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 that 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 instead. Find out more about this exam on our UKCAT page.
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.
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.
Each medical school will use your MCAT scores differently – for example, some schools weigh all sets of scores equally, whereas others take an average. If you’re unsure about the admissions process, we’d recommend contacting the medical schools themselves.
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 2018, you should take the MCAT in 2017. There are a range of testing dates throughout the year so you can select the date that best suits you.
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
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).
In April 2015, AAMC launched a new version of the MCAT. There are 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.
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.
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.
Get Help with Your MCAT
For full-length Practice Tests, Online Courses, MCAT Question Banks and more, we recommend Gold Standard’s MCAT Preparation – click on the banner below for more details: