The Medical College Admission Test (abbreviated MCAT) is a computer-based standardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States and Canada. It is designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis and knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. Prior to August 19, 2006, the exam was a paper-and-pencil test; since January 27, 2007, however, all administrations of the exam have been computer-based.
The exam is offered 25 or more times per year at Prometric centers. The number of administrations may vary each year. Most people who take the MCAT are undergraduates in college in their Junior or Senior year of college before they apply to medical school. Ever since the exam's duration was shortened to 4.5–5 hours, the test may be offered either in the morning or in the afternoon. Some test dates have both morning and afternoon administrations.
The test consists of four sections, listed in the order in which they are administered on the day of the exam:
• Physical Sciences (PS)
• Verbal Reasoning (VR)
• Biological Sciences (BS)
• Trial Section (optional)
The Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences sections are in multiple-choice format. The passages and questions are predetermined, and thus do not change in difficulty depending on the performance of the test taker (unlike, for example, the general Graduate Record Examination).
The Physical Sciences section assesses problem-solving ability in general chemistry and physics and the Biological Sciences section evaluates these abilities in the areas ofbiology and organic chemistry. The Verbal Reasoning section evaluates the ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information and arguments presented in prose style. The Biological Sciences section most directly correlates to success on the USMLE Step 1 exam, with a correlation coefficient of .553 vs .491 for Physical Sciences and .397 for Verbal Reasoning. Predictably, MCAT composite scores also correlate with USMLE Step 1 success.
Verbal Reasoning - 40 questions - 60 minutes
Physical Science - 52 questions - 70 minutes
Writing Sample - 40 questions - 60 minutes
Biological Sciences - 52 questions - 70 minutes
Total Content Time 4 hrs, 20 min
The Physical Sciences section is administered first (prior to the April 2003 MCAT, Verbal Reasoning was the first section of the exam). It is composed of 52 multiple-choice questions related to general chemistry and physics. The majority of the multiple-choice questions are divided into passage sets. Passage-based questions are implemented to evaluate "text comprehension, data analysis, ability to evaluate an argument, or apply knowledge from the passage to other contexts." Examinees are allotted 70 minutes to complete this section of the exam.
The Verbal Reasoning section follows the Physical Sciences section and an optional 10 minute break. Exam takers have 60 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions evaluating their comprehension, evaluation, and application of information gathered from written passages. Unlike the Physical and Biological Sciences sections, the Verbal Reasoning section is not supposed to require specific content knowledge in order to perform well.
After Verbal Reasoning, there is an optional 10 minute break followed by the Biological Sciences section. Examinees have 70 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions related to organic chemistry and biology.
Beginning in 2013, the Writing Sample was removed in order to make room for a new Trial Section that will test examinees in either: biochemistry, biology, chemistry, and physicsor in psychology, sociology, and biology. The new Trial Section is optional and will be in effect from 2013 to 2014 only. The Trial Section is not scored and is not to be a part of the exam taker's composite score. Exam takers have a total of 45 minutes to answer 32 multiple-choice questions. The Trial Section is merely an option to examinees who choose not to void their exam after the Biological Sciences sectio
Like some other professional exams (e.g. the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)), the MCAT may be voided on the day of the exam if the exam taker is not satisfied with his or her performance. It can be voided at any time during the exam, or during a five-minute window that begins immediately after the end of the last section. The decision to void can only be based on the test taker's self-assessment, as no scoring information is available at the time—it takes 30–35 days for scores to be returned.
The AAMC prohibits the use of calculators, timers, or other electronic devices during the exam. Cellular phones are also strictly prohibited from testing rooms and individuals found to possess them are noted by name in a security report submitted to the AAMC. The only item that may be brought into the testing room is the candidate's photo ID. If a jacket or sweater is worn, it may not be removed in the testing room.
It is no longer a rule that students must receive permission from the AAMC if they wish to take the MCAT more than three times in total. The limit with the computerized MCAT is three times per year, with no lifetime limit. An examinee can register for only one test date at a time, and must wait two days after testing before registering for a new test date.
Scaled MCAT exam results are made available to examinees approximately thirty days after the test via the AAMC's MCAT Testing History (THx) Web application. Examinees do not receive a copy of their scores in the mail. Nor are examinees given their raw scores. MCAT THx is also used to transmit scores to medical schools, application services and other organizations (at no cost).