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Everything you Need to Know about the MCAT - Part 1: The Basics

So, you want to be a physician? Exciting! One of the biggest hurdles that premed students face is taking the MCAT. When I started studying, I had NO idea where to start. After 6 months of studying and a 24-point increase, I am excited to share everything you need to know about the MCAT (including ALOT of tips I wish I knew when I began studying). I am kicking off this blog series with Part 1: The Basics, so let's jump right in.

What is the MCAT?

MCAT stands for Medical College Admissions Test, which is a test that almost every student has to take to obtain admission to a medical school. There are few exceptions, such as being a part of a BS/MD or BA/MD program. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) develops and administers the exam, so you will see me refer to them a lot in this post. This is the place to get all official information and updates.

The MCAT is an exam that spans a full day, covering a variety of subjects. The four sections are Chemistry and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (commonly referred to as C/P), Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (commonly referred to as CARS), Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (commonly referred to as B/B), and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (commonly referred to as P/S). I will be using these acronyms moving forward to refer to the respective section(s). See the format of the MCAT below. In addition to the information included in the graphic, you will also have a few other official sections on test day, such as the tutorial and void question (which you hopefully won't need to take advantage of).

For the MCAT, you receive a scaled score (read more about that here) for each section ranging from 118-132. This gives you a total score of 472-528, which falls into a certain percentile - these percentiles are updated yearly. Each year, the MCAT is offered in January and March-September. The registration fee for the MCAT is $320 (you can save on that fee if you qualify for the Fee Assistance Program), and there are also cancellation and rescheduling fees. Therefore, it is important to plan and prepare for the MCAT before you register and take the exam.

How should I prepare for the MCAT?

The #1 thing I would not recommend is just taking the MCAT without studying to "see how you do." It is a significant financial investment, and there is actually a limit on the number of times you can take the MCAT - 3 times in one testing year, 4 times in two consecutive testing years, and 7 times overall.

I will have a separate post in this series on how I prepared for the MCAT, the resources I recommend, and how you can create a study schedule. For now, focus on doing well in your medical school prerequisite coursework, as a lot of that material will be covered on the MCAT. Although there are no required courses to take the MCAT, here are courses that are useful, divided into levels of importance (based on my experience):

Highly Recommended:

General Chemistry 1 and 2

General Biology 1 and 2

Physics 1 and 2

Organic Chemistry 1 and 2



Introduction to Psychology

Introduction to Sociology

Other courses, such as Lifespan Psychology, Cell Biology, Anatomy, and Physiology could also be useful. Since the topics covered in courses vary by school, make sure to refer to the AAMC Content Guidelines which is the most comprehensive list of topics covered on the MCAT exam.

Can I get Accommodations?

If you currently receive testing accommodations, it is worth checking out the AAMC's resources on accommodations. From what I have heard from other students, it can be difficult to obtain accommodations, taking a lot of time and energy. Therefore, I highly recommend looking into the process well in advance.

Final Thoughts

To conclude Part 1, I want to share some final thoughts and motivation.

Mindset is incredibly important

A lot of times, students only focus on the content when studying for the exam. While the MCAT is an exam of knowledge and test-taking strategies, you also need to build stamina and have a good mindset. Each section is scored independently, so I had to learn that even if one section didn't go well, I could take my break to reset and bounce back for the rest of the exam.

Your score does not equal your worth

I know there can be a lot of pressure, especially as premed students, to do well on exams. Over time, it is easy to connect exam scores to your individual value or worth. Remember that no exam score defines your worth. You are more than a set of numbers. It is OKAY to struggle when it comes to studying for the MCAT - my score literally dropped between my diagnostic and first practice test after studying for 2 months. But guess what? I didn't start to think that I could never do well on the MCAT or that I shouldn't become a doctor. I realized that this was a standardized test, and I had to learn and adapt to it. And you will do the same - GOOD LUCK!

Stay tuned for Part 2, and comment any questions you have about the MCAT you want me to address in this series.

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