MCAT 101: What it is, when to take it, and what to aim for


For almost every aspiring doctor, the MCAT is a dreaded rite of passage, but I’m here to give you an overview and help you approach it. Together, we can conquer it.

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What is the MCAT?

The MCAT is a standardized exam that almost every student hoping to go to medical school must take. It is approximately 7 and a half hours long and has four different sections, each of which are graded on a scale from 118-132, for a total score form 472- 528. The sections are as follows:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

This section is 95 minutes long, has 59 questions, and 10 passages. It combines knowledge of inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics with biology and especially biochemistry. The Chem/Phys section is known to be one of the harder sections of the exam, though it is definitely doable and with hard work you can succeed. It is the first section that you will complete on the MCAT, after which you can take a ten minute break.

Critical Analysis and Reading Skills

Following the Chem/Phys section, is CARS. This section is 90 minutes long, has 59 questions, and 9 passages. It is like the Critical Reading section of the SAT on steroids. The passages are longer and unlike the SAT, it requires you to make informed inferences and predictions based on the text of the passage, rather than simply pick out information from the text. It is a very important section especially if you are applying to Canadian medical schools. This is essentially the only section that med schools in Canada look at. That being said, it is the only section of the MCAT that you don’t need prior knowledge for which is a plus. Following this section, there is a 30 minute break for lunch.

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

This section is also 95 minutes long and has 59 questions and 10 passages. It combines biology, biochemistry, and some organic and general chemistry. There is a large emphasis on anatomy and physiology as well as molecular biology, like DNA replication and transcription. Following this section, there is the last 10 minute break.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This is the last section(yay!) of the MCAT. It brings together sociology, psychology, and basic biology(of the brain) and tests them with 59 questions and 10 passages over a 95 minute period. This was my favorite section of the exam because the questions seem to be a bit easier than the other sections. That being said, the AAMC (the people who make the exam) curves this section a bit more harshly. Nonetheless, you can still succeed and crush this section. After this section, you are done!

If you want more information on the logistics of the exam, check out the AAMC website.

When should you take the MCAT?

eric-rothermel-23788 MCAT 101: What it is, when to take it, and what to aim forThis depends on your personal goals and when you want to go to medical school. Most people who want to go straight to medical school after college take it during the winter or spring of their junior year. I personally took it earlier because that fit with my schedule and my other commitments, but it is up to you. Take it when you think you can get the best score. Don’t take it when everyone is taking, just because that’s when people say you should. It’s a hard exam and you probably don’t want to take it again, so figure out what works for you.

What should you aim for?

This also depends on your personal goals and preferences. If you are trying to get into a top-tier medical school like Harvard or Stanford, you should aim for above the 90th percentile. On the other hand, if you are aiming for a DO program, you wouldn’t need as high of a score. There is no right or wrong answer. It solely depends on what you want for your future. That being said, still try to do your best on the exam!

This is the first article in our MCAT series. Stay tuned for more and let us know about your MCAT experiences in the comments below!

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