MCAT FAQ — 21 of Your Questions Answered

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The MCAT: the test, the myth, the legend. It’s an academic marathon that strikes fear into the heart of every hopeful premed—and if it doesn’t, then it most certainly should. The MCAT is a vital piece of your medical school application, and it can make or break your chances of acceptance. But what exactly is the MCAT, why is it so difficult, and why is it taken so seriously? Read our MCAT FAQ for answers to 18 essential questions.

 

1 | What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a 7.5 hour standardized exam designed to assess a prospective medical student’s foundational science knowledge and critical thinking skills.

If you hope to be accepted to medical school and become a doctor, you must take the MCAT exam first. Admissions committees believe your MCAT score is an indicator of whether or not you can handle the rigors of medical school. While your MCAT score is far from the only thing admissions committees consider, performing well on the MCAT is essential if you wish to be considered by top-tier medical schools.

 

2 | What’s on the MCAT Test?

The MCAT is divided into 4 multiple choice sections. Each section is worth 132 points for a total perfect MCAT score of 528.

The four MCAT sections are:

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)
  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
  3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/BioChem)
  4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)

You are allotted 95 minutes to complete each of the following sections: 1, 3, and 4. These three sections each contain 59 questions, 44 of which are passage-related, and 15 of which are standalone. You are allotted 90 minutes to complete section 2, CARS, which contains 53 questions, all of which are passage-related.

Sections 1, 3, and 4 of the MCAT require a thorough understanding of scientific facts and concepts, as well as the ability to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines with advanced inquiry, deduction, and reasoning skills.

Section 2, CARS, differs from the other three sections in that it does not require any memorization. CARS is designed to assess your critical thinking and reasoning skills exclusively. This section requires you to read and consider passages from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences and then analyze and answer questions about what you have just read. Performing well on CARS requires that you be able to rapidly comprehend and analyze what you read.

Learn more: MCAT Sections: What’s on the MCAT?

 

3 | How Long Does the MCAT Test Take?

With breaks, the MCAT takes 7.5 hours to complete, not including the time it takes to sign in and get settled. Without breaks, the MCAT takes 6 hours and 15 minutes to complete. That said, we highly recommend you utilize each break to take a breath, eat a snack, and reset before the next section begins.

Learn more: How Long Does the MCAT Take?

 

4 | How Many Breaks Do You Get During the MCAT?

You have 3 optional breaks during the MCAT exam, which means you are allowed to take a break after you complete each section. The first break is ten minutes, the second break is 30 minutes (for lunch,) and the final break is ten minutes. There is also an optional 10 minute tutorial before the test begins.

Time-wise, this is how the MCAT is broken down:

Optional tutorial: 10 minutes

Chem/Phys: 95 minutes

Optional break: 10 minutes

CARS: 90 minutes

Optional lunch break: 30 minutes

Bio/BioChem: 95 minutes

Optional break: 10 minutes

Psych/Soc: 95 minutes

 

5 | How Is the MCAT Scored?

The MCAT is completely multiple choice. The score range of each of the 4 MCAT sections is 118-132, for a total perfect score of 528. The lowest possible score is 472. Each of the 4 sections is worth 25% of your final score.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

Time: 90 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of questions: 53 total (all passage-related)

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/BioChem)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)

Time: 95 minutes

Score Range: 118-132

Number of Questions: 59 total (44 passage-related,15 standalone)

MCAT Sections Breakdown

 

6 | What’s a Good MCAT Score?

A good MCAT score is different for everyone and largely depends on the schools you hope to be accepted to. While a perfect MCAT score is 528, most medical schools suggest that students should have a minimum MCAT score of 500, which means scoring 125 in each of the four sections. That said, in order to be competitive, you should aim to score higher than 500.

Average statistics of recent matriculated medical school students can give you a general idea of what’s expected, but if you have specific medical schools in mind, it is vital that you research exactly what is expected for each school you are applying to.

For example, osteopathic (DO) schools put less importance on your MCAT score compared with allopathic (MD) schools.

The average MCAT score for recent matriculants applying through AMCAS is: 511.5

The average MCAT score for recent matriculants applying through AACOMAS is: 503.8

Keep in mind that these are only averages. In order to be competitive, it’s important to aim for a much higher than average score.

The AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database is the best way to find out how your MCAT score and GPA compare to the students who have already been accepted to the schools you’re applying to.

Learn more: Is Your MCAT Score Good Enough?

 

7 | How Hard Is the MCAT?

The MCAT is ranked as one of the hardest examinations in the world.

The MCAT is particularly challenging because it isn’t only a test of what you know—it’s a test of how you think. Within a short period of time, students must be able to synthesize information, think critically, and analyze what is presented to them.

In addition, many questions on the MCAT combine content from different subjects, including biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, general chemistry, physics, sociology, psychology, humanities, and social sciences.

Aside from the difficulty of the test itself, you can expect to be at the testing center for at least eight hours on the day of your test. Some of that time will involve getting settled in and taking breaks, but you will still spend 6 hours and 15 minutes on content alone. Just for reference, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) takes about 3 hours to complete—including breaks.

All of that being said, the MCAT will be more difficult for some than others. The measure of how difficult the MCAT is is based on how well a student is able to prepare and stick to a personalized study schedule.

Learn more: How Hard is the MCAT?

 

8 | How Do I Take the MCAT?

You can register for your MCAT exam through the AAMC website. If you don’t already have one, you will first need to create an account to access AAMC services.

 

9 | When Can I Take the MCAT?

There are various test dates available throughout the year. Visit the AAMC’s 2022 US MCAT Calendar, Scheduling Deadlines, and Score Release Dates to see when you can take the MCAT.

 

10 | When Should I Start Studying for the MCAT?

The MCAT test calendar varies each year. The date you need to begin studying depends on your test date. We recommend dedicating 3-6 months to studying before the test date. We believe 3 months is ideal if you can dedicate 40 or more hours per week to studying.

For example, if you want to take the MCAT in September, you should begin studying in March at the earliest and June at the latest to give yourself 3-6 months. Use our guide below to figure out when you need to begin studying.

when to begin studying

Learn more: When Should You Start Studying for the MCAT?

 

11 | How Do MCAT Practice Tests Compare to the Real Thing?

According to most test takers, practice tests tend to be even harder than the real MCAT. The AAMC MCAT practice tests are as close as possible to the real thing because the same test developers who write the practice tests also write the MCAT. Many students report that their actual MCAT score was very similar to what they scored on the AAMC practice tests.

While AAMC has a free practice test, students report that this test is actually easier than the real MCAT. To get something that’s as close as possible to the real MCAT, it will be necessary to pay for one or more of the AAMC’s full-length practice exams that provide scaled scoring.

There are also a number of other MCAT practice tests out there, including Kaplan practice tests and the Princeton Review practice tests.

In our guide on How Do MCAT Practice Tests Compare to the Real Thing, we examine a number of different MCAT practice tests through the lens of students’ reported experiences and how their practice test scores compared to their MCAT scores.

 

12 | When Is the Best Time to Take the MCAT?

The best time to take the MCAT largely depends on your plans after college—do you plan on going straight into medical school, or are you hoping to take a year off?

If you plan on going straight into medical school, we recommend taking the MCAT during the summer after your sophomore year. If you plan to take a year off after college, take the MCAT during the summer between your junior and senior years.

 

13 | How Do I Know If I’m Ready to Take the MCAT?

This is a personal decision primarily based on 3 important factors:

  • How well your MCAT studying is going
  • Your results on practice tests
  • Your personal state of mind (your confidence level, timeline, etc.)

It is important to note, however, that delaying your MCAT could be a costly mistake, as the longer you spend studying, the more chances you have of forgetting previous material.

Learn more: Should You Delay Your MCAT? How to Know If You’re Ready

 

14 | How Long Does it Take to Get MCAT Scores?

Official MCAT scores are released 30-35 days after an exam date.

2022 Schedule and Score Release Dates for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

 

15 | How Long Do MCAT Scores Last?

According to AAMC, medical schools generally accept scores that are two or three years old. Many medical schools do not accept MCAT exam scores that are more than three years old.

 

16 | Is an MCAT Retake Worth It?

Technically, the AAMC allows you to take the MCAT up to three times in a year, four times over two years, and seven times in a lifetime. It should be noted that every scored attempt appears on your record, which means they are all seen by admissions committees.

Here are the 3 main questions to consider before retaking the MCAT:

  1. Do you actually need a higher score to gain acceptance to your desired medical school?
  2. Can you significantly improve your score? (Do you have enough time and energy to study for the MCAT again? Do you have an improved study strategy?)
  3. How many times have you already taken the MCAT?

Deciding whether or not to retake the MCAT is a dilemma that many students face. Signing up to take the test again right away without making any changes to your study habits is a poor choice, as there is no reason to expect you should perform any better than you did before.

Keep in mind that your success on the MCAT is based much more on your preparation than your level of intelligence. A high MCAT score depends on your study strategies, discipline, and your use of evidence-based learning principles during your preparation.

For more details, read our guide: Is an MCAT Retake Worth It?

 

17 | What Should I Bring to the MCAT?

The most important thing to remember on MCAT test day is your ID. You must present identification when you arrive, and that identification must meet certain criteria set by AAMC.

During your breaks, you are only permitted access to food, water, and medication. Bring plenty of water or other beverages that will keep you hydrated, as well as a variety of healthy snacks. You may want to bring a small lunch, such as a simple sandwich.

Learn more: What to Bring to MCAT Test Day.

 

18 | What Should I Wear to the MCAT?

Choose clothes you are comfortable in. It’s a long test, and you’ll want your attention focused exclusively on the exam, not on what you’re wearing.

Any personal items, including jewelry and watches, must be removed before entering the test, so it’s best not to bring them with you at all. Everything on you will be examined, and any unnecessary items must be stowed in the secure storage area provided by the testing center. You will even need to turn out your pockets, so check that they are empty before you arrive.

 

19 | What Should I Eat Before and During the MCAT?

Choose a filling but not overly heavy breakfast. We recommend protein and starchy foods with a low glycemic index, such as eggs, salmon, oatmeal, or whole wheat toast.

Keep your food choices simple, but bring extra just in case. You’ll be working your brain hard for several hours, and that’s going to build up your appetite. Ideal foods include sandwiches, nuts, granola bars, bananas, and berries. Light, healthy foods are best, but at the same time, don’t bring something you aren’t used to or haven’t tried before. MCAT test day is not the time to experiment.

 

20 | Is MCAT Tutoring Worth It?

The MCAT is extremely difficult, and your score could determine your future in medicine, or lack thereof. The good news is there is no reason to tackle this overwhelming, seemingly insurmountable task alone, as an innumerable amount of people have been exactly where you are right now and have successfully matriculated to medical school. Why not benefit from their expertise?

Choosing whether or not to get assistance depends on your own personal strengths and weaknesses, the time you have available, and your ability to design your own personalized study strategy.

At the end of the day, MCAT tutoring is all about improving your score, and with study strategies and schedules designed by real doctors and tailored to your own unique strengths, weaknesses, and study habits, that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do.

MCAT Study Methods Pros and Cons

Learn more: Is MCAT Tutoring Worth It?

 

21 | What Are the Best MCAT Resources?

When it comes to MCAT resources, AAMC is an excellent place to start. Princeton Review and Kaplan also offer extensive resources, but it’s better to focus on one rather than choosing both.

We also recommend using Memm to effortlessly and efficiently organize information and accelerate your MCAT learning.

Med School Insiders offers tailored MCAT tutoring customized to your specific needs. Our diagnostic process evaluates how you can make the greatest improvements. You’ll be matched with a top-scoring tutor for one-on-one mentorship and relationship building. It’s a custom, one-of-a-kind approach that’s based on efficiency and effectiveness.

Learn more about our MCAT tutoring services and comprehensive admissions packages. Visit the Med School Insiders blog for a wide selection of current MCAT resources. We’re always adding to our library.

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