The Ultimate Guide to the MCAT Exam [2024]

In this post, we will outline everything you need to know about the MCAT in 2024, including when it will begin, what topics the exam will cover, and how to prepare for it. Let’s get started!

What is the MCAT exam?

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a computer-based standardized test that all pre-medical students must take for admission into medical school. The MCAT assesses your knowledge of the natural sciences and critical thinking skills necessary for the practice of medicine. 

Anyone planning to apply for a health professions school (MD-granting and DO-granting programs) can take the MCAT.

The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) administers this test from January to September each year.

Listen to our podcast to learn the MCAT basics.

What does the MCAT test for?

Nearly all medical schools in the United States and several in Canada require MCAT scores as part of the medical school admissions process. The skills and knowledge tested on the MCAT are key prerequisites for success in medical school and practicing medicine.

The MCAT is hard to pass by design. The purpose of the MCAT is for medical schools to understand the preparedness of a premed student for medical education using standardized scoring.

As someone who has been through the process and helped others along the way, I can assure you that with determination and a well-thought-out plan, you can conquer this challenge and shine.

When should you take the MCAT?

You should take the MCAT as early as you feel prepared during your application cycle year. Ideally, you should take the MCAT no later than the end of May for the best shot at your application being considered early in the cycle.

AAMC offers more than 30 MCAT test dates throughout the year. The ideal time to take your MCAT will depend on your preparedness level and when you plan to apply within the cycle. 

Start thinking about the MCAT toward the end of your sophomore year when you’ve completed your prerequisites. This will give you plenty of time to work on a study plan, hire a tutor if necessary, and prepare to do your best on the exam in the coming year.

Seats fill up quickly, so choose your MCAT test date in advance. Registering a couple of months in advance may not be early enough to get the MCAT test date and testing center location you initially hoped for.

MCAT registration opens in October (for tests administered from January to May) and February (for tests administered from June to September). Sign up as soon as registration opens, as the number of examinees is limited for each date and testing location.

Some students take a gap year before medical school in order to prepare for and take the MCAT during the end of their senior, rather than junior, year. This might be a good idea for students who changed to a premed major later during undergrad and aren’t able to complete prerequisites until senior year.

Want your best shot at acing the MCAT and getting into your preferred school? Learn more about how we can help you boost your MCAT score.

When is the earliest I can take the MCAT?

The earliest you can take the MCAT is the summer following your sophomore year of pre med studies. Students typically will only have completed the prerequisite courses for the MCAT after their sophomore year. 

If you want to get the MCAT out of the way early, we recommend taking it in the summer between your sophomore and junior year. 

If you score lower than your target, this allows you additional time to retake the test for a better score after tutoring and other preparation. 

How often can you take the MCAT? You can take the MCAT up to 4 times in two consecutive testing cycles and up to 3 times in a single testing year. (Keep in mind, you can only take the MCAT up to 7 times total.)

Your goal should be to take the MCAT as few times as possible. Students often worry that taking the MCAT twice will look bad to medical schools, but it really depends on your scores. If you show a significant improvement, schools will recognize the effort. If you had little change (or did worse), that’s not going to reflect well on your application. 

We recommend that students take the MCAT no more than 3 times.

When will 2025 MCAT dates be released? MCAT test dates are typically announced in October for the following year. The 2025 test dates for the MCAT will be announced in October 2024.

When is the latest I can take the MCAT?

The latest you should take the MCAT is in May of your application year, but preferably by the end of April. For example, if you plan to apply to medical school in May of 2024 to start school in August 2025, you should take the MCAT for the final time by the end of April 2024.

The earliest you can submit your primary AMCAS application is in late May/early June, and most schools’ application deadlines are later in the fall. The score release date for your test scores takes about a month, so the April 27, 2024 test date gives you a release date of May 29, 2024.

Having your MCAT score in hand by the end of May is helpful because:

  • It determines which target schools you should apply to, instead of wasting money applying to too many ‘undershoot’ and ‘reach’ schools.
  • It lets you take advantage of schools’ rolling admissions process. While your MCAT score is not required to submit your application, most schools will not look at your application until AMCAS updates it with your MCAT score. Early, complete applications have the advantage. 
  • It gives you more time to work on your application. Writing your personal statement for your medical school application is a huge undertaking. We recommend starting as early as January of your application year. 

If you find yourself down to the wire, you may choose to repeat the MCAT to raise your score and apply to more schools than you originally put on your application. 

The latest you can take the MCAT for an application cycle is mid-August for a score release date of mid-September. This is only for students who have already submitted their application and are retaking the MCAT to apply to additional schools. 

If you haven’t submitted your primary application by September, it may make more sense to wait until the next cycle.

The latest date to take the MCAT for the 2024/25 application cycle is technically September 14, 2024.

For many students, it is easier to study and take the MCAT during the summer instead of the school year.

Studying for the MCAT while you’re taking classes for school requires tremendous discipline and is very difficult to do. Because the MCAT is such a large undertaking, reducing other academic and non-academic obligations is strongly recommended. 

The breadth of content that is tested often requires students to take 3 years of full-time classes to complete. If you want to take the test in the summer, sign up as soon as registration opens in February.

Take These Prerequisites Before Setting the Exam

The prerequisite courses for the MCAT include the following:

  • 2 semesters of general biology 
  • 2 semesters of general chemistry with lab
  • 1 semester of organic chemistry with lab
  • 2 semesters of physics with lab
  • 1 semester of biochemistry
  • 1 semester of introductory psychology
  • 1 semester of introductory sociology

It’s important to complete these classes before you take the MCAT so you are familiar with the material. If you haven’t completed all the necessary classes before studying for the MCAT, your study period should be long enough to accommodate learning new material.

How a High Score Increases Your Chance Of Getting Into Med School

It’s important to score well on the MCAT because it assesses your problem-solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts. It is a crucial part of a medical school candidate’s application and for many, if not all, medical schools it is a good indicator of the applicant’s critical thinking and test-taking skills. 

Your MCAT score alone will typically not result in acceptance or rejection to any given program. However, the MCAT is a key indicator to the admissions committee of your ability to succeed in your specific healthcare program and pass the board exam.

I encourage students not to settle for the minimum required to meet their target score. If you believe you can attain a higher score, such as 515, I recommend pursuing that goal. Your target should reflect your potential, rather than just the minimum threshold.

Is the MCAT exam required for medical school?

Almost every medical student has taken the MCAT. It is the standardized test required to apply to medical schools.

  • Almost all U.S. medical schools and many Canadian schools require you to submit MCAT exam scores.
  • U.S. students who are looking to go to foreign medical schools do need to take the MCAT.
  • International students who are looking to go to medical school in their own country usually do not need to take the MCAT but do take the equivalent exam in their country.

In some cases, you can go to medical school without taking the MCAT. This generally requires you to be part of a direct med program such as a BA/MD or BS/MD, a baccalaureate program, or an early assurance program (EAP). These programs are highly competitive, which is why they may eliminate MCAT scores as part of the application process.

Read Next: Military Medicine: 3 Ways To Serve, Plus Scholarship Options

How long is the MCAT?

The MCAT test day experience is about 7.5 hours long. 

There are 3 breaks during the MCAT:

  • A 10-minute break between the Chem/Phys and CARS sections
  • A 30-minute break between the CARS and Bio/Biochem sections (meant to be used as a lunch break)
  • A 10-minute break between the Bio/Biochem and Psych/Soc sections

These breaks, the actual testing time, the tutorial and test-day certification at the beginning of the exam, and the void question and optional survey at the end of the exam all contribute to testing day length.

To understand why the MCAT is so long, you need to understand the format of the exam. 

MCAT Sections

Each section of MCAT subjects covers different concepts and reasoning skills

There are 4 sections of the MCAT:

Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys) — 95 minutes

  • 30% General Chemistry
  • 25% Physics
  • 25% Biochemistry
  • 15% Organic Chemistry
  • 5% Biology

Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) — 90 minutes

This passage-based section of the MCAT does not test any science concepts. Instead, the CARS section requires students to read passages about a variety of humanities and social studies topics and answer questions that test students’ understanding of each passage.

Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Biochem) — 95 minutes

  • 65% Biology
  • 25% Biochemistry
  • 5% General Chemistry
  • 5% Organic Chemistry

Section 4: Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc) — 95 minutes

  • 65% Psychology
  • 30% Sociology
  • 5% Biology

Historical Fun Fact: If you’re interested in some MCAT history from the medical school field, you may find this interesting. The MCAT dropped its writing sample section in 2013. Two years later in 2015, they added what is now section 4 and expanded parts of sections 2 and 3. The MCAT will likely continue to evolve as evaluation criteria change.

How to Use the MCAT Flag for Review Feature

On the MCAT exam, you have the option of flagging a question for review. You can use this feature to flag questions that you may have guessed on, skipped, or had difficulty finding the answer. 

If you have extra time at the end of each section, you can look at the questions you marked and go back and review them or fill in an answer if you haven’t already.

2023 MCAT Exam Dates

The MCAT is offered in January, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September. There are multiple test dates each month. 

These are the MCAT test and score release dates for 2024:

2024 Test DateScore Release Date
January 12Feb. 13
January 13Feb. 13
January 18Feb. 20
January 26March 1
March 9April 9
March 22April 23
April 12May 14
April 13May 14
April 26May 29
April 27May 29
May 4June 4
May 10June 11
May 11June 11
May 16June 18
May 24June 25
June 1July 2
June 14July 16
June 15July 16
June 22July 23
June 27July 30
July 13Aug. 13
July 26Aug. 27
August 2Sept. 4
August 17Sept. 17
August 23Sept. 24
August 24Sept. 24
September 5Oct. 8
September 6Oct. 8
September 13Oct. 15
September 14Oct. 15

Can I register for 2 MCAT dates at the same time?

You can only register for one MCAT test at a time. You will not be able to register for another exam until you release your registration.

What To Expect On Test Day

Students should plan to arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before the start of the MCAT. You will need photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Every time you enter and leave the test room, you will need to provide your fingerprint. 

You will be given a locker to store your belongings in such as your phone, wallet, keys, and sweatshirt. 

Be sure to bring food and drinks with you. Once you get into the test building, you won’t be able to leave until the exam is complete. There are often vending machines available for students who don’t bring refreshments, but you’ll need cash to use them.

Related: MCAT Test Day Rules and What to Bring (And Not Bring)

Are calculators allowed during the MCAT?

The use of calculators is not permitted during the MCAT exam.

This can be a blessing in disguise. When test-takers are required to do the math by hand, they are more likely to notice errors and make corrections, which can result in more accurate answers overall.

What can you bring to the MCAT?

The only items allowed into the testing room are eyeglasses, photo ID, and the items provided by the testing center (earplugs, storage/locker key, noteboard booklet, and fine-point marker). You may bring non-refrigerated snacks and drinks to leave in your designated locker until break times.

The notebook booklet and fine-point marker are to allow students to take notes and solve problems that require some writing (e.g., calculation problems).

Other items must be left in your car or locker. You’re not allowed to go to your car or access electronic devices of any kind, including your cell phone or a smart watch, until you have completed the exam.

What should I do if I feel I’ve done poorly on test day?

If you feel you’ve done very poorly on your MCAT exam, you may want to void the exam. You won’t be refunded for the cost of the test, but your attempt will not be recorded or count towards the number of times you can take the MCAT.

At the end of your exam, you will be prompted with the void screen. You will be given 2 options:

  • “I wish to have my MCAT exam scored,” and 
  • “I wish to VOID my MCAT exam.” 

If you void your MCAT exam, you will not get a score, and medical schools will not see it on your record. It is as if you have never taken the test. People generally void if they felt they were at a disadvantage on test day, such as being sick or taking the test in uncomfortable conditions.

MCAT Scoring

Each section is on a scaled score of 118-132, with 118 being the lowest and 132 being the highest. Adding potential section scores together means 472 is the lowest possible score on the MCAT, and 528 is the highest possible score.

What is the highest MCAT score?

The highest possible MCAT score is a 528. 

What is a good score on the MCAT?

Aim to score at least 128 out of 132 in every section for a total score of 511 out of 528 across all 4 sections. A score of 511 and up will put you above the 80th percentile, giving you a competitive edge over other potential medical students

There is no hard and fast rule to define a “good” MCAT score. It’s possible to be accepted into medical school with a score under 511. In 2023, the average MCAT score of the incoming class of MD students was 511.9, whereas DO program matriculants had an average score of 504.6.

Keep in mind: While a 507 score is average (it used to be 500), only 41% of medical school applicants get accepted into medical school, so you need to perform significantly better than average.

More competitive schools demand higher scores. Less competitive schools accept students with lower scores. If you have your heart set on certain schools, you’ll need to research those schools in advance to know the minimum you need to score on the MCAT before applying. 

Your MCAT score will be important when you start creating your school list, as it will help you categorize schools that are a reach, target, and undershoot (safety).

I recommend setting realistic goals according to how much study time you are able to invest.

Achieving a score of 520+ is demanding, and I’ve observed that it often necessitates an investment of well over 500 hours. Some of the top achievers I’ve collaborated with have reported dedicating over 1,000 hours to reach their objectives.

Is there a guessing penalty on the MCAT?

There is no guessing penalty on the MCAT, so it’s best to answer every question (even if you’re guessing). 

The MCAT is a multiple-choice test with four options (A, B, C, and D) for each question. If you have some unanswered questions remaining, it is more beneficial to fill in an answer than to leave it blank. This way, you at least have a 25% chance of getting the question right than a 0% chance if you left the question blank. 

If you come across a difficult question, it may benefit you to guess and move on to ensure you have sufficient time to complete the easier questions on the exam. You can use the “flag for review” feature of the MCAT to remind yourself later.

When does my MCAT score expire?

Your MCAT score does not expire on AAMC. Schools typically do not accept scores that are older than 2-3 years old. Each school can vary, so make sure you do your research before you apply. 

Some schools count that time from the student’s application date, and others count it from their matriculation date — which can be more than a year apart. 


The MCAT costs a $330 registration fee. There is an additional fee of $50-$200 to change your testing center or reschedule your test date depending on how far in advance you make your change or reschedule.

AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program to cover the cost of the MCAT for students who would otherwise not be financially able to afford the exam.

Studying For the MCAT

I recommend test prep. You know your study habits, strengths, and weaknesses, so you’ll want to create a personalized MCAT study plan for yourself. Check out the best MCAT mobile apps to help you prepare even better.

While content knowledge is pivotal, I’ve found that the ability to apply that knowledge is equally vital. Incorporate practice questions into your study plan early on to reinforce your learning.

Once you dig into the material, take some diagnostics tests, and consider your current school and work schedule, work backward to create a study plan. Many students find it helpful to go ahead and book their MCAT exam date for an exact deadline by when they need to master the material. 

What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT? The best way to prepare for the MCAT is 3-6 months to study, preferably with the help of an experienced MCAT tutor.

If you’re struggling with the material or just need some accountability, consider hiring a professional MCAT tutor

Set a test date early on in your MCAT preparation.

You can set up a study plan with deadlines for each of your goals (e.g., when to complete the content review). Re-evaluate your progress as your test date approaches. 

For example, if you are 3 weeks away from your exam and have not yet attained your goal score on an AAMC practice test, consider postponing your MCAT test date.

A good MCAT study plan should incorporate both content review and practice.

Set realistic deadlines for when you should be done reviewing content. Doing practice tests while getting through material is not an effective strategy. Instead, take practice exams after you have absorbed the content. When practicing, try to simulate the same test conditions of the MCAT. 

Try this free high-quality audio course from our friends at MedSchoolCoach to study for the MCAT.

Be wary of third-party MCAT practice exams!

Third-party practice exams are not representative of your future MCAT score, though it’s a good idea to use these exams to build stamina and to get used to similar test conditions. These exams are often excessively difficult and not a good indicator of how you will perform on test day.

A related study tip: Don’t take practice exams too often. After each exam, review the questions you got wrong and understand the concepts behind them. If you don’t understand the mistakes you made, you can’t expect your scores to go up!

What is the best MCAT prep book? The best MCAT prep book is The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam, 5th Edition.

The MCAT practice exams by MedSchoolCoach are the most realistic ones out there. Try a free half-length exam today!

Should you retake the MCAT?

The below “case studies” are examples of different circumstances that help a student understand whether or not they should retake the MCAT

Keep in mind that although this information is backed by research and in-depth knowledge of the application process, every student is different. 

Note: All scenarios assume that the potential applicant is not an underrepresented minority. It is also assumed that all applicants have sufficient extracurricular activities needed for admissions. Each MCAT statistic is based on the average MCAT score of each medical school’s incoming matriculants.

Example 1: John

  • GPA: 3.75
  • MCAT: 506
  • State: CA

Goal: Wants to be competitive at state MD schools but is willing to go out of state.

Verdict: Retake

Reason: California medical schools are notorious for being difficult to get into mainly because of the sheer number of applicants. Most of these schools have median MCAT scores of at least 509. John’s 506 is also still relatively low for out-of-state medical schools. The safe bet would be to retake the MCAT and try to get at least a 510.

Example 2: Paul

  • GPA: 3.6
  • MCAT: 510
  • State: MA

Goal: Wants to go to a top 20 US News ranking research school

Verdict: Retake

Reason: The top 20 medical schools in research are extremely competitive. Their median MCAT is often between 518-522. The median GPA for applicants that get into the top 20 schools is also 3.8 GPA. Paul’s MCAT and GPA are well below average for these schools. He should retake the MCAT and try to score 520+ on his MCAT to make up for his lower GPA.

Example 3: Mary

  • GPA: 3.72
  • MCAT: 510
  • State: FL

Goal: Get into any US MD school

Verdict: Don’t retake

Reason: If Mary wants to get into any medical school in the US, she will need to apply broadly with a polished personal statement and secondary essays. Many schools nationwide have 510 as their matriculant median MCAT. Also, Florida has multiple medical schools that give preference to Florida residents, and Mary’s MCAT score would be competitive at several of these schools.

Example 4: Ruth

  • GPA: 3.6
  • MCAT: 501
  • State: WA

Goal: Get into any US MD/DO school

Verdict: Don’t retake

Reason: Ruth with a 3.6 GPA and 501 MCAT is an extremely competitive applicant for DO schools. She has a lower chance at many MD schools, and must be strategic with building her school list.

Example 5: Thomas

  • GPA: 3.7
  • MCAT: 515
  • State: IL

Goal: Get into any mid- to top-tier MD schools

Verdict: Don’t retake

Reason: Thomas has a strong MCAT score that is above the national average of medical school matriculants. Most mid-tier schools have a median MCAT of 512-518. Although he is below average compared to the top tier schools, he is competitive at some schools. His essay writing and interview skills will be particularly important for a chance at his ‘reach’ school applications.

Example 6: Edgar

  • GPA: 3.95
  • MCAT: 500
  • State: NY

Goal: Get into any US MD school

Verdict: Retake

Reason: This is a tough situation. New York has some schools that give moderate preference to NY residents. However, his MCAT score is too low for most MD programs. With a higher MCAT score (at least 508+) and a strong GPA, Edgar will be a competitive applicant at many medical schools.

Example 7: Andrew

  • GPA: 3.9
  • MCAT: 510 (with a low CARS score, <125)
  • State: Texas

Goal: Get into mid- to top-tier schools, prefers in the state (UT Houston or Baylor)

Verdict: Don’t retake

Reason: Many schools have sub-scores screens, meaning that if an applicant has one sub-score that is too low, he or she will automatically be rejected. Nevertheless, if Andrew can demonstrate decent communication skills through letters of recommendation from humanities professors or an improved writing score, he should remain competitive in most mid-tier schools. 

Top-tier schools will be less inclined to grant him admission.

Don’t leave the MCAT to chance — let us help.

Schedule a meeting with the enrollment team with our friends at MedSchoolCoach to see how we can help you boost your MCAT score

Ken Tao

Ken is nationally recognized as a premier MCAT mind. He has worked with thousands of undergraduate students as a graduate teaching assistant and MCAT instructor/tutor for the Princeton Review. At Princeton Review, Ken was the only tutor certified in all subjects, was one of the highest rated MCAT tutors ever and was a teacher trainer. Additionally, Ken worked to found Magoosh's MCAT division. He has written content for dozen's of MCAT books and guides. He is now the Director of MCAT at MedSchoolCoach

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