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What are the MCAT and GRE?

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) are both standardized tests for students pursuing higher education or, in other words, another degree on top of their bachelor’s.

If you’re applying to medical schools (both MD and DO), you need to take the MCAT. If you want to go to graduate school and get a Master’s Degree or PhD, you will most likely take the GRE. Of course, the MCAT and GRE aren’t the only post-graduate entrance exams!  Check out Chris’s post for the differences between the GRE and GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test).

The table below looks at some of the differences and similarities of the MCAT vs GRE.

Standardized exams
Computer-based tests
Test Dates for 2016: January 22nd to September 10th (check link for specific dates) Dates in 2016: Check availability on ETS Website
Requirement for medical school (MD and DO) Requirement for graduate school (Most PhD and Master’s programs)
Cost: $305 Cost: $160
Not adaptive Section-adaptive
Length of test: 7 hours and 30 minutes Length of test: 3 hours and 45 minutes

1) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (1 hour, 35 minutes)

2) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (1 hour, 35 minutes)

3) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (1 hour, 35 minutes)

4) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (1 hour, 30 minutes)


1) Analytical Writing (1 hour)

2) Verbal Reasoning (Two 30-minute sections)

3) Quantitative Reasoning (Two 35-minute sections)

Good score: ~514 is the 91st percentile Good score: 326 is the 90th percentile

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What’s the difference between how you study for the MCAT and GRE?

One of the main differences between studying for the MCAT and GRE is the amount of information you need to review for each test. For the MCAT, you’re expected to review Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Math, Sociology, Psychology, and Biochemistry.  Similar to the GRE, you also have to sharpen up your reading comprehension skills as part of your test prep. While you may have taken classes in the subjects I just mentioned, all of the material covered in those classes is probably not fresh in your mind.

Equally important as knowing important concepts from each topic is knowing how to take the MCAT. By this, I mean that the test itself will throw a lot of information your way. Some of it will be useful in helping you solve a question. The rest of the information is extra and tests your ability to identify it as just that- a distraction. Think about it: doctors have a lot of test results that they look at when they’re diagnosing patients but only some of those results are crucial. So, the better they are at distinguishing useful from useless, the better they are at helping patients get better! In order to get an idea for how the MCAT tests you, we recommend that you study for at least 8 weeks. Be sure to check out Magoosh’s online MCAT prep for more study help!

When you’re studying for the GRE, you review Math, Verbal (including vocabulary and reading comprehension), and how to write analytical essays. Unlike the MCAT, the exam usually provides you with the appropriate amount of information to solve the problem. There are definitely test-taking tips that will help you navigate the GRE, but most of your studying revolves around studying the topics tested within the Quantitative, Verbal, and Analytical Writing sections. Our GRE Study Plans accommodate students who wish to study for any length of time between one month, three months, or even six months!


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3 Responses to MCAT vs GRE

  1. Komal March 21, 2016 at 3:45 am #

    Wow! This is so helpful. Well written article! “Think about it: doctors have a lot of test results that they look at when they’re diagnosing patients but only some of those results are crucial.” This makes so much sense! Congrats on your medical school acceptance! 

  2. Srijamya July 28, 2017 at 5:35 am #

    I want to pursue MS in neurosurgery from US. How to prepate for it? And which exams are required for it?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 31, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

      Hi Srijamya,

      That is a big question that we are not prepared to tackle for you because it isn’t our area of expertise entirely. I highly recommend finding a guidance counselor or admissions professional who can give you better guidance. I also recommend researching entry requirements for neurosurgery programs you want to enter. This will give you a good starting list. Good luck!

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