Detailed guide to the MCAT test and resources to help you stay on track
The MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test. It is a standardized, multiple-choice exam administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The exam is a prerequisite for admission to nearly all medical schools in the US and Canada. Annually, over 80,000 applicants to American and Canadian medical schools submit their scores.
The exam has evolved over the years and, since 2015, has become primarily a reasoning-based exam – although a wide breadth of basic knowledge is required to answer the questions accurately. The MCAT exam will evaluate your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles, as well as problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are required in medical school.
Yes, the MCAT is hard. Its purpose is to ensure that the students who get accepted to medical school not only have a good foundation of scientific facts and relevant formulae, but also the mental agility to look holistically at the sciences (take in the big picture), and yet be comfortable at critically analyzing scientific data with the depth of perception (focus on the necessary details). Not only that, but the test also seeks to probe what you know about your thoughts, feelings, and functioning impact your actions and behavior may have on patients (psychology and social sciences section).
Do all medical schools require the MCAT?
No, not all, but the majority of medical schools in the United States and Canada require the MCAT for admission. Whether you intend to apply solely to medical school or submit your application to graduate school and medical school, your exam score should be included with your application. Most graduate and professional schools require a standardized test to be completed prior to matriculation and the exam is often accepted to meet that requirement.
What are the 4 MCAT Sections?
(1) The MCAT exam has four sections, namely: (1) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; (2) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (MCAT CARS); (3) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and (4) Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior.
How many questions are in the MCAT exam?
The MCAT exam has 230 questions including passage-based questions and discrete questions.
The MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes long, including breaks. The image below shows the detailed breakdown of the four MCAT sections, the subjects included, the time allocated to each section, as well as the breaks.
Before the exam: sign in, present valid ID, have your fingerprints digitally collected, and have your test day photo taken.
Total content time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Total 'seated' time: 7 hours 33 minutes
Individuals seeking admission to certain programs are eligible to take the MCAT. These programs include schools issuing a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, or any other health profession program that accepts MCAT scores to meet an admission requirement. Anyone who does not meet these criteria may request special permission from the AAMC to take the exam.
During registration, you will be asked to verify your intention to apply to medical school or to a health profession's school. There are no academic prerequisites to take the exam. Students with science and non-science backgrounds can take the exam and have the same opportunity to enter medical school. There is no age limit as well.
Prospective students usually arrange to take the MCAT a year before their intended matriculation into medical school. For example, if you are eyeing medical school in 2023, then you can take the MCAT in 2022 or before.
Since there are no academic prerequisites for the MCAT, you can take the MCAT as early as your freshman, sophomore or junior year of undergraduate studies as long as you feel that you are ready. You may consult with your pre-health advisor. (Read: How to determine when to take the MCAT)
One important consideration is whether or not you will re-take the MCAT. Should you feel that you might take the MCAT more than once, it's ideal to take the MCAT early in the testing year. This will give you time to receive your scores and make a decision.
Another consideration is readiness. Have you thoroughly prepared for the content and skills that are required for the MCAT? Ideally, you should start your MCAT prep at least six months prior to your test date. (2022 MCAT Test Dates)
The pie chart below shows that 2/3rds took the exam in August and September. This suggests that having most or all of the summer available for MCAT preparation may be one factor in gaining a high MCAT score.
You can take the MCAT up to three times in a single testing year, up to four times in a two consecutive-year period, and up to seven times in a lifetime. Obviously, you want to minimize the number of times you need to take such a rigorous exam, and that is clearly the value of good preparation. Furthermore, medical schools will not review your application until they receive all your scores from the AAMC.
Number of Times Permitted to Take the MCAT
Single testing year
Up to 3 times
Two consecutive-year period
Up to 4 times
Up to 7 times
Note: A voided exam and a 'no show' are counted as attempts in taking the exam. There is no required waiting period before you can retake the MCAT. But you may be able to register for a new MCAT date 48 hours after your exam day.
To determine if you should retake the MCAT, know the average MCAT score required by the medical school of your choice as well as their acceptance rates. If your score is competitive, the focus might not be on the need to retake the exam. You may need to evaluate your medical school interview, or autobiographical materials, or possibly your GPA. If your GPA is low, you may benefit from additional undergraduate or graduate studies (consult your premed advisor for additional insight), or you may benefit from a higher score.
Some schools consider only your most recent score, whereas others will accept your highest score for each section.
In other cases, medical schools may rely solely on percentile rank when comparing your multiple scores.
Just keep in mind that medical schools will see all your exam attempts during their review of your application.
For guidance on how the MCAT is scored and to calculate your chances of getting accepted to medical school, click here: MCAT Scores.