Are You Ready to Take the MCAT?


If you are planning on applying to medical school, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is the behemoth hurdle that premed students dread. Because the exam is so difficult, it can be hard to know when you're ready to take the MCAT. This standardized, multiple choice test has been a part of medical school admissions in both the United States and Canada for over eighty years. The test assesses your scientific and verbal knowledge, problem solving, and critical thinking. Up until now the applicant’s scores were measured in the areas of Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and Biological Sciences.

However, in order to keep up with the changing culture in medical practice and medical school admissions with a larger emphasis on holistic and well rounded applicants the MCAT exam has undergone its largest revision in years. This is only the 5th major revision since the MCAT exam started. Starting Spring 2015 applicants who are ready to take the MCAT will be taking the new “MCAT 2015”. This new exam has an additional emphasis on social and behavioral science and critical reasoning and analysis. There will no longer be a specific verbal section and all of the sciences are now integrated sciences. The new test has the following four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. To get ready to take the MCAT, students should have additional background in biochemistry, psychology and sociology.

When should you take the MCAT? As a rule of thumb, pre-med students should consider taking the MCAT at least one year to eighteen months before they plan to enter medical school. This gives them ample time to receive their MCAT scores for their application cycle. Taking it around January, when you have a winter break to prepare yourself, is a good suggestion. It also allows time to retake the exam if you are unhappy with your score.

How do you get ready to take the MCAT? Should you study on your own or take a review course? The answer depends on your specific study habits and time management skills, as well as, any competing activities that will consume your time and attention. There is one thing that is a sure thing and that is to be familiar with the MCAT content and to be sure to take the AAMC practice test to get a sense of your knowledge gaps and test taking skills. Do not expect that you will review every detail you learned in all of your science courses, not only is this time consuming, but it does not guarantee test score improvement. You need to learn how to perform on the test and this is usually done best by taking practice tests and doing a targeted review of areas where you get stuck or underperform. The MCAT is a now a 7 hour test. You need to be sure you know how to pace yourself and stay focused. Do not waste your time studying things you already know!

Multiple MCAT Scores. You can take the MCAT up to 3 times in one calendar year. You can even sit for the exam and decide not to submit your score (although I would discourage this practice). If you do that it does still count as one attempt at the exam.

How do admissions committees deal with multiple MCAT scores? Admissions committees have different policies regarding multiple MCAT scores. There are 4 options: 1) They take the best score; 2) They take the best score from each section; 3) They take the most recent score or 4) They average all scores. The only way to know the school’s policy is to check their website. Many students now take the MCAT multiple times and most schools have a policy for handling multiple scores. It would seem the majority either take the most recent score or the best score. The MCAT is meant to be a summary of your sciences knowledge and problem solving skills. Focus on doing well on your undergraduate prerequisites and then focus on learning to take the test and you should be able to successfully stare down the MCAT test.

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