What is the MCAT? | MCAT Scores, MCAT Test Dates + Tips

April 25, 2024
10 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

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

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Want to know how many MCAT sections there are and how to prepare for the exam? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the MCAT!

So what is the Medical School Admissions Test, and what’s on it? If you do well on the MCAT, it can make your journey to med school easier. We’ll explore everything you need to know about the MCAT below. 

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What Is the MCAT? 

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice admissions test used by medical schools to assess your foundational science knowledge and reasoning skills. U.S. med schools use MCAT scores to fairly compare applicants from different colleges. 

The soundness of your knowledge of prerequisite medical school courses is tested. You don’t need to complete all prerequisites to be eligible to take the MCAT, but your success depends on how well you know each topic. 

What Is Tested on the MCAT? 

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a comprehensive exam that assesses your readiness for the rigors of medical school. Specifically, the MCAT tests your knowledge in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.

How Important Is the MCAT?

The MCAT exam is very important for medical school admissions as it provides an objective, standardized measure of applicants' academic capabilities and preparation for medical school. While GPA varies between schools, the MCAT score offers a consistent benchmark.

Part of the MCAT’s purpose is to indicate how well you’ll handle medical school’s rigorous curriculum. With that said, your performance is not a proven indicator of how well you’ll do once in school. 

Some schools take a more holistic approach, which may place less emphasis on your MCAT scores. A holistic approach to application review considers every aspect of your application, including your extracurricular activities, clinical experience, and interview performance

For example, if you have stellar clinical experience along with a high GPA and a profound motivation for becoming a physician, a holistic approach allows more wiggle room for a lower MCAT score. 

MCAT Sections

The MCAT consists of four sections: Chem/Phys, CARS, Bio, and Psych. You can receive a maximum score of 132 in each section; the perfect score is 528. Each MCAT section has several passages that test your comprehension and understanding. 

You’ll also encounter standalone questions in each section, except for CARS. These questions test your knowledge of facts regarding the section’s subject matter. These standalone questions are formally called “discrete” questions. 

Passages provide the information needed to answer the accompanying questions. Let’s take an in-depth look at what is on the MCAT.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chem/Phys section has 59 questions. You will have 95 minutes to complete them. Abundant practice is particularly valuable for this section to do computations. You aren’t permitted to use a calculator, so you must be comfortable quickly making accurate calculations. Be mindful of your units. 

Passages: 10

Discrete Questions: 15

Total Questions: 59

Associated prerequisite courses:

  • Biochemistry (optional course for some schools, but tested on the MCAT)
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics

To do well in this section, you’ll need to connect your understanding of chemical and physical concepts and apply them. Chem/Phys requires you to understand research methods and information presented in graphs. You’ll encounter passage-based questions and discrete questions.

Remember, you won’t be permitted to use an equation sheet or calculator. You’ll need to know equations related to physics and general chemistry by heart. Helpful equations to remember are those regarding kinetics, gasses, and Gibbs free energy. 

Math Concepts:

  • Interpretation of linear, semilog, and log-log scales
  • Calculation of slopes
  • Significance of digits and ability to estimate for calculations
  • Metric and English unit conversion
  • Solving simultaneous equations
  • Algebra II-level understanding of exponents and logarithms
  • Trigonometric concepts of sine, cosine, tangent, and their inverses
  • Vector addition and subtraction (dot and cross product are not required)

Topics listed by the AAMC:

  • Translational motion, force, work, energy, equilibrium
  • Fluids in accordance with the movement of blood and gas 
  • Gas exchange
  • Electrochemistry and circuits
  • Light and sound interactions with matter
  • Atomic behavior
  • Nuclear Decay
  • Atoms 
  • Electronic structure
  • Unique nature of water
  • Separation and purification 
  • Reactivity of molecules
  • Thermodynamics and kinetics

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

The CARS section of the MCAT has 53 passage-based questions. CARS is the only MCAT section that doesn’t contain discrete questions. Losing those more straightforward points makes it particularly difficult. 

Passages: 9

Discrete Questions: 0

Total Questions: 53

There are no particular material or prerequisite courses to be familiar with for the CARS section. The passages come from various subjects, from arts and humanities to social sciences. Passages typically range from 500 to 600 words.

Your analysis process can change from passage to passage. The key to doing well is practice, practice, and practice. It’s necessary to determine facts from opinions and make sound inferences and conclusions. 

CARS tends to be the most difficult section for students. Though the texts may be complex, be comforted by the fact that all you need to know is presented in each passage. You don’t need outside knowledge to do well in CARS.

Topics listed by the AAMC: 

  • Humanities (e.g., Architecture, art, dance, ethics, religion )
  • Social Sciences (e.g., Anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history)

CARS Concepts:

  • Comprehension
  • Reasoning within the text 
  • Reasoning beyond text 

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

To succeed in the Bio section, you’ll need to combine your understanding of biological and biochemical concepts. You will be tested on various processes of living organisms, including but not limited to reproduction, homeostasis, and adaptation. 

Passages: 10

Discrete Questions: 15

Total Questions: 59

Associated prerequisite courses:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Statistics

You’ll complete 59 questions over 95 minutes and navigate passage-based and discrete questions. A strong understanding of prerequisite course material and various research methods will help you succeed. 

Many students enjoy this section. If a love of science drew them to medicine, biology is likely the science that sparked their journey. The passages are less computation-heavy than Chem/Phys and rely on your reasoning and ability to understand information and trends presented in graphs. 

Even if biology is your favorite subject, passages on the MCAT are designed to be fairly nuanced. You’ll need to rely on your ability to determine what pieces of presented information are vital to do well. 

Math Concepts:

  • Interpretation of linear, semilog, and log-log scales
  • Calculation of slopes
  • Significant digits and ability to estimate for calculations
  • Metric and English unit conversion
  • Solving simultaneous equations
  • Algebra II-level understanding of exponents and logarithms
  • Trigonometric concepts of sine, cosine, tangent, and their inverses
  • Topics listed by the AAMC:
  • Protein and amino acid structures
  • Transcription and translation
  • Heredity 
  • Metabolic processes 
  • Fundamentals of prokaryotes and viruses 
  • Cellular division, differentiation, and specialization
  • Nervous system
  • Endocrine system
  • Function and structure of organ systems

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The Psych section of the MCAT requires you to combine your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills to solve problems and draw conclusions. This section consists of passage-based and discrete questions. 

Passages: 10

Discrete Questions: 15

Total Questions: 59

Associated prerequisite courses:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

You will have 95 minutes to complete this section. This section’s question style is similar to the Bio section. It focuses on your knowledge of facts and concepts more than your ability to calculate quickly. To prepare, brush up on your psychology terminology and graph analysis, and understand the conduction of studies.

Topics listed by the AAMC:

  • Sensing and making sense of the environment
  • Response to surroundings 
  • The influence of social processes on behavior 
  • Effects of individual impacts on behavior 
  • Self-identity 
  • Social thinking
  • Social interactions
  • Social structure
  • Demographic characteristics 
  • Social stratification 

How is the MCAT Scored?

The MCAT has a score range of 472 to 528. The MCAT is scored based on how many questions you answer correctly. Incorrect answers don’t count against your overall score, so ensure you answer every question on the test, even if you’re unsure. An unanswered question is automatically wrong, but you just might guess correctly!

The number of questions you answer correctly in sections of the MCAT is converted into a section score. For instance, if you answer 48 questions correctly, you may have a converted section score of 128. If you answer 37 questions correctly, your score may be approximately 123. 

Raw scores are converted because exams may vary slightly in difficulty and are equated during the conversion. The MCAT doesn’t score on a curve. The equating of scores means scores have the same meaning at all times of the year. Your exam’s difficulty will be the same as everyone else’s, no matter when you take it. 

It takes 30 to 35 days to get your MCAT score back. The turnaround time for scores is in part due to the equating process. During this time, you can submit concerns about questions or test-day conditions. 

On May 1, percentile ranks are provided for the exam season. The percentiles help you see how your MCAT score performance compares to other examinees. The AAMC offers percentiles for both cumulative and section scores. 

What Is a Good MCAT Score? 

The overall national mean MCAT score is around 500 out of 528 maximum points, with a score above 500 considered above average. Top medical schools have average matriculant MCAT scores ranging from 511-519, so scoring above 515+ gives you the best shot at highly competitive programs.

Here’s a breakdown of MCAT percentiles

Percentile MCAT Score Range
90th-100th percentile 515-528
75th-89th percentile 509-514
50th-75th percentile 502-508
Below 50th percentile 501 and below

Shooting for a high MCAT score can boost your chances of acceptance! 

How Long Is the MCAT? 

the MCAT exam takes 7 hours and 27 minutes total, including the actual test content time of 6 hours and 15 minutes as well as optional breaks. Thorough preparation is essential to maintain focus and stamina throughout the demanding 7.5-hour exam day.

MCAT Section Length
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 95 Minutes
Break 10 Minutes
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences 95 Minutes
Break 30 Minutes
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior 95 Minutes
Break 10 Minutes
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills 90 Minutes

It helps to time yourself when writing practice tests so that you don't go over the time limit on the real MCAT.

MCAT Registration

The MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Be aware that it costs $330 per attempt. The first part of your registration requires you to go online and sign up for a date. 

At the time of signup, you’ll pay the registration fee. Under normal circumstances, the rule of thumb is the sooner you register for your MCAT, the better. The AAMC tiers registration timeframes as Bronze, Silver, and Gold Zones. 

Be sure to schedule your test within a timeframe that allows you flexibility; you may have to reschedule if you feel you’re not ready or unable to test for any reason. 

There is also a fee assistance program that lowers your MCAT registration fee substantially, gives you free access to the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) resource, and waives AMCAS fees for one application for up to 20 schools. 

Test Day Registration 

On test day, you’ll complete MCAT registration in person to verify your identity. You must bring a photo ID and undergo fingerprinting. These fingerprints are used when you leave the testing area for breaks. Upon returning from a break, your fingerprints are required before reentry.

How to Prepare for the MCAT 

There are several ways to tackle studying for the MCAT. These are some ways to help you study to better prepare yourself and maximize your MCAT score. 

Prep Courses 

Prep courses are useful if you like schedules and want to be held accountable. An instructor will lecture on various topics and walk you through why answers are correct/incorrect. You’ll also receive homework and complete assignments. 

Prep courses typically come with abundant resources. The resources include graded practice tests, textbooks, and workbooks. An instructor is helpful when you are stumped on a passage or topic. However, these courses don’t allow much room for one-on-one, personalized instruction. 


A tutor is ideal for students who want individual attention and customized study plans/strategies. Tutors go at your pace and answer your questions while helping you understand the material. Tutors are ideal for students who want a personalized prep experience focused on their needs, goals, and preferences.

If you’re wondering how to start studying for the MCAT, an experienced tutor can help point you in the right direction. 

Independent Prep

Independent prep is best for students who are comfortable with MCAT content and can stick to a schedule on their own. If you’re especially organized, independent prep may be doable. The resources you purchase are completely up to you if you stick to this route. 

How to Study for MCAT

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam required for admission by most medical schools. To study effectively, know the exam, take relevant coursework, start test prep early using AAMC materials, and mimic real testing conditions throughout preparation.

Here are some tips to help you study for the MCAT:

Prepare Early 

You want to start preparing early to give yourself enough time to learn the material and practice strategies. Preparing too late may cause you not to be ready for exam day. You want to avoid rescheduling your exam if possible! 

Take a Diagnostic Exam and Several Sample Tests

You won’t know which areas you need to improve in until you take a diagnostic exam. The MCAT’s multiple passage types, in particular, can hinder your performance if you’re not aware of the differences between them. 

For example, some science-based passages will be graph-heavy, while CARS has passages covering many subjects. You should be comfortable moving from a passage about art to one about linguistics to one about a culture unfamiliar to you. 

Thus, it would help if you encountered a wide range of passage types before the test. Taking regular practice tests can help you gauge your progress as you answer questions and alter your strategies if needed. 

Work on Your Timing

The best way to improve time management is by completing timed, full-length tests. We recommend spending one minute on discrete questions, eight minutes on science passages, and ten minutes on CARS passages. 

Build Up Your Endurance

Test fatigue can cause you not to be as alert as needed to do well. Consistently practicing by doing practice exams builds endurance. Just be sure you give yourself enough time to review your exams effectively. If you don’t understand where you made mistakes, you may continue to make them. 

Take the Breaks During Your Practice Exam 

Take breaks during your practice exam as you would during exam day. You may feel you’re on a roll and don’t want to take breaks, but it’s important to get comfortable taking them.

You don’t know how the stress of the actual test day will affect you until the day comes. Don’t overexert yourself! This MCAT tip for test day helps you get a feel for the real thing. 

Plan Your Snacks and Lunch

Planning your meal options allows you to feel changes in your body based on what you eat. If the lunch you chose makes you too sleepy for the second half of your test, you’ll notice and be able to alter it rather than be negatively affected on test day. 

Figure Out Your Route

Determine your route to the test center well in advance. Even if you’re driving, try going to the test center on a different day to see how long it takes. If you’re flying in, determine how far you are from the test site. Knowing this information will ensure you order your ride at an appropriate time. 


We’ve outlined several common questions below to help you understand the MCAT better.

1. How Many Times Can I Take the MCAT? 

You can take the MCAT three times in one calendar year. Over two years, you’re allowed to take it four times. The MCAT has a lifetime limit of seven attempts.

2. How Long Should I Study for the MCAT? 

According to data from the AAMC, most test-takers studied for more than 16 weeks and more than 30 hours per week. The amount of time you need to study depends on your strengths and weaknesses. 

3. How Many Questions Are on the MCAT? 

There are 230 questions in total on the MCAT. The questions include both passage-based questions (groups of 4-7 questions per passage) as well as some discrete stand-alone questions.

4. How Many Sections Are on the MCAT?

The MCAT contains four sections totaling 230 questions over about 6.5 hours of testing time. The questions test science knowledge as well as critical analysis and reasoning skills.

5. Can You Use a Calculator on the MCAT? 

You cannot use a calculator on the MCAT. Test takers are expected to perform all mathematical calculations, including basic arithmetic, by hand.

6. Can You Guess on the MCAT? 

If you don’t know the answer, taking an educated guess is fine on the MCAT – there is no guessing penalty. 

7. Is the MCAT All Multiple Choice? 

Yes, the MCAT only includes multiple-choice questions. 

8. How Many Questions Are on Each Section of the MCAT? 

The Bio, Chem/Phys, and Psych sections include 59 questions each, while the CARS section has 53 questions. 

9. How Long is the MCAT Without Breaks? 

Without breaks, the MCAT is approximately six and a half hours long. 

10. Is the MCAT Hard? 

The MCAT is regarded as a challenging, long exam. While the MCAT is a hard test, performing well is possible with adequate preparation! 

11. Do All Medical Schools Require the MCAT? 

Taking the MCAT is a requirement for most North American medical schools. There are very few schools that waive the MCAT requirement, typically for Early Assurance Programs. 

12. What Is the Average MCAT Score for Medical School? 

The average MCAT score for med school is approximately 512, according to matriculant data. 

What Is the MCAT? The Key to Your Future

While the MCAT is a challenging exam, you can conquer it with proper preparation. First, you need to choose a study method. Second, make a schedule and stick to it. Remember, practice tests are your best resource while studying for the MCAT.

Be sure to simulate test conditions and review practice tests thoroughly. Section tests are a good way to strengthen your target areas. 

Don’t let the MCAT stand between you and your goals. We wish you success and are here to help you ace your exam if you’re looking for personalized, compassionate MCAT tutoring

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