MUA’s guide to taking the MCAT

MUA’s guide to taking the MCAT

The MCAT is key in every hopeful med student’s journey to becoming a doctor, but how hard it is and how much does it cost?

If you’re planning to attend medical school in the US or Canada, in most cases, you must take the MCAT exam to be considered for admission.. The purpose of the MCAT is to measure whether hopeful medical school applicants are prepared before being accepted into their chosen school. 

What is the MCAT exam?

The MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test, which is administered and developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). MCAT is a computer-based exam that is standardized for every participant, consisting of multiple-choice questions.

It’s not just your MCAT score alone that contributes to whether or not your medical school application is accepted. Application submission committees will also be looking for a strong academic record and other supporting assets, all of which combine to show whether you have the necessary foundations to achieve a great medical career. There are limits to the number of tests you can take — three times in one calendar year, four times over two years, and seven times over the course of your lifetime — and medical schools will see all of your scores across all of these tests.

The knowledge and skills tested in the MCAT are introductory level biology, physics, psychology, sociology, general and organic chemistry, and first-semester biochemistry. Pre-med advisors and other staff members at your school should be able to help you  prepare you for the exam, so reach out to them for advice before you take it. If you do not have a pre-med advisor, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) has volunteer advisors who are there to help. The AAMC offers official MCAT test preparation tools and resources, which can be accessed for free or at a low cost. This ensures that students can study and practice with content written by the real-life test developers and can replicate the actual MCAT experience in a simulated testing environment. Preparation is invaluable for students who want to achieve a good MCAT score.

How much is the MCAT?   

It costs $315 to take the MCAT (Princeton Review). If you register late, the cost increases to $370. This MCAT registration fee includes the distribution of your MCAT scores to medical schools. If you need to cancel or choose to reschedule your test, you will be charged additional fees. The AAMC believes that the cost of applying to medical school shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone aspiring to practice medicine. They offer a fee assistance program that helps students who, without financial aid, would not be able to take the MCAT exam or apply to medical school. Eligible students will be required to pay a reduced fee and can access several additional benefits, including free MCAT preparation resources.

How long is the MCAT test?

While the AAMC did offer a shortened MCAT exam — 5 hours and 45 minutes — during parts of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the test is now back to its normal length. It is sat in a single day and is the longest test that most students will ever take in their lives. The test itself is 6 hours and 15 minutes — when you add in breaks and extra sections, the MCAT’s total ‘seated time’ is 7 hours and 27 minutes. The breaks are usually half an hour plus two 10 minute breaks. For those who need it, there is also the optional time at the start for an exam tutorial.

The multiple-choice format of the exam is split into different question types. Some contain a passage of text to read and assess, plus a related question, and some are short and direct questions with four answers to choose from.

There are four sections to the MCAT, as launched by the AAMC in 2015:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Sections 1–3 are designed to test participants’ fundamental understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. The 4th section challenges students to understand and analyze the information in front of them effectively.

How long are my MCAT scores valid for?  

Medical schools will usually accept MCAT scores between 2 and 3 years from the testing date. This timeframe does depend on how competitive the medical schools being applied to are. Generally, the more competitive a medical school, the less time they will allow for accepting MCAT scores.

It’s really important for students to check the admission policies of their chosen schools so that they know how long their MCAT scores will be valid. By not checking, you risk wasting your time on submitting an application for a school where your score is no longer accepted.

The highest possible MCAT score  

The highest possible MCAT score is 528. Each of the four sections of the MCAT listed above is scored from 118 to 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. Scoring between 514 and 528 will put you in the top 10% of all test takers. Scoring between 508 and 513 — in the top 25% of all tests taken — will put you in a highly competitive place for admissions. Scoring 499 or below may be enough to get you into some medical schools, but you will be below average compared to the rest of the testing population. If you are unhappy with your MCAT score, your pre-med advisor can help you decide if you should retake the exam. Scores typically are reported 30–35 days after your exam date.

What to do after passing the MCAT  

The first thing every student should do after passing the MCAT is to celebrate! Celebrate your hard work, your success, and the possibilities of your future. Once you have your score in hand, start researching your target medical schools and begin the application process. You can spend time looking at the websites and social media presence and attend faculty and campus tours.

Your premed adviser will be able to give their advice on which programs suit your MCAT score, GPA, and extracurricular activities. You can also consult the Medical School Admission Requirements guide, which is published by the Association of American Medical Colleges and includes MCAT and GPA ranges for US and Canadian medical schools. You should aim to create a list of schools that includes your dream schools plus your target and safety schools. Speak to your academic advisors, mentors, and peers for ideas to boost your chances of securing interviews.

The time after taking the MCAT can also be used to undertake a clinical experience. This will help to demonstrate your passion for and interest in medicine, especially on submission boards. Look for shadowing opportunities at your own college or at local medical schools to see if they have any clinical shadowing opportunities available.  A third option is to research trips abroad to healthcare-poor nations, giving students the chance to gain a firsthand taste of clinical medicine.

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