How the MCAT Works

Structure of the MCAT

More than any other standardized test, the MCAT tests specific scientific knowledge.
More than any other standardized test, the MCAT tests specific scientific knowledge.
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The MCAT is composed of three multiple-choice sections (Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning and Biological Sciences) and a Writing Sample. Throughout the exam, you will be tested on your knowledge of the basic concepts of the natural sciences (biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics).

Rather than testing your ability to memorize facts, the MCAT challenges you to use your scientific knowledge base to think critically and solve complex problems. Although there's no dedicated math section on the MCAT, you'll need to use basic algebra and trigonometry concepts to answer certain questions.

There are 52 multiple-choice questions in the Physical Sciences section. Most of the questions are "passage-based," meaning they refer to short passages of text formatted like scientific journal articles, research reports, data analysis or scientific editorials [source: The Princeton Review]. Some of the passages cover intentionally obscure scientific concepts [source: Kaplan]. The idea is to test how well you can draw out salient facts from the text and use them intelligently. There are also 13 independent questions that don't relate to a passage of text.

The Biological Sciences section is identical in structure to Physical Sciences with free-standing and passage-based questions covering basic concepts of biology and organic chemistry.

The Verbal Reasoning section is similar to the Reading Comprehension sections on the SAT and GRE, but the passages selected for the MCAT are much more dense and scholarly (i.e. difficult to read) [source: Kaplan]. In total, there are seven 600-word passages taken from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The questions test your ability to recognize main ideas, identify the author's tone, draw conclusions, break down arguments and apply information from the text to new hypothetical situations [source: Kaplan].

The Writing Sample consists of two half-hour essays in response to two short prompts. The prompt can be an opinion, a common belief, a philosophical assertion or a policy decision concerning non-scientific and non-technical subjects like history, political science, business, art or ethics [source: Kaplan]. Each prompt is followed by a set of specific tasks, such as: provide your own interpretation of the statement, or describe a specific situation where the statement would not hold true.

The Writing Sample Tests your ability to formulate and communicate an argument in standard written English and to support your argument using logical and relevant examples [source: The Princeton Review].

Sounds easy enough, right? Just in case, keep reading for some tips on preparing for the MCAT.