So you want to apply to medical school. You aren’t alone – the medical school application process is highly competitive and sought after by hundreds of thousands of potential students each and every year. But, before you can apply you need to write the MCAT.
The abbreviation MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test has been a hurdle faced by every med student in America and Canada for more than nine decades. The standardized, multiple choice, computer-based test is attempted by more than 85,000 potential medical students each and every year. Many of the leading medical schools across north America require that students submit their MCAT scores along with their application.
The exam itself focuses on key skills and knowledge that experts in the field of medicine have determined to be compulsory for a successful medical school and experience and, later, in a medical profession. Its subjects include:
- Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
- Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
- Psychological, social and biological foundations of behaviour
- Critical analysis and reasoning skills
The MCAT exam has been introduced and is conducted under the supervision of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The test can be written at a number of US and Canadian locations annually from January through September.
Who and Why Requires Taking MCAT Test
If you are interested in a career in medicine you will need to attempt the MCAT. However, prior to writing the exam, you should first make sure that you are confident and comfortable with the material and the content that will be included in the test. All of which can be learned in introductory science courses at the college level.
More often than not, students will write the MCAT test in the year before they intend to enter medical school. Before rushing to schedule your exam time, however, you will want to determine whether or not there is a chance that you may need to retake the exam and leave yourself some room so that you aren’t rushed or end up missing deadlines.
Is there the best way how to prep for MCAT? The general advice is that one of the best ways to limit the chances that you might need to retake the test is through dedicated preparation and by developing a keen understanding of the materials tested, no matter if you study by yourself or look for external help.
This can be done by resorting to MCAT self prep, or registering for supplementary courses that might help you hone the skills that you are less strong in – for example, you might choose to take an additional science course over the summer offline or use online MCAT prep courses, which might be more convenient.
Make note of the fact that there is a limit to how many times that test can be written (three times in a single calendar year, four times in two years, and seven times in a lifetime) and any school you apply to will be able to see how many times you’ve written the exam and what your score was each time. This transparency makes it essential that you are prepared before you walk into the exam the first time.
Basic Information about the MCAT for Med School Applicants
One can safely assume that the MCAT is the most important step to the med school application process, void of a successful test score the chances of being admitted to a decent school – or any school, for that matter – are minimal. That said, it is only the first step in the process. There are other aspects of the application that the admissions panel might consider, these include things like:
- Academic capabilities
- Previous experience in the heal and medical field, including in research
- Personal experiences and areas of interest
- Previous contributions to the community and the college
In fact, academic prowess aside, there are fifteen core competencies that all medical school admissions committees look for in potential students. There are:
- Service orientation
- Social skills
- Cultural competence
- Oral communication
- Ethical responsibility to self and others
- Reliability and dependability
- Resilience and adaptability
- Capacity for improvement
- Critical thinking
- Quantitative reasoning
- Scientific inquiry
- Written communication
- Living systems
- Human behavior
Complete descriptions can be found here: https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/core-competencies/
How to Prep for the MCAT and Increase Your Chances to Pass It
Preparation for the MCAT starts at the high school level. In fact, most of the knowledge and skills tested on the exam can be found in the modules studied during entry level course in biology, physics, psychology, sociology, chemistry and biochemistry, which form the basics for MCAT prep course.
Since the content delivered will vary from facility to facility, particularly at the college level, it might be worthwhile to compare the course material with this online tool that outlines the content of the test.
If you find that you still need additional help or guidance, you can see if your school has a pre-health advisor who can answer your questions, or partner with an online MCAT prep service or enroll in MCAT prep classes.
Whether you choose to prep for the MCAT on your own, or if you decide to work with a service, you will need to create a study plan to help you organize your notes and remain on course. Of course this means that you first must learn everything that you can about the MCAT and use that to determine your own comprehension level in the topics that are being tested. If you find that your knowledge is lower in some areas, you will need to consider the likelihood that you will be able to upgrade your level of understanding in the days leading up to the exam.
There are a number of free and low-cost preparatory materials available online, they include:
- MCAT Practice Exams
- MCAT Flash cards
- MCAT Section Bank
- MCAT Sample Tests
- MCAT Questions Pack
Your goal should be the find as much information and resources as possible and use these to improve your knowledge and understanding so that when the time comes to write the test you don’t find yourself staring blankly at whitespace and hoping that the answers come to you.
How Long is the MCAT Completion Time
At present, students are allotted 7 hours and 30 minutes to complete the MCAT – this includes scheduled breaks.
At the start of the exam, students are provided with ten minutes to familiarize themselves with the exam and its expectations. From here, they will be provided with ninety-five minutes to complete Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations.
Afterwards, they will be given a 10 minute break and will return to write Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning. Students are given 90 minutes to complete section 2, before taking a 30 minute lunch break. After lunch, students will write Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Behavior, for no longer than ninety-five minutes, before going on a ten minute break. The last section, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior takes ninety-five minutes to complete and is followed by a five minute question period and a five minute survey before signalling the completion of the exam.
Sections of the MCAT Exam
As previously mentioned, there are four (4) sections of the exam. They are:
- Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations
- Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning
- Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Behavior
- Section 4: Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
In total there are 230 multiple choice questions and the total score available will range between 472 and 528.
A ‘good’ MCAT scores will vary depending on what school you plan to apply to, however, it will be one that puts you higher than the average percentile for applicants applying to the medical school of your choosing. The average ‘good’ score for American applicants today is between 510 and 511.