What is the MCAT?
The Medical College Admissions Test (a.k.a., MCAT) is taken by future students of medicine, including future students of veterinary medicine, for admission into medical schools around the world. Scores from the MCAT are used to measure both students’ skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing and students’ knowledge about scientific concepts. The MCAT is a computer-based exam that is administered year-round at a variety of locations and testing centers. The basic registration fee for the MCAT is $270, but the overall cost can vary depending on when and where you register to take your exam and if you need to reschedule your exam. Read on to learn more about MCAT sections, scores, and preparation.
The MCAT is divided into four sections that are administered in the following order: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. The Physical Sciences section includes 52 multiple-choice questions about general chemistry and physics. The Verbal Reasoning section contains 40 multiple-choice questions that gauge understanding about writing selections. The current Writing Sample section prompts test-takers to write two short essays, but the Writing Sample section will be removed from the MCAT in 2013 and will be replaced with a voluntary, unscored trial section to test the validity and reliability of the MCAT. Like the Physical Sciences section, the Biological Sciences section includes 52 multiple-choice questions about organic chemistry and biology.
The three multiple-choice sections of the MCAT are scored separately on a scale ranging from 1 to 15. Only questions that have been correctly answered are scored (incorrect or missing answers are not scored), so if you don’t know the answer to a multiple-choice question, you should guess rather than leave the question blank. For the Writing Sample section, each essay is scored separately by both a human and a computer to yield a total of four scores for the section, and the four scores are added together and converted into a letter score ranging from J (lowest) to T (highest). Scores from the multiple-choice and writing sections are combined for a composite score so that the highest MCAT score possible is 45T (15 on each multiple-choice section and T on the Writing Sample section). The average composite score accepted by most medical schools is 30P or 30Q; however, every medical school has its own requirements for MCAT scores, so you should make sure that you understand the MCAT requirements of each school to which you apply. Like similar standardized tests, you can void your MCAT scores during your exam or up to 30 days after your exam (before you receive your scores) if you feel like you have not done well. If you are unsatisfied with your scores after you receive them, you can retake the MCAT as many times as necessary (but only 3 times per year). However, if you retake the MCAT multiple times, medical schools may take an average of all your test scores to determine whether or not you meet admissions requirements, so you should try to only take the MCAT once.
You should take the MCAT the year before you plan to start medical school, but only you can decide exactly when you have enough background knowledge and are ready to take the MCAT. It is very important that you do some sort of MCAT Prep; You can use test-prep materials for a variety of sources to prepare for the MCAT, but the most reliable test-prep material comes from the MCAT creator: the American Association of Medical Colleges. After you have reviewed some test-prep material, and/or done some other type of MCAT Prep, and have determined that you are ready to take the MCAT, you should register for the exam as early as possible so that you get your preferred testing date and location and so that you have plenty of time left in the year to retest if necessary.