Changes to the Shortened MCAT Due to Covid-19

shortened MCAT test dates 2020
October 7, 2020 Update: AAMC announced today that they do not plan to administer any shortened MCAT exams in 2021. Please refer to AAMC’s official press release for more information about the MCAT and COVID-19.

On April 24th, 2020, the AAMC announced a shortened MCAT as a solution to the exam cancellations due to COVID-19. This change was announced alongside the release of three new exam dates.

If you are planning to take the MCAT this year, here are all the details you need to know.

New 5/29/20: Our exclusive resource to plan your pacing for the shortened MCAT.

In this post:


COVID-19 changes to the 2020 MCAT

  • All MCAT exams for the rest of 2020 will be a shortened version of the test to allow for an early morning (6:30am), afternoon (12:15pm), and evening option (6:00pm). Testing time will be 5 hours and 45 minutes as opposed to the 7 and a half hours of the full-length test.
  • MCAT scores will not be impacted by the shortened exam. The time cuts will include removing the end-of-day survey as well as removing questions that are trial-runs for AAMC.
  • There will be three new test dates: June 28, September 27, and September 28. Registration for these dates is open now.
  • Scores will be reported in 14-18 days instead of one month. This applies to exams between June 19th and August 1st, to allow you to send your scores to schools faster.
  • All rescheduling fees will be waived indefinitely.

Wondering what to expect on the shortened MCAT? Watch our student interviews to learn about their firsthand experience:


What does the format of the AAMC’s shortened MCAT look like?

In order to be completed in less time, the shortened MCAT will also have less questions than the old MCAT. The AAMC is going to be removing 38 total questions. This includes the dozen or so experimental questions that they typically include in their full-length exams (they don’t disclose the exact number of these “field test” questions) as well as questions from the scored pool.

All three science sections will contain 12 discrete questions and 8 passages with 36 accompanying questions. Students will have 76 minutes to answer the 48 questions on each of these exam sections. The CARS section will contain 48 questions split across 8 passages, and students will have 81 minutes to complete the exam section.

SectionNumber of QuestionsNumber of PassagesTime
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
12 discrete, 36 passage-based
876 minutes
Break (optional)10 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills48 passage-based881 minutes
Mid-Exam Break (optional)10 minutes
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems12 discrete, 36 passage-based876 minutes
Break (optional)10 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior12 discrete, 36 passage-based876 minutes
Void Question2 minutes
Total Content Time5 hours and 15 minutes
Total “Seated” Time*Approx. 5 hours and 45 minutes

*Total seated time does not include check-in time upon arrival at the test.


How does the shorter MCAT affect the timing within each section?

With a shorter test, the four major test sections are shorter as well. But how does this affect the testing time within each section? In other words, how long do you now have to answer each question? Take a look!

SectionNumber of QuestionsTimeTime Per Question (approximate)Previous Time Per Question (Regular MCAT)
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems4876 minutes1.5 minutes59 questions in 95 minutes = 1.6 minutes/question
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills4881 minutes1.7 minutes53 questions in 90 minutes = 1.7 minutes/question
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems4876 minutes1.5 minutes59 questions in 95 minutes = 1.6 minutes/question
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior4876 minutes1.5 minutes59 questions in 95 minutes = 1.6 minutes/question

As you can see, there’s an ever-so-slight difference (a tenth of a second) in the following sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. However, with rounding differences, this is really pretty negligible. There’s no difference at all in Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.


How can I practice pacing for the shortened MCAT?

We created a special shortened MCAT pacing resource for you to plan your timing for the shortened MCAT!


How does the shorter MCAT affect exam scoring?

Here’s the big conundrum MCAT test-takers are facing: with fewer questions on the test, does this mean that each one counts more towards your score?

Yes, but not as much as it first seems. Here’s why: About a third of the removed content are field test questions that wouldn’t have been graded anyway, so the pool of scored questions is being reduced from approximately 215 on the regular exam to 192 on the shortened test. Also, keep in mind that the MCAT does not grade on a curve, and they scale and equate scores from different tests to make sure that each score “means” the same thing.

But psychologically, is there a big difference? Sure. It definitely feels uncomfortable to take a 10-minute lunch break or to finish an exam at 11:45pm! It also feels different knowing every question you encounter counts toward your score. If this is stressing you out, keep in mind that there’s no penalty for wrong answers on the test. So if you’re stuck, take your best guess and move on.


How can I practice pacing for the shortened MCAT?

We created a special shortened MCAT pacing resource for you to plan your timing for AAMC’s shortened MCAT!


What are the start times for the shorter MCAT?

All exam dates in 2020 will have three time slots to allow more students to take the exam with fewer students in the testing center at one time.

  • Early morning: 6:30am start time
  • Afternoon: 12:15pm start time
  • Evening: 6:00pm start time


How can I choose the time of day that works best for me?

In an ideal world, you’d be able to sign up for a test at the time of day when you’re most energetic and raring to go! In this world, you may need to compromise. The mid-day slots have filled up more quickly than the morning and evening slots, and some test-takers will need to take the exam at a time that’s more difficult for them.

If this happens to you, making the following adjustments can help:

  • The week before the exam at the latest, take a practice test beginning at the time of your actual exam. Afterwards, note your physical and emotional experiences. Did you get sleepy an hour in? Did you crash during the last 15 minutes?
  • Take advantage of your breaks to power up with a healthy snack. Protein will keep you full of energy longer. You may wish to incorporate caffeinated beverages, but we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not in the habit of consuming them—they may make you more jittery.
  • If you have to get up early for your exam time, start adjusting your sleep schedule by pushing back your bedtimes and wake-up times at least a week in advance, in 15- to 30-minute increments.
  • If you have to take an evening exam, start adjusting your schedule by staying awake for longer and waking up later in the mornings (if possible) at least a week in advance. Again, 15- to 30-minute increments work well.
  • Practice focusing on MCAT questions at the time of day when you’ll be taking your exam, both building up to that practice test and afterwards. You want to train your brain to succeed at this time of day!


Will my state offer the shortened MCAT if we are under shelter-in-place?

Check the Pearson Vue COVID-19 page for the latest information on the social distancing and safety practices they are putting in place. As of right now, Pearson has opened test centers in many parts of the country. We’re watching carefully for the latest news and will update this post. As of right now, you’ll have to check current availability on AAMC’s registration page. If you’re registered for a test date currently, you should be notified via email with any updates.


Shortened MCAT Tips: How should I prepare?

While you won’t need the same stamina you needed for the longer exam, you will need to be prepared for the new format. Here’s how to prep for the AAMC shortened MCAT exam:

  • Initially, we recommend getting used to the new format by practicing each exam section with the new allotted amount of time. Depending on the materials you are using, you may need to make the adjustment to the number of questions on your own.
  • Take a practice test under similar conditions as test day. That means taking a shortened practice test, sticking to the break timing you’ll encounter on test day, and wearing a mask (it’s important to practice!).
  • Pretend it’s exam day. Study at the same time of day as your actual exam. Eat the same breakfast and snacks you will on test day, follow the test center rules for scratch paper, stick to the same bathroom break timing, etc. You might even get a little anxious—that’s good practice, too!
  • Don’t forget to take a day off here and there from studying. Your mind needs a break too! For more tips on how to reset your focus and relieve MCAT anxiety, check out our video on mindfulness.


How can I take a correctly timed practice test?

Right now, the Official MCAT Sample Test is only offered at the length of the old MCAT. We expect there will be options for taking full-length practice tests that are properly timed and with the correct number of questions available online soon. We are proud to announce that we have shortened our practice tests to reflect the summer 2020 MCAT exams. Although this practice will not give you a sample score, it will allow you to practice pacing and timing.

Alternately, you can use your regular MCAT prep materials by setting a timer for 76 minutes. For Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, set a separate timer for 81 minutes.


What’s a good MCAT study plan for the shortened MCAT in 2020?

If you are aiming to take the MCAT later this summer, we have a 1 month study plan (and a 1 month Magoosh MCAT Prep plan) that can serve as the perfect refresher. We also have 2 month, 3 month, and 6 month options.


If I was planning on taking the full-length MCAT in 2021, should I register for AAMC’s shortened MCAT instead?

It depends. If you’ve completed all of the MCAT prerequisites and have the time to prepare thoroughly for the exam over the next few months, there’s no reason not to take the shortened version of the test. There’s a particular advantage if you, like many test-takers, find the length of the traditional MCAT to be grueling.

Similarly, if you were struggling to find an MCAT date in the second half of 2020 that works for you, there are now three new test dates open. If you can shift your MCAT prep to work for one of these new dates, all the better!

However, if you’re still taking the coursework that will help you succeed on the MCAT, or you have a lot on your plate already and need a longer time to prepare, crunching your MCAT prep into a shorter time period could counteract any benefits that the shorter exam would give you. In that case, the best option would be to hold out for your original test date. Yes, the test may be a little longer, but you’ll have a better foundation to help you succeed on the exam (and more time to build up that endurance!).

Get a free MCAT practice test!


  • Kat Thomson

    Kat is the Senior Curriculum Manager at Magoosh with a specialty in the MCAT. She has a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. in medical sociology from the University of California, San Francisco, where she earned the Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Kat has been teaching premed and nursing students since 2005 as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of San Francisco, Bowdoin, and the University of California, Berkeley, while collaborating on multiple research projects and publications. In addition to the MCAT, Kat has taught courses in Research Methods, Gender, Global and Environmental Health, and others. She is passionate about increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine and helping students get into the medical schools of their dreams. You can join Kat on Instagram and YouTube.

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