Tips And Tricks For MCAT Prep

By Staff Writers

Published on September 21, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Tips for Crushing the MCAT and Getting Into Medical School

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), more than 800,000 people applied to medical school in the United States during the 2017–2018 admissions cycle. Almost all applicants had to take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, to complete their medical school application. The MCAT is a difficult test and covers a variety of scientific disciplines and is useful to admissions officers when comparing applications for competitive and highly coveted medical school slots. Adequate preparation for a test of this magnitude is essential. We'll discuss how to study for the MCAT, as well as provide other basic information, such as understanding what is considered a good MCAT score.

Understanding the MCAT

The MCAT is a computer-based test. As exams go, this one is a marathon, lasting about seven and a half hours, including breaks. Given its length and difficulty, prospective test takers must fully understand the purpose of the test and ensure they register for it far in advance to adequately prepare.

What is the purpose of the MCAT?

The MCAT measures a prospective medical student's level of scientific knowledge and critical reasoning ability.

Who is eligible to take the MCAT?

The only formal eligibility requirement to take the MCAT is the intent to apply to a health profession school.

Why is the MCAT required for admission?

The MCAT provides a way for medical schools to confirm an applicant has the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed. It also provides an objective method of comparing applicants against each other when making admissions decisions.

When is the MCAT administered?

The MCAT is administered roughly 30 times throughout the year, until around the middle of September. Scores are released about one month after test day. Below is a listing of the testing schedules for the 2018 year.

Score Release Date: February 23

Where can I take the MCAT?

The MCAT is available at any of the many Pearson VUE test centers across the United States.

How is the MCAT taken?

The MCAT is a computer-based test, with no paper and pencil option. There are optional breaks between sections, allowing students to immediately move onto the next section if they so choose.

How often can I take the MCAT?

During a single testing year, an individual may only take the MCAT up to three times. Over a two-year period, they can take the MCAT four times. The lifetime limit for taking the MCAT is seven times.

Do all medical programs require the MCAT for admission?

For anyone looking to enter medical school after completing a traditional bachelor's program, the MCAT is required. However, a few schools allow students to apply to a joint bachelor's and medical degree program. In these accelerated dual degree programs, students will not have to take the MCAT before entering medical school. The joint programs at Northwestern University and the University of Rochester are good examples of this.

Test Composition and Timing

The MCAT is a long test, but that's because it has to cover a tremendous amount of material. Let's look at what it covers.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

Duration in Minutes 95 Number of Questions 59 This part of the MCAT tests an individual's understanding of chemical and physical scientific concepts within the context of the human body. For example, a question might ask the test taker to identify the fastest chemical reaction within the human body.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

Duration in Minutes 90 Number of Questions 53 The CARS portion of the MCATs is the most similar to other standardized exams in that it tests the individual's verbal reasoning and reading comprehension skills. The typical question involves asking the test taker to read a written passage, then answer questions about what they just read.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

Duration in Minutes 95 Number of Questions 59 This section looks at the test taker's knowledge of biochemistry and biology, as well as the ability to apply that knowledge to scientific contexts. For example, a question might give a hypothetical scenario about a medical experiment and ask for an answer that explains the results.

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Duration in Minutes 95 Number of Questions 59 This portion of the MCAT looks at how well the test taker understands the biological and psychological factors that affect an individual's perception of the world, as well as their health and behavior. A sample question might explain a psychological theory and then ask the test taker to correctly apply it to a particular situation.

Breaks—Scheduled and Optional

Duration in Minutes 10 or 30 (the longer break is for lunch) Number of QuestionsN/A

Registration and Fees for the MCAT

Given the financial and time costs to take the MCAT, it's important to understand how the test works, and how to get registered.

Registering for the MCAT

Paying for the MCAT

How much does it cost?


What if I can't afford to pay?

The MCAT Fee Assistance Program allows test takers who demonstrate extreme financial need (300 percent or less of the national poverty level) to pay a reduced fee to take the MCAT, access free study guides, receive an $800 credit toward an updated psycho-educational or medical re-evaluation to support an MCAT accommodations application, receive free access to the Medical School Admission Requirements website and obtain a waiver of all AMCAS fees for one application.

Preparing for the MCAT: Tips and Practice Exams

Sun Tzu said that the best military minds will engage in battle only after it has already been won. The MCAT isn't exactly warfare, but the same concept applies: acing the test depends primarily on what you do to prepare for it. Therefore, what and how you study before test day is of vital importance.

Know what type of learner you are and your best studying practices.DocSwiner

Top Tips for Test Prep:

MCAT Practice Exams and Study Guides

The MCAT is like many other standardized entrance exams in that thousands of people take it and almost as many people look for ways to study for it. As a result, a variety of self-study guides and practice tests are available from a number of providers.

Utilize free online resources and identify students who are also studying for the MCAT. They can help hold you accountable to your study schedule, and they can help you study.DocSwiner

Test Day: Rules for MCAT Success

All the preparation in the world is all for naught if you're not allowed in the testing center or get kicked out for a policy violation. Follow all the rules so all that hard work pays off.Discussing the MCAT.

As a condition of taking the MCAT, test takers must agree to keep its content confidential. There may be no detailed discussions with others about the exam's content. This means:

Policies and Procedures for MCAT Testing Centers.

Items Allowed in the MCAT Testing Area.

Please note: The last three items on this list are provided by the testing center. The only thing the test taker must bring is their ID. Guidelines for Scheduled Exam Breaks.

There are three breaks during the MCAT. Two of them last 10 minutes; one lasts 30 minutes to allow for lunch. All breaks are optional. The 10-minute break follows the first section and precedes the final section. The 30-minute break follows the second section. During breaks, test takers will have a little more leeway in what they can have in their possession, but there are still strict rules in place.

Understanding Scoring for the MCAT

The MCAT score means little without proper context and explanation. For example, a perfect score is a 528, but it doesn't mean much until you understand where that number comes from.

Though the MCAT is important for getting into medical school, “admission officers are usually interested in students holistically. A good doctor is not one who can only state facts but is also one who can empathize and relate to patients.DocSwiner

MCAT Test Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Individuals with certain disabilities might be at a disadvantage when taking tests like the MCAT. Luckily, there are accommodations available to level the playing field.

Common reasons for accommodations.

The MCAT test providers understand that test takers with certain conditions may warrant special accommodations to help level the playing field for them. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires these accommodations. But not everyone with a particular challenge will get an accommodation. Additionally, accommodations will be tailored to the specific individual. Conditions commonly resulting in test day accommodations include:

Modified accommodations for disabilities.

Accommodations can vary widely, depending on the specifics of the test taker. Common accommodations include:

Guidelines for receiving accommodations.

Whether an accommodation will be given, as well as the type of accommodation provided, will be determined on an individual basis. Applicants will be expected to provide an evaluation from a qualified professional in the area that relates to the disability or impairment. The evaluator will need to:

How to apply for accommodations.

To request an accommodation, a prospective test taker must use the MCAT Accommodations Online application system. From there, they can submit required information and check on the status of their request. Any document submitted in support of the accommodation request must be in PDF format. Applicants are strongly recommended to submit their accommodations request at least 60 days before the silver registration deadline.

MCAT Exam Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Additional Resources for Students Preparing for the MCAT

Getting as much assistance as possible for a test of such importance is always a good thing. Here are a few resources to help that along:

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