MCAT FAQ: Your Top Questions Answered

MCAT FAQ - image by Magoosh

If you have lots of questions about the MCAT, take comfort in two things: first, the fact that you’re not alone! And second, that Magoosh’s experts have pooled our knowledge to answer your questions in this MCAT FAQ. Have a question? Chances are you’ll find the answer below. Take a look!
 

Kat’s MCAT FAQ Advice
Magoosh MCAT expert Kat Thomson “When students begin prepping for the MCAT, they struggle with how detailed their content review should be. When should they stay on the surface and when should they dive in? It’s best to think of content review as something that happens in layers. The first time through the material, stay on the surface and get the lay of the land. Then go progressively deeper, letting your practice questions dictate which topics to research in more detail.”
–Magoosh MCAT Expert, Kat Thomson

 

MCAT Sign-Up FAQs

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When can I take the MCAT, and how do I register for it?

 
The MCAT is offered by the AAMC around 20 times a year, but there are additional 2021 dates due to COVID-19 changes. All of the exams are administered at 8am. The full schedule is listed below and can be found at the AAMC MCAT testing calendar.

2021 MCAT TEST DATESREGISTRATION DEADLINE (GOLD)REGISTRATION DEADLINE (SILVER)REGISTRATION DEADLINE (BRONZE)SCORE RELEASE DATE
Friday, January 15, 2021December 17, 2020December 31, 2020January 7, 2020Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Saturday, January 16, 2021December 18, 2020January 1, 2021January 8, 2021Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Thursday, January 21, 2021December 23, 2020January 6, 2021January 13, 2021Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Monday, January 25, 2021December 27, 2020January 10, 2021January 17, 2021Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Saturday, March 13, 2021February 12, 2021February 26, 2021March 5, 2021Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021February 25, 2021March 11, 2021March 18, 2021Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Saturday, April 10, 2021March 12, 2021March 26, 2021April 2, 2021Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Friday, April 23, 2021March 25, 2021April 8, 2021April 15, 2021Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Friday, April 30, 2021April 1, 2021April 15, 2021April 22, 2021Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Saturday, May 1, 2021April 2, 2021April 16, 2021April 23, 2021Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Friday, May 14, 2021April 15, 2021April 29, 2021May 6, 2021Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Saturday, May 15, 2021April 16, 2021April 30, 2021May 7, 2021Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Thursday, May 20, 2021April 21, 2021May 5, 2021May 12, 2021Tuesday, July 22, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021April 29, 2021May 13, 2021May 20, 2021Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Friday, June 4, 2021May 6, 2021May 20, 2021May 27, 2021Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Friday, June 18, 2021May 20, 2021June 3, 2021June 10, 2021Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Saturday, June 19, 2021May 21, 2021June 4, 2021June 11, 2021Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Saturday, June 26, 2021May 28, 2021June 11, 2021June 18, 2021Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Wednesday, June 30, 2021June 1, 2021June 15, 2021June 22, 2021Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Saturday, July 17, 2021June 18, 2021July 2, 2021July 9, 2021Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Thursday, July 22, 2021June 23, 2021July 7, 2021July 14, 2021Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021July 1, 2021July 15, 2021July 22, 2021Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Saturday, August 7, 2021July 9, 2021July 23, 2021July 30, 2021Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Friday, August 13, 2021July 15, 2021July 29, 2021August 5, 2021Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Saturday, August 21, 2021July 23, 2021August 6, 2021August 13, 2021Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Thursday, August 26, 2021July 28, 2021August 11, 2021August 18, 2021Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Friday, August 27, 2021July 29, 2021August 12, 2021August 19, 2021Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Thursday, September 2, 2021August 4, 2021August 18, 2021August 25, 2021Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Friday, September 3, 2021August 5, 2021August 19, 2021August 26, 2021Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Friday, September 10, 2021August 12, 2021August 26, 2021September 2, 2021Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Saturday, September 11, 2021August 13, 2021August 27, 2021September 3, 2021Tuesday, October 12, 2021

You should take the MCAT when you will be most prepared. This will require some planning on your part. In an ideal world, most people would probably want to dedicate at least a month or two of studying, possibly even more, depending on how much time a day you can dedicate. To capitalize on the fees for the MCAT, it also makes sense to plan it out in advance and register early for a later date. Studying doesn’t always go as planned and having a later test date also allows you to have some time to make adjustments and change the date if necessary. Taking a practice exam as your test date approaches also can help you decide when you will be ready to take the MCAT.

As you can see, there is not a perfect time for all pre-medical students to take the MCAT. It is possible for pre-medical students to get great MCAT scores regardless of whether they take the test in the middle of college, as recent college graduates, or years after college. You must decide for yourself when you are at a good point in your pre-medical trajectory to take the MCAT. To make this decision, you will have to consider your progress with pre-medical coursework and how much time you can dedicate to studying for the MCAT. Once you decide that you are ready, you will have to buckle up, sign up for a test date, and start studying.

To register for the MCAT, create an AAMC account. Make sure you have your official ID and payment method at hand during sign up!

Where do I take the MCAT?

 
You’ll take the MCAT at an official Pearson Vue test center. There are hundreds of these around the world; find out which centers are closest to you here. Availability can vary a lot by date and location, so plan in advance. For example, those taking the MCAT in India may need to travel to a different country, which will require some planning ahead.

What fees are associated with the MCAT?

 
The MCAT has several applicable fees: a registration fee of $305 if you register in the Gold or Silver zone, and a $355 feee in the Bronze zone. Each zone also has its own reschedule fee and cancellation refund.

This is pricy, but the AAMC Fee Assistance Program can provide financial aid resources to reduce (but not eliminate) these fees if you qualify—it’s definitely worth looking into!

Who is eligible to take the MCAT exam?

 
You can take the MCAT if you’re applying for a program in the health sciences; “health professions” covers a wide range of fields beyond just a school of medicine (MD program). International students may need to get special permission from the AAMC to be eligible for the exam. Find out more in our post about MCAT eligibility!

Are there courses I need to take before taking the MCAT exam?

 
Yes! You should take the following prerequisites before taking the exam:

  • First-semester biochemistry
  • Introductory biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Introductory physics
  • Introductory psychology
  • Introductory sociology

However, if you didn’t take these courses in college, you may be able to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to take them before applying to medical school (though this may mean waiting for the next admissions cycle before completing your AMCAS application).

Find out more in our post about MCAT topics!

How often can I take the MCAT exam?

 
You can take the MCAT seven times overall in your entire life, but no more than three times in one year or four times in two years. Find out more in our post about how many times you should taking the MCAT!

 
Free MCAT practice test click to access - Magoosh

MCAT Prep FAQs

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How much prep time do I need for the MCAT? How early should I start?

 
There is no magic number that works for everyone. You need to determine for yourself how many hours you need to study. To figure this out, ask yourself the following questions:

How well do I recall the concepts tested on the exam?

This is an important one. As you’ve already seen in this MCAT FAQ, the MCAT covers a lot of subjects (general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology). The less you recall, the more hours you will need to put into your studies. If you had a high average science GPA years ago, particularly in prereqs (see earlier in the MCAT FAQ) that will help you with getting a positive application status in a few months, or even scholarships. However, GPA averages can’t tell you how much knowledge you’ve retained; take a practice test and see how well you do on the three science sections given where you are now.If you have not taken all of these classes, you will definitely have extra work to do.

How comfortable am I with applying scientific principles and concepts?

Having scientific knowledge is one thing. Being able to apply them is another. The MCAT is not a test of your ability to memorize random facts. The exam will require you to apply your knowledge of science to novel scenarios and newly introduced information to answer the questions. Your ability to do this will determine how many practice questions and practice passages you need to do. One way to evaluate this objectively is to look back at your science GPAs from any undergraduate institutions you attended. These can tell you how well you applied this knowledge in your coursework.

How comfortable am I with the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section?

Unlike the three science sections of the exam, the CARS section of the MCAT does not require knowledge of any concepts. It really tests your ability to think critically and analyze passages. Depending on your aptitude with this, you may have to do more or less practice passages.

What is my target score?

Logically, the higher your target score, the more you will need to study.

What is the minimum score that I would accept?

Target scores are sometimes set a bit high. There is no pre-medical student that does not want a 528. However, you also have to be realistic. By determining what the minimum score you would be happy with is, you can also better gauge how much time you need to put into your studies.

Based on my answers to the questions above, how much work do I need to do?

This is the last question. From answering the previous questions, you already know how much content review and practice you need to do. Now, translate the amount of work you need to do into hours. This may be just 50 hours for some but much more for others.

Keeping that in mind, prepping early to get a sense of where you are and how much work it will take you to get your goal score is a good idea. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to start prepping for the MCAT in high school, but it does mean you should pick an early point to start studying for the MCAT to give you enough time to prep for the exam fully.

How can I make sure I’m prepared for the MCAT?

 
One option is to take an MCAT class, either in-person or online, live in a classroom setting or pre-recorded. An MCAT class can be a wonderful way to get the best MCAT score you can, or it can be a waste of time and money. An important first step in deciding whether or not to take an MCAT class is an assessment of where you are now, what your goals are, and what your timeline for starting medical school is. If you’re just starting in college, or even in high school now, taking an MCAT class would be too early to be helpful and probably too advanced for the coursework you have taken.

MCAT classes generally tend to help those who have a definite timeline and probably a test date in mind. That way, you have the benefits of the class and teaching right before writing the exam. If you have been doing poorly in practice exams or have already tested poorly in the MCAT, a prep course might help you boost your score. Often, test preparation courses have a guarantee for increasing your score a certain amount or your money back.

  • Wondering if online prep is right for you? Test it out with Magoosh’s free MCAT trial (with practice test), which will give you access to 60 MCAT videos and 16 practice questions with video and written explanations!

Free MCAT practice test click to access - Magoosh

No matter how you choose to study for the MCAT in the end, though, study smart. These MCAT studying tips will help you make sure you’re preparing efficiently for test day!

MCAT Format FAQs

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Is the MCAT computer-adaptive?

 
The MCAT is not a computer adaptive test, so the questions you receive on your test day have all been pre-determined. For the MCAT, you are allotted a fixed amount of time for each section. During this time, you can answer questions on any passage or set of freestanding questions. This means that you do not have to do the questions in order. If you encounter a tough passage, you can skip it and move onto another passage. When you have gone through all of the questions, you can then go back to tackle the tougher passages as well as review any questions that you want. At the end of each section, your answer choices are fixed and can no longer be changed.

Does the MCAT have a writing sample?

 
There is no writing sample requirement on the current MCAT whatsoever. For anyone who may be unfamiliar with the writing sample, prior to the 2013 testing year, all test-takers were required to complete a fourth section of the MCAT, which was simply called—you guessed it—the Writing Sample.

While being a good writer is definitely a necessary skill for medical students to have, the writing sample on the MCAT seemed to create quite a bit of uncertainty among students. Many students didn’t know if schools were even interested in the scores they received on this section and, as such, didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, some test-takers felt that the writing sample section was more vulnerable to scoring inconsistencies. The writing sample was replaced with an optional trial section that tested out questions and topics for the 2015 MCAT, which is the current version of the exam.

Still curious? Find out more in our post about the (former) MCAT essay!

Is the MCAT multiple-choice?

 
Yes! All four sections of the MCAT are in multiple-choice format. This is different from how most college science prerequisite courses test knowledge, so getting comfortable with the format before the official exam is crucial!

What’s tested on the MCAT?

 
In terms of science, the MCAT tests biochemistry, biology, chemistry (general chemistry and organic chemistry), physics, psychology, and sociology in three sections:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Sociological, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

There’s a fourth section, as well, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS—think of it like verbal reasoning/critical thinking).

For more on what each section contains, check out the list above about coursework in this MCAT FAQ, or check out our MCAT topics PDF! One thing you won’t find there? MCAT Calculus!

MCAT Test Day FAQs

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How do MCAT breaks work?

 
You’ll get three breaks on the MCAT: two 10-minute breaks (after the first and third sections) and one 30-minute break (after the second section). These are all optional, but it’s a great idea to take them.

Will I get scratch paper to use when I take the MCAT?

Yes—well, kind of. You won’t get actual scratch paper on the MCAT, but you will get a noteboard with nine wet-erase pages measuring 8 x 14 each, as well as a fine-tipped marker.

Does the MCAT allow calculators?

 
No. You’ll need to do your calculations either mentally or using your noteboard. However, keep in mind that the test-makers know you don’t get a calculator, so if you find yourself doing advanced calculus, something’s gone wrong (no calculus on the MCAT!). Find out more in our post about calculators on the MCAT.

When does the MCAT start?

 
The MCAT starts at 8am. But get there earlier than that, so you have time to complete the check-in process! 7:30am is the latest you should arrive at the test center.

MCAT Scores FAQ

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When do score reports come out?

 
30-35 days after your test date, on the score release date announced by the AAMC. Scores will become available in your AAMC account before 5pm EST; you should receive a notification when they’re ready.

What do my scores mean?

 
Your MCAT score report will give you your total score and your sectional scores. These will be accompanied by your percentile ranking, showing how you’d did in comparison to your testing cohort (and how your score stacks up to to the average MCAT score). Finally, you’ll also see the “confidence band” that shows the range of the score accuracy.

Do MCAT scores expire?

 
Technically, no. In practice, yes. For example, right now, MCAT scores are valid from as far back as 1991, in that AAMC will still report them. However, medical schools only accept scores that go back 2-3 years, so if you took the test earlier than that but are applying for admission to medical programs in this application cycle, you’ll need to retake it.

 

Get a free MCAT practice test!

Author

  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

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