The MCAT is designed to assess your mastery of basic skills that are felt to be prerequisite for the successful completion of medical school. The exam changed format starting in April 1991. The MCAT is now a 5.75 hour exam divided into four general sections:
|Section||# of Questions||Time (min.)|
The first section of the MCAT is the Physical Sciences section. This section is composed of 77 multiple choice questions that test reasoning skills in physics and general chemistry. Sixty-two of the questions are based on problem sets, each about 250 words in length, that describe a situation or science problem. The section contains about 10 of these problem sets, where each set contains 5-10 questions. An additional 15 questions will be given that are independent of any problem set or any other question. Questions are designed to test your science knowledge and problem solving ability in physics and general chemistry. You are expected to be familiar with graphical and tabular analysis. The passages accompanying each problem set will fall into one of four general types: informational presentation, problem solving, research study, or persuasive argument. Time allotted for answering all 77 questions will be 100 minutes. A ten minute break will then be given.
The Verbal Reasoning section is designed to assess your ability to understand and evaluate information in arguments contained in prose texts. The section consists of 9 passages, each 500-600 words in length, taken from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Each passage will be followed by 6-10 questions. Questions are designed to measure performance in four areas: comprehension, evaluation, application, and incorporation of new information. Eighty-five minutes will be allotted for completion of this section. A 60 minute lunch break follows this section.
The MCAT Writing Sample section, given right after the lunch break, requires you to write two 30-minute essays. The Writing Sample is designed to assess your skills in the areas of developing a central idea, synthesizing concepts, clear presentation of ideas, writing clearly, and minimizing errors in form. Each Writing Sample will ask you to interpret with example a statement of opinion, philosophy, or policy. Knowledge in any particular area is not expected. However, you will be expected to explore the meaning of the given statement and to discuss conflict resolution. You will be scored on the degree in which you explain the meaning of the given statement and the depth to which you explore examples and provide careful analysis. You are also scored on thoroughness, clarity, and form. A 10 minute break will be given before starting the final section.
The fourth and final section of the MCAT is the survey of the Biological Sciences. This section includes concepts from biology and organic chemistry. There will also be 62 multiple choice questions based on passages and 15 independent multiple choice questions. The passage types are similar to those described for the physical sciences section. Again, a 100 minutes will be allowed to answer all 77 Biological Sciences questions.
We must point out that this is a challenging exam. You are probably not familiar with passage type problems which require you to analyze experimental data, research design, experimental apparatus, graphs, and information presented in tables and charts. The majority of the science questions on the MCAT present information in one of these formats. In addition, you may not have covered in your college coursework all the topics that the MCAT covers. We strongly recommend that you carefully evaluate your background and aptitudes when deciding how to prepare for this most important exam.
You are given a separate score for each of the four sections of the MCAT. These four scores are reported to you, the medical schools you designate, and if you wish, to your premedical advisor. In addition, medical schools have access to a copy of the Writing Sample essays.
In each of the Physical Sciences (PS), Verbal Reasoning (VR), and Biological Sciences (BS) sections, the number of correct answers you provide gives your raw score. This raw score is converted to a scaled score. The scaled scores used for reporting MCAT scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 15. A score of 8 is the national mean for each section. Every two points above or below an eight represents one standard deviation. For those of you not familiar with statistics, 67% of those taking the test will fall between one standard deviation above and below the mean. 95% of those taking the test will fall between two standard deviations above and below the mean. Thus, a scaled score of 10 puts you in the top 16th percentile nationally, while a scaled score of 12 puts you in the top 2 percentile nationally.
Your raw score on the Writing Sample is determined by each of two graders assigning each of your essays a score from 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest). The raw scores of your two essays are summed and it is this number that is converted to an alphabetic scale ranging from J (lowest) to T (highest).
MCAT scores are critical in your evaluation as an applicant to medical school. Since applicants come from all over the country and from hundreds of different undergraduate institutions, the MCAT provides a means to compare all applicants with a common measurement. The MCAT should be used by you to do two things: to validate your GPA and background, or to indicate that your GPA may not represent your true capabilities. You never want the MCAT to indicate that your GPA may be inflated or that your background may not be as strong as it seems. In other words, you want the MCAT to help you, not hurt you.
Most admissions committees use your MCAT scores and GPA in formulas to determine a point total for you. Some of these formulas look at your science GPA with the science sections of the MCAT, while your non-science or overall GPA may be linked with your Verbal Reasoning score. Each individual medical school has a different system, but many of these link your MCAT scores in a multiplicative way with your GPA. This has very important implications. As you know, it is very difficult to raise your GPA to a significant degree in a short period of time. However, you can significantly raise your MCAT scores, and hence your "total points" on your admissions analysis, by intensive MCAT preparation over a short period of time. The importance of your MCAT cannot be stressed enough!
For some of you, the MCAT may determine whether or not you gain admission to medical school. For others, the MCAT may determine which medical school you attend. As you know, state-supported medical schools are relatively inexpensive compared to private medical schools. The difference in tuition between public and private medical schools can be over $20,000 per year! A high MCAT score can make you competitive for your state-supported medical school and can save you tens of thousands of dollars in tuition compared to your attending a private school. We strongly recommend that you take your MCAT preparation seriously because there is a great deal at stake, both professionally and financially!
You can obtain the MCAT application online at www.aamc.org/mcat. The exam is administered by:
MCAT Program Office
P.O. Box 4056
Iowa City, IA 52243
Questions relating to MCAT policy and procedures should be addressed to the Association of Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., Phone: (202) 828-0400. The fee to take the MCAT is approximately $200, but you may qualify for a fee reduction if you have extreme financial limitations. Please refer to the MCAT application information for details.
You should take the MCAT the year prior to your planned matriculation into medical school. For example, if you wish to start medical school in fall 2007, you should take the MCAT in spring 2006 or fall 2006. There is an advantage to taking the MCAT during the spring administration because your application to medical school will be completed earlier and evaluated by the medical schools sooner. Medical school acceptances are often given to the spring MCAT students first because their admissions files are completed earlier. Taking the MCAT in the spring also gives you the opportunity to retake the exam in fall without having to reapply to medical school. You may wish to take the fall MCAT if you must have the summer to prepare and were unable or unprepared to take the spring exam.
There are a variety of MCAT preparation programs available. Most of these programs are run by companies who offer a wide range of preparation programs including: LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and SAT. We are the only national program that limits itself to and specializes in MCAT preparation. Course tuition for popular MCAT prep courses varies from about $800 to $1,500. More than one-half of students who take the MCAT take a prep course, and most students feel that some courses are extremely helpful.
There are some good MCAT workbooks available to you in your college bookstore. However, most are introductory in nature with limited review and practice testing. Our Intensive Home Study course is comprehensive, very detailed in all areas, and highly structured. It is not available at any bookstore, only through us directly via www.columbiareview.com!
Whether or not you take a prep course, you should obtain all released MCAT questions. We suggest that you purchase the MCAT Practice Test booklets. You may purchase these materials directly at www.aamc.org/mcat or by calling the AAMC at (202) 828-0416.
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