Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): The Basics

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Learn more about how to take this test for your medical degree.


In order to evaluate whether a bachelors degree candidate will be able to successfully complete a medical degree at their college or university, schools will review several factors, including the student’s grade in their bachelors degree as well as their scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Bachelors degree holders who want to enter medical school are required to take the MCAT at most schools. In addition to testing the scientific knowledge of a prospective medical student, the MCAT also evaluates the college student on the ability to solve problems, think critically, analyze written copy and write effectively.

Learn more about this standardized test below. The more you understand about the nature of this test, the better prepared you’ll be to take it.

What Is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?

This standardized test is administered via computer and evaluates how well a prospective medical student has learned basic scientific concepts, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and writing skills, all of which are key skills that are needed to do well during a medical degree and as a doctor. Medical schools tend to value the MCAT score as highly as the bachelors degree GPA.

What Does the MCAT Measure?

The MCAT has four sections that relate to the education and career of a doctor: physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning and a writing sample.

The physical sciences section tests your skills in basic chemistry and physics through multiple-choice questions. In the biological sciences section, your biology and organic chemistry skills are assessed, again through multiple-choice questions.

The verbal reasoning portion of the MCAT contains passages of text that you have to analyze and then answer multiple-choice questions about. For the writing sample, you will be asked to write two essays. For each essay, you will receive a topic sentence and three writing tasks that must be included in the essay. In the essay, you’ll want to focus on developing a central idea and writing clearly and well.

The physical sciences, verbal reasoning and biological sciences sections are all scored between 1 and 15, with 8 being the average score. The essay section is scored by letter grade, between J and T, with the average score being O. To be accepted into a competitive medical school, you will generally need at least a 30 as your combined school, and an essay score of P or Q. However, the average score on this test is closer to 27 or 28.

For comparison purposes, here are the average scores at four of the top US medical schools, according to the Princeton Review:

  • Harvard University: 11 verbal, 12 physical science, 12 biological science, Q writing
  • Johns Hopkins University: 11.1 verbal, 11.9 physical science, 11.9 biological science, Q writing
  • University of California-San Francisco: 10.6 verbal, 11.5 physical science, 11.7 biological science, P writing
  • Washington University in St. Louis: 11.3 verbal, 12.6 physical science, 12.5 biological science, Q writing

What Does the MCAT Cost?

In the United States, the MCAT costs $225; costs in other countries will vary.

When and Where Do People Take the MCAT?

The MCAT is offered 28 times a year, between the months of January and September, at hundreds of test sites around the country.

MCAT Tips & Tactics

  • Register for the MCAT an obtain practice tests on the official MCAT website. The site recommends that you register at least 60 days before your desired test date to ensure you’re able to take the test on that date.
  • As you’re taking practice tests, write down any information you find helpful. You can request paper and a pencil for use during the MCAT, but you can’t bring your notes with you when you leave the testing room.
  • Keep track of the time within each section of the test: Within each section’s time limit, you are able to make any changes you like. But once you’ve completed a section, you are not able to go back to review or change any of your answers.
  • If you aren’t sure of an answer, guess! No points are deducted for incorrect answers, so your best bet is to guess rather than leaving answers blank.
  • Need additional help preparing to take the GMAT test? These services can help:
    • Kaplan MCAT test prep
    • The Princeton Review MCAT test prep

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