MCAT

MCAT Guide

WRITTEN BY
Medistudents Team
September 7, 2021

The majority of U.S. medical schools, as well as many Canadian schools, require you to submit exam scores for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as part of the application progress; our MCAT Guide will provide you with all the information you need for registering, preparing for and completing the MCAT exam.

The MCAT exam, developed and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), is a standardized, multiple-choice examination, designed to support the medical school admission process through the assessment of prerequisites for the study of medicine. It assesses your problem solving and critical thinking skills, and knowledge of natural, behavioral and social science concepts and principles.

What is tested on the MCAT?

The current version of the MCAT exam – used since April 2015 – assesses candidates across the following four sections:

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

You can find more information about each section of the MCAT exam in the MCAT format and MCAT syllabus sections below.

MCAT format

As mentioned above, the MCAT exam is separated into four sections, each with the following format:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological System

  • Time: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Format of questions: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 53
  • Format of questions: 9 passage-based sets of questions, with 5-7 questions per passage

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • Time: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Format of questions: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • Time: 95 minutes
  • Total number of questions: 59
  • Format of questions: 10 passage-based sets of questions, with 4-6 questions per set, and 15 independent questions

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section requires you to apply your comprehension and analysis skills to passages relating to a wide range of disciplines in social sciences and humanities. However, no specific subject knowledge is required within this section of the MCAT.

The other three sections – Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior – require you to combine your scientific knowledge with scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. You’ll need to draw upon your knowledge of general and organic chemistry, and introductory physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology and sociology.

MCAT exam details

MCAT exam dates are available between January and September at hundreds of Pearson VUE testing centres within the U.S., Canada and select locations throughout the world.

The following are the upcoming MCAT test dates, booking deadlines and score release dates for U.S. testing centres:

Note: all deadlines are at 11:59 p.m. local test centre time and scores are released by 5:00 p.m. ET on the scheduled date.

The Bronze Zone deadline is the last date at which you can reschedule or cancel your reservation, or edit your registration information. Usually there is a difference in the initial registration fee, reschedule fee and cancellation refund depending on whether you book before the Gold, Silver or Bronze Zone deadline; however, rescheduling and cancellation fees have been waived until further notice due to COVID-19. Note: always check the AAMC’s website for the most up-to-date COVID-19 information.

Find information on fees for registration, including cancellation fees, international fees and the fee assistance program, in the MCAT Scheduling Fees section.

You can also take the MCAT in the following locations:

  • Canada
  • U.S. territories:
    • Guam
    • Puerto Rico
    • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • International locations:
    • Australia
    • China: Hong Kong
    • France
    • Germany
    • Israel
    • Japan
    • Lebanon
    • Qatar
    • Singapore
    • South Africa
    • Taiwan
    • Thailand
    • United Kingdom

For MCAT dates, scheduling deadlines and score release dates, follow the relevant link below:

Registration dates

The following are the registration open dates for the MCAT exams:

  • April-June exam dates – registration opens February 17 & 18, 2021
  • July-September exam dates – registration opens April 21 & 22, 2021

Test day schedule

The AAMC provides the following overview of the expected test day schedule:

Section Number of questions Time Allotted
Test-day certification 4 minutes
Tutorial (optional) 10 minutes
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems 59 95 minutes
Break (optional) 10 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills 53 90 minutes
Mid-exam break (optional) 30 minutes
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 59 95 minutes
Break (optional) 10 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior 59 95 minutes
Void question 3 minutes
End-of-day survey (optional) 5 minutes
Total content time 6 hours and 15 minutes
Total “seated” time (excluding check-in time) Approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes

The standard start times for MCAT exams are 7:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (local test-center time).

You can find more information about the test day on the ‘MCAT test day’ section of the AMMC’s website and MCAT Essentials Addendum for the July-September 2021 Exams; including the following:

  • Test day rules
  • Check-in rules and procedures – verification of ID, digital signature, palm vein scan and photo capture
  • Items allowed in the testing room and during breaks
  • MCAT test date noteboard booklet

In addition to this, the MCAT Essentials Addendum provides useful information about what to expect on the day of the exam in relation to COVID-19 protocols.

MCAT syllabus

As you can see from the test format section, there are four multiple choice test sections within the MCAT. You can find a breakdown of the content and assessment for each section, including the level at which each topic is assessed, as well as the disciplines, foundational concepts and scientific inquiry and reasoning skills assessed, within the ‘what’s on the MCAT exam?’ section of the AAMC’s website.

The following is an overview of the syllabus for each:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The AAMC outlines that you’ll be assessed on the following:

  • Your ability to solve problems by combining your knowledge of chemical and physical foundational concepts with scientific inquiry and reasoning skills
  • Your understanding of the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of human tissues, organs, and organ systems
  • Your knowledge of basic chemical and physical principles that underlie the mechanisms operating in the human body
  • Your ability to reason about and apply your understanding of these basic chemical and physical principles to living systems

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The AAMC outlines that you’ll be assessed on the following:

  • Your ability to solve problems through the combination of biological and biochemical conceptual knowledge and scientific inquiry and reasoning skills
  • The processes that are unique to living organisms
  • How cells and organ systems within an organism act in order to accomplish these processes
  • Your ability to reason in relation to these processes at various levels of biological organisation within a living system

In addition to this, both Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems and Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems sections are designed to assess the following:

  • Biology, organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry, and physics concepts
  • Biochemistry concepts
  • Cellular and molecular biology topics
  • Basic research methods and statistics concepts
  • Your scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the natural sciences

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The AAMC outlines that you’ll be assessed on the following:

  • Psychology, sociology, and biology concepts
  • Biology concepts that relate to mental processes and behavior
  • Your ability to solve problems by combining your knowledge of foundational concepts with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills
  • Your understanding of the influence of psychological, social, and biological factors
  • Basic research methods and statistics concepts
  • Your scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as applied to the social and behavioral sciences

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

This section of the exam differs from the others, requiring you to critically analyse passages of information. It aims to assess your ability to comprehend what you have read, as well as the analysis and reasoning skills required for medical school.

The passage content may be related to ethics, philosophy, studies of diverse cultures, population health, and a wide range of social sciences and humanities disciplines; with a 50/50 split between humanities and social sciences. These passages are relatively short – approximately 500-600 words – but are described as ‘complex, often thought-provoking pieces of writing with sophisticated vocabulary and, at times, intricate writing styles’.

No specific knowledge or understanding is required for this section of the exam, as all of the information will be provided in the passages and questions; however, you will still need to prepare for it to ensure that you perform well.

MCAT preparation

To support you to prepare effectively for the MCAT exam, you may find it useful to consider the following:

  • Creating a study plan
    Spending time creating a detailed study plan, outlining when and what you will study, will not only guarantee that you allow yourself adequate time to prepare for the exam, but also ensure that your revision time is focused and therefore more productive.

    The AAMC offers a free resource – ‘how to create a study plan for the MCAT exam’ – which will support you with this.
  • Dedicating time to understanding the requirements of the exam
    To be able to prepare for the MCAT exam you need to be aware of what each section will assess. The MCAT syllabus section above and the ’what’s on the MCAT exam?’ section of the AAMC’s website outline the content of the MCAT exam.
  • Familiarizing yourself with the exam features
    During your preparations, including practice with the exam features and functions will ensure that you’re confident with these, which will potentially save you time during the exam. The AAMC offers a sample test which has the same features and functionality as the MCAT exam; this is useful for gaining experience of these, however, as it doesn't provide a scaled score for the exam it does have its limitations as a practice exam.
  • Exploring what resources are available
    Using quality resources will enhance your MCAT preparations and support you to perform as well as possible during the exam. In addition to the wealth of information on the AAMC’s website (linked throughout the post), which will ensure that you’re familiar with the demands of the exam, practice questions and mock exams are the ideal resource to support your MCAT preparations.

MCAT practice questions

Practice questions and mock exams are the most valuable resource during your MCAT preparations. They’ll ensure that you’re familiar with the types of questions you’ll be asked during the exam, provide you with the opportunity to practice applying your knowledge and developing responses, and become accustomed to dealing with the time pressures and demands of the exam.

To make effective use of practice questions, you should aim to utilise them to identify areas which you need to improve, so you can focus on developing further and performing better within the exam. Quality practice questions will also provide you with feedback so you can continue to learn from your mistakes and identify further learning needs.

Coming soon…

This is where our artificial intelligence powered, adaptive question bank will help you to take your MCAT preparations to the next level. Using state of the art algorithms, it identifies your strengths and weaknesses, tailoring questions to your learning needs and ensuring that you focus on your areas for development. A question bank which helps you to make more effective use of your MCAT preparation time and progress your learning

Apps for MCAT studying

Our question bank will also be available as a web app, meaning you can access practice questions and tests on the go, allowing you to squeeze in some MCAT revision whenever you have the opportunity.

MCAT essentials

The following are some final key details in relation to the MCAT exam which you may need to be aware of:

  • MCAT scores are accepted for many other health professions and graduate programs as an alternative for other standardized tests.
  • Many medical schools do not accept MCAT exam scores which exceed three years old.
  • You’re able to undertake the MCAT exam up to seven times in total, but there are also testing limits per year / two years, which can be found in the ‘MCAT Essentials Addendum’ document.
  • The ‘MCAT Essentials Addendum’ document also has some useful information relating to testing with accommodations – ‘if you have a disability or medical condition that you believe requires an adjustment to standard testing conditions’ – as does the ‘MCAT Exam with Accommodations’ page.
  • Each section of the exam will include “field-test” questions: these are questions being considered for future use and will not count toward your total score for the MCAT exam.

For more guidance on applying, preparing and undertaking the MCAT exam, visit the MCAT section of our website.

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