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MCAT 101: What is the MCAT and Where Do I Start?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a national standardized test designed to gage medical school applicants' knowledge of basic science concepts, as well as their skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing.

The MCAT exam is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is required of applicants to virtually all U.S. medical schools.

What is on the MCAT? The Four Main Content Areas of the MCAT Test

The MCAT is composed of four scored sections including Physical Sciences (physics and general chemistry), Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry), and Writing Samples.

Click here for more detailed information about MCAT Format.

How the MCAT Test is Scored

All three sections of the MCAT other than the Writing Samples are in multiple-choice format and are graded based only on the number of correct answers, not on the number of errors. The three initial, raw scores, are then converted to scaled scores based on a 15-point scale, with 15 being the highest score. A total, combined score for the three multiple choice sections is also provided.

Each of two MCAT writing samples is graded on a 6-point scale by two different readers. This results in four preliminary writing sample scores for each exam. The four preliminary scores are then added together to determine a raw score for the Writing Sample section. Finally the raw score on the Writing Sample section is converted to a letter grade ranging from a low score of J to a high score of T.

Click here for more detailed information about MCAT Scores and the MCAT grading scale.

The Importance of the MCAT Score in the Medical School Application

For the majority of medical schools in the United States, the MCAT score is weighted as heavily as the GPA. In some cases, where the MCAT score and the GPA offer contradictory assessments of an applicant, schools in the U.S. may place more weight on the MCAT.

Medical schools in Canada appear to place less emphasis on the MCAT scores than U.S. medical schools. Yet, Canadian medical schools are still likely to set a minimum MCAT score standard that applicants must achieve in order to be considered.

Click here for more detailed information about the importance of MCAT Scoring.

How to Know When You Are Ready to Take the MCAT

The AAMC as well as several standardized test prep companies, including Kaplan and Princeton Review, provide limited free online and/or proctored MCAT practice tests. Updated versions of actual, retired MCAT exams are also available for order through the AAMC. Your scores on these practice tests should help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as ascertain your preparedness. Once you are satisfied with the results of your practice tests, you may be ready to conquer the MCAT itself.

A recent analysis of MCAT practice test scores by StudentDoc.com suggests that the AAMC practice tests were the single best predictors of performance on the actual MCAT.

MCAT Test Dates, Registration Schedules and Score Release Dates

With the introduction of the computer-based MCAT (cbMCAT) there are numerous MCAT testing dates available each year between the months of January and September. Registration for testing dates in the upcoming year usually begins in the fall of the previous year.

Click here for more information on MCAT registration, fees and cancellation policies.

For the official AAMC schedule of upcoming test dates and details on regular MCAT registration, late registration, and tentative MCAT score release dates, click here.

Choosing MCAT Test Dates

Clearly, medical school admissions officials recommend that the MCAT be taken in the winter or spring of the year prior to the year you plan on attending medical school. This way, you have the advantage of submitting your complete medical school application early. In addition, in the event that you are not satisfied with your MCAT results, you would still have time to retake the exam and meet your medical school application deadlines. If you are not prepared to take the MCAT early, be sure to carefully consider your medical school application deadlines when selecting your testing day. First, find out the application deadlines for the medical schools to which you are applying, then work backwards from your earliest deadline. Check the MCAT score release dates (see above) for the testing dates you are considering to be sure AMCAS will release your scores prior to the earliest application deadline. Build some extra time into your planning process for unexpected delays. Regular registration deadlines are typically two weeks prior to the test date; late registration deadlines are typically one week before the test. Register online through the AAMC here. It is recommended that you register early, as testing sites have limited capacity.

MCAT Registration Fees

In January 2010, the standard fee for regular MCAT Registration is $230. For individuals registering to take the exam at an international test site, there is an additional $65 fee. An additional $55 fee is charged for late registration, rescheduling the testing date, or changing the testing location. For current, official registration rates, visit the AAMC Registration Fees page. With no additional cost, scores are released to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). For more information on releasing scores to non-AMCAS institutions, view the AAMC's information on releasing scores.

The AAMC also offers the Fee Assistance Program (FAP) to MCAT applicants who would otherwise be unable to afford the MCAT exam or med school application process.

Click here for more information on fees and for information on cancelling your MCAT registration prior to the exam date.

Cancelling MCAT Scores

You cannot void your MCAT results once the exam has been taken and scored, however the MCAT computer based test does automatically provide you with the option to void your exam (without refund) during your scheduled examination time. This automatic void option appears at the end of your exam. At that time, you must select either to have your test scored, or to void your MCAT exam. If a selection is not made within five minutes, your MCAT exam will be scored. It is also possible to access the void option prior to completing the exam. If needed, the test administrator can instruct you on how to access the void screen early.

Once you have selected to have your test scored (or if it is scored by default because the void option had not been selected during the examination), the exam may not be voided.

If you void an exam, it will not be scored and your participation in that MCAT administration will not be reported to schools. Nevertheless, the AAMC does register that you attended the MCAT administration. Your attendance of the exam is counted toward the total of 3 times a student is eligible to take the MCAT exam without special permission from the AAMC.

Where to Find More Information About the MCAT

Visit the MCAT registration page for more information on registering for the MCAT.

Visit the AAMC MCAT home page for official MCAT information.

More MCAT Prep Information and Advice

MCAT Prep Resources

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