A Guide to the Medical College Admissions Test: MCAT.
Most people are familiar with with a standardized test known as the SAT. However, there is a far more difficult and interesting test used to determine your qualifications for admission to medical school. This test is known as the medical college admissions test, or the MCAT. This is a standardized test taken by all medical school applicants the year before they apply to medical school.
The MCAT has four major components. The first is a physical science section, which encompasses general chemistry and physics. The second section is a biological sciences section, which encompasses biology and organic chemistry. The third section is a verbal comprehension section, which involves reading short paragraphs and answering questions regarding those readings. The fourth and final section of the MCAT is a writing section in which you are given a writing topic and asked to compose to short essays.
The first three sections; physical sciences, biological sciences and verbal comprehension, are each scored on a scale of 2 to 15. 15 being a perfect score. Each of those scores are then added up to create a final score range from 6 at the low end to 45 highest. Very few people will score over 40 combined, and each year, only about 3-6 people in the entire country will score a perfect 45.
The scoring for the essay section is slightly different. There are two essays that you will be asked to write. Each essay is read by two different reviewers. The reviewer’s then score your essay on a scale of one to six. Those two scores are then added up giving a possible range of 2 to 12. For some unknown reason, this number score is then turned into a letter, but not starting with the letter A. Oddly enough, they start with the letter J. The letter J is the lowest score possible on the essay section, with the letter T being a perfect score on the essay section. I’ll take a moment to brag to note that I was one of only 200 people in the country to get a letter T on the essay section the year I took the MCAT. Yippie for me!
Your score report will then be a sum of the scores from the first three sections followed by the letter score from the essay section. Such as 32R, for example.
As mentioned, the physical sciences section includes material on general chemistry and first year college physics. In theory, you do not need advanced chemistry or physics classes to do well on this section. Although it is vital to have a deep understanding of the basic material from those courses.
In the biological sciences, you will be tested on general biology and organic chemistry. Organic chemistry is generally considered to be one of the hardest “pre-med” course and has been known to fry the neurons of many an aspiring doctor. Again, knowledge beyond the basic courses is not absolutely required, although many students will find it useful to have more biology and sciences classes under their belt in order to solidify their understanding of the topics.
It is important to begin preparation for the MCAT early in your premed career. Many people find taking formal review courses such as those offered by Kaplan, or Princeton Review, to be useful. Personally, I used Kaplan and scored quite well on the MCAT. It should be noted that these review courses are not inexpensive. This should be budgeted for properly when considering how much it is going to cost to apply to medical school.
The MCAT is likely to be the first test that you will take in your academic career which is difficult to do well on by simply being a generally intelligent person. It requires quite serious study and preparation in order to achieve a high score. You are in competition with some of the more intelligent people who go to college when you take this test. Many people who found the science classes in college to be difficult will have already chosen not to take the MCAT, which means those who do sit for this exam will be amongst the brightest in your classes.
The MCAT is the single most common cause for someone to decide to no longer be a premed major in college and to pursue a different career path. You are allowed to take the MCAT exam of more than one time, however it should be noted that each score report will be sent to the medical schools to which you apply. They will know if you’ve taken the exam more than once, and will take those scores into account if they choose to do so. Because of this is important to score as high as you possibly can for the first time you take it.