The MCAT Explained

Posted in: MCAT

October 22, 2018 | by Alexis

The MCAT Explained

The MCAT is the test that you need to write to become a doctor, in which you need to achieve a highly competitive score, even just to be considered by Canadian (and American) medical schools. It’s big, it’s important, and most students find it terrifying. It’s also widely and intensely misunderstood. It’s not a science test. It doesn’t check whether you’ve taken the requisite courses; your resume does that. It doesn’t examine your recall; your GPA provides that information. The MCAT asks you to use your knowledge of behavioural, biological and physical sciences in a test of your critical thinking and reasoning; it’s an indicator of whether you have what it takes to be a doctor.

The best way to start is to understand the MCAT. Tame the fear by understanding the process, history and context.

What does MCAT stand for and who runs it?

The MCAT is the standardized admission test for both American and Canadian medical schools.

  • MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test.
  • The MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and is also the official admissions test used by Canadian medical schools.

What is the format of the test?

The MCAT asks you to synthesize knowledge in several fields, under strict time constraints.

  • The total “content” or work time of the test is 6 hours and 15 minutes.
  • The total “seated” time is approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  • The MCAT has 230 questions.
  • The questions are multiple choice.
  • 80% of the questions are passage-based (i.e. are based on dense jargon-filled readings that vary in length, format and topic).
  • 20% of the questions are free-standing (i.e. are not based on a passage, and are either memorization based or problem-solving based).
  • The MCAT is computer based.

What are the sections?

The exam itself has four sections.

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

Three of the sections have a (usually human) biological context: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behaviour. These sections test your knowledge of basic concepts with an emphasis on critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem-solving. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section tests your ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information.

What does the MCAT really test?

The MCAT really looks at whether an applicant has what it takes to be a doctor. It tests for the following skills and abilities:

  • Scientific reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Problem-solving
  • Interdisciplinary thinking
  • Reading comprehension
  • Time management
  • Mental stamina
  • composure

What are you permitted to use?

All applicants will be given some material:

  • Sheets of rough paper (two at a time)
  • Foam earplugs
  • Pencils

Nobody is permitted calculators, timers or watches.

How is it marked?

The MCAT is marked as follows:

  • Questions are weighted equally
  • There is no penalty for incorrect answers
  • There is a random order of difficulty

How are MCAT scores used?

The MCAT score will be looked at several times in the admission process. You need to reach the cut-off for admission (which varies from medical school to medical school). Even after this, the score will be looked at as a tie-breaker later on.

  • Your MCAT score will be looked at: in the application screening (to make sure you’ve reached the cutoff), in the pre-interview stage (to select the applicants to interview), and in the post-interview stage (to make admission decisions).

Why does it exist?

The MCAT levels the playing field. It’s a standardized test;  it compares students from diverse academic backgrounds, as GPA standards can vary greatly between different universities and different majors. It has been a great indicator of applicants who have what it takes to go into medicine. After the introduction of the MCAT in the application process, drop-out rates in medical schools fell from 50% in the 1950s to 7% today.

Which university courses help
prepare students for the MCAT

There are no academic pre-requisites to write the MCAT, but there are some courses that will help.

  • It is highly recommended that you take biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology.
  • It is also recommended that you have lab components in two or more of your courses.

Can you study for the MCAT?

Yes! You can prepare for the MCAT. You should revise your science knowledge, but you should also practice answering multiple choice and passage-based questions. You should learn strategy and technique.

Here’s where Prep101 can help. Qualified instructors know both the material and the test itself. In intensive sessions, they’ll help you learn how to tackle the readings, dissect and simplify the questions, and strategize. They’ll help you to study, to practice, and they’ll give you feedback as you go.



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