The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT): Where To Start
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is one of the most important components of an application for students applying to enroll in Medical School to pursue a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) or Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. This is a test that exhibits a student’s cumulative knowledge from undergraduate pre-medical courses, including biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. Additionally, it evidences a student’s ability to prepare for a lengthy, arduous, timed exam. It is crucial to show a sign of future potential success in the medical field by passing this exam.
MCAT Overview & Scoring
These are the four sections on the MCAT and what it tests students on:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundation of Living Systems tests basic biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry concepts
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics concepts
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior tests psychology, sociology, and biology topics
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) tests reading comprehension over a variety of humanities and social sciences passage
Each of these sections has 59 questions over 95 minutes. The entire exam runs about 7.5 hours with breaks.* Each section is scored from 118-132 with a cumulative score of 472-528.
Most applicants will aim for at least a 510, which is approximately in the 80th percentile. However, several other factors are included in medical school applications. Students should consider their application holistically, including GPA, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters before deciding to apply for medical school.
MCAT & Med School Application Timeline
Completing a four-year degree with pre-medical pre-requisite courses and the MCAT requires planning. Ideally, traditional applicants should aim to complete their pre-requisites before or during the spring of their junior year of college and register for the MCAT for the spring of their junior year. This allows students sufficient time to receive a score report prior to the opening of the application cycle (May), with the option of a retake if needed.
For non-traditional students, all pre-requisites should be completed before studying for the MCAT, if possible. Students should plan to take the MCAT a maximum of two times unless there is an extenuating circumstance that affects the student’s testing ability. If this is the case, it may be necessary to sit for the exam more than twice to achieve a target score.
Create a Study Plan
Creating a study schedule and preparing for the MCAT can be a fairly intricate process. Students should consider their current commitments for school, work, and extracurriculars when determining how long to study for the MCAT. For some students, daily goals work best, while others benefit from weekly targets to reach. On average, students will study for 100 days leading up to the test. This, of course, will depend on whether you’re studying full or part-time.
Preparing for the MCAT should include reading test preparation content books, taking a myriad of practice passages and timed exams. Most students see significant improvement with the use of practice materials for the test. When students can create a timed test setting most similar to the MCAT, they are essentially going through a dress rehearsal. The greatest score improvement tends to come from an increased number of practice tests with a thorough review process of the test.
However, each student will ultimately benefit from a different approach to studying, whether it’s auditory or visual learning, application-based, or spaced repetition with flashcards. The most effective strategy is the strategy that the student will enjoy and stay motivated to continue working. For many of my students, I recommend keeping a progress tracker on an excel sheet detailing reading goals as well as scoring on practice passages and exams. This can serve as a barometer for students to decide when they are ready to take their test with an estimated score based on prior performance.
Ultimately, the MCAT is a great opportunity for students to shine and show their academic ability to prepare and succeed. With a targeted strategy and hard work, many students will have a great outcome on test day. This process is an opportunity to adopt learning strategies that will ultimately serve students in their medical school education and throughout their training.
*This timing has been shortened to 5 hours and 45 minutes for the May – September 2020 testing cycle in the setting of COVID-19.
About the Author
Jordan S. is a top MCAT tutor for MyGuru, a boutique tutoring company that stresses the importance of mindset, strategy, confidence, effective study habits, and time management and organization skills in achieving superior performance in school and on standardized tests.