The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a standardized, computer-based only test required for admission to almost all medical schools in the United States and Canada. It is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
More than 80,000 students apply to medical schools in the United States and Canada annually, so the MCAT is a very useful common measure for schools to assess this many applicants with diverse backgrounds.
Because of its sheer length and exhaustive coverage of subjects, your MCAT score is weighed heavily in the admission process. But the mission is possible.
Here’s a comprehensive list of everything you need to know to best prepare for the MCAT.
1. When do I take the MCAT?
The MCAT is offered January through September in the United States, Canada and other international sites. You can take the MCAT up to 3 times a year, up to 4 times in a two-consecutive-year period, and up to 7 times in total.
Most students take the MCAT at least a year before their planned admission year. For example, if you’re planning to enroll in 2020, then you want to take the MCAT in 2019. However, you can take the MCAT as early as your freshman year of college.
2. MCAT Registration — When to register for the MCAT?
Visit the AAMC website to register and see the various scheduling deadlines for the U.S., Canadian, and international test-takers. You can also follow the MCAT on Twitter @AAMC_MCAT for updates and announcements.
3. How much is the MCAT fee?
The test fee is $315. which includes sending score reports to medical schools. You are advised to register at least a month before the test date. Although you can still register late, your fee will go up to $370. Also, you can receive cancellation refund service for an extra $155. However, if you registered within 15 days before the test date, you can’t request for the service.
For students who are taking the exam at international sites, excluding Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, you’ll have to pay an additional fee of $110.
4. Can I get financial assistance?
For students in need of financial assistance, the AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program. To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen, a green card holder, or have been granted refugee/asylum or DACA status by the federal government. And your family income cannot exceed 300% of the current national poverty level set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Check here for the poverty level guidelines for the 48 states and the District of Columbia. For example, if you have a family of four and your family reported less than $77,250 (300% of $25,750) in income for 2018, you are eligible to apply for the Fee Assistance Program in 2019.
The poverty guidelines for Alaska and Hawaii are higher — a family of four would have to report less than $96,570 in Alaska (300% of $32,190) and less than $88,860 in Hawaii (300% of $29,260) for 2018 for their student to be eligible for the Fee Assistance Program in 2019.
The program’s benefits change every year. For example, students who were approved for fee assistance during the 2019 calendar year received the MCAT Official Prep products, which costs $236 originally, reduced MCAT registration fee for $125, complimentary access to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website, and waiver for all application fees to up to 20 medical schools through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is the centralized medical school application processing service.
5. Where can I find free MCAT prep courses?
The Princeton Review offers free prep tools online, such as a full-length exam, video lessons and drills. Also, the Next Step Test Prep offers free prep tools online, such as a full-length exam and content review videos.
Kaplan offers free prep tools, such as half-length practice tests and sample classes. The MCAT Self Prep offers free online courses that include practice questions produced by the writers of the actual MCAT. The Khan Academy offers free video tutorials on different concepts tested on the MCAT.
6. What is the test format?
The entire MCAT test lasts for 7 ½ hours with a 10-minute break after the first and third sections and a 30-minute break after the second section. All breaks are optional.
Starting from 2015, in an attempt to reflect the current advances in the fields of medicine and science, the MCAT tests on not only natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry or physics, but also behavioral and social sciences, such as sociology and psychology.
There are 4 sections in total.
- The first section, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, consists of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts 95 minutes, giving you about 1.6 minutes per question. This section tests on basic biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics.
- The second section, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, consists of 53 multiple-choice questions and lasts 90 minutes, giving you about 1.6 minutes per question. Similar to verbal sections on other standardized tests, this section tests your reading comprehension skills.
- The third section, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, consists of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts 95 minutes, giving you about 1.6 minutes per question. This section tests on biology, biochemistry, chemistry, organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry. You will have access to the periodic table.
- The last section, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior, consists of 59 multiple-choice questions and lasts 95 minutes, giving you about 1.6 minutes per question. This section tests on psychology, sociology and biology.
7. How is the GMAT scored?
You will receive 5 scores, one for each of the 4 sections and one combined total score.
For each section, your raw score, the number of questions you answered correctly, is converted to a scaled score ranging from 118 to 132. Then, your four converted scores are combined to make the total score ranging from 472 to 528.
The MCAT exam is not graded on a curve.
8. What is considered a good GMAT score?
The average for the overall MCAT score is 510-511.
However, for the most exact estimate, you need to check with your programs directly. Especially for those who must juggle MCAT along with other work, it is helpful to know how much effort and time you should put into preparing for the exam.
Here are some important questions you should keep in mind before you start your research.
- What MCAT scores do I need to be accepted? You need to have a target score, so you can figure out how much work you need to put in for the MCAT. Ask the admissions office directly for the school’s preferred cutoff score. If the school doesn’t provide one, check here to find the average GPA (grade point average) and MCAT scores for the school.
- Are MCAT scores used for anything else? Some schools may use your scores for course placement or scholarship consideration, in which case, you may want to score higher than just the cutoff score.
9. When do I receive my scores?
Since your raw score needs to be scaled, you won’t receive your scores right at the test center, but a month after your test date. If you believe a scoring error has occurred, you can submit a rescore request through the AAMC website.
10. How do I send my scores to schools?
Your scores are automatically released to AMCAS, meaning they will be automatically inserted into your application.
If you’re sending your scores to non-AMCAS institutions, you can send them electronically through the AAMC website or mail a copy of your official score report to individual institutions.
11. What are some tips and strategies?
Although every test-taker starts off on different levels and conditions, here are some general tips and strategies applicable to all.
- Take time to prepare before your first test: You don’t want to take a 7 ½ hour test more than once. So you want to try your best of best the first time. According to a Johns Hopkins University MCAT Survey of students who scored at the 90th percentile or higher in 2015, about two-thirds of them took the test in August and September, which means that spending the entire summer to study for the test is a smart choice. As one of the hardest standardized tests, MCAT is not an easy test to take. So, if circumstances allow, give yourself at least 3-4 months to completely focus on studying for the exam.
- ScoreSelect is possible: Depending on the school, you can send your ScoreSelect score, meaning the highest score for each section from different tests put together into one. However, check with your school in advance. Keep in mind that all score recipients do have access to all your MCAT scores.
- Answer all questions: For all 4 sections, you get points only for questions you answered correctly. Wrong answers and unanswered questions do not affect your score. So, even if you have to guess, you should never leave a question unanswered.
- Finally, sleep well the night before the test. After spending time, effort and money on the exam, the last thing you’d want to happen on the test date is to crash in sleep. If you’ve done your work, you’ll do just fine. Allow yourself some sleep before the big day.
The MCAT is long and exhaustive. If you don’t plan ahead, the process can be dreary. However, it shouldn’t take a lifetime. Schools want to see if you can pull off not only the test’s content, but also its length. So, the test itself is really a short intro to what medical school and residency is going to feel like. Long, exhaustive, but again, not impossible. Because the test is so field-specific, every hour you prepare for the test is going to be useful, not only during your exam, but also throughout your entire career in the medical field.
Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations. She is passionate about non-fiction storytelling. She loves reading, watching, writing and producing stories about extraordinary lives of everyday people.