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A Guide to the MCAT

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and preparing for the end of a long and busy semester! According to the AAMC, the MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam required for admission into nearly all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. Medical school admissions offices use these scores to predict your level of performance in their medical program and on USMLE Step 1 & 2 exams.

A competitive MCAT score can set you apart from other applicants and open doors to a top-tier program. Therefore, it is crucial applicants dedicate significant time to study for this exam. Along with your GPA, clinical experience, and other aspects of your application, the MCAT is a significant factor determining acceptance into medical school. Even health profession schools and graduate programs are now accepting MCAT scores in place of other standardized tests.

To see what other competencies medical schools look for in an ideal applicant, click here.

What to expect on the MCAT?

The MCAT has four sections. Each section assesses skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of concepts important for the study of medicine:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Additional information on each section can be found here.

What is considered a good score on the MCAT?

Once you have taken the test, you will receive 5 separate results: one score for each of the four sections of the exam as well as one cumulative score. Each of the four sections will range from 118 to 132, while the total score ranges from 472 to 528. The exam scoring is structured in a way in which 500 represents the mean. Therefore, one may consider a competitive score to be anything above a 510. The MCAT is also a scaled exam, so your raw score can be different from your scaled score, which takes into account the difficulty of questions.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the mean cumulative score across all applicants in the U.S. was 506.4, while the mean cumulative score across all matriculants into medical schools in the U.S. was 511.5.

For more statistics regarding GPA and MCAT scores of the most recent applicants and matriculants, click here.

When Should I Take The MCAT?

If you’re planning to apply to medical school during undergrad, the optimal time to take the MCAT is the Summer between Junior and Senior year. If you have already graduated college, a general rule of thumb is to take the MCAT a year prior to when you plan to enter medical school. For example, if one plans to matriculate in Fall 2023, the MCAT should be taken in Fall 2022.

Regardless of all recommendations, the most important time to take the MCAT is only when YOU are READY! You should be comfortable with all the content tested on the exam, which is covered in introductory-level science courses (biology, chemistry, physics, etc).

Also, there is a testing limit for the exam. You are only allowed to take the test three times in one calendar year, four times over two years, and seven times over the course of your lifetime.

Cost of Registering for the MCAT?

The MCAT Registration fee is currently $320 for the 2021 testing year. However, the AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program to lower the cost of fees for those in need of financial assistance.

To read more about scheduling costs, click here.

How to Prepare for the MCAT?

Blogger and YouTube Brittny of TheBrittnyWay provides these amazing tips for anyone preparing for the MCAT. Go check out her blog for more valuable resources!

1. Course Content:

  • Before taking the MCAT, it is highly recommended to complete the following college courses:introductory biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology, physics, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. Additional helpful classes include genetics and anatomy & physiology.

  • If you were unable to take these classes during undergrad, consider a post-baccalaureate program.

2. Time Commitment:

  • Set aside at least 2-3 months of fully dedicated study time to cover all content tested on the exam and take practice exams.

3. Stick to a Study Schedule!

  • Each study session should have a solid plan of attack. Create a study schedule for the days, weeks, and months leading up to your test date to ensure you’re tackling every concept on the exam. Most importantly, give yourselves rest days to stay motivated and avoid burnout.

4. Choose an optimal study environment:

  • Find a quiet study place absent of distractions. Study in the same place each time to get comfortable with your study space, but don’t be afraid to switch it up if you’re feeling like you need a change of scenery.

5. Resources:

  • MCAT Prep Course: If you need structure and discipline in your study plan, then an MCAT prep course may be your best option. Kaplan, Princeton Review, Altius, and ExamKrackers all offer in-person and live online courses that cost about $2000 on average.

  • Self-Study: If you’re someone who is great at managing your time, staying focused, and moving at your own pace, then you can grab some MCAT prep books from Amazon or your local library and study on your own. Students also recommend resources such as Anki, Khan Academy, and even podcasts (see here) that are free and easily accessible.

  • Free Self-Study Course: If you want to save money, then Khan Academy provides a free MCAT course that covers everything you need to know for the exam. Check it out here. Keep in mind that this course will no longer be available after September 30, 2021.

6. Recreate Test Taking Conditions:

  • Take as many full-length AAMC practice MCAT exams as possible and simulate actual testing conditions: time yourself, take breaks, turn electronics off, and eliminate all distractions. I recommend taking a practice exam a month prior to assess your baseline and then increase the frequency of practice exams the closer you are to your exam date. That way, sitting for the exam will become second nature to you. The more practice exams, the better!

7. Review Your Exams:

  • Go over each question answered incorrectly and make notes explaining the concept in detail. Then, go back and review all of the problems answered correctly.

8. Track Your Progress:

  • The AAMC practice MCAT exams provide a thorough analysis of your performance. Create an Excel spreadsheet and track your progress. This will help distinguish between areas of strength and improvement to allow better utilization of study time.

9. Optimize MCAT Test Day:

  • Limit studying the day before the exam. Go out and do something fun and stress-free. If you don’t know the material or strategies by this point, then you won’t know it by cramming it all in your head the day before.

  • Take a trip to your testing site so that you are familiar with the area and know exactly where to go, where to park, and how long it will take you to get settled in.

  • Be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before and eat a healthy breakfast the morning of your exam. Foods like oatmeal, blueberries, and dark chocolate are said to stimulate the brain and memory!

  • Use all breaks to your advantage! Stretch, eat a snack, meditate, pray. Do what you need to do to re-energize yourself. Do not dwell on sections of the exam that you just completed and ruminate over the answers. Take a deep breath and move on to the next block with confidence!

KEY TIP: The MCAT is NOT an exam based on memorization. You are tested over 7 broad subjects, it is almost impossible to know everything about these subjects. Therefore, focus on strategies and question structure rather than simply memorizing concepts!

I hope this MCAT guide is helpful! Remember to start studying early, stay on task, and do not take the exam until you feel fully confident and ready. The Premed Scene is rooting for you!

Stay safe & Take care,



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