What is the MCAT

We’ll spell it out: what is the MCAT?

What is the MCAT? Most premed students agree that the MCAT is one of those things that keeps them up at night. It could be your friend. But then, it may prove your greatest nemesis! It’s either your best hope, or it’s what will rip you from your dreams. It’s the last step on the pre-med path, which means it may be the first glimpse of your future as a doctor.

Yes, I’m being dramatic, and that’s what the MCAT seems to exact from its “victims.” But in all honesty, it’s just a test. That said, it’s not to be trifled with; it’s definitely one of those things in life you need to prepare far in advance for. While it can propel you to your chosen medical school, it’s just one piece of the puzzle that admissions committees will look at when deciding whether to pick you! Check out this post for what a good GPA/MCAT combo looks like.

So what exactly is the MCAT?

If you’re asking, “What is the MCAT,” you are likely new to the process. The MCAT is the standardized test all pre-meds gunning for an MD degree must take. It’s administered by the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges), and is a significant determinant where you’ll be going for med school. The AAMC sends your results from the MCAT to all your chosen schools, along with all the other pieces of your AMCAS application. (Learn what’s in the AMCAS application packet here.)

The MCAT takes around 6 1/2 hours, and consists of several sections:

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems              95 mins.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems                 95 mins.

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior          95 mins.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills                                                            90 mins.

The newest version of the MCAT (it was reworked in 2015) includes more biology, more humanities and more critical analysis and reasoning. It’s longer, harder and requires more coursework than the previous MCAT. For this reason, you’ll want to look closely at the pre-med requirements of all the schools you’ll be targeting. Here’s a pretty typical list of the premed core classes you’ll be required to take.

When do I take the MCAT?

You’ll be preparing for the MCAT during all four years of undergrad study. Med schools will need your MCAT score as part of your application packet, which they’ll accept beginning at the end of your junior year. So you’ll need to make a plan to take it the MCAT later than June or July of that year. MCAT test dates are scheduled from January all the way through September—though you probably don’t want to take it that late. (Many schools will have filled lots of their seats by then, and 100’s or 1,000’s of applicants will already be under consideration by then.)

Here’s advice about the risks/benefits of taking it multiple times. AAMC also has informational videos on its MCAT website to help you set your pre-MCAT path wisely.

Hopefully I’ve answered your question, “What is the MCAT,” and you can move on to other aspects of planning for your pre-med journey!

Check out these other posts that are MCAT-related:

MCAT study tips

Is MCAT self-study a good idea?

Kaplan or Princeton Review for best MCAT course

Should I study for the MCAT before my premed classes are done?