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In 2015, the MCAT was updated to reflect the transformation the medical system has undergone in the past 20 years, including increases in medical research, health system reform, new scientific knowledge, and updates to medical curricula. The new version features a modified scoring system, more questions and additional testing topics — biochemistry, psychology and sociology.

This comprehensive guide can help you prepare for the MCAT by detailing individual sections of the exam and overviewing the scoring structure, as well as providing you with a breakdown of the registration process and what you can expect for test day success.

What You Should Know: MCAT Basics

Preparing for the MCAT requires more than just understanding the types of questions included on the exam. The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section walks prospective test takers through the registration process, the fees, where to take the test and what’s on it, and how it is scored.

Requirements

Test takers must assert they are taking the MCAT in order to apply to and attend an eligible health-profession educational institution including:

  • Podiatric Medicine

  • Allopathic Medicine

  • Osteopathic Medicine

  • Veterinary Medicine

  • Any other program that accepts and uses MCAT scores to satisfy admissions requirements

Registering

AAMC recommends test takers register at least 60 days prior to their selected testing date. All registration is completed through the MCAT scheduling and registration system. Applicants must first create an AAMC username and password to register for the exam. It’s important to ensure the name on the registration exactly matches the test taker’s identification they will use on test day. Improper identification will result in a “no show” and the candidate will not be allowed to sit for the test.

Canceling a Registration

Cancellation requests must be made online through the scheduling and registration system. Cancellation policies vary by registration zones: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Cancellation deadlines for each zone are 11:59 p.m. EST. Gold Zone registrations may cancel and receive a partial refund if the request occurs on or before the deadline associated with the testing date. Silver and Bronze registrations are not eligible for refunds. The Bronze Zone registration deadline is the final day to make a cancellation request.

Rescheduling a Testing Date

Requests to reschedule an exam must be made online through the scheduling and registration system. If a test taker cancels and registers for another exam during the same calendar year, they must pay the registration fee again.

MCAT Testing Calendar

The MCAT is administered on fixed dates at hundreds of testing centers throughout the U.S., Canada and international locations facilitated by testing vendor, Prometric.

The list of testing centers with open seats can be viewed in the MCAT scheduling and registration system. It’s important to note that not all MCAT testing center administers the test on every MCAT exam date.

Here’s the 2016 schedule to illustrate testing dates and score releases, which are typically received about four weeks after taking the test.

Test Date Score Release Date
22-Jan 23-Feb
23-Jan 23-Feb
1-Apr 3-May
23-Apr 24-May
6-May 7-Jun
14-May 14-Jun
20-May 21-Jun
2-Jun 6-Jul
18-Jun 19-Jul
8-Jul 9-Aug
Test Date Score Release Date
9-Jul 9-Aug
22-Jul 23-Aug
4-Aug 7-Sep
5-Aug 7-Sep
19-Aug 20-Sep
20-Aug 20-Sep
25-Aug 27-Sep
1-Sep 4-Oct
9-Sep 12-Oct
10-Sep 12-Oct

Exam Test Prep & Structure

There’s no single way to study and prepare for the MCAT. Prospective test takers should familiarize themselves with the exam, develop a study plan and refer to official test prep materials available from AAMC.

Below is a list of official test prep materials from AAMC.

  • What’s on the MCAT Exam? – A resource from AAMC that outlines each section of the exam, reviews foundational concepts, and provides insight into question structure.

  • The Official Guide to the MCAT Examination– Provides information about registering for the MCAT, the scoring process, content on the exam, and includes 120 practice questions.

  • Official MCAT Sample Test – Allows test takers to simulate the MCAT testing experience with questions written by the official developers of MCAT. Includes 230 practice questions.

  • Official MCAT Question Pack Bundle Includes 720 MCAT practice questions and answers. Each major subject area, biology, chemistry, physics, and critical analysis, includes 120 questions with answers.

  • MCAT Practice Exam 1. This full-length practice exam features 230 questions (available November 2015).

  • AAMC MCAT Section Bank. This question set includes 300 new questions in three subjects: behavioral, natural and social sciences (available November 2015).

MCAT Test Structure

The MCAT includes four sections:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The first three sections are designed to test the candidate’s knowledge of science from the fields of organic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, psychology, physics, and sociology. The fourth section on critical analysis measures the candidate’s ability to analyze and comprehend what they read. The entire content portion of the MCAT requires 6 hours and 15 minutes to complete.

Testing Section Questions Time Allotted
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems 59 95 minutes
Break (Optional) 10 minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills 53 90 minutes
Break (Optional) 30 minutes
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 59 95 minutes
Break (Optional) 10 minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior 59 95 minutes

MCAT Fees & Assistance

Registration is handled on a first-come, first-serve basis at testing centers. For each testing date, the MCAT has three registration zones, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. These zones are based on when registration occurs. Fees are lower and scheduling is more flexible with Gold Registration, while Bronze is restrictive and has higher registration fees.

Registration Type Registration Window Registration Fee Reschedule Fee Cancellation Refund International Fee
Gold Zone 1 month or more before the deadline $305 $75 $150 $85
Silver Zone 3 to 4 weeks before the deadline $305 $135 None $95
Bronze Zone 1 to 2 weeks before the deadline $305 Not available None $95

AAMC Fee Assistance Program.

The AAMC Fee Assistance Program provides financial assistance and other benefits to individuals who would not be able to take the MCAT exam or apply to medical school.

Eligibility

Test takers are eligible if they are a U.S. citizen, have a Green Card, or have been granted refugee or asylum status by the U.S. Government. Approvals are dependent on poverty guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

For example, for 2016 test takers, a fee assistance will be granted if the applicant demonstrates their household income in 2015 was 300 percent or less than the national averages for their family size.

  • Family Size Family Income Guideline
  • $11,770
  • $15,930
  • $20,090
  • $24,250
  • $28,410
  • $32,570
  • $36,730
  • $40,890

Program Limits

An applicant may be awarded fee assistance up to a maximum of five times. Award benefits can be used for two calendar years and expire on the 31st of December the calendar year after approval.

Application Approved Benefits Expire
Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2015 December 31, 2016
Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2016 December 31, 2017
Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2017 December 31, 2018

Fee Assistance Benefits

The Fee Assistance program provides several benefits:

  • Application fee waivers for 1 AAMC application with up to 15 medical school selections (by Dec. 31, 2016)

  • Free access to the Medical School Admission Requirements website

  • Complimentary access to the Official Guide to the MCAT and other MCAT test prep products

  • Reduced registration fees (see table below)

Registration Type Registration Window Registration Fee Reschedule Fee Cancellation Refund International Fee
Gold Zone 1 month or more before the deadline $115 $35 $60 $85
Silver Zone 3 to 4 weeks before the deadline $115 $55 None $95
Bronze Zone 1 to 2 weeks before the deadline $165 Not available None $95

Test Scoring Rundown

The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam and test takers will receive five scores at the completion of it: one for each section and one total score.

One addition to the 2015 MCAT is an expanded scoring scale. The four sections of the MCAT will now be scored from 118 to 132, increasing the total possible score to 528. This varies from the 1-15 score per section and total scale of 1-45.

MCAT scores are equated and scaled, and not scored on a curve. Because each test includes different questions, AAMC converts the raw scores into a scale that takes question difficulty into consideration. Each score report includes several components: percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles.

Percentile Ranks

The percentile rank demonstrates how the test taker’s score compares to the scores of other test takers who took the same exam. Percentile ranks are provided for both the total score and each individual section. For example, in the table below, 87 percent of total scores are typically equal to or less than a score of 512 across exams taken in a given year.

Score Percentile
523-528 100
521-522 99
519-520 98
518 97
517 96
516 95
515 93
514 91
513 89
512 87
511 85
Score Percentile
510 83
509 80
508 77
507 74
506 71
505 68
504 64
503 61
502 57
501 54
500 51

Confidence Bands

Confidence band are the ranges that reveal the accuracy of the score of each section and total score. These bands are not precise, but simply show the ranges of where the test taker’s actual score lies.

Score Profiles

A score profile shows the test taker’s strengths and weaknesses in each portion of the exam. They can be used to help prepare for a second test, in case the test taker wants to retake the MCAT.

Navigating the Test

The MCAT integrates knowledge from different disciplines and is designed to test a candidate’s knowledge of foundational concepts in biology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. The exam asks candidates to demonstrate the following scientific skills:

  • Knowledge of scientific concepts and principles

  • Scientific reasoning and problem solving

  • Reasoning about the design and execution of research

  • Data-based and statistical reasoning

There are 230 questions on the MCAT, each broken down into two types: passage-based and stand-alone questions. The MCAT not only tests scientific knowledge and critical thinking, but the application of science through research design, graphical analysis, and the interpretation of data—all measures of future success in the practice of medicine.

This is done through the four distinct testing sections:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundation of Biological Systems

  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Exam Section One: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems measures the candidate’s knowledge of foundational concepts in the mechanical, biochemical and physical functions of the human body. Questions cover introductory-level concepts in five disciplines: biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics.

Example areas covered include the growth and reproduction of living organisms, the biological organization of living systems, and how cells and organ systems operate.

Skills Analysis

  • Number of Questions: Total of 59 questions

    • 10 passage-based sets of questions with 4 to 6 questions in each set

    • 15 independent questions

  • Time Allotted: 95 minutes

  • Scoring Scale: 118 to 132

  • Sample Question:

    Figure 2: A pressure-volume diagram for the four phases of the cardiac cycle

    Which of these following reasons best describes why the volume remains constant despite pressure increase during section BC?

    Please choose from one of the following options.

    • A.

      Liquid incompressibility

    • B.

      Blood efflux

    • C.

      Boyle’s law

    • D.

      The ideal gas law

    1

Exam Section Two:
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section is designed to test the candidate’s strengths in verbal reasoning. It measures the reasoning and analytical skills students are expected to possess to be successful in medical school.

Questions are drawn from short passages—between 500 and 600 words—that come from two disciplines: humanities and social sciences. Passages are excerpted from a variety of magazines, journals and other academic materials college students typically read.

Skills Analysis

  • Number of Questions:Total of 53 questions

    • 9 passage-based sets of questions with 5 to 7 questions in each set

  • Time Allotted: 90 minutes

  • Scoring Scale: 118 to 132

  • Sample Question:

    Which of the following statements is NOT as strongly supported by the passage?

    Please choose from one of the following options.

    • A.

      The rules of the Ultimatum Game are strict.

    • B.

      The results of the Ultimatum Game tend to be consistent.

    • C.

      Responders reject offers that are less than 20 percent because they consider such offers unfair.

    • D.

      Studies of the Ultimatum Game show sizable differences in the way some people play.

    2

Exam Section Three:
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section measures knowledge of foundational concepts in the physical and chemical sciences. Questions are drawn from multiple disciplines: biochemistry, biology, organic chemistry, general chemistry, and physics.

The section asks candidates to apply scientific reasoning and inquiry to the principles and processes of living organisms, such as the function of organ systems or the structure and function of proteins.

Skills Analysis

  • Number of Questions: Total of 59 questions

    • 10 passage-based sets of questions with 4 to 6 questions in each set

    • 15 independent questions

  • Time Allotted: 95 minutes

  • Scoring Scale: 118 to 132

  • Sample Question:

    Figure 2. Pedigree of family with cases of hyper-IgE syndrome

    Based on the pedigree analysis, what type of Mendelian inheritance does Bruton’s syndrome MOST LIKELY exhibit?

    Please choose from one of the following:

    • A.

      Autosomal dominant

    • B.

      Autosomal recessive

    • C.

      X-linked dominant

    • D.

      X-linked recessive

    3

Exam Section Four:
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section assesses the candidate’s understanding of human behavior and its impact on health. Questions focus on concepts drawn from introductory-level study in psychology, biology, and sociology. Concepts include factors that influences an individual’s perception of themselves; factors that influence individual behavior; factors that influence the way we think about others and ourselves; cultural and social factors that impact well-being; and social stratification.

Skills Analysis

  • Number of Questions: Total of 59 questions

    • 10 passage-based sets of questions with 4 to 6 questions in each set

    • 15 independent questions

  • Time Allotted: 95 minutes

  • Scoring Scale: 118 to 132

  • Sample Question:

    Figure 1: Percentage increase in obesity risk for an ego based upon his/her relationship with an alter. The dependent variable in each model is the obesity of the ego. Independent variables include a time-lagged measurement of the ego’s obesity, the obesity of the alter, a time-lagged measurement of the alter’s obesity, the ego’s sex, age, and education. Mean effect sizes (solid black dot) and 95 percent confidence intervals (line) are shown.

    Which conclusion is best supported by the findings in Figure 1?

    Please choose from one of the following options.

    • A.

      Friends of opposite genders only marginally increased the likelihood of obesity for the ego.

    • B.

      Obese persons do not seem to selectively form social ties only with other obese persons.

    • C.

      There is almost no effect on the ego when someone in the same geographic proximity gained weight.

    • D.

      If a mutual friend living far away gained weight, the ego would not be more likely to gain weight.

    4

MCAT Exam Day Checklist

Knowing what to expect on exam day can help ease the stress of the testing process. AAMC recommends test takers arrive at least 30 minutes before their scheduled start time in order to complete the check-in process.

During check-in, examinees will sign-in, present a valid form of identification, have digital records of their fingerprints collected, and take a test-day photograph. Below, learn about what to bring on test day, what to expect during the exam period, and discover what happens after the MCAT.

What to Bring on Test Day

Each testing center adheres to a series of security protocols and testing procedures to ensure the accuracy and validity of MCAT test scores. Because of these security measures, AAMC recommends test takers bring as few personal items to the test center as possible.

There are only two items allowed in the testing room: personal identification and a pair of sealed, wireless earplugs. Unless permitted by AAMC, no other personal items are allowed.

Test takers will be provided with a secure storage area where they can store other items, such as food, cell phones, purses and wallets.

On the day of the exam, you will need to provide an approved form of identification. This identification must meet the following criteria:

  • The first and last name must match the MCAT registration
  • Be current
  • Be issued from a government agency (a driver’s license or passport)
  • Include a legible photograph
  • Include a signature (test takers will be asked to duplicate the signature at the testing center)

Exam Period

The testing center follows a rigid check-in procedure and testing process. Examinees are admitted one person at a time and are scanned with a metal detector wand each time they enter the testing room. Test takers are assigned a seat when entering and those assignments cannot be changed.

  • Starting times vary as individuals can begin their exam as soon as they are admitted to the testing room
  • Each time an examinee enters or leaves the room, they must sign the signature log, present identification, and provide a fingerprint
  • Pencils and scratch paper are provided in the testing room and cannot be removed
  • If removing an outer garment (e.g. sweater), examinees will be required to place that item in their secured locker outside of the testing room (the exam clock does not stop)
  • Eating, drinking and smoking is not allowed in the testing room
  • Time counts down by section and examinees may move into a new section early but additional time is not added or counted towards future sections or breaks

Breaks

Test takers are offered three optional breaks: two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute break that occurs during the mid-point of the exam. Examinees must remain in the test center and are allowed to bring their own food and drink. Examinees are not allowed to access their cell phones (or any electronic device) at any time during the exam process.

Interruptions

If a test taker has to leave due to an unforeseen circumstance (e.g. illness) and they haven’t completed every section, they may submit a Test Center Concern form and have AAMC void their exam scores.

Examinee Agreement

Test takers must agree to an examinee agreement. The agreement will appear on the introduction screen, on a testing procedures screen, and three additional screens that state the governing terms of the MCAT exam. On the final screen of the test, examinees will indicate they accept the agreement. If test takers do not agree to these terms in the allotted time, the exam will time out and be ended. Candidates will not receive a refund of their registration.

Answering Questions

Because the MCAT is a multiple-choice exam, the correct answer is present with every question. There are a few strategies for answering questions: use the process of elimination to rule out incorrect answers; answer every question because there is no penalty for selecting a wrong answer; and make educated guesses.

End of Exam

Score Delivery

Scores are generally released within 30 to 35 days after the test date. Test scores are automatically sent to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). It is the centralized application process used by nearly every medical school in the country. Test takers do not need to take additional steps to send their scores to medical schools, regardless of the number of schools to which they would like to apply.

Exam Rescoring

If test takers believe a scoring error has occurred, they can submit an MCAT Exam Rescore Request Form within 30 days of their test date. Results will be provided in writing and scores may increase, decrease or stay the same. The rescoring fee is $60.

Voiding or Accepting Exam Scoring

Upon the conclusion of the exam, test takers have a single opportunity to void their exam. When they finish, they will be presented with two options:

“I wish to have my MCAT exam SCORED.” “I wish to VOID my MCAT exam.”

If the test taker does not click on one of the options during the exam time limit, the test will automatically be scored. Voided scores may not be reinstated and no refunds are provided for voided exams. The test will automatically be voided if any section is not completed.

Refunds

Refunds are not issued for failing to show to an exam for any reason. Examinees may request an emergency refund if any of the following occurs:

  • The test taker is hospitalized
  • They are called into active military service
  • There is a death in the immediate family
  • They are required to provide health care services due to a catastrophic event

Requests for refunds must be made within three weeks after the scheduled exam date, along with the MCAT Emergency Refund Request form.

Retaking the MCAT

After finishing the MCAT, examinees may register for another exam 48 hours after the test. Doing so prior to 48 hours is a violation of MCAT testing policies. Examinees are allowed to take the MCAT multiple times.
The MCAT may be taken up to three times in a testing year with a limit of four exams during the course of two consecutive testing years.

The MCAT may be taken a maximum of seven times.

Additional Resources