How To Study For The MCAT?

mcat preparation tips

To gain admission into the graduate schools of your choice, many universities require standardized test scores to be considered for a placement. They will either ask for GRE or GMAT scores, and if you are an international student, they will want to know whether you are proficient in English too. To prove your English proficiency, you will need to either submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Whereas the GMAT is for business school and the GRE is for more generalized studies, there are also tests specific to the subject matter. One of those tests is the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT. This test is used for application to medical school. The article will go through its details, structure, registration, price, and tips on how to prepare for it.

What is MCAT?

MCAT is a standardized test used to help medical schools assess potential candidates. It is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges or AAMC to any student who wants to go into the medical profession in a U.S university and some Canadian universities. Any student can take the test, whether they are from the U.S or Canada and internationally.

The test is completely in multiple choice format, and students will have to demonstrate their knowledge of the material by answering the questions quickly and accurately. The test is designed to measure your knowledge in critical thinking, problem solving, as well as natural and behavioral sciences. All these skills and knowledge is critical to the success of a future medical practitioner.

Admissions officers in medical schools across the U.S and Canada put high importance on the MCAT scores. You might have a great background and performance in your undergraduate studies, but if your MCAT scores do not reflect your skills, you might consider retaking it or switching occupations. Applicants with high MCAT scores will be given more priority in most schools, so you must prepare enough to perform well.

What is the structure of the MCAT?

Differing from other standardized tests such as the GMAT or the GRE, the MCAT is a completely multiple choice test. This means that there are no written sections, so you will not be asked to write essays. The only thing you must do is concentrate on the questions and then carefully choose one of the answers provided.

Since the MCAT measures your natural and social sciences knowledge as well as critical thinking skills, it is divided in four parts:

  • 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

The first two parts test your natural science knowledge, the third one tests your social science understanding, and the final part is regarding your critical thinking skills. Each section is 90 to 95 minutes long, and combined with breaks between each section, the MCAT takes 7.5 hours to complete.

All in all, each section of the MCAT will precisely define how prepared you are to go into the difficult field of medicine. After all, you might have to deal with life and death situations in your future career, so how knowledgeable you are and how quickly you solve problems will determine your success.

How to register for the MCAT exam?

If you have made up your mind about going to medical school and you know that the universities you are going to require MCAT scores, you know you will have to register for the MCAT exam. But how do you do that?

Create an AAMC account

The first step is to create the account in the website of the test developers. That is the AAMC. By going to this link, you will be directed to their login page where you can create the account and submit your information. The AAMC is a critical source of information regarding everything related to medical school, so you will highly benefit from them.

Additionally, by creating the AAMC account, you will also gain access to the American Medical College Application Service or AMCAS. The AMCAS is the application system where you can then apply for medical schools.

Find an available test date

The next step is to find a date that you will take your test. The AAMC offers test dates for U.S, Canadian, and international students. The test dates go from January to September most of the time, but you might have dates later than September too. To access these dates you will have to follow different links for the U.S, Canadian, and international student dates.

In addition to the test dates, alongside each option of when to take the test, you will also have your score release dates. This will tell you when you can see your scores after you have taken the test. The feature is highly important as many medical schools have deadlines for when you need to submit your MCAT scores, so you will have to align your test date with their deadlines. After you consider each of these factors, you will pick a date for your big test day!

Pay for the test

As with any other graduate standardized test, there are fees attached to the MCAT too. So how much does it cost to take the MCAT? This is all dependent on when you register for it. The AAMC has divided the test takers into zones, which then have the appropriate prices. The zones and their meanings are as follows:

  • Gold Zone for those who register one month or more before the test
  • Silver Zone for those who register three to four weeks before the test
  • Bronze Zone for those who register one to two weeks before the test

The AAMC tries to encourage applicants to register earlier for the test, so it is cheaper for you to register one or more months before. The Gold Zone initial registration is $310, the Silver Zone is also $310, while those who are in the Bronze Zone pay $365 to register for the MCAT.

Additionally, if you are an international student who wants to take the MCAT, there is an additional international fee of $100 for each zone. So an international student in the Gold Zone will have to pay $410 to register for the MCAT.

If you have already registered and want to reschedule, you will have to pay fees for that too. The Gold Zone has a fee of $85 to reschedule, while the Silver Zone costs $145. There is no rescheduling option for the Bronze Zone.

Similarly, if you want to cancel your test, you will get a refund of $155 if you are in the Gold Zone, but there are no refunds for anyone who is in the Silver or Bronze Zone. This means that if you register three to four weeks before the test and find out you need to cancel it, you will not get any refund and your money will have gone to waste. So plan well and ahead for this important test.

Since this test is quite expensive, the AAMC has designed a program to help those who cannot afford the full cost. That is the AAMC Fee Assistance Program, which offers discounted prices for those who can prove that the cost of the MCAT would be a high financial burden to them. The fee assistance program’s Gold and Silver Zone registration fee is $120, while for the Bronze Zone it is $175. To qualify for this program, candidates will have to apply through AAMC. To find out more information about it, follow the Fee Assistance Program link.

Take the test

After you have picked your date, paid your fees, and preferably prepared for the MCAT, you will take the test. All MCAT exams begin on the day you registered for at 8AM local time. You will be asked to check-in at the Test Center Administrator, where you will present your ID and have your fingerprints and photo taken. These procedures have been designed to ensure the security of all test takers so that no one tries to take the test for another person.

How is the MCAT scored?

The total scores for the MCAT vary between 472 to 528, with an average of 500 points. The way the AAMC comes to these scores is by combining the scores of all four sections. Each of the four sections is scores between 118 to 132 points, with an average of 125 points. Depending on how many answers you get correct, you will be in between that range. The higher your score, the better are your chances of getting into the medical school of your choice.

Your score depends on the correct answers that you get in the test. Those answers are then scaled and equated to generate the total scores for each section and for the test as a whole. The process of scaling and equating is done so that all scores have the same meaning no matter when or where you took the test. Additionally, you will also get percentiles in your score report, which tell you how well you did in comparison to other test takers. The higher your percentile score, the better you have done.

The AAMC takes great care to score the test fairly, but if you think that your test has not been scored well, you can request a rescore. This can be done by submitting that request to the MCAT Document Uploader, available here after login.

How long are MCAT scores valid?

The MCAT scores do not necessarily have an expiration date. How old the scores can be to be accepted depends on the medical school you are applying to. A rule of thumb is that most schools accept scores from two or three years ago. The older the scores, the more likely it is that you will have to take the test again.

How to study for the MCAT?

Finally, after you have learned all the necessary information regarding the MCAT, we have prepared a list of tips on how to best study for the MCAT.

Create a study plan

Study plans are a great way to keep track of how you are progressing towards your goal of successfully taking the MCAT. Try to start studying at least 3 months before the test so that you can have enough time to prepare. Your study plan should reflect the areas of study you will concentrate in and what materials you will study from.

Take a demo test

To assess your initial skills for the MCAT, it is best to first take a demo test. This test will show you where you need to improve the most, and based on the results you can also modify your study plan accordingly. Try to simulate the whole test taking environment when you start the demo test and do not let anyone interrupt you. The AAMC offers one such free test, which can be found here.

Study the basic MCAT materials

Since the AAMC prepare and administrate the test, they are the best resource to prepare from. They have compiled an interactive tour of the MCAT materials which are highly beneficial for you to study from. The tour includes content for each of the sections of the MCAT as well as the various skills you will need to develop.

Study from the official guide

Each year, there is an official MCAT guide, which contains all the information about the test as well as tips and strategies on how to best complete it. The guide also contains questions that have been on the MCAT, so it is one of the best guides to have in order to study and prepare for it.

Find additional materials

Besides the interactive tour and the official MCAT guide, there are also a ton of other resources on the web to help you prepare for the MCAT. Since you have already done the demo test, you know in what areas to focus the most, so you can tailor these additional materials to your sections of need. Some great materials to study from include:

Practice the test

The best way to prepare for the MCAT is to practice. Find practice tests and continuously take them to see how your skills are improving. Be consistent with this, so the best is to take one practice test each week after you have studied. This way you can track your scores and see how much you are improving. The AAMC provides many practice tests, guides, and flashcards which you can use to practice.

Only through practicing and following your study plan carefully, will you be able to achieve success in the MCAT exam and gain admission into the medical school of your dreams!