C/P Introduction: Wield the C/P Pocketknife
Wield Your C/P Pocketknife
It’s time for battle.
Did you bring your weapon?
The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (C/P) Section may be rigorous, but is completely manageable.
Most people scramble to the cornucopia to declare war, when all they had to do was go to the AAMC website.
All they needed was the C/P pocketknife.
This post will dive into AAMC official topics to give you a full introduction to what it takes to ace the C/P section.
In a past post – where readers eat the MCAT to simplify it – C/P was the appetizer: a simple assembly of fundamental ingredients later used in the main course. This works conceptually – given the chemical concepts and physics literally craft the matrix for life.
Take a look around.
Can you stomp your foot through the ground?
Does your skin break when you stretch it?
Does light pierce through your bones?
These are the concepts C/P directly tackles:
the force fields that compose this biological world.
BUT, it doesn’t do this philosophically.
It does it numerically.
ENTER THE MATRIX
Though it may feel like it,
the MCAT doesn’t expect you to be Neo.
You are not the omniscient chosen one.
This is one of the greatest MCAT preparation flaws.
If you have not yet ventured to the corners of Reddit to witness MCAT reactions, I will now spoil the most common one:
I didn’t expect _____ to be on the MCAT!!!!!!!!
Sadly, said person was probably a master at jiu-jitsu, when it was kung-fu that needed to be downloaded into their heads.
DON’T WIELD THE ARMORY
You get it.
Focus on the material actually being tested.
Where do you find this?
From the horse’s mouth.
Always go to the direct source.
The AAMC Official Guide.
You might be surprised.
Here’s a small truth bomb to prove this:
Did you know there are only 5 topics for Physics and 5 for Chemistry covered on the MCAT?
If you were unaware: our website builds off of the AAMC’s 10 Foundational Concepts (FC1 – FC10).
This isn’t because we necessary agree with them: it’s because we don’t want you to fail the MCAT.
Unlike test prep practice exams – AAMC consistently cites said Fundamental Concepts (FCs) after each practice exam question, just as a lawyer would reference the law in a courtroom.
There are only 10 FCs, just like you have ten fingers. FC1-3 cover the Biology/Biochemistry (B/B) section; FC4-5 covers this Chemistry/Physics (C/P) section; and FC6-10 cover the Psychology/Sociology (P/S) section of the MCAT.
While it seems we are starting out of order with FC4: the site page structure is actually in the order of the MCAT.
MCAT Adventure recommends starting with C/P: because the concepts need the most practice, and will build into B/B.
Herein lies the key to acing the Chemistry/Physics section:
Create a C/P pocketknife from ONLY the 10 subtopics the AAMC prioritizes.
BRANDISH YOUR WEAPON
Just like King Theoden (the old man detoxified in the above video): be free of poisonous MCAT lies:
“Your fingers would remember their old strength better, if they grasped your sword”
Unlike any other MCAT section, C/P proficiency requires the most numerical tools. If you don’t use them, you lose them.
Before we get into practicing: this post is intended to introduce you to the individual tools contained within the C/P pocketknife.
Let’s start with FC4.
Foundational Concept 4 is Physics. Specifically: biological situations seen through a handful of five Physics topics.
What these topics?
3. Electric Currents and Voltages
4. Light and Sound
5. Subatomic Particles
If you need a summary; here it is:
All of the above five concepts play a role in the swatting of the fly: the motion of the arm, the fluid pressure in said arm’s blood vessels, the electrochemical gradient and voltage of the motoneurons, the light and sound of the swatter, and the subatomic particles making up the entire motion (not to mention the nuclear decay from Judge Judy’s wrath).
Let’s start building that C/P pocketknife…
While the AAMC tries to frame every physics passage context within biology, don’t get carried away into studying B/B: there may still be traditional physics settings.
Regarding motion, six concepts are covered: translational motion, force, equilibrium, work, energy, and periodic motion.
Basic concepts – like speed and acceleration apply napkin math, assuming gravity to be 10 m/s2 . Focus efforts more on Newton’s Laws, vector analysis, torque, work, potential/kinetic energy, power, and waves.
Did I say work and power?
The MCAT likes these formulas.
If Archimedes’ Principle, Pascal’s Law, Poiseuille Flow, Bernoulli’s equation, and the Venturi Effect sound as mystical as the Illuminati: then you have your work cut out for you.
Alongside fluids are gas laws, which have much more Germanic-sounding names: Boyle’s Law, Charles’ Law, Avogadro’s Law, the Ideal Gas Law, the Boltzmann Constant, and Van der Waals’ Equation.
Pair the above with videos on the circulatory and pulmonary system: and you should be well prepared for questions referencing the radii of capillaries and blood velocity.
Blood velocity. (Think Kill Bill).
I’ll be frank: the next few topics were difficult for me. As you can see, I am a visual person. Aside from light/optics – most of these are unseen forces. Prioritize these physics concepts first: and use your imagination – they later helped me tremendously in neurobiological research.
Regarding electricity – there are four topics covered: electrostatics, circuits, magnetism, and electrochemistry.
These topics likely appear in the context of a neuron, circuit, or electrolytic/galvanic/voltaic cell and are immensely watered down: only master what appears on this site.
As a heads up, the MCAT loves Ohm’s Law, resistance, resistivity, conductance, and conductivity.
Next, focus on sound, light, molecular structure/absoption spectra, and optics.
Highlights in the list found on the AAMC site include: the Doppler Effect, “e=hf”, infrared vs. visible vs. UV vs. NMR spectroscopy, and all of optics.
The last subtopic is a clear segue into Chemistry.
Physics and Chemistry are – after all – two sides of the same atom coin.
Know your periodic table: its groups, trends, and their purpose. Know the Photoelectric effect, be certain of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, the orbital structure of the atom, paramagenetism and diamagnetism, and different types of nuclear decay.
Finally: make best friends with the deductive tool of stoichiometry. Adopt a mole, assign oxidation numbers, balance redox equations, and be able to find out the limiting reactant.
This may seem overwhelming – but always strip concepts down to their five labels: motion, fluids, electricity, light/sound, and subatomic particles.
Here’s a beautiful MCAT poem:
You move. You pee.
You think. You hear and see.
You’re made of stuff smaller than a flea.
MCAT Chemistry is not what people expect.
The above picture is a more accurate representation than test tubes or organic chemistry mechanisms. Subjects you may have glossed over in classes are the focal point here.
This section is different. Specifically: it looks at biology through concepts taught in Chemistry.
While the material range spans from General Chemistry to Organic and Biochemistry: its mode – or repeated topics with near-certainty of coverage – is the following:
D. Biomolecular structure
E. Thermodynamics and kinetics
For solutions (5A), look at Acid/Base Equilibrium, dust off anions and cations, understand solubility and complex ions, and remember the point of titrations.
For molecules (5B), know the ins and outs of intermolecular and intramolecular structure: emphasizing stereochemistry, VSEPR, bond energy/length, hydrogen bonding, dipole interactions, and Van der Waals’ Forces.
I repeat: STEREOCHEMISTRY. I have always seen at least one question test stereochemistry.
Once you have added these topics to your C/P pocketknife; do not avoid the next subtopic! Separations (5C) – extractions, distillations, chromatography, purification, electrophoresis, and racemic mixtures – are among the MCAT’s most tested questions.
If you have taken Organic Chemistry lab, this may be a review. If not – do not despair. Youtube these experiences.
Not so bad.
With a touch more emphasis on organic chemistry, they almost perfectly overlap with the Biology/ Biochemistry (B/B) Foundational Concept 1.
The biological molecule component is – in essence – a “Greatest Hits” collection for all Biochemistry building blocks and Organic Chemistry functional groups (particularly carboxylic acids, aldehydes, and ketones).
Honestly, just recognize what these guys look like. You’ll likely get a question that asks “Reaction 1 yields: A. ketone, B. alcohol, C. thioster, or D. a carboxylic acid?” Worst comes to worst, eliminate answers and guess. Some answer choices are ridiculous, and flat out disobey the Law of Conservation of Matter.
Familiarity, common sense, and prioritization will get you more points.
DO. NOT. FALL. INTO. THE. MEMORIZATION. TRAP.
As food for thought: this single subtopic has the same emphasis as an equally high-yield topic: separations.
Next is biochemistry.
Review your nucleic acids, brush up on lipids, carbohydrates (especially stereoisomers), and proteins.
Our final, high-yield subtopic is thermodynamics and kinetics.
Honestly, give this subtopic a good study: it will help you throughout both C/P and B/B.
Cover mathematical tools to moniter enzymatic reactions, the three bioenergetic principles, thermochemistry/thermodynamics, and rate processes (remember RICE tables?).
Dust off a single problem from each concept and MOVE ON.
Spot clean your problem areas, as you keep adding tools to your pocketknife.
FINAL STUDY TACTIC
Each of the above topics boiled down to three options:
(a) an equation
(b) a correlation/trend
(c) a concept/Law
That is all you need to take with you to the MCAT. Apply these tools to the point where you rely on them: trust them for their ability to get you to the right answer.
Bernoulli’s equation isn’t a cocktail party “look at how smart I am” term. It is a tool to compare two different blood vessels within the same circulation.
Ohm’s law isn’t some strange physics chant: it is a nifty circuit configuration tool.
The Amino Acids aren’t a boring collection of torturous biomolecules: they are biology’s alphabet.
Great, you just got an overview and saved yourself from going down the wrong rabbithole.
Reference the guide below.
Start building your C/P pocketknife.
Not by reading.