The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is an exam that most US and Canadian medical schools require you to take in order to be eligible to apply for a graduate course in medicine.
So if you’re thinking of applying to study medicine in the US or Canada, you’ll need to prepare for and take an MCAT exam in a designated test centre.
This page provides the headline information on the MCAT, before offering a step-by-step guide on what you need to do. Don’t forget to use all the subpages to make the most of the section.
What Is The MCAT?
First, the basics. The MCAT is a multiple choice exam taken on a computer, designed to test not only your basic knowledge of scientific concepts but your critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills too.
Remember! In the US, the formal study of medicine is only available at postgraduate level. In order to attend a US medical school, a student must hold an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline.
Most UK medical schools don’t accept MCAT results. If you’re only applying for medicine in the UK, you will probably need to take the UKCAT test instead. Find out about the UKCAT here.
Who Uses The MCAT?
Virtually all medical schools in the US, and many in Canada, require you to take the MCAT before you can apply.
A few medical schools in the US have made the MCAT an optional requirement – but they usually advise that you could be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you choose to apply without it. The notable example of a school that does not require the MCAT (but advises that you do take it anyway) is Dartmouth Medical School.
In Canada, there are a few schools that don’t require you to take the MCAT. But they each have differing entry requirements and advice to applicants, so it’s best to check with the individual schools you are looking to apply to.
In the UK, you can use MCAT results to apply to St George’s Medical Schools’ International Graduate Medicine (MBBS4) programme.
When Should I Take The MCAT?
You take the MCAT in the calendar year before you intend to start study. So, if you’re applying for entry in 2016, you should take the MCAT in 2015.
The MCAT can be taken:
- up to 3 times in a single testing year
- up to 4 times in a two year period
- up to 7 times in a lifetime
Test dates in the UK for rest of 2015 are as follows: August 5; August 6; August 21; August 22; September 3; September 11; September 12; September 23.
In order to secure a test date, you should try and register for your MCAT 60 days in advance. The official registration deadline is 14 days before the test date.
What does the MCAT consist of?
The MCAT is a multiple choice exam that takes approximately 7 ½ hours to complete. This time includes a half hour break and two 10-minute breaks, as well as optional time at the beginning for a short tutorial.
All questions are multiple choice. Some are passage-based (you will be given a passage to read and assess, and a relevant question), and some are ‘discreet’ (you will be asked a short, direct question and given a choice of four answers).
The MCAT has four sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
The first three sections are designed to test your basic knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, sociology and psychology.
These sections each consist of 59 multiple choice questions. You have 95 minutes to complete each paper.
The fourth section, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, doesn’t require any outside knowledge – it’s designed to test your ability to analyze and comprehend what you read.
This section consists of 53 questions. You have 90 minutes to complete it.
You can read more about the individual MCAT sections here.
How Does The MCAT Differ From UKCAT?
The most important difference between the MCAT and the UKCAT is that they are designed for students with different levels of experience and different qualifications.
The UKCAT is designed for school-leavers who have completed their A-Levels, Scottish Highers or International Baccalaureate.
In the US, you can only study medicine at postgraduate level, so the MCAT is designed for students who have completed introductory, undergraduate-level courses in the sciences. You will not be able to take the MCAT if you have taken A-Levels, Scottish Highers or International Baccalaureate without first obtaining a relevant undergraduate degree.
Finally, the UKCAT does not test specific scientific knowledge – it is designed to test verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning. It doesn’t contain any curriculum content, whereas the MCAT specifically tests knowledge and skills previously acquired.
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