What You Need to Know About Taking the MCAT Exam

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) examination is an important step in most US medical schools’ application process.

The test has been a requirement for almost 90 years, and approximately 85,000 students sit for the exam annually.

All applicants must take the MCAT exam, a multiple-choice exam that tests their knowledge of the basic sciences, including biology, chemistry, and physics, before applying to medical school. The exam also tests applicants’ writing ability and critical thinking skills.

What You Need to Know About Taking the MCAT Exam

  • When Should You Take the MCAT Exam?
  • How Important Is The MCAT Exam?
  • How Do You Prepare?
  • MCAT Exam Subject Sections
  • What If You Can’t Afford The Registration Fee?
  • What If You Don’t Score Well?
  • MCAT Test Day Rules

When Should You Take the MCAT Exam?

The test is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is offered at more than 400 testing sites in the United States, Canada, and select international locations. 

The MCAT examination is offered 20 times yearly, and registration is done online through the AAMC website. To take the MCAT examination, you must have completed most of the prerequisites for medical school, though you are not required to complete all of them.

How Important Is The MCAT Exam?

As a standardized test, the MCAT examination allows medical schools to compare students from different undergraduate institutions. The examination also tests material covered in the first two years of medical school.

Therefore, most medical school admissions committees use the MCAT exam to determine whether to offer you an interview and, ultimately, a spot in their program. 

Your score on the MCAT examination, combined with your undergraduate GPA and letters of recommendation, gives the admissions committees a well-rounded picture of your academic ability and potential. Although the MCAT examination is just one part of your application, it is important.

How Do You Prepare?

Most students begin studying for the MCAT examination during their junior year of college, though some begin earlier and others begin later. AAMC offers an online course called the Official Guide to the MCAT Exam, which includes a full-length practice exam, information about the examination’s content, and tips for test day. 

You can also search online for a variety of other resources to help you prepare for the MCAT examination. These resources include practice questions, MCAT books, and tutoring services.

MCAT Exam Subject Sections

The MCAT exam is divided into four sections, including biological and biochemical foundations of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. 

The first three sections are multiple-choice, while the fourth comprises two essay questions. The first three sections are scored on a scale of 118-132, with a mean score of 125. The fourth section is not scored but is instead used by medical school admissions committees to assess your writing and critical thinking skills.

What If You Can’t Afford The Registration Fee?

The AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program for those who cannot afford the registration fee for the MCAT examination. The program provides a reduced fee for the examination and other benefits such as a free practice exam and free or reduced-price MCAT prep products. 

To be eligible for the program, you must meet certain income requirements. If you are eligible, you will receive a Fee Assistance Program certificate that you will need to present when you register for the MCAT examination.

What If You Don’t Score Well?

You can retake the MCAT examination as many times as you want, but most students take it no more than three times. The AAMC recommends that you wait at least two months after taking the examination before you retake it so that you have time to reflect on your performance and identify areas that need improvement. 

If you do not score as well as you had hoped, do not despair. Many students who do not score well on the first try excel on subsequent tries. However, you can only take the test three times annually, four times in two consecutive years, and seven times in your lifetime.

MCAT Test Day Rules

During the test day, ensure you arrive on time for the examination. As you check in, you must show your photo ID, which must be government issued and in English.

Your name must appear exactly as they appear on the MCAT registration. Before entering the test room, you must leave all personal items in secure storage.

No electronic devices are allowed, and your photo ID must remain on your desk during the test.

Bottom Line

The MCAT is an important part of your medical school application, and it is important to take the time to prepare for the exam.

While the exam can be daunting, remember that you can retake the exam if you need to and that resources are available to help you prepare.

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