What Is the MCAT? (Everything You Should Know)

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: December 8, 2021

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT exam) is a computer-based, standardized test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges that is used as a requirement for students to enter nearly all medical schools.

It measures knowledge in the natural, physical, and behavioral sciences, as well as analysis and critical reasoning.

Recognized by every med school in the United States and Canada (and many outside institutions), schools use it for admission into graduate programs leading to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or another similar degree.

Medical school admission committees look closely at the MCAT score as part of an entire package to predict who will do well in their medical education.

What Does MCAT Stand For?

  • Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is the test you need to take if you want to enter a medical school.
  • MCAT is 7 and a half hours long, and it’s made up of four sections. You should get familiar with the sections before taking the test.
  • The test is scored on a scale, and the score ranges from 472 to 528.
  • Expect to wait between 30 to 50 days before you get the results.
  • There are a number of factors you should think about before you decide when to take the MCAT.

What is Tested on the MCAT?

Young medical students looking at a reviewer

The MCAT assesses knowledge and skills essential to the study of medicine and success in med school.

They take questions from courses MCAT test takers should have had in school, including general and organic chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, biochemistry, and sociology.

However, the examination is more than just a test of memorized knowledge.

Rather, the test analyzes your understanding of how this knowledge can be applied.

The exam questions are not necessarily limited to what test takers have learned in a particular class.

Instead, they attempt to test your ability to apply principles of logic, reasoning skills, and critical thinking that may cross beyond any one course or any single discipline.

Your MCAT scores are used to predict the success of future medical students and so are important to your medical school admissions process.

What are the MCAT Sections?

Pencil on top of an answer sheet

The MCAT test consists of four sections:

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

Questions within these sections are not specific to a single course of study like the biological sciences.

Rather, they are integrated across disciplines, accurately reflecting the interrelationships of life processes and systems that a student finds when studying medicine.

Knowing about these sections is critical for MCAT prep for all test takers.

You need to understand how biological systems, critical analysis, reasoning skills, and biological foundations of behavior are evaluated in order to do well.

What is the MCAT Scoring Like?

Pencil shading an examination sheet

The MCAT test sections are each scored on a scale of 118 to 132. Those sectional grades are then combined to develop the total score, which ranges from 472 to 528.

It means every section counts equally, and you need to perform well across all the subtests to get a good score.

This is one reason to ensure you spend time trying to boost up your weak areas as well as your strong ones.

The MCAT test is a completely multiple-choice test. In the scoring rubric, an incorrect answer is no different than one that is left blank.

Therefore, unlike other standardized tests, there is no penalty for guessing.

“The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” ― Hippocrates, physician


Related Articles: What is a Good Score on the MCAT?

The AAMC converts your raw score of correct answers into a scaled score that ensures your score is normed against all others regardless of the version of the exam you take.

Students of equal ability will obtain the same average MCAT score regardless of their raw MCAT exam results.

The MCAT test is not curved - they do not measure test takers’ performance against that of other students.

Instead, the AAMC attempts to have all exams be equal in difficulty no matter when they are taken.

Thus, they scale the scores to ensure they compare all MCAT test-takers doing the test in the same year against the same standard in a fair manner.

How Long It is?

Red stethoscope and alarm clock beside an exam sheet

The MCAT is known for being a long test. In fact, you can expect to spend over seven hours at the exam center on test day.

The specific breakdown of the sections is as follows:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems - 59 questions in 95 minutes
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems - 59 questions in 95 minutes
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior - 59 questions in 95 minutes
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills - 53 questions in 90 minutes

It means you will spend up to six and a quarter hours taking the actual examination.

When you add in scheduled breaks for lunch and optional breaks between subtests, you quickly arrive at a long day at the testing center.

Recommended Article: How Long Is MCAT? (Length & Timing)

What is the Price?

A person holding one hundred dollar bills

The basic cost for the MCAT in 2022 is $320 for all applicants within the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

If you come from outside one of those locations, you will pay an additional $115 international fee.

The MCAT exam fee covers not only the use of the test centers but also the distribution of exam scores to AMCAS - the American Medical College Application Service.

The AAMC accepts payment through its online application portal via American Express, VISA, and MasterCard.

The AAMC provides a fee reduction service for prospective medical school students who otherwise would not be able to take the exam because of financial issues.

This program generally reduces the MCAT application cost from $320 to $115 for accepted applicants.

In order to apply for a fee reduction, you will need to provide information about your residency status as well as financial information about yourself, your spouse, and any living parents.

Some of the documents required will include IRS 1040 Federal Tax forms, alimony and child support documents, financial aid award letters, and cost of attendance information.

You also may need to provide W2 and 1099 forms, welfare statements, and Social Security documentation [1].

When Should You Take the MCAT?

A student answering an answer sheet

There are quite a number of factors to consider when deciding when to take the MCAT. MCAT registration is open throughout the year, with MCAT test dates during most months.

The first is when and how to prepare for the exam. You certainly want to be well-studied and ready before sitting down for the examination, given the price tag of taking the test.

Many people recommend at least 300 hours of dedicated study over the course of three to six months before taking the MCAT exam.

The important thing is not to sign up for the test if you have not had enough study time.

Further, since they base the exam on the supposition that you have taken certain classes in college, it would not make sense to attempt the exam before completing those courses.

“After all, a person has only two hands, and these days there're too many patients and too few doctors.” ― Anne Frank, author

The next factor to consider is your personal situation.

Some people like to take the exam early. These future medical school students usually have completed all their required coursework and got some dedicated study time in over the winter holidays.

They want to get the MCAT out of the way so they can devote time and effort to their personal statement and medical school admissions application.

Other students look at the MCAT exam dates and find those spring exams best fit their situation.

This gives them a few more months to study while still finishing the exam before the application cycle opens.

Since most medical schools operate on a rolling admissions cycle, these students plan to get their applications in at the very beginning to have the maximum number of open slots available.

Finally, some students choose a summer exam date to take their MCAT exam.

This ensures that they have finished their coursework and have committed test prep time that does not interfere with college.

Additionally, this plan allows the student to take an MCAT review course for test prep during a few weeks.

Further, some students choose to take their MCAT during this time because they do not have any summer classes.

Regardless of your MCAT registration and when you take the test, make sure you will have your MCAT scores before the medical school application deadline is closed.

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When Will You Receive Your MCAT Scores?

A close up calendar image

Because the AAMC scales every examination, you can expect to receive your MCAT scores 30-50 days after taking the test.

This gives the AAMC time to evaluate the exam, address any student’ concerns or irregularities, and set the official scaled MCAT score.

The good news is that the AAMC committed to its test score release dates at the same time it put out its calendar of test dates. You know exactly when you (and the medical schools you are applying to) can expect your scores.

Your MCAT score will be posted by 5 PM Eastern Time on the release dates [2].


The Medical College Admission Test remains a crucial test for students who are applying to medical schools.

The MCAT is a difficult exam and it can be intimidating, but with the right preparation, you will be able to conquer this beast.

Knowing the psychological, social, and biological foundations of health is critical.

So are critical analysis and reasoning skills, the basics of physical sciences, social science concepts, living systems, and biological sciences.

With a good MCAT score, prospective medical students are well-situated to get into top American medical colleges.

It may also assist them in getting financial assistance, grants, and funding.

This means that planning, MCAT prep, and proper scheduling are all critical to success on the MCAT exam.


  1. https://students-residents.aamc.org/fee-assistance-program/what-you-need-apply
  2. https://students-residents.aamc.org/register-mcat-exam/us-mcat-calendar-scheduling-deadlines-and-score-release-dates-0

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