psychological disorders
    • Biomedical vs. biopsychosocial approaches
    • Classifying psychological disorders
    • Rates of psychological disorders
  • Types of psychological disorders
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Obsessive–compulsive disorder
    • Trauma- and stressor-related disorders
    • Somatic symptom and related disorders
    • Bipolar and related disorders
    • Depressive disorders
    • Schizophrenia
    • Dissociative disorders
    • Personality disorders
  • Biological bases of nervous system disorders (PSY, BIO)
    • Schizophrenia
    • Depression
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Stem cell-based therapy to regenerate neurons in the central nervous system (BIO)

Motivation (PSY)

Attitudes (PSY)

Content Category 7B: Social processes that influence human behavior


How the Presence of Others Affects Individual Behavior (PSY)

Group Decision-making Processes (PSY, SOC)

Normative and Non-normative Behavior (SOC)

Socialization (PSY, SOC)

Content Category 7C: Attitude and behavior change


Habituation and Dishabituation (PSY)

Associative Learning (PSY)

Observational Learning (PSY)

Theories of Attitude and Behavior Change (PSY)


Foundational Concept 8


Content Category 8A: Self-identity


Self-Concept, Self-identity, and Social Identity (PSY, SOC)

Formation of Identity (PSY, SOC)

Content Category 8B: Social thinking


Attributing Behavior to Persons or Situations (PSY)

Prejudice and Bias (PSY, SOC)

Processes Related to Stereotypes (PSY)

Content Category 8C: Social interactions


Elements of Social Interaction (PSY, SOC)

  • Status (SOC)
    • Types of status (e.g., achieved, ascribed)
  • Role
    • Role conflict and role strain (SOC)
    • Role exit (SOC)
  • Groups
    • Primary and secondary groups (SOC)
    • In-group vs. out-group
    • Group size (e.g., dyads, triads) (SOC)
  • Networks (SOC)
  • Organizations (SOC)
    • Formal organization
    • Bureaucracy
      • Characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy
      • Perspectives on bureaucracy (e.g., iron law of oligarchy, McDonaldization)

Self-presentation and Interacting with Others (PSY, SOC)

Social Behavior (PSY)

Discrimination (PSY, SOC)


Foundational Concept 9


Content Category 9A: Understanding social structure


Theoretical Approaches (SOC)

Social Institutions (SOC)

  • Education
    • Hidden curriculum
    • Teacher expectancy
    • Educational segregation and stratification
  • Family (PSY, SOC)
    • Forms of kinship (SOC)
    • Diversity in family forms
    • Marriage and divorce
    • Violence in the family (e.g., child abuse, elder abuse, spousal abuse) (SOC)
  • Religion
    • Religiosity
    • Types of religious organizations (e.g., churches, sects, cults)
    • Religion and social change (e.g., modernization, secularization, fundamentalism)
  • Government and economy
    • Power and authority
    • Comparative economic and political systems
    • Division of labor
  • Health and medicine
    • Medicalization
    • The sick role
    • Delivery of health care
    • Illness experience
    • Social epidemiology

Culture (PSY, SOC)

Content Category 9B: Demographic characteristics and processes


Demographic Structure of Society (PSY, SOC)

Demographic Shifts and Social Change (SOC)


Foundational Concept 10


Content Category 10A: Social inequality


Spatial Inequality (SOC)

Social Class (SOC)

  • Aspects of social stratification
    • Social class and socioeconomic status
    • Class consciousness and false consciousness
    • Cultural capital and social capital
    • Social reproduction
    • Power, privilege, and prestige
    • Intersectionality (e.g., race, gender, age)
    • Socioeconomic gradient in health
    • Global inequalities
  • Patterns of social mobility
    • Intergenerational and intragenerational mobility
    • Vertical and horizontal mobility
    • Meritocracy
  • Poverty
    • Relative and absolute poverty
    • Social exclusion (segregation and isolation)

Health Disparities (SOC)

Healthcare Disparities (SOC)

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