Beginners Guide to MCAT Prep

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As you’re beginning the process of MCAT prep, it’s important to know where you’re starting – and where you’d like to go. In order to achieve your desired score on the MCAT, you’ll probably want to consider what is on the MCAT, your current knowledge base, and where you might have gaps in your understanding that need to be filled prior to test day.

In this guide, we’ll answer several questions that could help set you up for success in your MCAT prep, including:

  • What is the MCAT?
  • What is on the MCAT?
  • How many times could you take the MCAT?
  • Is the MCAT multiple-choice?
  • What’s the typical MCAT score range?

Let’s dive in and check out all that you need to know to prep for your medical school entrance exam.

What Is the MCAT

If you’re considering applying to medical school, taking the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is the first step toward pursuing a career as a physician. The MCAT is a qualifying exam required by medical schools to help them differentiate between applicants and decide which ones to accept. The test has been a part of medical school admissions for nearly a century. More than 85,000 students sit for the exam annually.

The MCAT could be daunting, especially if you’re beginning the MCAT prep process for the first time. Thus, it could be important to know what to expect, get plenty of practice, and sit down prepared and confident on test day. The good news is that it’s impossible to fail the MCAT—your score simply shows where you rank compared to other medical school applicants. That being said, having a competitive score makes it much more likely that you’ll be offered admission to the medical school of your choice.

Digging into the MCAT

Whether you are confused about the MCAT scoring range, wondering what score you’ll need to get into your school of choice, curious about how long you’ll need to sit for the MCAT, or wondering exactly what material will be tested, we’ve got you covered. Take a deep breath and get ready to inform your MCAT prep process by fully understanding the test.

The MCAT score range explained

MCAT scores range from 472 to 528. The test is scaled, so each question is not simply worth a single point. The difficulty of the questions informs your total score.

You’ll receive a score between 118 and 132 for each section of the MCAT. Your four section scores combined make up your total score. 500 represents the mean score, meaning about half of all students who take the MCAT tend to score above the 500 mark, while the other half score below the 500 mark.

How long is the MCAT?

While the actual MCAT takes 6 hours and 15 minutes, when you add in the required breaks, your total time in the testing center will be about 7 hours and 30 minutes.

You won’t be able to take the MCAT at home, as the American Association of Medical Colleges has determined that there’s no fair way to ensure test integrity on the MCAT outside of the testing center.

The computer-based version of the test is given at Thomson Prometric testing sites throughout North America. Students are provided with lockers, climate and sound-controlled rooms, ergonomic chairs, noise-reduction headphones, and standardized proctoring, allowing each medical school applicant the chance to do their best during the testing process.

The computer-based version of the test is given at Thomson Prometric testing sites throughout North America. Students are provided with lockers, climate and sound-controlled rooms, ergonomic chairs, noise-reduction headphones, and standardized proctoring, allowing each medical school applicant the chance to do their best during the testing process.

Now that you understand the basics of what to expect when you walk into the testing center to take your MCAT, let’s explore the material you’ll be expected to know.

What is on the MCAT?

Understanding what’s on the MCAT test could be a key part of being prepared and confident for your exam. All of the MCAT is multiple choice. The test is split into four sections:

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

In addition to straightforward multiple-choice questions, there are reading comprehension passages with corresponding multiple-choice questions. Typically, comprehension passages explore higher-level topics and give test takers the opportunity to showcase their ability to comprehend and process new information.

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How to Take the MCAT

If you’re getting ready for the MCAT, it’s important that you develop a solid MCAT prep plan and that you know how to proceed if your score isn’t as high as you’d hoped. Let’s take a look at things to consider in order to be prepared to receive your scores.

How many times can you take the MCAT?

You may take the MCAT up to seven times. Some students decide that they’re one-and-done test takers. This strategy could have some advantages—you might have increased motivation to study, lower stress following the test, and a greater level of concentration while actually taking the test.

How to study for the MCAT

No matter how confident they’re feeling about the MCAT, many students feel that they could benefit from MCAT prep courses and resources.

Working with a private tutor or taking an MCAT prep class doesn’t just give you the test-taking strategies to help you get a high score—it could also help you connect with others who are going through the stress of MCAT prep. If you’d prefer to study solo, purchasing study guides could be a great way to move forward with your prep. You may also want to take a practice test before you begin the MCAT prep process—this could help you see whether you’re already where you need to be when it comes to achieving your desired score.

When should I take the MCAT?

Some students take the MCAT during the latter part of their sophomore year or during the summer between their sophomore and junior years. By this point, you’ll likely have completed the majority of the necessary medical school prerequisites. Opting for an early exam date offers the advantage of having time to retake the test if needed, ensuring you may have sufficient opportunities to achieve your desired score.

Otherwise, it’s smart to take the MCAT between January and April of the application year. For example, if your goal is to matriculate into medical school in August 2025, schedule your MCAT for the first four months of 2024. Don’t take the exam any later than April, however; you need time to put together a robust application.

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Understanding the ins and outs of the MCAT and developing your MCAT prep plan early could help you meet your score goal. Take it one step at a time, however, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help along the way. Good luck—you’ve got this!

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