MCAT FAQs: Your Questions Answered

September 15, 2023
12 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 9/15/23

Have questions about the Medical College Admission Test that make you anxious to begin studying for your exam? This MCAT FAQ is for you!

Female student studying for MCAT on laptop

The MCAT is old — like really old. To put it into perspective, the MCAT was created in the same decade that Amelia Earhart began her flying lessons and became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, meaning both the MCAT and Earhart came into prominence in the 1920s!

Despite being over a century old, the MCAT consistently presents the same questions every year involving its content, difficulty, and best study tips! 

This comprehensive MCAT FAQ guide will address all of these inquiries, equipping you with the knowledge and confidence needed to feel fully prepared for your upcoming exam!

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20 Questions About the MCAT

Question marks and a notebook

Here are the answers to your most pressing MCAT concerns!

1. What Is On the MCAT?

The MCAT consists of four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: Evaluates knowledge in biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. It assesses your understanding of the foundational concepts and principles related to living organisms and their processes.
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: Focuses on the principles of general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry as they apply to living systems. It assesses scientific inquiry and problem-solving skills within a biological context.
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: Includes concepts from psychology, sociology, and biology, emphasizing their applications to human behavior and society. It evaluates test takers’ knowledge of the factors influencing individual and social behavior, as well as psychological processes. 
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Assess reading comprehension, analysis, and reasoning abilities. It includes several passages that test-takers must analyze to draw logical conclusions.

The first three sections focus on “big ideas” in the sciences that reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to use and learn science. They emphasize deep knowledge of important scientific concepts rather than knowledge of discrete scientific facts.

2. How Many Questions Are On the MCAT?

There are a total of 230 questions on the MCAT; they are broken down as follows:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 59 questions
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 59 questions
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 59 questions
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 53 questions

Every section, with the exception of the critical analysis and reasoning skills (CARS) one, will have 10 passages you will have to read and respond to. The CARS section will only have nine passages.

3. What Types of Questions Are on the MCAT?

The MCAT consists of multiple-choice questions. Some of these questions will be passage-based, meaning you will have to interpret a passage and answer several questions about it. There will also be independent questions that do not require prior passage reading. These will typically ask you about specific content. 

4. How Many People Get a Perfect MCAT Score?

Dart in middle of dartboard

Many students dream of getting a perfect MCAT score, so they have the best odds of getting into their dream school and potentially landing a full-ride scholarship to pay for it. However, the chances of this are extremely low.

According to AAMC, to date, only about 0.020% of test-takers were able to receive a perfect MCAT score. While this shouldn’t discourage you from giving it your all to join this small percentage, you should set your target at a more attainable score!

5. How Long Is the MCAT?

Another common MCAT FAQ is the time you’ll have to complete so many questions. You will have seven and a half hours in total to complete the MCAT. This time includes your breaks and will be scheduled as follows:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 95 minutes
  • Break: 10 minutes
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 95 minutes
  • Break: 30 minutes
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 95 minutes
  • Break: 10 minutes
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 90 minutes

All three breaks are optional but highly recommended considering the length of the exam!

6. When Do You Take the MCAT?

Students take the MCAT at different stages of their pre-med journey. While some early birds complete their first MCAT after their freshman year of college, others wait till the last minute and write the MCAT while they’re applying to med school! 

However, it is generally recommended students write the MCAT in their sophomore or junior year. This gives them enough time to prepare for the exam and retake it if necessary! You will have the option to write the MCAT several times each month, excluding February, starting from January till the end of September each year.

7. When Is the Best Time to Take the MCAT?

In general, since the MCAT requires diligent studying over a long period of time, it’s recommended students write the test during the summer of their sophomore or junior year. However, to determine the best time for you to write the MCAT, you should consider the following factors:

  • Your application deadlines: Familiarize yourself with the application deadlines of the medical schools you are interested in applying to. Knowing these deadlines will help you work backward and determine when you should aim to take the MCAT.
  • Your academic preparedness: It’s typically recommended students have at least some coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and/or biochemistry before writing the MCAT to ensure a strong foundation in these tested subjects.
  • Your other commitments: If you know you’ll be spending your summer working, completing courses, or engaging in other time-consuming activities, you may want to prepare for and write the MCAT during the school year instead. Just be mindful of your course deadlines and exams!
  • Your diagnostic score: Take practice exams to gauge your current level of readiness and identify areas of strength and weakness. These practice exams can help you assess your progress and determine if you need additional time to study or if you are on track to take the MCAT within your desired timeline.

It’s essential you set your own schedule and timeline when it comes to the MCAT. You want to feel as prepared and confident as possible on test day!

8. When Should I Register for the MCAT?

Technically, you can register for any MCAT test as late as 10 days prior to it. However, tests fill up on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’re advised against waiting this long. Additionally, the rescheduling fee increases as the test date approaches. Here is how much you can expect to pay or get refunded when you reschedule or cancel a test:

Date of Change Rescheduling Fees Cancellation Refund Amount
60 or more days before the exam $50 $165
59-30 days before the exam $100 $165
29-10 days before the exam $200 $0

Source: AAMC

Considering this, you should register for your MCAT as soon as possible!

9. How Do I Register for the MCAT?

Follow these steps to register for the MCAT:

  1. Create an AAMC account: Visit the AAMC website and create an account. Provide the required information, including your personal details and contact information. Ensure your information matches what your official IDs say. 
  2. Go to the MCAT registration system: Once you have created your AAMC account, log in to access the MCAT registration system.
  3. Choose a date and location: Select your desired test date and location from the available options. The AAMC provides a list of authorized testing centers where the MCAT is administered. Consider factors like your availability and convenience when choosing your test date and location.
  4. Complete the registration information: Provide the required information during the registration process, such as your personal details, educational background, and any accommodations you may require. Ensure that all information is accurate and up-to-date.
  5. Review and confirm your test: Carefully review all the information you have provided before finalizing your registration. Make sure all details are correct, including your test date, location, and personal information.
  6. Pay the registration fee: Once you’ve confirmed your details, you’ll have to pay the registration fee to finalize your registration.
  7. Wait for confirmation: After completing the registration process and payment, you should receive a confirmation of your registration via email. Keep this confirmation for your records, and mark the time and date on your calendar! 

You’re advised to register for your exam early in case you need to make any changes to your test date or location. 

10. When Should I Start Studying for the MCAT?

Female student studying for MCAT

This is another highly popular MCAT FAQ, but the answer is not as simple as you might think! While it’s recommended you give yourself at least a few months to study for the MCAT, the exact time you’ll need to study will depend on multiple factors, including your baseline abilities, strengths, time commitments, application deadlines, and target score. 

Generally speaking, the higher your target score, the more time you’ll need to study to achieve it. Many individuals start studying anywhere from three to six months prior to their planned exam date. This timeline provides a balance between adequate preparation and avoiding burnout from prolonged study periods.

11. How Many Students Take the MCAT Each Year?

Over 85,000 students write the MCAT each year.

12. How Many Times Can You Write the MCAT?

The MCAT can be taken up to three times in a single year, up to four times in two consecutive years, and up to seven times in one’s lifetime.

While it may be reassuring to know you have seven attempts in total to get to your target score, you should still approach the exam with thorough preparation and aim for your target score on your first attempt. 

Retaking the exam multiple times will be a time-consuming and costly process and can delay your application process. Invest adequate time and effort into your preparation to maximize your chances of nailing it on your first try!

13. What Is Considered a Good MCAT Score?

What’s considered a good MCAT score varies depending on the schools you’re applying to. Considering the average MCAT score is 511, anything above this may be considered competitive. 

However, top-ranking medical schools tend to accept students with scores of 515 and higher. Research the medical schools you’re interested in joining to figure out what their median MCAT scores are so you know what to set your target as!

14. Should I Retake the MCAT If I Feel Like My Score Isn’t Good?

Deciding whether to retake the MCAT can be a tough choice to make. To make this decision easier, consider these points: 

  • Evaluate your score objectively: Determine if your score falls within the range of your desired schools’ previous accepted students. Additionally, consider the specific requirements and preferences of the medical schools you are considering, as some schools have minimum score thresholds.
  • Reflect on your application’s strength: Your MCAT score is just one component of your medical school application. Reflect on the strength of your overall application, including your GPA, extracurricular activities, research experience, and letters of recommendation. If your application is strong in other areas, it may compensate for a slightly lower MCAT score.
  • Identify areas for improvement: Analyze your MCAT performance to identify specific areas where you can improve. If your score is lower in certain sections, such as biology or chemistry, you may consider focusing on targeted studying and preparation for those areas in a potential retake.
  • Your preparation and test day experience: Reflect on your preparation for the exam and your test day experience. Did you freeze up? Did you face timing issues or nerves? Or, were you simply not prepared enough? Evaluate if you think the issue is solvable and if it’s worth it to retake the test. 
  • Retake implications: Understand the retake policies and implications of the medical schools you are interested in. Some schools may only consider your most recent score, while others may average multiple scores. Take into account how retaking the MCAT may affect your application timeline and competitiveness.

Remember, retaking the MCAT requires additional time, effort, and financial resources. If you believe your score will weaken your application or prevent you from being a competitive applicant, and you have the time and energy to retake the test, then go for it! Otherwise, try to strengthen your application in other ways.

15. When Do MCAT Scores Expire?

Generally speaking, most medical schools will not accept MCAT scores that are older than two to three years. While MCAT scores do not expire per se, they do become invalid after this time period, and you’ll be required to retake the exam.

16. Is the MCAT Multiple-Choice?

Yes, all 230 questions on the MCAT will be multiple-choice. 

17. Where Do You Take the MCAT?

There are designated test centers across the country that you can write the MCAT at. Using AAMC’s test center search, you can input your location and see which test centers are closest to you. 

18. Do You Get Scratch Paper on the MCAT?

While you do not get scratch paper on the MCAT, you will be given a nine-page, graph-lined noteboard booklet to take any notes or perform calculations. If you run out of space on this notebook, you can ask the test administrator for another. 

19. Is MCAT Tutoring Worth It?

Female student studying for MCAT with tutor

Considering Inspira Advantage’s MCAT tutors guarantee they’ll help increase your score by at least 10 points, we’d say MCAT tutoring is definitely worthwhile! Here are just some of the reasons you should hire an MCAT tutor:

  • Personalized guidance: MCAT tutoring can provide personalized attention and tailored instruction to address your specific strengths and weaknesses. A tutor can assess your knowledge gaps, develop a customized study plan, and provide targeted strategies to help you improve in areas that need it most. 
  • Study plan assistance: Creating a good study plan can be difficult on your own, and tutors can help! They know how to create a plan that optimizes your preparation time and ensures comprehensive coverage of the exam content.
  • Content mastery: MCAT tutors know the MCAT like the back of their hand. They can simplify complex concepts, provide the right materials to reinforce your knowledge, and share their tried and true tips for success! 
  • Feedback: Tutors can administer practice exams, simulate test-day conditions, and provide detailed feedback on your performance. This feedback can help you identify areas that require improvement, refine your test-taking strategies, and build your confidence in tackling MCAT-style questions.
  • Motivation and accountability: Working with a tutor can provide a sense of accountability and motivation throughout your MCAT preparation. They can help keep you on track, offer encouragement, and provide you with the guidance and push needed to overcome any challenges you face.

As you consider an MCAT tutor, know that it can get costly! Consider your budget as you make this choice, and know that you will have a significant return on this investment because it’ll help get you into med school! 

20. What Should I Bring to the MCAT?

The answers to this last MCAT FAQ are rather simple. There are only a few items you should bring to the MCAT on test day: a valid ID, food, and water. That’s it! It is a computerized test, so no need for pens, pencils, highlighters, or erasers. 

Everything you need to complete the test, including the noteboard and marker, will be provided to you by the test administrators. 

Please note you will not be able to consume your food or water during the actual testing periods. These will need to stay in your locker until you’re dismissed for a break. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, after going through the MCAT FAQ, you feel more prepared and confident to begin your MCAT journey! Remember, as challenging as the MCAT may be, with proper planning, dedication, and a strong study schedule, you can overcome any obstacles that come your way!

Take advantage of the resources available to you, like expert MCAT tutors, stay motivated, and believe in your ability to succeed! You’ve got this!

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