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What Is the MCAT? All You Need To Know

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If you plan to become a doctor, you’ve likely heard of the MCAT. For some, this initialism is synonymous with anxiety. 

But overcoming challenges is a huge part of a doctor’s life. The only secret is to be prepared. Even if you’re not entirely sure about how to go about it, don’t worry. We’ll explain everything you need to know about this exam so you ace it and enroll in the med school of your dreams. But before diving right in, let’s understand what the exam is about.

What exactly is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice, computer-based exam conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Your results on this test inform medical schools of your readiness and knowledge. So, it’s safe to say your MCAT scores are crucial when determining your eligibility for a career as a physician.

Who is eligible to take the MCAT?

MCAT exam eligibility is open to anyone planning on attending medical or veterinary school. Here are some future programs you can look forward to after acing your MCAT: 

  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
  • Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) 
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) 

There are other healthcare programs that ask for MCAT scores, so be sure to check out admission requirements when applying for different programs.


How is the content divided?

MCAT test questions are divided into four content sections. Here’s what you need to know about each section:

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

This section has 59 questions and takes 95 minutes. It looks at the test-taker’s knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry, biology and biochemistry. 

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section again has 59 questions, and you get 95 minutes to answer them. It includes general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, biology and physics.

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This exam section tests one’s knowledge of psychology, sociology and biology. It also features 59 questions and lasts 95 minutes. 

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills 

In this 90-minute section with 53 multiple-choice questions, test-takers answer questions on humanities and social science. This part of the exam focuses on comprehension and critical thinking. 

Getting high scores

A part of succeeding on any standardized test is understanding how you’ll be scored. 

The MCAT takes a fairly standard approach to scoring. All your correct answers throughout each part of the exam will be totaled. Incorrect answers and questions left blank won’t be counted. Want some advice? Answer all questions, even if you aren’t sure of the answer. Since the questions are multiple-choice, you have a chance to get them right.

Afterward, the facilitators scale the totals resulting from each section. Test-takers receive different versions of the exam, and while the questions are similar in difficulty, scaling acts as a good failsafe. For each section, the lowest possible score is 118, and 132 is the highest. The highest possible total score is 528, and while “good scores” are relative, ranking above the average is considered a strong score.


Practice makes perfect

Your knowledge of testable subjects is important, but equally or even more important (given the nature of the exam) is practicing for the test. Here are some tips for your MCAT prep study plan: 

  1. Before you start studying for the MCAT, take a practice test. This trial run will help you assess how prepared you are for the exam and what you need to study. It’s good to establish your baseline and then work up from there. 
  2. While the pressure of the clock is real, don’t let it control your studies. Start slow, get good at taking the test and then try to speed up. For reference, record how long each section takes you and try to be faster the next time you take the test.
  3. The MCAT is a marathon, and you’ll need to stay focused for hours at a time. When you’re studying, recreate the feel of the exam by concentrating for long stretches and only taking short breaks. 
  4. Switch up where you study so you’re prepared for different conditions and distractions. Move to a public library or cafe for a few study sessions. 
  5. Look at your progress and consider your strengths and weaknesses. Identify the subject matter you know by heart and which you focus more on. 
  6. Keep your anxiety at bay before test day by taking care of yourself. Eat well and remain consistent with your physical activity and self-care routines. 

Are you ready?

This question implies two considerations, i.e., “when do you take the MCAT,” and “have you studied enough?”  

Test-takers should take the MCAT the year before starting medical school or earlier; it’s important to plan ahead. You may take the exam and later wish to improve your score, so it’s a good idea to build in time to write the test again. Test dates are available from January to September, and there are about 25 sessions to choose from. MCAT registration is done online through the AAMC website.

The question of readiness is for you to decide, but if you follow our study tips and master the basics of biology, chemistry and physics, you’re well on your way. When planning your test date, an essential-yet-tricky consideration is ensuring you’ve studied all the exam materials. If you’re still in school and finishing course material on one of the testable subjects, you may want to wait until you’ve completed the class. 

How much does the MCAT cost?

Paying to take a test is a tough sell, especially when you’re saving up for medical school. But, the MCAT is an essential step in your journey.

The MCAT typically costs $325, but a fee assistance program subsidizes costs for medical students who demonstrate financial need. 

Our favorite study tip? Wear comfortable scrubs. You’ll be sitting for hours (and maybe sweating a little), so choose performance wear that feels good all day long. Plus, you’ll look the part. We have just what you need to succeed!

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