The Medical College Admissions Test

Designed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is the entrance exam that must be taken to be accepted to the vast majority of medical schools in the U.S. and Canada.

The MCAT assesses skills in critical thinking, reading and writing and scientific reasoning, as well as general knowledge of the physical and biological sciences. The test is administered twice per year, in April and August.

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There are four sections to the MCAT: verbal reasoning, physical sciences (including physics and general chemistry), biological sciences (including biology and organic chemistry) and a writing sample.

Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences

Keep in mind, the concepts in this section are focused on basic principles. What you're truly being tested on are your science problem-solving skills and decision-making practices. You will be tested on recall of information, but this will be weighted equally with understanding of concepts, interpretation of data (figures, graphs, etc.), practical application of concepts and your ability to evaluate methods. When preparing for the MCAT, focus on going beyond knowledge, and into understanding and applying your reasoning and deductive skills.

Verbal Reasoning

In this section, students read a dense and complicated passage and must answer questions about its content. If you have a steady background in arts and humanities courses, you may do well in this section of the test. Many students underestimate the difficulty and importance of this section. The simplest way to prepare for this is to take reading comprehension quizzes and tests online.

The Writing Sample

Like the physical sciences category, this section de-emphasizes scientific knowledge and understanding. Instead, you're tested on your ability to compose thoughts and organize them into a coherent, cohesive essay. You'll be given a statement and then asked to interpret that statement in an essay. Your essay will include one of the following methods, of your choice:

  • Description
  • Narration
  • Example
  • Classification and Division
  • Definition

The key to successfully completing the writing sample is to budget your time. Organize your thoughts quickly, and then begin to compose them into an essay.

Since 2003, the typical MCAT schedule has been as follows:

Section Number of Questions Time Time per Question
Physical Sciences 77 100 mins 1 min 10 s.
Break 10 mins
Verbal Reasoning 60 85 mins 1 min 10 s.
Lunch Break 60 mins
Writing Sample 2 60 mins 30 mins
Break 10 mins
Biological Sciences 77 100 mins 1 min 10 s.

The exam often takes an entire day to write, from 8am to 5pm.


The MCAT is weighted variably by medical college admission committees, but most schools in the U.S. give scores as much or more weight than GPA. In Canada, there is a tendency to place less value on the MCAT test scores.

Each of the three quantitative sections in the MCAT is scored on a scale of 1 to 15, and the writing sample is given a letter grade. The score of the test is scaled to a curve based on results from all people who take it.

When you take the MCAT, you're given a "score release" option. When you receive your scores (approximately 60 days after taking the test), you may choose to release them to schools of your choice or to withhold them. If you choose to retake the test and you score better, you can release then choose to release, and schools will only see the retest. In some cases, however, they may choose to find out how many times you have taken the MCAT.


You can register for your MCAT through the MCAT Program office, at:

MCAT Program Office

2255 North Dubuque Road

P.O. Box 4056

Iowa City, IA 52243-4056

(319) 337-1357

You can also register electronically through the website of the AAMC, at

If you want to ease the process, try to take the April MCAT test and have your medical school application in by June. August is almost certain to be a rush.

Fees are $175 U.S. per test. There is also a fee of $50 U.S. for late registration.

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