What You Need to Know About the MCAT® Exam

An overview of the the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) and how to prepare.

What’s the MCAT exam?

The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) is a standardized, multiple-choice, computer-based test that has been a part of the medical school admissions process for more than 90 years. Each year, more than 85,000 students sit for the exam. Nearly all medical schools in the United States and several in Canada require MCAT scores, and many health profession schools and graduate programs now accept MCAT scores in lieu of other standardized tests. The MCAT exam tests examinees on the skills and knowledge that medical educators, physicians, medical students, and residents have identified as key prerequisites for success in medical school and practicing medicine. The content is divided into four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The AAMC develops the MCAT exam and administers it multiple times each year, from late January through September, at hundreds of test sites throughout the United States and Canada and in select locations throughout the world.

When should I take the MCAT exam?

It is important to take the exam when you are prepared and ready. Be sure you are comfortable with the content and skills tested on the exam, which are often covered in introductory-level science courses. Read over the What's on the MCAT Exam? tool to be sure you have covered all the topics and skills that are tested on the exam.

In many cases, examinees take their exam in the calendar year that precedes the year you plan to enter medical school. Before choosing an exam date, you’ll want to consider the likelihood that you’ll need to retake the exam and how well you understand the content. For example, if you plan to take a summer course that may help you on the MCAT exam, such as a science class, it may be best to take the exam later that summer. Also, keep in mind that there are testing limits (three times in one calendar year, four times over two years, and seven times over the course of your lifetime), and medical schools will see all of your scores. Remember, you should take the exam only when you are prepared and ready.

How important is the MCAT exam?

Taking the MCAT exam is an important step in the application process, but it is just one part of your overall application to medical school. Admissions committees consider many other aspects about you, including your academic strengths, exposure to health care and medical research environments, personal experiences and interests, potential to contribute to the campus and community, and personal attributes such as maturity and drive to help others. You can see the 15 core competencies medical schools look for in Anatomy of an Applicant.

What if I can’t afford the registration fee?

The AAMC believes that the cost of applying to medical school shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone aspiring to be a physician. The Fee Assistance Program assists students who, without financial assistance, would not be able to take the MCAT exam or apply to medical school. If you meet the eligibility requirements, this program reduces the registration fee. It also provides several additional benefits, including free MCAT preparation resources.

How do I prepare?

The material you will be responsible for knowing on the MCAT exam is outlined in the online tool, What’s on the MCAT Exam? The knowledge and skills tested on the exam are found in introductory level biology, physics, psychology, and sociology, general and organic chemistry, and first-semester biochemistry. Because course content differs between schools, it is a good idea to compare the content of the courses you plan to take with the content lists in the online tool. Pre-health advisors and other faculty at your school are also great resources for helping you plan which courses will best prepare you to do well on the exam. If you do not have a pre-health advisor, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) has volunteer advisors who can assist you. To help you prepare for the content on the exam, the AAMC collaborated with the Khan Academy and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create original video tutorials and review questions that cover all content tested on the exam.

So how to start? One of the best places to start when preparing for the exam is to put together a study plan. Study plans help you organize, focus, and stay on track. The AAMC walks you through six-steps to help you create your own study plan.

What test preparation resources are available?

The AAMC offers official MCAT test preparation tools and resources (free and at low cost) to ensure you can study and practice with content written by the test developers and can replicate the MCAT experience in a simulated testing environment. The following is a list of resources available to you:

  • What’s on the MCAT Exam?  tool
  • Khan Academy MCAT® Collection
  • How to Create A Study Plan for the MCAT Exam
  • "How I prepared for the MCAT Exam" student testimonials
  • The Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam, Fifth Edition
  • Official MCAT® Practice Exams
  • Official MCAT ® Section Bank
  • Official MCAT® Flashcards
  • Official MCAT® Sample Test
  • Official MCAT® Question Packs
  • Psychology and Sociology Textbook Resource

Learn more about the test preparation products and resources here.

How is the MCAT exam scored?

You will receive five results from your MCAT exam—one for each of the four sections and one combined total score.

Section scores: Each of the four section scores will range from 118 to 132. Test takers will receive scores for each of the four sections.

Total score: Scores for the four sections are combined to create a total score. The total score ranges from 472 to 528.

Scores typically are reported 30–35 days after your exam date. Learn more about your scores and your score report here.

What if I don’t score well?

If you aren’t satisfied with your MCAT score, your prehealth advisor can help you decide if you should retake the exam. The Official Guide to the MCAT® Exam also offers some data to consider when making this decision.

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How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam

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Preparing for the MCAT exam takes time. It's no surprise one of the most frequently asked questions is “What's the best way to prepare for the exam?” This guide walks you through six steps to develop your own study plan.