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How the MCAT Works


You'll have to take the MCAT if you want to join these medical students someday.
You'll have to take the MCAT if you want to join these medical students someday.
Doug Menuez/Getty Images

If you want to be a doctor when you grow up, you'll have to get past the MCAT first. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a required part of the admissions process at every medical school in the U.S. Each year, approximately 70,000 people take the MCAT, widely considered the hardest and most stressful standardized admission test of them all [source: Arenson].

Tests like the SAT, GRE, GMAT and LSAT are designed to assess your overall critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but shy away from testing specific subject area knowledge. That's not the case with the MCAT, which drills test-takers on a wide range of natural science topics spanning undergraduate coursework in physics, chemistry and biology.

At more than five hours long, the MCAT is a marathon exam. Incredibly, before the test became fully computerized in 2007, it was a mind-melting eight and a half hours long [source: Ray]. Studying for the MCAT is a full-time job for pre-med students who are intent on landing a coveted slot at a competitive medical school. In 2009, over 42,200 applicants applied for only 18,390 slots at U.S. medical schools, meaning that more than two students fought for each available space [source: Goldstein].

When medical schools consider an applicant, they weight his or her MCAT scores equally with undergraduate grade point average [source: The Princeton Review]. The lowest possible score on the MCAT is a three and the highest is 45. While the average MCAT score is around a 24, you'd need a score well over 30 to get into the nation's top programs [source: The Princeton Review].

Keep reading to learn exactly what kinds of questions are included on the MCAT and how you can prepare to take this imposing and important exam.