First of all, let us address the first and basic question – what does MCAT stand for? MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT Test is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This is a standardized test, just like the GRE, GMAT, or LSAT, but the chief difference is that this Test serves as the main determinant for granting students admission into medical schools. Almost all medical schools in the United States and many in Canada require MCAT exam scores as an admission criterion. The MCAT exam, which was last updated in 1991, has been revised by the AAMC in April of 2015 to reflect developments in medicine and science and assess examinees not just on what they know but also on how well they apply what they know. The MCAT test is crucial in preparing the next generation of physicians and medical doctors.
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So, what is MCAT? 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 that are required for medical school admission. The Test consists of 4 major sections and is of 7 hours and 30 minutes. It is administered about 15 times each year, at regular intervals.
MCAT Test – Basic Information
To understand the fundamentals of the MCAT, here is a quick look at some of its basic information:
How long is the MCAT? The total time required for the MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes.
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.
What is the highest MCAT score? The highest and perfect MCAT score is 528.
How long are MCAT scores valid? The validity of the MCAT score is three years. Most colleges will not accept older scores.
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.
Important: Voids and no-shows count toward lifetime limits.
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.
The table below is a break-up of the MCAT, its sections, what each section tests, and the number of questions and allotted time for each of them:
No. of Questions
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Basic biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
General chemistry, basic biochemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Reading comprehension*; passages from humanities and social sciences disciplines
*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 if they want to skip one of the optional breaks. However, the remaining time from a finished section, or a skipped break, cannot be carried over to the next section of the Test.
MCAT: Question Types
As illustrated in the test format table above, the MCAT has four sections, each of which is designed for a specific purpose. For example, the questions in the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section analyses 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 some sample questions of each MCAT test section:
Note: The MCAT official website provides the same questions through what is called the ‘Practice with Exam Features Tool’. This tool mimics the ‘look and feel’ of the MCAT exam, and along with other free resources, can be accessed by candidates through the MCAT Official Prep Hub by logging in to their AAMC account.
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 each year based on difficulty levels.
Another frequently asked question is – “what is a good MCAT score?”. The answer to this question is not very straightforward. But 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 with relation to total scores, from May 1, 2019, to April 30, 2020:
Note: The ‘Percentile Rank’ column shows the percentage of scores that are equal to or less than each score point. These percentile ranks are based on all combined MCAT results from the test years of 2016, 2017, and 2018. Updates to the percentile ranks are made each year, on May 1.
Of course, another important and frequently asked question is, “how much does the MCAT cost?”. The MCAT cost is $320 to register for 3 ‘Zones’ to choose Gold, Silver, and Bronze. There is also an AAMC Fee Assistance Program that assists those who would be unable to take the MCAT exam or apply to medical schools that use the AMCAS without financial assistance. Among the benefits of this program are discounted tuition, complimentary MCAT Official Prep products, and more.
The table below illustrates the fees relating to the MCAT:
Gold Zone 29+ days before the Test
Silver Zone 15 to 28 days before the Test
Bronze Zone 8 to 14 days before the Test
$130 w/Fee Assistance
$130 w/Fee Assistance
$130 w/Fee Assistance
Date and/or Test Center Reschedule
$130 w/Fee Assistance
$130 w/Fee Assistance
$130 w/Fee Assistance
*These fees are in addition to the initial registration fee and are non-refundable if registration is canceled. Except for Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, all other countries, provinces, or territories are considered International sites. For detailed information on fees and updates on fee revisions, candidates are advised to check the official MCAT Scheduling Fees page.
More information on the AAMC Fee Assistance Program is available here.
How to Study 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 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, and one’s academic strengths, reasoning, analytic, 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):
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 themselves into and whether they are up for the task or not. Read the official guide to What’s on the MCAT Exam.
Create a Study Plan Of course, 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.
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 it is extremely important to use enough and more resources to prepare and study with efficiency. There are plenty of Free Planning and Study Resources available directly through the AAMC.
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 then perfect is to check the many AAMC MCAT Official Prep Products written by test developers themselves. 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 one has its advantages and disadvantages, an independent choice should be made based on the candidate’s personal and unique needs.
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 keep an eye on progress.
Prep Courses Prep courses are popular with many candidates who are 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 do come with ready-to-use material 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!
Private Tutors The option to hire a private tutor for one-on-one interaction is very 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.
MCAT Prep – Step By Step Guide
How to prepare for the MCAT is a typical question that candidates ask once they have discovered that they are required to 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. 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 all that was 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 out of a textbook, study material, or video, candidates should prepare a set of relevant questions and ask themselves those questions.
Make Flashcards Create individualized flashcards, lists, tables, charts, and anything that can aid in quick study and the reinforcement of 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 to each other, sharing notes, and helping each other with problem areas.
Vary Topics Try and study a wide range of topics in each study session, and then see if any connections can be made and if some of the concepts can be integrated.
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.
The MCAT Test day is certainly a very long one. The test process alone takes up 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 & 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 basic stress-relieving activity would do a lot of good. Avoid doing anything MCAT study-related for the day.
Eat Right & Sleep Well It is advisable to eat a light, nutritious meal and go to bed early to wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed. Wind down at least 3 hours before retiring for the day and try taking the mind off MCAT.
MCAT Test Day Instructions
The day of the MCAT Test always gives candidates the jitters! While there is not much one can do to help test-related nervousness, making a note of a few dos and don’ts will take the anxiety off as far as protocol and compliance are concerned. Here are a few very important points to make a note of for the test day:
Candidates are required to 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. A test-day photo will also be taken.
Candidates will need to present a valid ID that meets the AAMC’s requirements for valid identification to enter the testing room. To comply with the AAMC’s requirements, 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 do not have a signature
Paper ID, Virtual or Digital ID that cannot be validated
Birth Certificate or Social Security Card that does not have a photo
Credit Card of 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 or renewal paperwork, or any ID application. (check for exceptions with a Test Administrator)
Items for the Testing Room
There are strictly only a few items that candidates are permitted to 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, candidates will be provided with a Noteboard 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, textbook, flashcards, or any other study material.
Must not leave the testing center.
Must keep their bags in the provided storage at all times, after removing food, water, or medication for the break/s.
FAQs about MCAT Test
Q: How many times can you take the MCAT?
A: Candidates can take the MCAT up to 3 times in a single testing year, or up to 4 times in a two consecutive-year period, or up to 7 times in a lifetime. It is important to note that voids and no-shows also count toward lifetime limits.
Q: How hard is the MCAT?
A: The difficulty level of the MCAT is subject to every individual’s academic strengths, conceptual knowledge, amount and quality of the study, and other related factors. The MCAT is not an easy pursuit for the faint-hearted. It is a rigorous and grueling exam that requires hard work, dedication, determination, and plenty of study and preparation, months in advance.
Q: Is the MCAT multiple choice?
A: Yes, the MCAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based exam.
Q: What to bring to MCAT?
A: Effectively, other than a Photo Identification, and in certain cases, medicines or medical supplies, nothing is permitted into the testing room. The ‘MCAT Test Day Instructions’ in the section above provides more information on what examinees can and cannot bring into the testing room.
Q: What is the average MCAT score?
A: The average MCAT score is said to be 500 out of 528. However, this can vary each year, depending on how many have taken the Test, difficulty levels, and other relevant factors.
Q: Can you use a calculator on the MCAT?
A: No, calculators are not allowed into the testing room. Therefore, candidates should practice their arithmetic calculations by hand and use the center-provided Noteboard Booklet during the MCAT exam.
Q: What is a perfect MCAT score?
A: 528 is the perfect and highest possible MCAT score earned by scoring 132 in each of the four test sections.
Q: What MCAT score do I need?
A: To qualify and stand a good chance of being admitted into one of the top medical schools in the United States, a score between 515 and 520 or more is best.
Q: Can anyone take the MCAT?
A: Candidates interested in seeking admission to med schools or any health-profession program that accepts an MCAT score are best suited to take the MCAT test. But it must be noted that admission to such schools requires other criteria to be met, in addition to the MCAT score.
The MCAT test requires long hours of study to be put in, coupled with discipline, dedication, and determination. To give a boost to preparation efforts, here are a few resources for candidates to make the most of:
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, not only for detailed information on the MCAT but also for everything one would want to know about medical schools and careers in medicine.
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 make use of.
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.
Khan Academy Khan Academy has a free prep course for MCAT candidates, which the site is, unfortunately, retiring on September 30, 2023. Until that date, this course is an excellent one to take up and prepare for MCAT.
MCAT-PREP.com MCAT-PREP.com offers a wide range of preparation resources, from free sample questions and practice tests to preparation advice and much more.
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