MyMentor FAQs: The MCAT

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General MCAT FAQs

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice, computer-based test used as one component of the medical school admissions process. Nearly all medical schools in the United States and several in Canada require MCAT scores, and many health profession schools and graduate programs now accept MCAT scores in lieu of other standardized tests. The MCAT exam tests examinees on the skills and knowledge that medical educators, physicians, medical students, and residents have identified as key prerequisites for success in medical school and practicing medicine.

VERY. The MCAT is a very objective measure of your knowledge of science topics and reasoning skills as well as an accurate predictor of your success in medical school as viewed by admissions committees. It is a test of both knowledge and endurance, however it is still only one component of your application. Admissions committees consider many other aspects about you, including your academic strengths, exposure to health care and medical research environments, personal experiences and interests, potential to contribute to the campus and community, and personal attributes such as maturity and drive to help others.

The content is divided into four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 59 multiple-choice questions, 95 minutes
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 59 multiple-choice questions, 95 minutes
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 59 multiple-choice questions, 95 minutes
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 53 multiple-choice questions, 90 minutes

The MCAT tests mostly concepts you might have already encountered in classes such as general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, math, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. It also tests your ability to read and comprehend passages.

You will be asked to arrive 20-30 minutes earlier than your assigned start time. The testing center personal will lead you through the sign in process and ask you to store your belongings in a designated space. Testing centers have strict protocol with respect to signing in before and after each break, when you can access your locker, and what to do when you finish with a section. Be sure to fully understand these policies and ask questions when in need. You will be dismissed once you finish your exam.

The current MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes long, including breaks.

You can take the exam up to three times in a single testing year, up to four times in a two consecutive-year period, and up to seven times in a lifetime. Obviously, you want to minimize the number of times you need to take such a rigorous exam, and that is clearly the value of good MCAT prep. Furthermore, medical schools will not review your application until they receive all your scores from the AAMC. Medical schools will also be able to review all past attempts of the test in your application file.

There is really no correct answer to this question – except to take it only when you are fully ready! Here are some questions to consider while making this decision:

  • When do I want to attend medical school? The first day you can submit your primary application is usually the first week of June. Students will usually take their MCAT the year before they plan to either apply or matriculate into medical school.
  • Is there a potential I may need to test more than once? If this is the case, allow time for another potential second attempt.
  • Have I mastered the content of the exam? The MCAT exam tests content found in introductory-level courses at most undergraduate institutions, including biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics, as well as first-semester biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. While there aren’t specific courses you have to take to be able to register and take the exam, it’s important to feel comfortable with the content and skills tested. If you feel that additional coursework or studying is needed to help you prepare, think about testing at a later point in the year to have additional time. Consult your pre-health advisor or a faculty member to assist with course selection, as courses vary by institution.

Nothing is absolutely required and will not be cross-checked prior to your examination date. However, it is assumed that the average pre-med student, by the time they are ready to take the test, will have had some exposure to basic science and elective science courses as well as laboratory experience. These courses include introductory biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and first-semester psychology, sociology, and biochemistry.

It is possible, but it is risky to submit your medical school application without taking or retaking your MCAT. Since applications are expensive and time-consuming, the best advice is to take your time with the application process and wait until you get your scores arrive. If that means you may have to wait and apply during the next cycle, it may be a safer and smarter option.

To register for an MCAT date, visit the AAMC and click on “Register for the MCAT” under the “Applying to Medical School” tab. Here you will find information on testing dates, how to register for a testing date, testing center locations, fees, and score release dates.

MCAT Studying/Prep FAQs​

Study strategies vary amongst individuals. Some people prefer to take a structured prep course and have a group study environment while others may prefer to self study and be in charge of their own schedule. You should first determine your personal study styles within your current or past classes and in what type of study environment you thrive in. After understanding how you study best, you should then create a study plan to maximize your time and efficiency. Some prep courses even offer free trial classes, study planning materials, and videos. You may find that you like one company’s approach over the other. Be meticulous when selecting resources, avoid too many resources and too few resources as well. 

The average student spends approximately anywhere from 300-500 total hours preparing for the MCAT. This is not a strict rule to abide by as some people may learn and acquire the skills faster or slower than others. Also you will need to evaluate your current time commitments. A popular time to study is the 3-4 months your may have a break between spring and fall semester of college. If you plan to study when you are working or taking classes, figure out how you can spread your studying out in the time you are free.

There are many options for prep courses available to choose from. This is not absolutely necessary, but many people choose this route to structure their studying. Companies provide different services at different price tags, so evaluate carefully whether you will fully benefit from their services. You may need to attend a few information sessions or sample classes to see whether you like one company or not.

Every student is different so the number of practice tests to take will depend on your personal level of mastery and comfort with the exam at a given time. You should first take a diagnostic test to assess your strengths and weaknesses to plan out your studying. After that some people like to take a test every 2-3 weeks until their test date after a designated “content review” phase (anywhere from 3-6 weeks depending on level of comfort with the material, or longer). That can mean you can take anywhere from 4-6 exams before your test in a 4 month period. Remember, to not overdo it and take too many exams. You don’t want to exhaust yourself before you take the real exam! If you find that you are scoring in your target range consistently, focus your practice on shorter exam segments rather than sitting to take another test.

MCAT Score FAQs

Each of the four sections of MCAT is scored between 118 and 132, with the mean and median at 125. This means the total score ranges from 472 to 528, with the mean and median at 500.

Scores are released approximately 30-35 days after each test day. The AAMC lists the MCAT test dates and their respective score release dates on their website.

Many students who have just received their MCAT scores contemplate whether or not they should retake the exam or hold off on their applications to medical school. Unfortunately, the answer is not the same for everyone. You should consider your potential to do significantly better if you were to retake the exam. Remember, colleges can see each attempt at the test, so you want to make sure that you have the potential for improvement. If you are in the range for your target schools, it might be to your favor to not retake it, even if your score was not as high as you hoped.

The way that these scores are viewed by admissions committees can cause a lot of anxiety, depending on the combination of scores that you have. Some adcoms prefer to look at your best scores in each section from multiple tests while other schools consider the average of all of your scores. It’s impossible to predict how any one school will view your scores when there are so many different people involved in the review process. Each committee member will bring their unique perspective and opinion to the discussion. Some of the ways the scores can be assessed are as follows:

  • The most recent score carried the most weight.
  • As long as there was an increasing trend in the test scores, previous scores – even if they were low – did not hurt an applicant’s chances of acceptance (as long as all other parts of the application were strong).
  • When there was high variability within the scores, the highest score for each section was considered and the average was calculated.

Overall, it demonstrated determination to see that a student had taken the MCAT more than once – this helped applicants especially when they improved their scores each time they took the exam.

Info Source: AMCAS

Additional Information

The average MCAT score for medical school matriculants is 510-512. Really, the MCAT score that you need depends on what school you wish to attend. The scores needed to successfully matriculate at Harvard will be very different than those needed to attend a state school or even a DO school.

While no applicant wants any deficiencies, they are inevitable; we are not perfect people. A low MCAT score can be balanced with a higher GPA and visa versa. However, some schools do have certain GPA or MCAT “cut off” limits. Again, be aware of what scores the school you want to attend requires, but more importantly, be aware of what kind of school you want to attend.