What is the MCAT?
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is the test that premedical students must do well on to gain entrance into medical school. The test is created by the Association of American Medical Colleges and has recently been revised to include testing in psychology and sociology, emphasizing the importance of holistic healthcare.
|Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems||59 Questions||95 Minutes|
|Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills||53 Questions||90 Minutes|
|Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems||59 Questions||95 Minutes|
|Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior||59 Questions||95 Minutes|
What College Courses Should you Have Already Taken?
Technically, it is not required to have taken any particular college courses to sign up for the MCAT. That being said, you may choose to study the course material independently, rather than enroll in that course for a particular subject. This is most commonly seen with sociology for the current exam.
Recommended prerequisites for the MCAT:
- Organic Chemistry
How is the MCAT Scored?
MCAT scores range from 472 to 528, with a median score (50th percentile) set at 500. This means that after the exam, AAMC gathers all of the exam data the students who scored in the 50th percentile, meaning they did better than 50% of the students that took the test, will end up scoring 500. The other scores are based off of what percentiles those students fall into. For example, a student who does better than 80% of the other students will score a 509. Each of the four sections on the exam is scored between 118 and 132, with the median set at 125. Your scores for each of the sections will be added to total your final MCAT score.
Register for the Exam
It is important to register for the exam early because spots fill up quickly. Try to register at least 1 month in advance to get full benefits, but earlier is better. For official costs of registration fees, rescheduling fees, and cancellation refunds, see AAMC official information. If cost is a large barrier to taking the MCAT, you may be eligible for AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program.
To register for the MCAT, the button below will take you to AAMC’s website where you can officially register. If you register early, the cost for the exam is $300.
How will you Prepare?
PrepareMCAT’s biggest goal is to provide premedical students the option of studying on their own for the exam, without hurting their chances of doing well. If you are financially struggling at all, you should very strongly consider preparing for the MCAT independently. If you have the motivation to set your own study schedule, research different study resources, and dedicate blocks of time each day to studying, you most definitely can achieve your ideal score. Studying independently allows you to choose study books that are tailored to your learning style and practice tests that are more representative of the real MCAT than what some of the test-prep companies give you. If you decide to prepare independently, we will guide you through the whole process, step by step.
If you do have the money and decide to take a course with a prep company, they will give you content review books, practice tests, as well as lecture through the content and different testing strategies. Positive student feedback about prep courses generally falls along the lines of “I’m glad I took a course because I wouldn’t have been organized enough to study on my own” and “having all the study materials provided to me and learning in the classroom setting was nice.” Students also like taking courses because the classroom setting holds them accountable for doing their homework and studying an adequate amount. Negative student feedback generally tends to be “taking the course was unnecessary, I could have done this on my own and saved lots of money.”
Which should you choose?
If you are the type of person that does not like planning out your study schedule and is intimidated by the MCAT so much so that you would feel safer having a teacher walk you through it, then an in-classroom course might be just for you! If you are on a tighter budget, like to organize, and willing to do a bit of research, then we strongly suggest studying independently.
How to Find Study Resources
Before making a study schedule it really helps to know what MCAT resources are available to you and have an idea of the resources you plan on using for both content review and exam practice. Preparing for the MCAT involves is both content review as well as test practice. We suggest choosing one set of books for content review, and supplementing these with the Khan Academy videos. For test practice we suggest AAMC’s Online Practice Questions for the Official Guide to the MCAT Exam ($10), Official MCAT Practice Test 1 ($35), Official MCAT Sample Test ($25), as well as possibly using other practice passages depending on your preparation needs. Remember, not every practice test is equally useful! We also recommend Exam Kracker’s 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning to prepare for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section. The materials from the AAMC offer experiences and content most similar to what you will see on exam day. Trying to find materials that successfully emulate the format and question style of the MCAT is vital to good preparation.
How to Study
Where to Start
After you’ve gotten your resources, it’s time to make a study plan. We suggest setting aside 3 months to study for the MCAT and studying at least 3-5 hours a day for 5 or 6 days of each week. The time you will need to study for the exam varies per person, so do not panic if you hear that other premed students are studying more. Once you’ve made your study plan, make sure to stick to it!
Make a Study Plan
What we suggest is that students spend 1/3 of their time on content review and 2/3 of their time completing and reviewing practice passages or practice exams. Though there are many concepts tested on the MCAT, complete memorization of these concepts does not guarantee a high score. Many of the MCAT questions are designed to challenge the test-taker’s ability to read and understand scientific literature as well as apply problem solving and reasoning skills. Knowing the foundational concepts is necessary but it is not sufficient to MCAT success. Completing passage questions from AAMC materials or other materials that effectively mimic the style of the MCAT is vital to doing well on the test.
Taking a full-length diagnostic test right at the beginning of studying is not necessary. Testing takes hours and this is an inefficient use of time and study materials. However, it would be helpful take part of a practice test or a shorter length test before studying to get an idea of what the passages and questions are like.
Below is a sample study plan. By no means is this the only way to successfully prepare, but use this as a tool to help you create your own study plan!
|Week 1||Make sure you are registered for the MCAT! Create a study plan including when to finish your general content review. Buy your review books. Learn about how to approach the CARS Section. Take a short diagnostic exam to get a feel of the test. Don’t worry too much about your score on this exam. Go ahead and start content review.|
|Week 2||Practice at least 7 CARS passages this week. Continue with content review, completing practice questions and passages about the content you have reviewed.|
|Week 3||Practice at least 7 CARS passages this week. Continue with content review as well as practice questions and passages testing content that you have already reviewed. You could make flashcards for psychology and sociology because the content on this section is heavy memorization.|
|Week 4||Keep practicing CARS. Continue with content review and increase the amount of practice passages and questions you complete this week on the other three test sections.|
|Week 5||More CARS! Also, you should have completed significantly more than half of the content review at this point. If not, do not panic, but try to move quicker through the content so you can start working on more practice passages at this point.|
|Week 6||Try to wrap up the general content review this week. If you are still uncomfortable with certain concepts you can review them as they appear in practice passages or exams. However, at this point your studying should be guided mostly by completing and reviewing practice passages.|
|Week 7||Take a full length practice exam this week! Treat it as if it is the real thing. Spend the next few days reviewing the exam. If you are starting to feel burnt out make sure to take a couple of days to recharge. Though it is important to devote time to studying, your mental and emotional health is even more important!|
|Week 8||Keep practicing CARS passages as well as working on other practice passages. Go back and review unfamiliar concepts. Make sure you have been working on memorizing psychology and sociology concepts. Go ahead and complete the questions in the AAMC Official Guide and review them this week. These are a great representation of what you will see on the real test.|
|Week 9||Take another practice exam and treat it as if it were the real thing. Spend the rest of the week reviewing this exam, reviewing unfamiliar content, and if you have extra time keep practicing CARS.|
|Week 10||Either work on passages from a certain section if you have been struggling with a particular section or take another practice exam and review it. Use this week to really focus on the section you have been struggling most with. And keep working on that CARS!|
|Week 11||The second-to-last week. Use this week to take another practice exam and review it. Are there certain types of questions that you keep answering incorrectly? Are your skills with data interpretation good? After reviewing your practice exam take this week to brush up on any skills or areas you are particularly weak in. And keep practicing CARS.|
|Week 12||This is MCAT week! See “The Week of the Exam” below for details on this week.|
CARS: Study Hard, Study Often
CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) is a section you want to start with right away. It can be tempting to review content all the way through before starting practice tests but this is not the way to go about studying. Building comprehension skills for the CARS section takes a long time and should be worked on throughout the whole study process. We suggest dedicating several hours to CARS practice passages throughout the week from the beginning and highly recommend the Exam Krackers Verbal Reasoning 101 Passages book as your main CARS resource. PrepareMCAT creators have all used this book for their own MCAT preparation and feel the passages and questions strongly represented the real exam.
Content review is important, but do not get carried away! It can be tempting for students to spend most of their preparation time on content review but that is not the best way to study. Before starting content review, recognize that it is impossible to completely know everything covered on the exam. We suggest that students only spend about 1/3-1/2 of their preparation on content review, and the other portion should be spent on practice materials.
We suggest that students find a set of MCAT textbooks for content review that will match best with their learning style and use these in tandem with free videos from Khan Academy for content review. For deciding what textbook to buy, make sure to look at the reviews of each to understand which one would best work for you!
To understand and recall the material that you learn, repetition is vital. We suggest that with each concept you learn, go back and review it later that week as well as at the end of the next week. This will greatly enhance your recall later on as you take practice tests. To see a detailed study plan that includes this visit 6 Steps to Creating a Successful MCAT Study Plan.
Reading and answering questions from passages that simulate the actual exam is one of the most important things you can do in MCAT preparation. Completing practice passages allows you to practice applying the foundational concepts in tandem with data interpretation. Success in these is vital to the MCAT. There are few questions in the exam that reward rote memorization and do not involve some level of critical reasoning. Start working on CARS practice passages right from the beginning of your studying. For the other three sections, after you have reviewed concepts, start working on practice passages in these areas. A big mistake that students make when studying for the test is spending too much time on content review before starting practice passages.
Khan Academy is a great supplemental resource for practice passages because of the great amount available for free. However, these many passages are created by different authors and have high variation in the style and type of passage. We would not recommend using this as your only source of practice material, because there are better resources out there. The Exam Krackers books have challenging practice passages with questions for each section of the content that students found helpful. Unlike the actual exam, these passages are separated by the foundational concepts tested in each one. That being said, these passages are similar to MCAT style passages and can really encourage students hone their data interpretation skills. The Princeton Review books have practice passages at the end of every chapter, which is helpful because it encourages you to practice applying the content you have just learned. NextStep has 4 Strategy and Practice books that are a couple hundred pages of exam strategies, practice passages, and full-length timed sections. Without a doubt, the one resource you definitely must order is the AAMC Official Guide. Aside from the 2 AAMC practice tests, this is the most accurate representation of the MCAT out there.
Take these tests as if they were the real thing. On test days, take the exam, and then reward yourself by not doing any more work for the rest of the day! After completing the practice exam, spend the next 2-3 days reviewing it. Make sure to complete the review within a couple of days of taking the exam so it is still fresh in your mind.
In reviewing each exam, it is important to go through and look at each of the questions you got wrong and understand why you answered that question wrong. If you answered a question because you were unfamiliar with a particular concept, go back and review it. Keep an MCAT journal documenting what content you are unfamiliar with as well as what types of questions you are getting wrong. Are you getting questions wrong because of incorrect data interpretation? Were you running out of time? Or do you need to be more careful about making simple mistakes? Keeping track of why you are getting questions wrong will help you identify weak spots and study to correct them.
The two most important practice tests to purchase are AAMC Practice Exam (Scored) 1 and the AAMC Sample Test. Aside from these tests, see the PrepareMCAT Resources page for more information about available practice exams.
Studying on Exam Week
The week leading up to the exam is a great time to complete and review one final practice exam. The best practice exam to use would be AAMC Practice Exam (Scored) 1. This exam is the most representative of the real MCAT. One thing to keep in mind when taking this exam is, do not stress if you don’t do as well on it as you had hoped! Each exam is different and this does not mean that you will not succeed at the real thing. Trust in your preparation.
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5||Day 6||Exam Day|
|Take Practice Exam||Review Exam||Review Exam||Review Exam||Review Weak Concepts||Relax and Do Not Study!||Good Luck!!|
The Day Before Your Exam
Relax today. You have spent hours upon hours preparing for the exam and it is finally time to reward yourself. Often, students find themselves frantic on the days leading up to the exam. Today is not a day to review. Today is a day for exercise, having fun with your friends or spending the day doing hobbies you enjoy. Do not touch your MCAT books! We know it can be tempting to think about the test but use today to relax and enjoy yourself.
What to Bring to the Exam
The day before is a great day to make sure that you have all of the logistical details set up. Here is a helpful checklist to use:
Testing Center Location
- Ensure you have directions to your testing center
- Make sure you have transportation to the center
- Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam
- Be aware of time zone changes
What to Bring
- Acceptable goverment issued photo ID (drivers license or passport works)
- Sealed foam wireless earplugs (optional)
- Bagged lunch and snacks
- Filled water bottle
- Wear layers of clothing that can be removed in case of unexpected temperatures
You finally made it. The biggest advice we can give to you on exam day is to trust yourself and your preparation for the exam. Walk into the testing center proud of all the work you’ve put in, knowing that you are a capable student and are ready to take the MCAT!
What to Expect
You do not need to worry about the details in this section, but they are provided for those of you that would like to know. When you enter the testing center you will check in with your government ID and they will examine your earplugs (optional). They will provide you will a locker to store your valuables in. As you enter the testing room they will scan you with a metal detector, take your fingerprint, and check your government ID. A testing center employee will then provide you will scratch paper and pencils and then lead you to your computer testing station. After you sit down you may begin the exam whenever you are ready.
The view the test schedule, click here. Your test is timed individually on the testing computer, so your breaks may or may not overlap with other test takers. When you go outside to take your breaks you will be instructed to bring your ID with you. We strongly recommend you take advantage of the whole break to help recharge and prepare for the next section.