You’ve studied, you’ve prepared, and you’ve probably spent your fair share of all-nighters worrying about the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). If you’re in the US or Canada, you’ll need good scores to get into medical school, and the future of your medical career lies in your performance on this one day.
Of course, you can take the MCAT multiple times:
- Up to three times in one testing year
- Up to four times in two consecutive testing years
- Up to seven times in your life
Knowing you can try again takes some of the pressure off, but most people would agree that getting a great score on your first try is ideal.
When test day comes along, there’s no extra time to prepare. Being prepared for what you’ll experience on test day, however, will help you feel more relaxed and ready to tackle the marathon that is the MCAT.
When you’re done here, save our MCAT Study Guide, which covers how the MCAT is scored, 7 MCAT study strategies, resources, FAQs, and more.
How You’ll Feel on MCAT Test Morning
When you wake up the morning of the MCAT, (assuming you were able to fall asleep the night before) you might feel similar to how you felt when you took the SAT or ACT. Considering this test has much higher stakes, whatever you experienced then will likely be magnified.
People often feel nervous, jittery, or on edge. Whatever you do to relax, calm, and ground yourself, plan to do those things on test day.
Arriving at the Testing Facility
Tests are typically scheduled to begin at 7:30 AM or 3 PM. You’ll need to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled test time. If you’re late, the Test Administrator may not allow you to take the test and you will lose one of your test attempts, so plan for extra traveling time. Check for any of the following on the day of your test, as they could cause delays or road closures:
- Planned construction
- Marathons, 5Ks, or other races
- Major sporting events
- Other special events
Testing centers often remain open even during inclement weather; don’t assume it will be closed if you see some snow outside, and plan for even more travel time. If the testing center lets you in early, you might be able to begin before the scheduled testing time.
If it’s feasible, drive to the testing center in the weeks before your test, and aim to go on the same day of the week at the same time. This will give you a good idea of how long it will actually take you to get there on test morning.
When you arrive on test day, ideally you’ll have some extra time to sit in the car where you can take a few deep breaths and collect yourself before you enter the testing facility. You won’t be allowed to leave and come back to your car during the test, so bring any food or drinks into the testing center with you.
Checking In at the MCAT
The first step when you walk into the testing center is to wait in line and check-in. You’ll need your valid (not expired) government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. The test administrator will also take your picture and scan your palm. They will also instruct you on how to use a locker for your belongings, and will also seal your phone and any electronics in a bag. You’ll also review the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Candidate Rules Agreement and complete a digital signature.
If you choose to bring your cellphone or other electronics into the testing center with you, you will not be able to take them out of the sealed bag until the test is over. You might also be asked to store items such as jewelry or watches. Don’t store your ID; you’ll need it to enter the testing room.
After you do your initial check-in and store your items in your locker, use the bathroom, then wait for your number to be called. You’ll be directed to your testing room, where you’ll undergo another check-in process.
Learn What to Bring to MCAT Test Day and what we recommend you pack to help the day go smoothly.
Before you enter the actual testing room, don’t be surprised when you undergo something akin to airport security. To check for contraband, the Test Administrator might:
- Ask you to turn out your pockets
- Ask you to pull your pants up to show your ankles
- Inspect your hair; they might check a large bun or ask you to lift your hair
- Ask you to lift your hood or tie
- Ask you to roll up your sleeves
- Examine your glasses
- Ask you to pat yourself down
The Test Administrator will then show you to your seat. Do not be alarmed if you see people doing things differently than you or if they seem to be on a different timeline. There may be other people taking different tests in the same testing center.
Duration of the MCAT
Once you finally get into your seat, get comfortable. The total seated time for the MCAT (not including check-in) is 7 hours and 30 minutes. Here is how AAMC breaks down the test:
The MCAT begins with an optional 10 minutes tutorial. Complete the tutorial to give yourself time to settle in and make sure everything is working.
- 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
The total content time amounts to 6 hours and 15 minutes.
On the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior sections, you’ll be asked to answer 59 questions. There are ten passage-based sets of questions containing four to six questions per set and 15 independent questions in each section.
On the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, you’ll be asked to answer 53 questions. There are nine passage-based sets of questions containing five to seven questions per set.
Taking the MCAT
The actual time you sit down to take your test might differ from the official start time. This is perfectly okay and is a result of the check-in process. As soon as you sit down, you’ll begin, which means everyone in the room will be on a different schedule. When you sit down, you might also notice that each test station is monitored and recorded.
As long as you arrive on time, don’t stress if you see the start time come and go and you still haven’t begun testing. You will still be given the allotted amount of time to complete each section.
At your test station, you’ll be allowed to keep your:
- Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones (provided by test center)
- Storage key (provided by test center)
- Noteboard booklet (provided by test center)
- Fine-point marker (provided by test center)
If you need anything else for a medical reason, that needs to be approved as an accommodation before the test. Learn more about how to submit an application for an MCAT accommodation.
Your provided noteboard booklet will include wet-erase pages, meaning you won’t be able to erase them yourself in the testing center. Don’t worry about running out of room; you can raise your hand and exchange it for a new one at any time.
If you finish a section early, you don’t get to carry that extra time over, and you don’t get to take a longer break. When you have extra time, you can:
- Check back through the questions in that section
- Take a “mental break” at your seat
- End the section and begin your 10 or 30-minute break.
During the test, if you have a question or need to get out of your seat for any reason, raise your hand and wait for a Test Administrator to come to you.
Breaks during the MCAT are glorious—use them! You get two ten-minute breaks and one 30 minute break.
A pain point for many people who take the MCAT is that it takes about four minutes to check out and back in, so ten-minute breaks are almost cut in half when you factor that time in.
Before you get up and leave, you’ll need to raise your hand and wait for a Test Administrator to check you out. You’ll need to show your ID, scan your palm, and be checked for contraband any time you re-enter the testing room. You’ll definitely have time to go to the bathroom and get a quick snack, but don’t assume you have that full ten minutes. When you don’t arrive back in time, you may lose some of your test time on the next section.
During breaks, you are not allowed to leave the building or the floor you’re on, which is why you should have any food or drinks in your locker. It’s a good idea to bring some cash in case there is a vending machine as well. You are not allowed to use flashcards or other study materials during breaks.
You are allowed to take breaks in the middle of a section, but your test timer will not stop. If you absolutely need to, raise your hand for a Test Administrator to help you. As we said earlier, you cannot use extra time on a section to extend your break.
To take a mental break in the middle of a section, you can close your eyes, look away from the screen, gently stretch your wrists, etc.
On the longer break, most people choose to eat lunch. You are allowed to talk to other test-takers, but you cannot talk about the MCAT.
How You’ll Feel When the MCAT Is Over
Your brain will feel scrambled. You’ll be exhausted. You might feel relief. You’re probably going to question yourself and fear that you did poorly. The MCAT is an incredible mental marathon, and your brain will be feeling it.
After you finish the final section, you will be given the opportunity to void your exam. It won’t be scored, it won’t be sent to schools, you’ll lose one of your seven lifetime attempts, and you won’t find out how you did.
Unless you got sick or had to click through the whole test without answering questions, it’s not a great idea to void. Many people who score very well think they did awful. You likely did better than you thought, and even if you didn’t do great, you do have the opportunity to take the test again.
When you leave the testing center, the Test Administrator will give you a completion confirmation letter and unseal the bag with your electronics.
After that, you’re free to celebrate completing the MCAT!
The Bottom Line
The MCAT is an extremely important test for those wishing to attend medical school, and doing everything you can to prepare will increase your chances of scoring well and getting into your dream school. By understanding how the day will unfold, you can allocate more brainpower to the test itself.
Memm helps remove some of the stress of studying for the MCAT. Memm is a resource that will help you organize your studying by providing a schedule that adapts as you go, so you can take those much-needed breaks without worrying about ruining your schedule. Don’t waste time sorting through low-yield fluff—Memm’s pre-made flashcards only include the most high-yield information.