What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an examination required by most medical schools (along with academic records, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and an interview) which is used to evaluate medical school applicants.

The MCAT is the standard that medical schools use to rate one student against another. It is the most important test you will take in your medical career, and is second only to your grade point average in determining whether you will be a doctor or not. It is different from other standardized tests you may have taken, and will require a focused and sustained effort to prepare properly.

When is the MCAT given?

The test is offered twice a year, once in April and once in August.

What is the MCAT like?

The MCAT is about 7-1/2 hours long if administrative procedures are included. Actual testing time is 5-3/4 hours. There are two ten minute breaks, and one hour off for lunch.

The test has four separate sections: Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences,Verbal Reasoning, and the Writing Sample.

Physical Sciences covers topics in Physics and Inorganic Chemistry. Biological Sciences covers topics in Biology and Organic Chemistry. These sections require you to integrate information you have previously learned with additional information which is presented in short passages of approximately 250 words each.

Verbal Reasoning covers topics not generally studied by premedical students. All necessary information is given in 500-600 word passages, from which you will be expected to make inferences and to draw conclusions, in order to answer the associated questions.

For the Writing Sample you will be required to write two 30 minute essays about a one or two sentence statement. You will generally be asked to describe what you believe the statement means, and to write a unified essay about that statement in which you are to perform specific tasks.

How well do I need to do?

Your MCAT score and your GPA are two of the most important factors used to evaluate you as a medical school applicant. If one of these factors is low, a high value on the other can serve to offset the lower one.

Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Verbal Reasoning are scored on a 1-15 point scale. The average score on any section is an 8.

How much do I need to study?

Very few students pass this test without studying. Make it a priority to spend 20 to 40 hours a week for a solid 3 months to be competitive. You should extend your studying to at least 6 months if it has been a few years since you completed some of your medical school prerequisites. In addition, take several practice tests to build up your endurance and familiarize yourself with the conditions on test day.

If you feel it will help, you can retake basic science courses or enroll in one the MCAT preparation courses by Kaplan or the Princeton Review. Keep in mind that you still will need to study just as much outside the classroom to prepare for the MCAT.

How do I register for the MCAT?

A registration packet should be available at your premedical advisor's office, or the Louisiana Tech Testing Center, by February. You may also write or call:

MCAT Program Office
P.O. Box 4056
Iowa City, Iowa 52243-4056
Phone: (319) 337-1357
Mon. ­ Fri. 8:30 ­ 4:30, Central Time

MCAT Tips:

1) On the night before the exam, try to get a good night sleep. The MCAT is physically draining and it is in your best interest to be well rested when you take it.

2) Avoid last minute cramming. On the morning of the exam, do not begin studying ad hoc. You will not learn anything effectively, and noticing something you do not know or will not remember might reduce your confidence and lower your score unnecessarily. Just get up, eat a good breakfast and go write the exam.

3) Eat breakfast! It will make it possible for you to have the food energy needed to go through the first two parts of the exam.

4) Pack a light lunch.

5) Make sure you answer all the questions! You do not get penalized for incorrect answers, so always choose something even if you have to guess. If you run out of time, pick a letter and use it to answer all the remaining questions.

6) Pace yourself. Do not get bogged down trying to answer a difficult question. If the question is very difficult, make a mark beside it on your exam booklet and answer it later.

7) Remember that some of the questions will be thrown out as inappropriate or used solely to calibrate the test. If you find that you cannot answer some of the questions, do not despair. It is possible they could be questions used for these purposes.

8) Do not let others psyche you out! Some people will be saying between exam sections, ‘It went great. What a joke!’ Ignore them. Often these types may just be trying to boost their own confidence or to make themselves look good in front of their friends. Just focus on what you have to do and tune out the other examinees.

9) Do not study at lunch. You need the time to recuperate and rest. Eat, avoid the people discussing the test sections and relax!

10) Before reading the text of the problem, some students find it more efficient to quickly read the questions first. In this way, as soon as you read something in the text which brings to mind a question you have read, you can answer immediately (this is especially helpful for Verbal Reasoning). Otherwise, if you read the text first and then the questions, you may end up wasting time searching through the text for answers. In fact, sometimes in the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences sections you will be able to answer questions without having read the passage!

11) Read the text and questions carefully! Often students leave out a word or two while reading, which can completely change the sense of the problem. Pay special attention to words in italics, CAPS, bolded, or underlined. Circle or underline anything you believe might be important in the text or the questions.

12) Do independent questions first! Some students have difficulty finishing the MCAT (esp. Physical Sciences). The worst scenario is getting bogged down in a passage when there were independent questions which you knew the answer to, but never had the time to answer.

13) Write down any relevant equation onto your paper! Even if the question is of a theoretical nature, often equations contain the answers and they are much more objective than the reasoning of a nervous pre-medical student! In physics, it is often helpful to draw a picture or diagram. Arrows are valuable in representing vectors.

14) Solving the problem may involve algebraic manipulation of equations and/or numerical calculations. Be sure that you know what all the variables in the equation stand for and that you are using the equation in the appropriate circumstance. In chemistry and physics, the use of dimensional analysis will help you keep track of units and solve some problems where you might have forgotten the relevant equations.

15) The final step in problem solving is to ask yourself: is my answer reasonable?