MCAT Exam Overview

Medical schools in the USA and Canada, as in most of the world, are highly competitive and being accepted is no small feat. Almost all medical schools in the USA require exceptional MCAT scores and only a few will allow you to fast track to med school with high marks in your undergraduate courses. But what exactly is MCAT and how can you prepare for it?

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What Is MCAT?

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a standardized test designed to test all the key knowledge and skills you need to be accepted into med school. Students need to achieve high marks in the test to even be allowed to apply for medical school. The test not only assesses your science and biology knowledge but also evaluates your critical thinking skills and reasoning abilities. Thus it is an all-encompassing test that can indicate if a student will fall short or flourish as a medical student.

Why is MCAT Important?

The MCAT test is the first step in a prospective student’s application process. There are 15 key proficiencies that medical schools consider, only 1 of which is academic results. Medical students need to be exceptionally well-rounded individuals that demonstrate drive and social competence along with academic skills and practical knowledge. But the initial enrollment process starts with acceptable MCAT results.

Can you go to Medical Schools with Low MCAT Score?

Yes, you can get accepted to medical schools with a low MCAT score. MCAT is not the only aspect of your application that the medical schools look at. They also look at your GPA and internship experience. However, MCAT does comprises the majority of your application, and the hard truth is, it is difficult to get into medical schools in the US with a low MCAT score.

What is the format of the MCAT?

This test is structured as a multiple-choice, computerized test. The test is broken up into 4 sections:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The testing time for MCAT is a staggering 7 and a half hours long.

1. Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems

The first section of the test takes 95 minutes to complete. The first 44 questions are related to the given passages and require a thorough understanding of the biological processes that keep an organism functioning. This includes processes like metabolizing and reproducing as well as adapting and responding.

Undergraduate courses such as biochemistry, biology, chemistry, and organic chemistry are vital in understanding these processes. There are also 15 questions unrelated to passages that purely test your knowledge on the subject matter.

2.Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The second part’s structure emulates that of part 1 with a 44-15 division of questions. This section is also 95 minutes long. Here students are tested on their knowledge of Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and a small portion of Biology. Here you need to prove an understanding of the chemistry and physics applied within the human body. You need to show thorough knowledge of the building blocks and basic structure of human tissue, organs and organ systems.

Test takers are provided with a periodic table but calculators are not permitted. In this section, 44 of the questions are based on information from passages that are included in the test. You will need to understand the passages and apply them to other contexts to complete this section. There is a further 15 non-passage related question that brings the total number of questions for section 1 to 59.

3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This is the newest addition to the test and also the last of the 59 marks/95-minute portions. The third part of the test aims to let the students apply their knowledge of biology to phycology and sociology to discuss trends and real-world implications thereof. Here students have a chance to show their understanding and insight into matters that transcend textbooks. Many medical programs require students to take one semester of phycology and sociology which will come in especially handy here.

4.Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Section 4 has 53 questions also related to passages. For this section, you are allotted 90 minutes. This portion of the test does not test any acquired knowledge but rather taps into your argumentative abilities. You will need to reason and analyze the passages that are provided. This section is particularly hard to prepare for as there is no prescribed information you can study to succeed here.

How is the MCAT scored?

The MCAT scoring system is quite complicated and the number of questions you answer correctly does not directly translate into your score value.

Firstly, the maximum score for the test is 528. The lowest possible mark is 472. Your score is calculated on a scale depending on the level of difficulty of the questions you answer correctly. 3 of the sections have 59 questions and one section has 53 questions. This brings the total number of questions to 230. Each section’s score is converted to a scale of 118-132 depending on how difficult the questions are. The reason for this scaled score is to compensate for question difficulty. Two students might have different amounts of questions correct, yet score the same after being scaled. This means that one set of questions might be slightly more difficult than another. These are called your “raw score” and “scaled score” and in the end, you will not know your raw score.

On your score report, you are given a percentile rank. This percentage shows the number of test-takers that scored the same or lower than you. Thus, a higher score indicated a higher percentage of students scoring lower than you. It does not reflect your score as a percentage. This percentage is adjusted yearly on the 1st of May to reflect a more accurate ranking during the 3 year validity period of your test.

How do I prepare for MCAT?

You can prepare for the MCAT by taking prep courses or through self-study. Nearly a third of test-takers redo the test to try and achieve a better result. The primary part of preparation is the academic aspect of it. There are many 3-month preparation courses and most previous test takers suggest at least 20-hours of study per week.

Test conditions are grueling and it will most likely be the longest exam of your life. It is highly recommended that you prepare for these conditions. You should be taking a practice test under exam conditions for long periods to help you get mentally fit for this wearisome task.

There is no way to sugar coat it, this test will most likely determine your immediate future. This is a massive amount of stress to carry with you into an exam room. Above all the academic preparations you do, stress management is a big part of getting ready for the test. You need to perform under a lot of pressure and keep calm to reason logically through this mammoth test.

A hurdle for many is section 4, Critical Analysis, and Reasoning Skills. This section requires students to think critically and reason about scenarios in more practical senses. This means that students need to be informed about current events and trends and be well versed in many fields outside of biology or science. Common suggestions are that students make simple changes like start reading a broad range of literature to become familiar with various tones and structures in writing. It will also be an added benefit to join discussion groups such as debate teams or book clubs.


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