Written By - Cynthia S.

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Dr. Carol Galanis

What does the MCAT stand for? The Association of American Medical Colleges (AMC)[1] administers the MCAT Test. It is a computer-based standardized test, like the GRE, GMAT, or LSAT, but the main difference is that MCAT can determine admission criteria. All medical schools in the United States and some colleges in Canada require MCAT scores as a mandatory admission requirement. 
The test assesses one’s critical thinking, written analysis, knowledge of scientific principles and concepts, and problem-solving. The MCAT exam[2] was revised by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the administering body of the test. Preparing for the MCAT exam can be a grueling and frustrating process, requiring much mental dedication by the candidates. This article covers all the crucial aspects of designing and applying one’s knowledge in the exam to make acquiring a good MCAT score easier for students.


Table Of Contents

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What Is the MCAT Test?

The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is a computer-based standardized, multiple-choice exam that evaluates a candidate’s problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of natural, biological, and psychological foundations of behavior. MCAT also examines social science concepts and values required for medical school admission. It consists of four major sections, taking seven hours and 30 minutes, and is administered about 15 times yearly at regular intervals.

Now that we understand what the MCAT test is, we need to take a look at what is the importance of this exam. And why do medical schools place such value on this test? The MCAT test scores are a vital prerequisite to determining success in gaining admission to medical school and practice in medicine. One needs to take various tests before becoming a licensed practitioner, and the MCAT is one of the first tests one takes. During medical school, students must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination or USMLE[3]. A candidate’s performance on the MCAT score can help medical schools determine the applicant’s ability to get good scores on the USMLE. These MCAT test scores determine the caliber of the applicants and the medical schools. The colleges with the highest average MCAT scores are considered the best schools in the United States. 

Medical school admissions committees typically take a holistic approach to reviewing applicants and don’t rely on one criterion. However, the MCAT is a common criterion for comparing one candidate to another. It allows medical schools to evaluate the applicant pool’s academic knowledge, as everyone has taken the same exam. The specific scores colleges require differ from institution to institution and are typically not realized to the public.

Key Facts About the MCAT

The number of applicants applying for the MCAT test and the acceptance rates differ yearly. For the entering medical school batch of 2022-2023, there were 55,188 medical college candidates[4]. The number of prospective students decreased considerably after 2021-2022, a competitive year with 62,443 applicants[4]. In 2020-2021, the number of applicants was even lower at 53,030. 

To understand the fundamentals of the MCAT, here is a quick look at some of its basic information:

  1. How long is the MCAT?
    The total time required for the MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  2. When do you take the MCAT?
    It is best to take the MCAT in the same academic year candidates are applying to medical school. The MCAT is administered 15 times a year, so candidates should check the admission requirements of their shortlisted colleges to which they wish to apply and register for the Test accordingly.
  3. What is the highest MCAT score?
    The maximum score of can generally get in the current version of the MCAT is around 528.
  4. How long are MCAT scores valid?
    The validity of the MCAT score is three years. Most colleges typically do not accept older scores.
  5. How often can I take the MCAT?
    Candidates can take the MCAT based on the following testing limits:
    • Single testing year: up to three times.
    • Two consecutive-year periods: up to four times.
    • Lifetime: up to seven times.
  6.  Is the MCAT multiple-choice?
    The MCAT test is a standardized, computer-based, and multiple-choice test. There are typically 230 multiple-choice questions with four main sections on which one is tested.
  7. How long does each MCAT section take?
    The MCAT test has four sections. Each mcat section takes around 90-95 minutes to complete, and each section can take up breaks between 10-30 minutes long. 
  8. Are there different areas in the MCAT test?
    There are typically four main sections on which one is tested: Chemical and physical foundations; biological and biochemical foundations; psychological, social, and biological foundations; and critical analysis and reasoning.

Important: Voids and no-shows count toward lifetime limits.

Registering for the MCAT

Even though the whole process of the MCAT can seem daunting, registering for the MCAT should be one of the easiest steps. However, if you are unfamiliar with the registration process, it can feel overbearing. The way to register for the test is the same for everyone, no matter when you take it. However, one should note that the process can differ slightly if you register for the MCAT Exam with Accommodations[5]. One can call on 1-800-466-0450 to register. 

The general process to register is elaborated below

  • Create an account: student needs to create an AAMC account[6] and set up their password and username
  • Government-issued ID: they need to gather their ID, which is government-issued like a driver’s license, and have a payment form handy (credit card or debit card)
  • Access registration portal: they need to click on 
    1. Select “Students and residents” (left-hand bar)
    2. Select “Apply to medical school”
    3. Select “Register for the MCAT”
    4. Select “Start exam registration”
  • Fill in information: personal information like address, country, date of birth, and more; background; biographic data; and other releases
  • Select test date from the schedule: select MCAT nearest testing location
  • Pay and finish registration: this can be done through various modes like American Express, VISA, MasterCard, etc.

Test Dates and Locations

The standard start time for tests is at 8:00 a.m. regularly unless notified otherwise. AAMC has mentioned all the important dates[7], starting from January 12, 2024, and tests are administered frequently till mid-September; the final test date in 2024 is September 14, 2024. Test scores are released, on average, one month after the test is taken. There are a lot of test dates available for the MCAT, so generally, it’s a good idea to understand if the MCAT date and the time of getting the scores are feasible with one’s application timeline. 

Although most medical schools in the U.S. have rolling admissions, getting one’s application submitted early, by June or July, can maximize one’s chances. If one wants to retake the exam, one can evaluate if they will apply to the next cycle of exams based on the time frame suiting their prep schedule. The AAMC does allow one to change their MCAT date with a rescheduling fee[8]. All application submission dates are 11:59 p.m. ET at the end of the day on which the deadline is mentioned. 

2024 exam dates are mentioned here:

  • January 12, 2024
  • January 13, 2024
  • January 18, 2024
  • January 26, 2024
  • March 9, 2024
  • March 22, 2024
  • April 12, 2024
  • April 13, 2024
  • April 26, 2024
  • April 27, 2024
  • May 4, 2024
  • May 10, 2024
  • May 11, 2024
  • May 16, 2024
  • May 24, 2024
  • June 1, 2024
  • June 14, 2024
  • June 15, 2024
  • June 22, 2024
  • June 27, 2024
  • July 13, 2024
  • July 26, 2024
  • August 2, 2024
  • August 17, 2024
  • August 23, 2024
  • August 24, 2024
  • September 5, 2024
  • September 6, 2024
  • September 13, 2024
  • September 14, 2024

Note: MCAT dates are throughout the week; therefore, one should consider what dates work best for one.

The MCAT exam is administered across several hundred locations across the U.S., Canada, and other places globally, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia.

Can You Take the MCAT Online?

The MCAT examination is a computerized and standardized exam available in many locations across the U.S., Canada, and other African, European, Australian, and Middle East countries. One needs to go to the registered test location to take up the test, and one cannot give it from any other location than the location they have notified in their registration. Students can reschedule the test to a new location. However, they must still go to a particular location to take the test. 

How Much Does the MCAT Cost?

The MCAT costs $335 to register. An AAMC Fee Assistance Program[9] also assists those unable to take the MCAT exam or apply to medical schools that use the AMCAS without financial assistance. This program’s benefits include discounted tuition, complimentary MCAT Official Prep products, and more.

Here are the fee details for the MCAT:

Regular FeesFee Assistance Program
Initial Registration$335$140
ReschedulingOver 60 before the exam: $50
30 to 59 days before the exam: $100
10 to 29 days before the exam: $200
Over 60 before the exam: $20
30 to 59 days before the exam: $40
10 to 29 days before the exam: $80
CancellationOver 60 before the exam: $165
30 to 59 days before the exam: $165
10 to 29 days before the exam: $0
Over 60 before the exam: $70
30 to 59 days before the exam: $70
10 to 29 days before the exam: $0
International Fee*$140 (non-refundable)

*These fees are in addition to the initial registration fee and are non-refundable if registration is canceled. All other countries, provinces, or territories except Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are considered international sites. Candidates are advised to check the official MCAT Scheduling Fees page[9] for detailed information on fees and updates on fee revisions.More information about MCAT funding is available through the AAMC Fee Assistance Program[9].

Breakdown of the MCAT Exam Format

While the last and fourth part on critical thinking in the MCAT checks the candidate’s ability to analyze and comprehend what they read, the first three parts aim to assess the candidate’s scientific expertise in organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, psychology, physics, and sociology. For those who wonder how many questions are on the MCAT, the answer is 230 in all.

Basic Exam Structure

The table below is a break-up of the format of mcat, its sections, what each section tests, and the number of questions and allotted time for each of them:

SectionTest ParametersNo. of QuestionsAllotted Time
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living SystemsBasic biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry59 multiple-choice95 minutes
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological SystemsGeneral chemistry, basic biochemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology59 multiple-choice95 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of BehaviorIntroductory psychology, sociology, and biology59 multiple-choice95 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning SkillsReading comprehension*; passages from humanities and social sciences discipline53 multiple-choice90 minutes

*The Reading Comprehension section is similar to those of other standardized tests, such as GRE, GMAT, or LSAT.

Note: The MCAT has two optional 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute mid-exam break. Candidates can move on to the next section if they finish the previous section early or want to skip one of the optional breaks. However, one cannot carry the remaining time from a completed unit to the next test section.

Types of Questions

As illustrated in the test format table above, the MCAT has four sections, each designed for a specific purpose. For example, the questions in the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour section analyze how applying one’s understanding of the ten Foundational Concepts and using Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning skills can solve problems. Information presented in tables, maps, and graphs is also used in some queries. Another example is the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, which assesses the examinee’s ability to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they read and the skills to draw inferences from the text and apply arguments and ideas to new circumstances.

Here are sample questions for each MCAT test section:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Sample Questions
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Sample Questions
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Sample Questions
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Sample Questions

Note: The MCAT official website provides the same questions through the ‘Practice with Exam Features Tool.’ This tool mimics the ‘look and feel’ of the MCAT exam, and along with other free resources, candidates can access it through the MCAT Official Prep Hub by logging in to their AAMC account.

How Is the MCAT Scored

Candidates often wonder – “How is the MCAT scored?” The MCAT total score range, which is the sum of all section scores, is between 472 and 528 (528 being the maximum). Each section is scored on a scale of 118 to 132 but may vary yearly based on difficulty levels. 

Another frequently asked question is – “what is a good MCAT score?”. The answer to this question is not very straightforward. However, based on past trends, it is safe to assume that a good score for successful admission into some of the top medical schools in the United States is in the MCAT score range of 515 to 520. The average MCAT score is about 500.

It is important to note that along with the MCAT score, candidates will get a percentile rank to help them compare their performance to that of other test-takers. The table below shows a summary of MCAT Percentile Ranks in relation to total scores from May 1, 2023, to April 30, 2023:

Total ScorePercentile Rank
Total ScorePercentile Rank
Total ScorePercentile Rank

Source: AAMC.org[10]

Note: The ‘Percentile Rank’ column shows the percentage of scores equal to or less than each score point. These percentile ranks are based on all combined MCAT results from the test years 2020, 2021, and 2022. Updates to the percentile ranks are made each year on May 1.

How to Prepare for the MCAT Exam

How to prepare for the MCAT is a typical question that candidates ask once they have discovered that they must take the MCAT test for admission to a medical school. Preparing for the MCAT takes a long time and a lot of effort, spanning many months. Knowing how to prepare for mcat exam thoroughly can boost their preparations. Here is a simple guide based on the official AAMC-prescribed one, which seems like the best advice for MCAT prep:

  • Review and rehash.
    Begin each day by recalling, reviewing, and rehashing everything learned during the previous day. Additionally, regularly reviewing summarized information and practicing related questions can aid in content retention.
  • Keep time
    Keep track of time when answering practice questions. Candidates should build up speed and accuracy and examine wrong answers to see why and where they went wrong. Consequently, learn new concepts and reinforce what is already known.
  • Ask Questions
    After learning something from a textbook, study material, or video, candidates should prepare relevant questions and ask themselves those questions.
  • Make Flashcards
    Create individualized flashcards, lists, tables, charts, and anything that can aid in quick study and reinforce difficult concepts.
  • Find a Partner
    Preferably, candidates should find a study partner or be part of a study group, which brings the advantage of asking questions, sharing notes, and helping each other with problem areas.
  • Vary Topics
    Try and study a wide range of topics in each study session, then see if one can make any connections and integrate some of the concepts.
  • Consult Teachers
    Prepare a list of doubts, difficulties, and questions for every study session. Compile them periodically, and if and when possible, consult teachers or professors for help on those.
  • Summarize
    Compile lists and build compare-and-contrast charts or idea maps to summarize what has been learned from memory. Also, use lecture notes, textbooks, or other study resources to double-check the quality and accuracy of those summaries.
  • Join Forums
    If possible, candidates should consider joining MCAT-related online forums and communities to connect with peers and seek help, exchange ideas, compare notes, discuss topics, analyze concepts, and more.

Note: All these points and more are covered in the AAMC’s step-by-step guide and are available as a PDF document titled “How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam” on the MCAT official website.

7 Tips to Start Studying for the MCAT Test

Studying and thoroughly preparing for the MCAT is essential to get high scores. The MCAT is a very rigorous test, and apart from its intended objectives, it can also test one’s grit and patience. And for those who ask how long it takes to study for MCAT? – the answer is a subjective one. Some take about or over a year, while others take 3 to 6 months. It all hinges on the number of study hours one puts in, academic strengths, reasoning, analytic and logical skills, and many other factors.

Here is a quick rundown of how best to study for the MCAT Test, as advised by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC):

  1. Understand the MCAT Exam
    Candidates should first investigate all there is to know about the MCAT – the format, structure, and scoring of the exam, its foundational concepts, content categories, skills, and disciplines, and information on scoring, rules, guidelines, costs, and more. Assimilating this information will help candidates better understand what they are getting into and whether they are up for the task or not. Read the official guide to What’s on the MCAT Exam.
  2. Create a Study Plan
    The key to a high score is study and preparation. To get both done, candidates must prepare a study plan that contains a list of topics, concepts, etc., along with detailed schedules. The MCAT website has an excellent official guide on How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam, which candidates should consider downloading and reading.
  3. Find Resources
    Locating and tapping into study resources is always a wise thing to do. The concepts, basics, topics, and questions are far and wide in the MCAT. Therefore, using enough resources to prepare and study efficiently is essential. Plenty of Free Planning and Study Resources are available directly through the AAMC.
  4. Practice
    Learning by practice is perhaps one of the best ways to prepare for the MCAT exam. The easiest and quickest way to practice and perfect is to check the many AAMC MCAT Official Prep Products written by test developers. It is also advisable to compare official prep products and see what suits each individual the best.

    There are also other options for preparing for the MCAT, such as self-study, prep courses, and private tutoring. While each has advantages and disadvantages, one should make an independent choice based on the candidate’s personal and unique needs.
  5. Self-Study
    With self-study, one can study at one’s own pace – go fast or take it slow. This option is also the cheapest as it does not involve any form of external tutoring. However, the downside to self-study is the constant and immense determination the individual should possess to avoid procrastinating and becoming slack. Then there is also the problem of not grasping some concepts without help and no one to monitor progress.
  6. Prep Courses
    Prep courses are popular with many candidates preparing for the MCAT. While most of these courses are well designed and structured, they can be very broad-based in their approach in that they may not cater to an individual’s requirements. Although they come with ready-to-use materials and resources that aid study, the cost of such prep courses can be very high. For example, the MCAT Prep Packs by The Princeton Review are supposedly very good but can cost an eye-watering $1,499 to $6,699!
  7. Private Tutors
    The option to hire a private tutor for one-on-one interaction is compelling. Apart from providing individualized lesson plans and complete personal attention, the prime advantage of hiring a private tutor is that the candidate can clarify doubts and reinforce concepts there and then. Unfortunately, locating a good private tutor, especially one with considerable experience with MCAT, is hard to do. Moreover, private tutors can cost an arm and a leg because the more qualified and experienced they are, the higher their fees.

The Day Before MCAT Tips

The MCAT Test Day is certainly a very long one. The test process alone takes up to 7 hours and 30 minutes. Taking things easy the previous day will help to a great extent. Candidates should sit back and get their minds off the MCAT, except for the basic checks that need to be done. Here are a few tips for the day before the MCAT test:

  • Check and confirm the Admission Ticket
    Review all details of the admission ticket, along with all instructions once again, and check for any recent official updates and announcements by logging on to the MCAT portal.
  • Do not Practice
    Refrain from taking practice tests as this may increase anxiety and nervousness levels and not result in gaining any additional knowledge.
  • Unwind and De-Stress
    Simply relaxing and unwinding by talking with friends, watching TV, going for a walk, or engaging in some other primary stress-relieving activity would do a lot of good. Avoid doing anything MCAT study-related for the day.
  • Eat Right & Sleep Well
    Eating a light, nutritious meal and going to bed early to wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed is advisable. Wind down at least 3 hours before retiring for the day, and try taking your mind off the MCAT.

What To Bring On MCAT Test Day

The day of the MCAT Test always gives candidates the jitters! While there is not much one can do to help test-related nervousness, noting a few dos and don’ts will take the anxiety off regarding protocol and compliance. Here are a few crucial points to note for the test day:

Checking In

Candidates must check in upon arriving at the test center. The Test Administrator will ask them to sign in, present a valid form of ID, and have their palms digitally scanned. One will also take a  test-day photo.

Valid Identification

Candidates must present a valid ID that meets the AAMC’s requirements for accurate identification to enter the testing room. To comply with the AAMC’s needs, the ID should:

  • have been issued by a government agency;
  • contain the expiration date by print and not stickers;
  • include a visible signature (candidates will be asked to duplicate the signature on the test day);
  • display a photo that can establish a positive identity;
  • be tangible and whole, without any signs of tampering; and
  • be in English.

The following IDs are not accepted:

  • Passport Card or Veterans ID (VIC) that does not have a signature
  • Paper ID, Virtual or Digital ID that one cannot validate
  • Birth Certificate or Social Security Card that does not have a photo
  • Credit Card or School ID that is not issued by a government agency
  • Employee ID, even if issued by a government agency
  • Library card, even if issued by a government agency
  • Temporary ID, ID with an extension sticker, renewal paperwork, or any ID application. (check for exceptions with a Test Administrator.)

Items for the Testing Room

There are only a few items that candidates can carry into the testing room. These are

  • Photo Identification (for verification)
  • Notebook and marker that will be provided by the center
  • Storage key that will be provided by the center
  • Foam, wireless earplugs that will be provided by the center

Those who may require medicines or medical aid (such as an insulin pump) should check with test officials for what is permitted and what is not.

Note: Since no other item is allowed into the testing room, one will provide candidates with a Note board Booklet and fine-point marker to take down any notes or make calculations during the exam.

Items for Breaks

The MCAT exam allows two optional 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute mid-exam break. During these breaks, candidates are allowed access to only food, water, and medication and must adhere to the following rules by which they:

  • Must not use cell phones or any other electronic device.
  • Must not access notes, textbooks, flashcards, or other study material.
  • Must not leave the testing center.
  • Must always keep their bags in the provided storage after removing food, water, or medication for the break/s.

FAQs About the MCAT Exam

Frequently Asked Questions

How many times can you take the MCAT?

Candidates can take the MCAT up to 3 times in a single testing year, up to 4 times in two consecutive years, or up to 7 times in a lifetime. It is important to note that voids and no-shows also count toward lifetime limits.

How hard is the MCAT?

What to bring to MCAT?

Can you use a calculator on the MCAT?

What is the average MCAT score?

What is a perfect MCAT score?

What MCAT score do I need?

Can anyone take the MCAT?

Can I apply to medical school without MCAT?

Additional Resources for MCAT Test Takers

The MCAT test requires long hours of study to be put in, coupled with discipline, dedication, and determination. To boost preparation efforts, here are a few resources for candidates to make the most of:

  1. Association of American Medical Colleges
    The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is the organization that administers the MCAT exam. Its official website is the go-to place for aspiring medical students for detailed information on the MCAT and everything one would want to know about medical schools and medical careers.
  2. AAMC – MCAT
    The AAMC – MCAT official website has complete information on all sections of the MCAT test, with various materials, video tutorials, sample questions, and explanations, also in a downloadable format. There is also a long list of free planning and study resources for candidates to explore and use.
  3. The Princeton Review
    Aside from its paid offerings, The Princeton Review provides various free MCAT preparation resources, such as study materials, strategy sessions, free classes, and practice tests.
  4. Khan Academy
    Khan Academy has a free prep course for MCAT candidates, which the site is, unfortunately, retiring in 2026. Until then, this course is an excellent one to take and prepare for MCAT.
  5. MCAT-PREP.com
    MCAT-PREP.com offers a wide range of preparation resources, from free sample questions and practice tests to preparation advice.

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