The MCAT can definitely be scary, but with the information below you’ll be able to tame this beast and get a great score.
As you know, the medical school admissions test will be a big part of your competitiveness as an applicant. Why? Because it’s an easy way to stratify applicants.
In fact, it’s so easy that a computer can do it! MCAT and GPA are used as the first screening tool to help whittle down the applicant pool.
As you can find out in my eBook, there is a way around this but it must be done carefully!
The MCAT can definitely be scary, but with the information below you’ll be able to tame this beast and get a great score. As you know, the MCAT will be a big part of your competitiveness as an applicant. Why? Because it’s an easy way to stratify applicants. In fact, it’s so easy that a computer can do it! MCAT and GPA are used as the first screening tool to help whittle down the applicant pool. As you read above, there is a way around this by marking yourself as disadvantaged, but you had better be disadvantaged if you mark that.
The test is divided into 4 sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
Each section is scored from a low of 118 to a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Test takers will receive scores for each of the four sections.
Scores for the four sections are combined to create a total score. The total score ranges from 472 to 528. The midpoint is 500.
For most US medical schools, you will need about a 30 (about 510) to be considered a competitive applicant. For a list of average MCAT and GPA for the top 100 medical schools (as of 2011), go here, or to the MSAR. Schools will not have the average new test scores available until 2016.
And as you look, remember the Rule of 4’s. You do have some wiggle room below the average.
To do well on this test, you need to do three main things: understand the test, study for the test,
and practice the test.
Understand the Test
The MCAT is designed to determine if you can think in the way that doctors think. The medical school admissions test is asking the question, “can this student take information and solve a problem with it?”
As a doctor, you will be doing this all the time. You will have all kinds of information in front of you and will have to determine what is important, what is not and what the data mean.
In this spirit, the test often asks questions that have sets of data and asks you to interpret these. There are very few questions that are simple memorization.
That being said, the test does require you to have good basic knowledge of your premed required classes: chemistry, physics, biology, organic chemistry and reading comprehension. It also tests writing skills. It is divided into the following sections:
Physical Sciences (Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems)
- This section consists of chemistry and physics. You do not need to have taken advanced courses in either (e.g. no need for calculus-based physics). I took the basic level courses and scored a 13 on this section.You need to know certain formulas for this section of the MCAT. These include for physics: laws of motion (momentum, velocity, etc.), mechanics, kinetics, gravity, force, pressure, the Bernoulli principle, among others.For chemistry, you should know: Le Chatelier’s principle, laws of thermodynamics,
PV=nRT among others.A more extensive list of topics covered can be found here and click on physical sciences. For the 2015 test, visit this page.When memorizing these formulas, memorize the relationships between things. For example, how are energy and velocity related in kinetic energy? Energy is proportional to velocity squared. A question might be something like: If a train is going 10mph and accelerates to 20mph, what is the difference in its kinetic energy? The answer would be the kinetic energy is four times greater. Those are the types of questions the MCAT likes to ask.
Do you know the relationship between things in the equations?
Biological Sciences (Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems)
- This section of the MCAT tests your knowledge of biology and organic chemistry.Here you will get questions about genetics and evolution (know your evolutionary terms like genetic drift vs shift, etc). Here you will also have a higher frequency of sets of data with charts and graphs that you will need to interpret. You may also be asked about lab technique or lab procedures. Make sure you know your cell biology, including all organelles and their functions.For a more extensive list of topics covered, click here and then click on biological sciences.
- For the 2015 test, click here.
Verbal Reasoning (Critical Analysis and
- This kind of test you are familiar with. You have a reading passage followed by questions about the passage.The main issue on this section for many people (including me) is running out of time.There are different strategies to this part of the test.One strategy is to read the whole passage, then answer the questions. I found this to take too much time for me.Another strategy is to read the questions, then read
the passage. I found that this not only saved me time, but increased my score dramatically.
Find which way works best for you. For more details on this section, click here then click on verbal reasoning.
- For the 2015 test, click here.
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
This is a new section starting in 2015. The “foundational concepts” include the following:
- Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world
- Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior and behavior change.
- Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors influence the way we think about ourselves and others, as well as how we interact with others
- Cultural and social differences influence well-being
- Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being
For more information, visit here.
Study for the MCAT
Before you start studying, determine your goal for the exam. What score are you trying to get? This will largely depend on the schools you are applying to. If you’re not sure, you should set a higher goal so that you can have your options open.
Average medical school admission test scores for individual schools are available in the MSAR. You should start studying for the test as early as you can. I bought an MCAT prep book from Kaplan and started looking through it about a year before I took the test.
You should start studying in earnest about 4-6 months before you take the test. I took the test in April of my junior year and would recommend that time. Your test will be scored early enough for you to know your score and still be an early applicant. Click here for more information about the application and admissions.
The best way to prepare for the medical school admissions test is to really learn the material in your premed courses. To learn about those course requirements, click here.
If you master the material in your chemistry, physics, biology and organic chemistry courses, you will blow the MCAT away. So, don’t just study and work for the grade. Work to learn the material.
However, many students (including me) find professional preparation programs very useful. They have studied the tests extensively and know the kind of material likely to be covered. This can help make your study time much more efficient.There are a lot of test preparation companies and options available.
- Kaplan offers different courses and materials according to your needs. They offer class teaching, online teaching, books and practice questions. They also offer a money back guarantee, which speaks to the quality of their
work. They can be expensive, but you can get discounts which you can check out on this page.
- This MCAT prep course company has courses and materials similar to Kaplan. Offers include private tutoring, small group instruction, classroom courses, as well as online options. Princeton Review also offers courses that specifically target the verbal reasoning portion. This would be particularly important if you struggle getting through the sections (like I did at first). Princeton review also offers Ultimate MCAT, an intensive six week course with over 370 hours of instruction. Princeton Review also offers books if you would like to study on your own. Click here and use code Insider150 for $150 off any course!
For more details on these and several other MCAT prep courses, click here.
Just email your purchase receipt to [email protected]
You can also look at your college or nearby colleges to see if they offer a preparation course. They are often much less expensive than the other courses and can be taught by real professors vs students who did well on the MCAT.
Practice the MCAT
There is no better way to perform well on the medical school admissions test than to practice. This will teach you the type of questions asked and get you ready to answer the questions in a timed manner.
Take the tests timed! You will not be ready to take the test if you are not used to answering the questions quickly.
Kaplan, Princeton Review and other companies have practice tests and questions you can buy. In my opinion, the best practice tests you can buy are directly from the AAMC, the group that makes the test. They offer one test free and you can buy the other tests. These have explanations of the answers, which is key to learning and improving your score.
You can access these tests here.
For 2015, visit here.
You Can Do It!
In summary, start studying early and practice, practice, practice!
Don’t get discouraged if your first practice tests are low. My first test was a 21 (about 498) and I ended up
with a 34 (about 514) on the exam.
Remember, the MCAT is only part of becoming a great applicant. Check out my eBook to find out exactly how to get into medical school.
If you’re looking for something that’s more than a book, but less expensive than 1 on 1 advising and editing services, check out my new members only site, Medical School Inside Track.
Videos describing the entire admissions process, from choosing to apply to choosing between multiple acceptances
A custom tool to know your chances based on MCAT, GPA and race
A custom tool to know exactly where to apply based on MCAT, GPA and state of residence
Examples from successful applicants of AMCAS activities, personal statements, secondary essays, descriptions of hardship and descriptions of disciplinary actions
4 hours of recorded interview prep to learn what it takes to ace an interview
And much more! All for less than the cost of 1 hour of one on one advising. You can check it out here.
You may even be looking for one-on-one consulting to help you reach your goal of becoming a doctor, where you make a great living by helping others!
There are many companies out there that promise to help you do this, but I recommend MedSchoolCoach.
MedSchoolCoach is run by people who have been on medical school admissions committees. They know what it takes for you to get into your top medical schools, and have a great track record of success.
You can check out their products here.
Also, review the pages on admissions to understand how to stand out as an applicant.
Use the free resources and I recommend paying for a good MCAT prep course to obtain your best score possible.