MCAT: Test Structure, Syllabus, Fees, Eligibility, Preparation, and Scoring Pattern for Medical Studies in the USA and Canada
What is MCAT?
The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a standardized, computer-based test offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to prospective medical students in the USA and Canada. Almost every medical school in the USA and Canada uses MCAT scores to select candidates for their interview and admission process. MCAT has been a part of the medical admission process in the USA and Canada for more than 90 years. The MCAT score is considered the biggest deal-breaker for admission to MD or MD-PhD programs in North American medical colleges. The test is also used by Carrebean Islands and some Australian medical universities as a part of their admissions.
MCAT is without a doubt one of the most critical and challenging exams for medical students. It is a test that determines whether or not a student will thrive in the medical field. The MCAT is also linked to a student’s capacity to perform well on the USMLE, or United States Medical Licensing Examination, and hence passing it is a significant achievement for a medical student. The MCAT fees are paid for out of pocket by the student and are not covered by any scholarships available to medical students in the USA.
Overview of MCAT test
The highlights of the MCAT test are listed in the table below; continue reading to learn more.
|Total duration of MCAT||7 hours and 30 minutes|
|Actual test duration||6 hours and 15 minutes|
|Break time||50 minutes|
|Time allotted for administrative tasks||25 minutes|
|Number of sections||4|
|Number of attempts allowed per student||3 attempts per year, 4 every two years, and 7 for life|
|MCAT fees||Standard registration fee (325 USD*), fee assistance program registration (130 USD*) and international fee (120 USD*)|
|MCAT score range||472 to 528|
|MCAT study material||AAMC and the Khan Academy website|
|MCAT score validity||2 to 3 years|
|MCAT results||30 to 35 days post-exam|
MCAT syllabus and test structure
The MCAT is mandatory for students who wish to study in the USA for an MD course. The test is specifically designed to test problem-solving skills, critical thinking, analytical skills, and scientific concepts and principles. AAMC revised the test policies and structure in 2015 to include the recent changes in the medicine and science field. MCAT is divided into four categories, each of which is aimed to determine if prospective medical students possess the conceptual understanding and analytical skills required for success in medical school.
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
The MCAT’s format and content are designed based on the opinions of medical school teachers, medical residents, and medical students about the academic preparation required for medical school. Most colleges and universities cover all of the subjects on the MCAT in beginning courses, such as introductory physics, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.
Students get six hours and fifteen minutes to answer the questions in each of the four sections, which are all multiple-choice. Students are also given breaks in between each section, i.e., fifty minutes in total. The total duration of the test is therefore seven hours and thirty minutes, including twenty-five minutes of administrative chores such as the MCAT instructions, test-day certification, and an optional survey at the end.
MCAT test fees and eligibility
The initial registration fee for the MCAT is 325 USD*. AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program (FAP) for those students with difficult financial circumstances who otherize would not be able to take the exam and are offered discounted fees (130 USD*), complimentary access to the MSAR online database, free MCAT official preparation products, and more. International students taking MCAT outside the USA and Canadian territories are asked to pay a non-refundable international fee of 120 USD*. When calculating the cost of an MBBS degree in the USA, students should factor in the MCAT fees. The MCAT Registration System accepts the following modes of payment:
- American Express
- VISA card
- Debit card with the VISA or MasterCard logo
Students have the option to cancel their registration and receive a partial refund in order to reschedule for a later date, but they must do so ten days before the exam date. The following are the refunds and rescheduling fees:
|Deadline for Standard Fee Payers||Refund in USD*||Rescheduling Fees in USD*|
|60 or more days before exam||160||50|
|59 to 30 days before exam||160||100|
|29 to 10 days before exam||0||200|
|Deadline for Fee Assistance Program Payers||Refund in USD*||Rescheduling Fees in USD*|
|60 or more days before exam||65||20|
|59 to 30 days before exam||65||40|
|29 to 10 days before exam||0||80|
Any student who is planning to apply to a medical school in the USA and Canada are eligible to apply for MCAT. The programs included are
- MD programs
- DO programs
- Podiatric programs
- Veterinary medicine
- Any other health-related program that accepts MCAT score
International students who already have an MBBS degree from a foreign institute can apply directly to MCAT, but if they are currently enrolled in a medical program that is not an MBBS degree program, they must request “special permission” to register for the MCAT exam by emailing email@example.com and describing their reasons to take the exam.
Each candidate is allowed to sit a maximum of three times in a year for the MCAT, four times in two years, and at the most seven times throughout their life.
MCAT registration and test centers
Students can register for the MCAT by paying the appropriate fees through the MCAT Registration System. The registration process is divided into two stages: in October, students can register for January through May test dates; in February, they can register for June through September test dates. MCAT is offered multiple times throughout the year at around a hundred test centers throughout the USA and Canada. Except for Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, other test centers in the USA and Canada are not charged international fees. The other international locations for MCAT are listed below:
- Hong Kong
The capacity of test centers is fixed, and seats are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Recently, AAMC implemented a notification system that allows examinees to be notified when an appointment becomes available.
Note that during the MCAT, students are not permitted to use calculators, timers, or other electronic devices such as cellphones. They are only allowed to bring their photo ID with them.
MCAT preparation and score
It is highly advisable that students take the MCAT after they finish their premed courses. If a student is not fully prepared for the test, he or she can void the MCAT on the day of the exam. Premeds should start preparing for the exam way in advance and should not try cramming the syllabus just one month before the exam as it can lead to burnout and impact their score and percentile. Students should start preparing for the MCAT one year in advance but can apply at least sixty days in advance.
To make the test preparation easy, AAMC has designed free and paid study plans and test-prep courses including four scored practice exams and one non-scored practice exam. Students can also make use of free study materials supplied by the Khan Academy in collaboration with AAMC in the form of videos and tutorials. Unfortunately, the Khan Academy’s free MCAT training materials will only be available until 2026.
Each of the four sections’ scores ranges from 118 to 132, with a median of 125. The overall MCAT score is the sum of the scores of all four sections, which range from 472 to 528 with a median of 500. There is nothing like a perfect MCAT score, but candidates should aim for a number that is similar to or greater than the average MCAT score accepted by the medical school of their choice.
|MCAT Score||Percentile Rank|
|510||Equal to or better than 80% of MCAT test-takers|
|514||Equal to or better than 90% of MCAT test-takers|
|517||Equal to or better than 95% of MCAT test-takers|
|520||Equal to or better than 98% of MCAT test-takers|
|521, 522 or 523||Equal to or better than 99% of MCAT test-takers|
Scores are sent to the medical universities in the USA via the MCAT Thx online system 30 to 35 days after the exam date. When scheduling their MCAT test, students who require their MCAT scores by a specific date should keep this in mind. Most universities evaluate the average of all the results rather than the best score if a candidate has attempted the MCAT numerous times, therefore students should be properly prepared before taking the MCAT. The MCAT score is usually valid for two to three years from the date of release.