(Medical College Admissions Test)
The Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized exam required by medical schools across the country. The exam is designed to assess competencies in areas important for success in medical school and a career as a physician. You will need to build a very strong foundation in the natural sciences through your college coursework before taking the exam. There are specific college courses that you should complete before the MCAT, but beyond that, you should use your undergraduate education to become a skilled, critical reader and thinker. Taking challenging courses in the sciences, the humanities, and social sciences can help you develop the reasoning skills you will need for this exam.
A new, revised version of the MCAT was introduced in 2015, and although some of the content areas changed, the revised exam still places a similar emphasis on problem-solving and critical analysis. The MCAT exam is not just a test of knowledge that focuses on facts learned in your college courses. Rather, the MCAT is a test of your reasoning skills, and your ability to independently apply the principles you have learned through your coursework. Your preparation for the exam must go beyond review of the content of the required courses in the sciences. You must develop your reasoning skills to an advanced degree to be successful in mastering the MCAT.
The MCAT is weighed heavily by medical school admission committees. Even a student with a 4.0 GPA will need to have an MCAT score of a sufficient level to have a chance for admission to medical school. The MCAT plays a far more important role in medical school admissions than the SAT or ACT plays in college admissions, and it requires much more concentrated preparation.
In addition to the information on this page, you should consult the official MCAT website, for information on registration, test dates and more.
When Should I Take the MCAT?
The short answer is you should take the MCAT when you are thoroughly prepared to obtain a strong score for admission. You will want to consider the timeline of completion of premedical coursework and the timing of your application also in deciding when to schedule the exam.
If you plan to go straight to medical school after you complete your senior year of college you should plan to complete the recommended premedical coursework by the spring of your junior year (or earlier) so that you will be ready to take the MCAT and apply early in the summer between your junior and senior year.
However, if you cannot complete the coursework by this time, or you have not thoroughly prepared, you would be better off revising your plans and delaying the exam and application to medical school. It is more important that you prepare thoroughly and be successful in gaining admission to medical school than to stick to a preconceived plan and fail to gain admission at all.
Although you may re-take the exam, ideally, you should only attempt the exam when you feel that you have thoroughly prepared. Study hard, and take this exam when you believe you can do your best.
Preparing for the MCAT
Careful and thorough preparation for the MCAT will be critical to your admission to medical school. Start preparation for the MCAT early. In fact, think of all your science coursework as helping you prepare for the MCAT. Look at sample MCAT problems while you are taking the recommended premed coursework.
Do not wait until a few months before the exam to begin preparing for the MCAT. We recommend looking at the test format and some sample questions while you are beginning to take your first premed science courses, so that you can understand how the scientific principles you are learning in your courses will be used on the MCAT. You should begin serious study about one year to eight months ahead of the time you plan to take the exam. Most students need to do considerable preparation beyond mere completion of the recommended coursework to be successful on the MCAT.
The New MCAT Exam
A revised version of the MCAT exam was introduced in April 2015. Information on the structure and content of the revised exam is available on the official MCAT page. Just like the previous version of the exam, the revised MCAT tests core science concepts in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Some of the changes include expanded content in additional areas such as biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology in the natural sciences sections of the exam to reflect recent changes in medical education. In addition, a new section of the exam, the Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section, tests concepts from the social and behavioral sciences, reflecting a concern for the importance of socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health and health outcomes. A new Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the exam tests broad analysis and reasoning skills. The revised exam also places greater emphasis on research methods and statistical reasoning. The time required for the exam has expanded to approximately seven and a half hours, including breaks.
The revised MCAT exam introduced in 2015 includes four sections:
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
For the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems and Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems sections of the MCAT, you will need to complete core coursework in biology, general/inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and biochemistry. Please consult the Premedical Coursework and Competencies page for information on the specific courses to take.
For the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section of the exam, you will need to complete coursework in psychology and sociology. A statistics course is also recommended. Please consult the Premedical Coursework and Competencies page for information on coursework to take to prepare for this section of the exam.
For the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the exam, there is no standard coursework required, but generally taking highly-challenging, advanced-level coursework in the humanities and social sciences will help you build the kind of broad analytical and reasoning skills that will be required for performance in this section of the exam. Passages from this section may be drawn from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including readings in philosophy, ethics, cross-cultural studies and population health. For this section of the MCAT, the best way to prepare may be to be adventuresome and wide-ranging in your choice of courses outside of the natural sciences. Coursework in anthropology, culture and communication, sociology, and other disciplines that emphasize cross-cultural analysis may be particularly beneficial.
For more information on the concepts covered in each of these sections on the revised MCAT exam you should consult the MCAT 2015 webpage.
The AAMC has released the Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam (MCAT2015), Fourth Edition, which is the most authoritative guide on the exam. We recommend using this guide in conjunction with a set of subject review books. In addition, the AAMC has released practice testing materials, including exams and question packs. We highly recommend using the AAMC practice tests and resources.
In addition, a new collection of free MCAT 2015 prep resources has been developed for the revised MCAT exam under the direction of the Khan Academy and with input from the Association of American Medical Colleges. All material in this collection is categorized according to the competencies tested on the MCAT; however the content in this collection is not intended to prescribe a complete program of study for the exam.
HPPLC offers a low-cost MCAT prep workshop to help students prepare for the exam. Whether you enroll in this workshop or not, we would be happy to consult with you on your methods of preparation. If you have questions about preparing for the MCAT, or you have received your MCAT scores and would like advice on your individual situation and the next steps you should take, please make an appointment to meet with a premedical advisor in the Health Professions and Prelaw Center.
For information on HPPLC's MCAT Prep Workshop please click here.