Understanding and Preparing for the MCAT

Understanding and Preparing for the MCAT

During your journey to becoming a doctor, you will hear a great deal about the MCAT -- and for good reason. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) was developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to serve as a metric to determine one's potential and future performance at medical school.

In this post, we'll walk through key aspects of the MCAT, explore strategies for preparing and succeeding on the test, and discuss your options if you don't perform as well as you'd like.

Use the links below to navigate to different sections:

  1. What Is the MCAT?
  2. What Is on the MCAT?
  3. How to Prepare for the MCAT
  4. How Hard Is the MCAT?
  5. What to Do if You Have a Low MCAT Score

Or keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the MCAT.

What is the MCAT?

The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam that also administered by the AAMC. It was developed to help medical school admissions offices determine your skills in critical areas. These include critical thinking and problem solving, as well as those principles and concepts in the behavioral, natural, and social sciences that are required if you are planning on studying the field of medicine.

Comprised of four sections -- critical analysis and reasoning skills; chemical and physical foundations of biological systems; biological and biochemical foundations of living systems; and psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior -- each has a specific number of questions that must be completed within a strict time frame. Each of these sections is scored using a specific range from 118 to 132. The median score for each section is 125.

While the overall score average is set at 500, ranges of between 472 and 528 are possible. You'll receive scores for each section as well as an overall score.

What is on the MCAT?

The following is a brief overview of what you can expect to find within each section of the MCAT.

Section One

The first section of the MCAT measures your knowledge regarding the biological and biochemical foundations of living systems. It contains 59 questions which must be completed within 95 minutes.

Focusing primarily on educational content contained within introductory biology and first-semester biochemistry, it tests your knowledge and reasoning skills when it comes to organ systems and cell processes. This section of the MCAT also tests your understanding and knowledge of the concepts that are fundamental to living organisms including how they respond, metabolize, grow, adapt, and reproduce.

Section Two

This section focuses on your knowledge and understanding of the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems. It also contains 59 questions that you must finish within 95 minutes.

General chemistry, introductory physics, organic chemistry, and first-semester biochemistry are the primary academic disciplines that you'll find that the questions are drawn from for this section. Expect to find questions regarding organs, human tissues, and organ systems and your understanding of their physical, biochemical, and mechanical functions. You'll also be tested on the mechanisms of the body, as well as your ability to apply and reason about your understanding of living systems.

Section Three

Section three of the MCAT tests your understanding of the behavioral and sociocultural components of health and how sociology, psychology, and biology apply to them. Your ability to both use and apply research statistics and methods is also tested.

Like sections one and two, section three contains 59 questions and you'll have 95 minutes in which to complete it. This section pulls its question bank heavily from introductory psychology with introductory sociology also playing a large part.

Section Four

Because section four focuses on both your reasoning and critical analysis skills, there is no correlating content knowledge. Instead, you'll be given passages to read before answering questions that use your ability to reason and display critical thinking skills. Expect to be presented with complex passages involving concepts like ethics, cultural studies, philosophy, and population health.

How to Prepare for the MCAT

The MCAT is a challenging and time-sensitive test that requires a great deal of preparation. In order to fully distill and absorb the necessary information, it's a good idea to develop a comprehensive plan that starts early.

We recommend following these strategies:

  • Develop a timeline. Be prepared to spend between 200 and 500 hours that are devoted solely to studying for the MCAT. Develop a timeline that gives you ample time to study without rushing or procrastinating.
  • Know what works for you. Use the study methods that have provided you with success in the past. For some people that might mean in-person classes or virtual study groups. Others might take a more independent route and study using online resources, books, or a combination.
  • Practice makes perfect. Make judicious use of the practice tests. Not only does this give you a realistic sense of the timing involved, but it can also help you identify your weak spots.
  • Set smart goals. Be sure to set goals for yourself so you can stay on track with preparations. Though you can take the MCAT twice, it's better if you do your best the first time. The MCAT is expensive, stressful, and time-consuming.

Every individual is different when it comes to test prep. Some people thrive in a testing environment and intuitively know how to set themselves up for a successful outcome; others will require more dedicated effort to get a passing score. Either way, the MCAT is only one portion of your medical education, so take your time, stay calm, and put your best foot forward.

How Hard is the MCAT Test?

Whether test-taking comes naturally to you or you prefer a hands-on educational setting (such as a clinical), there's no way around it: the MCAT is nothing to take lightly.

The MCAT is a difficult and stressful exam that schools in the United States place a heavy emphasis on.

So what happens if it doesn't go as planned and you find yourself with a low score?

If you don't do as well on the MCAT as you'd hoped, your dreams of becoming a doctor can still be realized. In fact, many successful doctors found themselves in the same situation! 

Caribbean medical schools offer you another option so you aren't held back by your MCAT scores. At Trinity, we're proud to say that we don't see the MCAT as a barrier to entry when it comes to getting a high-quality medical education.

Many applicants struggle to find a quality medical school that accepts low MCAT scores. At Trinity, we firmly acknowledge that an MCAT score is only a starting point to a student's potential. That's why we also consider:

  • Relevant work experience
  • Internships
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Strategic extracurriculars

Not to mention -- we look at an applicant's individual experience on their personal and academic journey. We consider intangible factors such as drive, focus, and dedication to the field. That means a lot more than a single score!

What to Do If You Have a Low MCAT Score

All of that to say, we believe that the MCAT is only one factor to consider in a future doctor's potential. If you find yourself with a low MCAT score, consider your options outside of the traditional U.S. or Canadian medical school. Offshore medical schools can often be more forgiving and, like Trinity, look to other factors aside from MCAT results.

If this information is helping you breathe a sigh of relief, you're not alone. Apply to Trinity today to join our roster of promising future doctors, all of whom are much more than an MCAT score.