MCAT 101: What is the MCAT and Where Do I Start?
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a national standardized test designed to gage medical school applicants’ knowledge of basic science concepts, as well as their skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing.
The MCAT exam is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is required of applicants to virtually all U.S. medical schools.
What is on the MCAT? The Four Main Content Areas of the MCAT Test
The MCAT is composed of four scored sections including Physical Sciences (physics and general chemistry), Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry), and Writing Samples.
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How the MCAT Test is Scored
All three sections of the MCAT other than the Writing Samples are in multiple-choice format and are graded based only on the number of correct answers, not on the number of errors. The three initial, raw scores, are then converted to scaled scores based on a 15-point scale, with 15 being the highest score. A total, combined score for the three multiple choice sections is also provided.
Each of two MCAT writing samples is graded on a 6-point scale by two different readers. This results in four preliminary writing sample scores for each exam. The four preliminary scores are then added together to determine a raw score for the Writing Sample section. Finally the raw score on the Writing Sample section is converted to a letter grade ranging from a low score of J to a high score of T.
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The Importance of the MCAT Score in the Medical School Application
For the majority of medical schools in the United States, the MCAT score is weighted as heavily as the GPA. In some cases, where the MCAT score and the GPA offer contradictory assessments of an applicant, schools in the U.S. may place more weight on the MCAT.
Medical schools in Canada appear to place less emphasis on the MCAT scores than U.S. medical schools. Yet, Canadian medical schools are still likely to set a minimum MCAT score standard that applicants must achieve in order to be considered.
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How to Know When You Are Ready to Take the MCAT
The AAMC as well as several standardized test prep companies, including Kaplan and Princeton Review, provide limited free online and/or proctored MCAT practice tests. Updated versions of actual, retired MCAT exams are also available for order through the AAMC. Your scores on these practice tests should help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as ascertain your preparedness. Once you are satisfied with the results of your practice tests, you may be ready to conquer the MCAT itself.
A recent analysis of MCAT practice test scores by StudentDoc.com suggests that the AAMC practice tests were the single best predictors of performance on the actual MCAT.