MCAT - The Medical College Admissions Test

MCAT - The Medical College Admissions Test #

The Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized exam required by medical schools across the country. The exam assesses competencies required for medical school and places an emphasis on problem-solving and critical analysis. The MCAT is weighted much more heavily by medical schools than the SAT or ACT is by undergraduate institutions, and it requires much more intensive preparation.

The MCAT includes four sections:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

You will need to complete coursework in both science and non-science areas in order to fully prepare for the exam.

The MCAT is not just a test of your knowledge in certain subjects like biology, chemistry, or psychology. The MCAT is also a test of your reasoning skills and your ability to independently apply the principles you have learned through your coursework. You must develop your reasoning skills to an advanced degree to be successful in mastering the MCAT.

For the critical reasoning section of the MCAT, you will be asked to read a densely-written theoretical text in some unfamiliar field and make sense of it. Use your undergraduate education to become a skilled, critical reader. Take some challenging, advanced-level coursework in the humanities or social sciences to give you exposure to theoretical writings in different disciplines. 

We recommend that you take a heavy reading course outside the sciences in the semester right before the exam.  

When to take the MCAT #

Take the MCAT when you are thoroughly prepared to obtain a strong score for admission.  Complete certain premedical coursework first, and consider the timing of your application as you decide when to schedule the exam. We generally recommend that you take the MCAT by May or June of the application cycle when you plan to apply.

If you plan to go straight to medical school after you complete your senior year of college, plan to complete the recommended premedical coursework by the spring of your junior year (or earlier) so that you will be ready to take the MCAT and apply early in the summer between your junior and senior year. If you cannot complete the recommended coursework by this time, or you have not thoroughly prepared for the exam, we suggest that you delay the exam and application to medical school until you are ready.

Although you may re-take the exam, you should only attempt the exam when you feel that you have thoroughly prepared and are ready to get your best score. Study hard, and take this exam when you believe you can do your best.

How to prepare for the MCAT #

Careful and thorough preparation for the MCAT is critical to your admission to medical school. These HPPLC tips have helped students ace the exam:

Start preparation for the MCAT early. Consider that, as you begin to take your first premed coursework, you are starting to prepare. We recommend looking at the test format and some sample questions while you are beginning to take your first premed science courses, so that you can understand how the scientific principles you are learning in your courses will be used on the MCAT.  

Do not wait until a few months before the exam to begin preparing for the MCAT. Begin serious study about one year to eight months ahead of the time you plan to take the exam. Most students need to do considerable preparation beyond mere completion of the recommended coursework to be successful on the MCAT.

Take a full-length practice exam one year to eight months before taking the actual MCAT. Use this practice exam to assess your strengths and weaknesses and create a concrete plan to prepare for the exam. Even if you plan to enroll in a prep course, you can begin some preparation ahead of time.

Use a set of subject review books along with practice test resources. We highly recommend using all the AAMC practice testing materials, including exams and question packs. These practice questions are written by the same people writing questions on the MCAT so they provide clues about what to expect. In addition, the Khan Academy has developed free MCAT prep resources HPPLC also has paper versions of the AAMC MCAT practice exams available for free check-out overnight. Contact HPPLC at to borrow exams. These exams are in the older, paper-and-pencil format, but they are still quite useful. The verbal reasoning section on the old exam is much the same as the new critical reasoning section. The old exams also provide additional science problems for practice.
Take and study practice tests. Prepare intensively through repeated, timed MCAT practice exams and thorough review of the test questions and solutions. It’s easy to get bogged down in months of content review, but successful students spend just as much time working with practice exams.  After taking a practice test, go over each problem, and try to reconstruct in your mind what you were thinking when you read it the first time.  This will help you identify where your reasoning was correct and where it went wrong. Over time this will help you improve your ability to read a problem, decipher what it’s really about, and avoid falling for the wrong answer. Studying practice tests you’ve taken is the most effective way to improve your reasoning skills and the single-most important step in preparing for this exam.

HPPLC offers a low-cost MCAT prep workshop to help students prepare for the exam. Speak to your HPPLC advisor for more information.

Whether you enroll in this workshop or not, we would be happy to consult with you on your methods of preparation.