If you're looking to go to med school in the U.S. or Canada, taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) should be high on your priority list. The MCAT is administered by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and has various sections that test the candidate's ability to cope with medical studies.
Besides testing the candidate's knowledge of biology, chemistry, physiology and other subjects central to the study of medicine, the MCAT assesses their critical reasoning ability. It's not just what you know, but whether you understand how to apply that knowledge to solve real-world scenarios.
You are well-advised to sign up for the MCAT test far in advance as results typically take 30-35 days to be reported. Crucial as it is, the MCAT test is but one aspect of your preparedness for med school that assessors look at. Your final score will be considered alongside your prior medicine-related work experience, education and resume.
If you haven’t yet, it’s time to sign up for the MCAT. However, please note that upcoming MCAT exams have been postponed for the time being due to the current Covid-19 crisis worldwide. You need to reschedule your exam by contacting the closest MCAT test center in your locality.
What’s on the Test?
As previously mentioned, the MCAT consists of several sections, each geared towards testing a candidate's strengths in different subjects. The four parts of the exam are listed below alongside a brief overview of what they cover:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems– A total of 59 questions consisting of 44 passage-related questions and 15 standalone questions.
- Physiological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior– A total of 59 questions consisting of 44 passage-related questions and 15 standalone questions.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems– A total of 59 questions consisting of 44 passage-related questions and 15 standalone questions.
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills– The CARS section, as it’s known, consists of 55 questions that test how well you can analyze arguments.
You will have 90 to 95 minutes to complete each of these sections. Scores for each of these sections range from 118 to 132 points.
What Skills Does the MCAT highlight?
To define the skills that the MCAT attempts to ascertain in candidates, we'll look at the content of the questions in each section.
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems deals with the mechanics of how living organisms reproduce. You will need to be familiar with the internal structure of different kinds of organisms and how they function, right down to the cellular level. Also included here is an examination of your knowledge of general chemistry and biochemistry.
Physiological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior is one of the more recent additions to this test. It seeks to establish the impact of psychological and socio-cultural behavior on health outcomes in different settings. You will need content from the passages presented as well as your own knowledge to respond to questions in this section successfully.
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems tests your familiarity with how basic chemical and physical systems work in living organisms. It combines knowledge from introductory biology, introductory general chemistry, introductory organic chemistry, introductory physics and biochemistry taught in undergrad.
The CARS section is purely about using your analytical skills to reason out arguments with well-supported assumptions. While it doesn’t require prior content knowledge, previous work experience is invaluable in tackling this section.
What’s a Good MCAT Score?
Your total MCAT score, based on the number of points you can get from each section, should range between 472 and 528. The average and median scores for the MCAT are 500. The top ten percent of candidates will score between 514 and 528 points, and the top 50 percent of candidates will get between 500 and 507 points. This means most test-takers tend to hover just above the 500 mark. AAMC, the test's administrators, are more focused on the median rather than higher scores.
Your MCAT Takeaway
It goes without saying that you need to prepare thoroughly for your MCAT to improve your chances of being in that passing percentile. Over 7.5 hours, you will face more than 200 questions challenging your foundational knowledge of the sciences as they relate to health and medicine. You will also face a plethora of scenarios testing your ability to apply that knowledge as well as your analytical capabilities.
Your first-semester undergraduate biology, organic chemistry, physics, psychology and sociology notes will all come in handy in solidifying your grasp of that foundational knowledge. It's a good idea to pick the brains of pre-health advisors and faculty members in your school. Also, make use of video tutorials that AAMC has made available through various institutions.