Anatomy of the MCAT

Take out a No. 2 pencil. ... Do not make any stray marks on the grid. ...  Youve faced these tests before, so you know the drill, right? Wrong.

Get Ready, Get Set...
 Medical College Admissions Test
The Medical College Admissions Test, affectionately known as the MCAT, is different than any other test youve encountered in your academic career. It is not like the knowledge-based exams from high school and college, where the emphasis was on memorizing and regurgitating information. Medical schools can assess your academic prowess by looking at your transcript. They use the MCAT to assess whether you possess the foundation upon which to build a successful medical career. Though you certainly need to know content to do well, the stress is on thought process, because the MCAT is above all else a thinking test. The tests power comes from its use as an indicator of your abilities. Good scores can open doors. Your power comes from preparation and mindset, because the key to MCAT success is knowing what youre up against. 


The Big Picture


The MCAT consists of four and three-quarters hours of multiple-choice-testing plus one hour of writing sample. Add in the administrative details at both ends of the testing experience, plus three breaks and you can count on being in the test room for well over six hours. The test is made up of four timed sections: Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. They always appear in the same order on test day:
morning
VERBAL REASONING
[10-minute break]
PHYSICAL SCIENCES
[60-min lunch break] 

afternoon
WRITING SAMPLE
[10-minute break]
BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
 

Read More about It


If youve never seen an MCAT before, read about the anatomy of the test - get the inside word on how the test is structured and scored and on what skills the MCAT is evaluating. 


Life after MCAT


Once the test is over and has been analyzed, most students will need to focus on their application(s) to medical school. Check out these major steps that youll be taking, and some advice on how to present yourself as the best candidate possible. 



Section-by-Section


Heres a quick look at how each MCAT section breaks down:

verbal
reasoning
physical
sciences
writing
sample
biological
sciences
time 85 minutes 100 minutes 60 minutes 100 minutes
format 65 multiple-choice questions: approx 9-10 passages with 6-10 questions each 77 multiple-choice questions: approx. 10-11 passages with 4-8 questions each; 15 stand-alone questions 2 essay questions (30 minutes per essay) 77 multiple-choice questions: approx. 10-11 passages with 4-8 questions each; 15 stand-alone questions
tests critical reading basic general chemistry & physics concepts, analytical reasoning, data interpretation critical thinking, intellectual organization, written communication skills basic biology & organic chemistry concepts, analytical reasoning, data interpretation

 

What the MCAT Is ReallyTesting


Most people preparing for the MCAT fall prey to the myth that the MCAT is a straightforward science test. Well, heres the little secret no one seems to want you to know: The MCAT is not just a science test; its also a thinking test. This means that the test is designed to let you demonstrate your thought process, not only your thought content.
Some individuals take the juvenile approach to the MCAT; they regard the MCAT as a "stupid test" that only tests "how well you take the MCAT." Quite untrue. In actuality, every section on the MCAT tests essentially the same higher-order thinking skills: analytical reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving--skills that are essential for success in medical school!
In fact, a recent study commissioned by the MCATs authors, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), confirmed a direct correlation between MCAT scores and success in medical school. Therefore, medical schools dont need to rely on the MCAT to see what you already know. Schools are most interested in your intellectual potential. They choose applicants carefully because expansive knowledge is not enough to succeed in medical school or in the profession. Theres something more. And its this "something more" that the MCAT is trying to measure. 


 

The Sciences


With this perspective, you may be left asking the question: "What about the science? What about the content? Dont I need to know the basics?" The answer is a resounding Yes! You must be fluent in the different languages of the test. You cannot do well on the MCAT if you dont know the basics of physics, general chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry.
However, the key point here is that knowing these basics is just the beginning of doing well on the MCAT. Thats a shock to most test takers. They presume that once they recall or re-learn their undergraduate science, they are ready to do battle against the MCAT. Wrong! They merely have directions to the battlefield. They lack what they need to beat the test: a copy of the test makers battle plan!
 
MCAT test tips

MCAT Scoring

Each MCAT section receives its own score. Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences are each scored on a scale ranging from 1-15, with 15 as the highest. The Writing Sample essays are scored alphabetically on a scale ranging from J to T, with T as the highest.
 

Raw Score vs. Scaled Score


The number of multiple-choice questions that you answer correctly per section is your "raw score." Your raw score will then be converted to yield the "scaled score"--the one that will fall somewhere in that 1-15 range. These scaled scores are what are reported to medical schools as your MCAT scores.

 Good Scores

Theres no such thing as a cut and dried "good score." Much depends on the strength of the rest of your application (if your transcript is first rate, the pressure to strut your stuff on the MCAT isnt as intense) and on where you want to go to school (different schools have different score expectations). For each MCAT administration the average scaled scores are approximately 8s for Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences, and N for the Writing Sample. You need scores of at least 10-11s to be considered competitive by most medical schools, and if youre aiming for the top you should strive for 12s and above.