What is the MCAT Test?
The MCAT Test, The Medical College Admission Test, is the standardized assessment that gets a recent college graduate into medical school. All U.S. med schools require it for admittance, as do most Canadian medical schools. The AAMC, the makers, distributors, and scorers of the test, offer both a computer-based MCAT, along with a paper-based MCAT, so applicants can choose a means of taking this tough exam that best fits their learning styles. More than 70,000 students sit for the exam each year, and that number is going to continue to go up as physicians become more and more in need.
What is On the MCAT Test?
Since graduates holding all sorts of degrees take the MCAT to compete for a spot in med school, the content test is pretty diverse. Three multiple-choice sections, and one writing section are designed to test an applicant’s knowledge in the following areas:
- Physical Sciences: Tests problem-solving ability in general chemistry and physics.
- Verbal Reasoning: Tests your ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information and arguments you read in a prose passage.
- Biological Sciences: Tests problem-solving ability in biology and organic chemistry.
- Writing Sample: This section is no longer administered.
This test does not test your ability to memorize scientific facts; rather, it assesses your skill in solving problems with the knowledge you already possess.
How are the MCAT Test Sections Broken Down?
Schedule about five hours for the test. You’ll have some optional breaks in there, but the testing will take you about four and a half hours, so you’ll be sitting a while. You’ll begin the test with Physical Sciences, continue with Verbal Reasoning and end with Biological Sciences. As of January 2013, a new unscored trial section was added that will help the AAMC assess the changes it's making to the test as of 2015. Here’s how the current MCAT will look:
What About MCAT Scores?
Both the computer-based MCAT and the paper-based MCAT are scored the exact same way, unlike other major standardized tests like the GMAT or GRE, which are computer-adaptive, meaning the test questions change based upon performance. With the MCAT, you’ll receive the exact same types of questions whether you use a mouse or a pencil.
Each one of the three sections gives you a separate score.
- Physical Sciences will give you between a 1 (low) and a 15 (high)
- Verbal Reasoning will give you between a 1 (low) and a 15 (high)
- Biological Sciences will give you between a 1 (low) and a 15 (high)
Your highest possible cumulative score on the multiple-choice sections is a 45, with the national average right around a 24. A good (competitive at most MD schools) score is around 30 and an excellent score is somewhere above a 34 to 36 (competitive at the top medical schools in the country). A 36 or higher would put you in the top 2% of the applicants in the United States.
How Do You Prepare For the MCAT?
The AAMC offers retired tests online to students for thirty-five bucks a pop, but there are many other options available for you to prepare yourself for this whale of an exam.
- Private tutors: Many different organizations offer private tutoring – Kaplan, Sylvan, TutorNation, and more. The caveat? They’ll cost you upwards of $1,000. The bonus? Guarantees. If you don’t score well, you get your money back in many cases.
- Books:Good old-fashioned paper is the way to go, especially if you need a little more face-time with the questions and solutions. Kaplan’s MCAT Premier Program for 2008-2009 offers excellent MCAT questions with answers, tips for getting you to the score you’d like, and a CD to help you practice for the computer-based version.
- Online Courses: If you’re self-motivated, and let’s face it – you probably are if you’re thinking about med school, taking an online course may be the best prep method for you. You can pace yourself between online seminars, practice questions, study groups and practice tests. Plus, you don’t have to pay the hefty fees of a private tutor.
You’ve come so far. Now, all you need to do is ace the MCAT, get into medical school, and become the best doctor you can be!