MCAT

Differences Between the MCAT and UCAT

WRITTEN BY
Medistudents Team
September 15, 2021

The application process for medical school can vary considerably depending on where you’re applying to study, including the type of admission exam you’re required to complete; the following compares two prominent medical school entry exams and the differences between the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). This guide provides you with information regarding who requires the MCAT or UCAT, their level of difficulty and key information about the format of the exams.

Who requires MCAT or UCAT

The MCAT and the UCAT are both included as an essential entry requirement for many medical schools. These admission exams ensure that applicants have the necessary attributes for studying medicine and a future career in the medical profession. While the MCAT exam is used by the majority of U.S. medical schools and many Canadian schools, to support their selection process, the UCAT is predominantly used by UK medical schools and some international universities.

MCAT and UCAT difficulty

Despite both being computer-based exams, delivered within Pearson VUE testing centres and used as part of the admissions process for medical schools, the MCAT and UCAT differ considerably in what they assess and the format they use (see section below). The UCAT focuses on assessing your mental abilities, characteristics, attitudes and professional behaviors; whereas, the MCAT assesses scientific knowledge and inquiry, critical analysis and reasoning skills.

While one is not necessarily more difficult than the other, as they assess different aspects required for medical school, individuals may find one exam, or certain areas of an exam, more difficult than others, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

The MCAT is also a considerably longer exam – 6 hours and 15 minutes (excluding break times) compared to just 2 hours for the UCAT – which inevitably results in additional demands on candidates.

For both the MCAT and the UCAT, being aware of the requirements of the exam and preparing well, will support you to deal with the demands of the test and ensure that you perform as well as you’re able to. You’ll find a wealth of resources on our website to help you to prepare effectively for both exams, including ‘how to prepare for the UCAT’, ‘UCAT preparation’ and ‘UCAT practice questions’ blogs, and our ‘MCAT guide’ and ‘MCAT checklist’.

Take your exam preparation to the next level with our artificial intelligence powered, adaptive question banks for the MCAT (coming soon) and UCAT. Using state of the art algorithms, our question banks automatically identify your strengths and weaknesses, and adapt the questions and feedback to your learning needs. By ensuring that you focus on the areas which you need to develop, you’ll make more effective use of your preparation time and progress your learning quicker, to ensure that you perform well in either of the MCAT or UCAT exams.

Exam format

As mentioned previously, the format of the MCAT and UCAT exams differ vastly, in terms of the content, assessment areas and the type of questions you’ll receive in each exam. Below you’ll find a breakdown of the format for both exams; you can also find more details about the exam content, areas of assessment and question types in our MCAT Guide and UCAT Complete Guide.

MCAT format

The MCAT exam is separated into four multiple choice sections to assess different knowledge and skills required for medical school. As well as our MCAT Guide, the AAMC’s website provides further details on the content and assessment for each section of the exam.

These four sections are formatted as follows:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  • Time limit: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Question format: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your knowledge of chemical and physical foundational concepts and basic principles in relation to living systems.
    • Your understanding of the mechanical, physical and biochemical functions of human tissues, organs and organ systems.
    • Your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

  • Time limit: 90 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 53
  • Question format: 9 passage-based sets of questions, with 5-7 questions per passage.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your ability to comprehend passages of information and apply critical analysis and reasoning skills.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • Time limit: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Question format: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your knowledge of processes unique to living organisms and how cells and organ systems act to accomplish these.
    • Your biological and biochemical conceptual knowledge.
    • Your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • Time limit: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Question format: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions
  • Key assessments:
    • Your knowledge of psychology, sociology, and biology concepts, including biology concepts that relate to mental processes and behavior.
    • Your understanding of the influence of psychological, social and biological factors.
    • Your scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the social and behavioral sciences.

UCAT format

The UCAT is separated into five multiple choice sections, each assessing different skills and attributes required for medicine.

These five sections are formatted as follows:

Verbal Reasoning

  • Time limit: 21 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section)
  • Total number of questions: 44
  • Question format: 11 passages of text, each with 4 related questions. There are two types of questions used:
    • You’ll be given a question or an incomplete statement about the passage you have read, along with four options from which to choose the most suitable response.
    • You’ll be given a statement about the passage you have read and you must answer whether the statement is true, false or you’re unable to tell from the information you have been provided.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your ability to interpret text and draw specific conclusions from the information.
    • Designed to assess skills needed when interpreting medical reports, critically evaluating written materials and communicating complex information in a patient-friendly manner.

Decision Making

  • Time limit: 31 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section)
  • Total number of questions: 29
  • Question format: Questions may refer to data presented in text, charts, tables, graphs or diagrams. There are two types of questions used:
    • Questions with four possible answers of which only one is correct.
    • Questions with five statements for which you’re required to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for each one.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your ability to analyse complex information to make sound, logical decisions.
    • Your problem-solving skills and ability to make decisions within complex situations.

Quantitative Reasoning

  • Time limit: 24 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section)
  • Total number of questions: 36
  • Question format: Problem-solving questions related to information presented in tables, charts and/or graphs. For each question you will need to select your answer from five options.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your ability to solve problems with mathematical skills.
    • Designed to assess skills required for interpreting data and statistics, as well as practical drug calculations when practising medicine.

Abstract Reasoning

  • Time limit: 13 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section)
  • Total number of questions: 55
  • Question format: Questions relate to sets of shapes. There are four types of questions used:
    • You’ll be given two sets of shapes and asked whether a given shape belongs in ‘set A’, ‘set B’ or ‘neither’.
    • You’ll be given a series of shapes and asked to choose the next shape in the series.
    • You’ll be given a statement and asked to identify which shape from a group completes the statement.
    • You’ll be given two sets of shapes with four possible answers and asked to match the correct option to each set of shapes.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your ability to identify patterns and relationships between shapes.
    • Your ability to identify information which is reliable and relevant, and make judgements based on this.

Situational Judgement

  • Time limit: 26 minutes (plus a 1 minute instruction section)
  • Total number of questions: 69
  • Question format: 22 scenarios, each with between 2 and 5 related questions. There are two types of questions used:
    • You’ll be given possible responses and asked to rate the importance or appropriateness of each, in relation to the scenario.
    • You’ll be given three actions in response to a situation and asked to select the most and least appropriate action.
  • Key assessments:
    • Your capacity to understand real world situations and respond appropriately.
    • The qualities and behaviors required for medical school and the medical professions, including integrity, professionalism, teamwork and adaptability.

You’ll find more information in relation to each of the individual subtests of the UCAT – verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, and situational judgement – on the UCAT section of our website. For each individual subtest we provide information on the structure and types of questions you’ll be asked, as well as tips on how to do well and where you can access our free UCAT practice questions.


Our comprehensive guides for the MCAT and UCAT provide more information on all aspects of the exams, including test dates and fees, how to prepare and practice questions, and scoring and results. You can also find guidance on what is a good MCAT score and resources to support your exam preparation on the MCAT and UCAT sections of our website. For access to thousands of professionally written practice questions and tests, check out our adaptive question banks for the MCAT (coming soon) and UCAT.

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