The MCAT 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. During an interview I had with the dean of a medical school, I learned that while the MCAT alone did not accept or reject people, the MCAT was a primary indicator to the admissions committee of each medical student’s capability of passing tests and board exams.
Keep in mind that these facts are tailored towards the current MCAT exam, which will undergo significant changes in the year 2015. Here is more information about the 2015 MCAT exam. Here are a couple MCAT facts that will help students who are getting ready to study for it:
1. The MCAT Ingredients
The MCAT is composed of four sections in this respective order: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The breakdown for each section is as follows:
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems- Consists of general chemistry and physics (much of what you learn in your lower-division general chemistry and physics courses in undergraduate education).
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills- Passages you will need to read and answer questions on about humanities, social Sciences, and natural sciences and technology.
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems- Consists of basic biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and inorganic chemistry.
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior- Consists of questions about introductory psychology, sociology, and biology.
2. Score Breakdown
Each section is scored on a scale of 118-132, with 118 being lowest and 132 being highest. Hence, 528 is the highest possible score on the MCAT.
3. How the MCAT is scored
There is a common misconception that the MCAT is scored on a curve, meaning your score would reflect how well you did in comparison to others who took the same test on your test day. Fortunately, this is not the case. Instead how it works is that your raw score is converted into a number ranging from 118-132 for each section. For example, if you answered 40 out of 52 questions correctly on a relatively difficult physical sciences section, it may be converted to a score of 129 whereas if you answered 42 out of 52 right on a relatively easy physical sciences section, it may convert to a score of 127. The difficulty and raw point conversion of each test is based on how well students from previous test dates performed on certain sections or independent questions. Statisticians do their best to ensure that you would score the same on any test regardless of its difficulty. Hence, what your average score is on the AAMC practice MCAT exams is a very good predictor of how well you will do on the real MCAT. Thus, each MCAT test is scaled.
4. No Guessing Penalty
Fortunately, there is no guessing penalty on the MCAT. If you run out of time and have a couple missing answers then it is more beneficial to fill in an answer than to leave it blank. If you come across a passage or question that you absolutely do not know the answer to or do not know how to find the answer, it might be more beneficial to guess and move on to ensure you have sufficient time to complete questions you actually do know the answers to.
5. Mark Question Feature
On the MCAT exam, since it is a CBT (computer-based test), you have the option of marking a question. You can use this feature to mark questions that you may have guessed on, skipped, or found difficulty in 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.
6. No Calculator
The use of calculators is not permitted during the test. This can be a blessing in disguise, since the numbers should work out “better” if you are required to do math on paper or in your head.
7. What to bring and expect on test day
Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your exam to make sure you check-in on time. 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. If you take off your sweatshirt inside the test room, you have to store it in your locker outside of the room which will cost you time. Hence, it is a good idea to find out how cold or hot your test center is prior to your real test so you do not have to be bothered by the temperature of the room during your test.
8. Voiding your exam
At the end of your exam (after you finish your biological sciences section) you will be prompted with the void screen. You will be given two options, one that will say “I wish to have my MCAT exam scored,” and one that will say “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. Note that you can only take the MCAT three times per year, which is regulated by AAMC themselves.
These points sum up many important aspects of the exam. Remember these points to ensure you know what to expect during your MCAT studies and on the day of the test.
Robert Liu recently completed his undergraduate education and is currently a medical school applicant.