The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice exam that evaluates your skills and knowledge on key topics needed for medical students and other aspiring healthcare professionals. Nearly all medical schools in the United States and many in Canada require applicants to take the MCAT.
What Is the MCAT for?
The MCAT is a principal entry requirement to enroll in medical school. Some programs even accept MCAT scores in place of other standardized tests. The exam assesses important science-based skills and knowledge that medical educators, physicians, students, and residents consider prerequisites for successful medical school study.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) administers the MCAT from late January through September every year. Exam topics cover social, natural, and behavioral concepts commonly found in introductory science courses. Many schools do not accept MCAT scores over three or more years old, so preparing and taking the test in a decent time frame is important.
Sections & Topics
What's on the MCAT Exam?
The exam consists of four timed sections and takes about 7.5 hours to complete, with breaks included. The first three sections require test takers to finish 59 multiple choice questions within 95 minutes. The last section, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, asks students to answer 53 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes. The format of the MCAT is as follows:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems – measures your understanding of biology and organic and inorganic chemistry topics.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems – evaluates proficiency in basic biochemistry, general chemistry, and physics.
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior – assesses your ability to recognize or understand introductory-level psychological, sociological, and biological concepts.
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – tests reading comprehension with passages from social science and humanities sources.
Who Can Take the MCAT Exam?
If you plan to enroll or register in any health professional school in the U.S. or Canada or any other institution requiring the exam, you meet the MCAT exam eligibility criteria. Students in the U.S. and Canada also need an undergraduate degree to register for the exam and attend medical school. Specifically, you meet eligibility requirements if:
- You have or are pursuing a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree, especially as an international student.
- You want to pursue a career in osteopathic, podiatric, allopathic, or veterinary science.
- During registration, you have applied for a medical school and mentioned it in the verification statement.
- You have special permission from AAMC if you take the MCAT for reasons other than a medical career.
When to Take the MCAT
Since medical schools rely heavily on your recent MCAT score, you should take the exam after preparing for all required topics and skills. When choosing a date, consider whether you'll need to retake the exam and how well you understand the content. Keep in mind there are testing limits. You can only take the MCAT three times in one calendar year. The lifetime limit is seven attempts.
A good rule of thumb is to take the MCAT one year before you plan to enter medical school to ensure you have the most recent score. Start studying for the MCAT about three to five months before the exam date. This approach ensures you have plenty of time to review materials, take a practice course, and arrange your schedule in advance.
How to Register for the MCAT Online
You can register online for the exam through the AAMC's MCAT Scheduling and Registration System. Create an account on the AAMC website to access and view MCAT registration dates and select a location. MCAT preregistration is available for those who want more time to enter their personal information and read and accept MCAT policies and forms.
When to Register for the MCAT
AAMC recommends you sign up for the MCAT at least 60 days before your desired date, so you have plenty of time to prepare. You can visit the AAMC website for more registration and scheduling options, including MCAT registration deadlines and accommodation requests.
There are 60-, 30-, and 10-day deadlines to register for the MCAT. After the 10-day deadline, you cannot change your exam schedule. This cutoff is also the last date to schedule, reschedule, or cancel a reserved exam time, as well as the final day to edit registration information such as your name or address.
How Much Does It Cost to Take the MCAT?
The standard registration fee for the MCAT is $325. For those who need financial help, the AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program reducing the cost to $130. Rescheduling the test also requires a small fee. If you need to cancel your exam, you can receive a partial refund if you cancel 30 or more days before the test date.