On the surface, asking whether or not the MCAT is a hard test seems silly. The obvious answer is “of course the MCAT is hard!” No one ever speaks fondly of the MCAT and more often than not, anecdotes regarding this exam sound more like horror stories. Any exam that takes over 7 hours to complete has got to be hard by definition, right? Well, sort of. There’s a lot of myth and mystery surrounding the difficulty of the MCAT so lets set the record straight: The MCAT is a hard test, but the MCAT is not an impossible obstacle keeping premeds everywhere out of medical school. Even still, there’s almost an eerie, unspoken assumption that aspiring physicians are in constant fear of taking this impossibly difficult exam. So exactly how hard is the MCAT?
Is the MCAT hard? The facts
Last year 52,550 students applied to allopathic medical schools. Of those students 20,631 were accepted. The mean MCAT score for accepted students is 31.4, or the 83rd percentile. If we convert these scores based on the new MCAT scoring system we can approximate the average score for accepted students to fall between 510-512. Even though this is a very rare occurrence, there were even students accepted with scores between the 8th and 19th percentiles and other students who earned scores in the 100th percentile who were not accepted. From these numbers alone, you see that the MCAT is not an impossibly difficult exam. These numbers don’t even take into account the thousands of other students who are accepted to osteopathic medical schools. Also, you can see that your score is only one piece of your application.
How can I do well on an exam that’s so difficult?
Since we can now agree that the MCAT isn’t impossible, we still recognize that it is difficult and will require a certain level of preparation. This exam is designed to test both your critical thinking skills and how well you can apply your formal education to a practical and dynamic situation. In that regard, performing well on the MCAT goes beyond recalling what you’ve learned in class. Fortunately, the MCAT isn’t a pop quiz and the test makers have published what you need to know.
There are also plenty of resources to help you prepare including Magoosh’s new MCAT prep! I have taken the MCAT more than once, and I can honestly say that each time I walked out of the test I thought to myself “I could have studied for that.” Before I took the MCAT I fell prey to the belief that there was no use in trying to prepare because I wouldn’t be able to achieve the score I wanted. It wasn’t until I 1.) used my resources and 2.) realized that the MCAT tests how well I could apply information, that I performed much better. Pre-meds are usually very good at rote memorization, and while that will certainly help to study for the MCAT, it’s not enough. But do not despair. Now that you know better, you can do better!