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Should I Take the Shortened MCAT in 2020?

shortened MCAT test dates 2020

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:

Video: Top Tips to Prepare for the Shortened MCAT

magoosh mcat youtube iconFor all the visual learners out there, enjoy this video where I answer questions such as:

  • How can I practice studying within the new time frame?
  • What should I do about pacing?
  • Should I take practice tests wearing a mask and gloves?

What changed for 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). The exam will be 5 hours and 45 minutes as opposed to the normal 7 and a half hours.
  • 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. You can register for these starting on May 7th.
  • 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.

When can I register for the shorter MCAT?

All registration is closed until May 7th, 2020 while AAMC is updating the online registration system. On May 7th, you should be able to register for new exams and reschedule cancelled exams.

What does the format of the shortened MCAT look like?

In order to reduce the exam time from 7 1/2 hours to 5 hours and 45 minutes, the AAMC is going to be removing 38 total questions, which includes the dozen or so test-run 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 cutting questions from the scored pool.

Each section will have 48 questions and every section but CARS will be 76 minutes, while CARS will be 81 minutes. We don’t yet know what the question breakdown will be in terms of number of passages and discrete questions.

Free Shortened MCAT Practice Test Click Here
SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems4876 minutes
Break (optional)10 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills4881 minutes
Mid-Exam Break (optional)10 minutes
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems4876 minutes
Break (optional)10 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior4876 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?

So overall, the test is shorter, and the four major test sections are shorter as well. But how does this affect the timing 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 exam. 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 eat lunch in less than 10 minutes 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 the 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. Our assumption is that the mid-day slots will fill up quickly, and that some test-takers may 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!

Do students whose spring exams were canceled get priority on registration day?

So far, the AAMC hasn’t said anything about priority registration on May 7th. They have said that they’ll be providing more information on the logistics of registration prior to the 7th.

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 social distancing and safety practices they are putting in place. As of right now, Pearson is getting ready to open testing in some parts of the country (although it’s currently unclear whether that will include MCAT). We’re watching carefully for the latest news and will update this post, but as of right now, you’ll have to check current availability on AAMC’s registration page when it reopens on May 7. If you’re registered for a test date currently, you should be notified with any updates.

How should I prepare for the shortened exam?

Fortunately, you still have plenty of time until the first MCAT test date so you can prepare for the shorter test. While you won’t need the same stamina you needed for the longer exam, you will need to be prepared for the new format.

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.

How can I take a correctly timed practice test?

Right now, the Official MCAT Sample Test is only offered at the traditional, longer length. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t put together materials for your own MCAT practice test!

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 currently working on this for the Magoosh practice tests and will make an announcement once that’s possible in Magoosh MCAT Prep.

Free Shortened MCAT Practice Test Click Here

In the meantime, you can approximate the timing in Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior in Magoosh’s “Custom Practice” by selecting the section, then giving yourself 75 minutes (slightly shorter than the 76 you’ll get on test day) in these areas and attempting to answer 48 questions.

Alternately, you can set your own timer separately for 76 minutes and take the sections untimed. For Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, set a separate timer for 81 minutes and choose “untimed.” Use “Quiz Mode” to hide the explanations until the end.

Although this practice will not give you a sample score, it will allow you to practice pacing and timing.

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

If you are aiming to take the MCAT in June, 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 (which you could condense to 5 months for the September test dates.)

If I was planning on taking the full-length MCAT in 2021, should I register for the 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, we’d recommend holding 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!).

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