The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): MCAT Prep, Testing and Scoring
Upon completion of the mandatory course work, the next big hurdle you will face is the MCAT. The MCAT is the first of many major exams that you will have to pass on your way to becoming a practicing physician. All but one major US medical school uses results from this test to select candidates. The MCAT is offered in April and August of each year. So when you are planning out your steps to become a doctor, keep in mind that it is a good idea to take the exam in April of your Junior year of college so you can have your results back in time to begin applying to med school in the summer. Most programs begin taking applications in the summer a year prior to fall admission. If you do poorly you can re-take the test in August, but doing so will probably delay your admission into medical school by a year and shouldn't be considered unless you are sure that you can increase your scores significantly. Many students take MCAT prep courses before sitting for the exam and find them helpful. However, the courses are quite expensive and if you are good at studying on your own, you can probably do as well without them. The prerequisite courses mentioned above all help prepare you to pass this test which consists of four sections:
MCAT scores are based on the four parts of the MCAT exam: Physical Sciences (PS), Verbal Reasoning (VR), Biological Sciences (BS), and the Writing Sample (WS).
- For PS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For VR, there are 60 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For BS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For WS, there are 2 questions, with a scoring range of J to T.
Med School Admissions Acceptance Statistics:
There are two different types of physicians that we think of as "Doctors". Generally speaking, the difference betweed MD and DO is that the traditional MD degree is granted from allopathic medical schools and the DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) is granted from Osteopathic schools. Training and curriculum is very similar between the two, with the main difference being that Osteopaths learn skeletal and muscular manipulation (similar to Chiropractors) to complement traditional medical treatment. Both are recognized and board certified by the American Medical Association. Although Osteopathic schools have lower requirements for GPA and MCAT scores, their acceptance rate is lower because there are fewer positions available. Also of note is that tuition for Osteopathic schools is generally higher since most of the programs are private.
Following is information compiled in 2005 (* figures are for 1999) for acceptance to US allopathic medical schools. As you can see, only about 4 out of 10 applicants are accepted.
US Medical Schools (Allopathic)
- 125 schools
- 37,304 applicants
- 17,004 entrants
- 42.4%* acceptance
- 48.5% women
- 11.3%* US under-represented minorities
- 11.7 applications/applicant*
- 59% Public/41% Private*
Average Matriculant Scores
- VR 9.7
- PS 10.1
- BS 10.1
- WS P
- Sciences 3.56
- Total 3.63
* Adapted from: Pfizer Medical Manual, 1999 and AAMC FACTS
It is very important to get exposure to the healthcare industry prior to applying to medical school. Admissions committees want to see that you have been exposed to the unique stresses of handling medical crises and that your desire to become a physician is grounded in actual knowledge of the job. Volunteering at a local hospital or clinic is a good idea, but your experience should be patient contact rather than just typing or filing. Having recommendations from doctors or nurses who have worked with you in a clinical setting is a major boost to your overall application. Obtaining a license as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) and either working EMT or CNA jobs or volunteering in those capacities is an excellent way to gain experience. While a focus on the required academic steps to become a doctor is critical, the importance of gaining experience in patient care should not be overlooked.
Articles in this series:
- Becoming a Doctor Are you trying to decide whether becoming a doctor is right for you? Take a realistic look at what it takes to get there.
- Steps to Become a Doctor Premed Planning - The timeline and steps to become a doctor, including undergraduate studies, gaining experience in the medical industry and taking the MCAT
- Applying to Medical School Ready to apply to medical school? Be prepared for the application process and for medical school interviews.
- How to Become a Doctor What to Expect in Medical School - Medical school curriculum, USMLE, and the cost of medical school
- NRMP and Medical Residency What is residency for doctors? Medical Residency, ERAS, NRMP, the Residency Match and the Scramble - The process of getting matched with a medical residency position, and the medical resident's role
- Being a Doctor What It's Like to be a Doctor