So you are medical school hopeful and looking to take the MCAT. It’s a good thing that you are concerned about your performance on this exam since it greatly impacts your admission to medical school. Therefore, preparing for and taking the MCAT is a very stressful chapter in one’s medical journey. However, there are many ways to ensure your success on this difficult exam. Below is a guide that will outline steps to take to ace the MCAT. Although it won’t be easy by any means, it is possible and we are helping to help you achieve that score you have your eyes set on.
Is MCAT Hard?
The MCAT is a very challenging test. A statistic that outlines its difficulty is found when considering its average score. The average result out of the thousands of MCATS taken each year is 500 to 501. However, to be accepted to a medical school that is ranked mid to top-tier, one should score at least a 517. What we can then draw from this information is that most students who take the MCAT each year do not score high enough to qualify for most highly regarded medical schools. Therefore, it is an exam that annually gives students grief due to its difficult nature.
Another way to interpret the MCAT exam is by looking at its percentiles. A percentile communicates the number of other persons scored lower than that specific score. For instance, if you score a 506 on the MCAT, then you would fall within the 69th percentile. That means that 69% percent of the students who took the MCAT scored worse than you did. Although this is impressive that you did a superior job compared to your peers, your score is still about 10 points off from what medical schools typically look for. As you can see from the chart below, to get a 517 or higher, you must out-perform 95% or more of students.
Studying the percentiles will help you better understand how your current score measures up to that of traditional students. It can also help you set goals for your next MCAT attempt. Below is a chart of MCAT percentiles that you can use to gauge your MCAT results. Furthermore, the correlations were seen between the MCAT scores, their respective percentiles, and medical school admission requirements further illustrate the difficulty of the MCAT.
|MCAT Total Score||MCAT Percentile|
How Long Does it Take to Prepare for the MCAT?
It takes a long time to appropriately prepare for the MCAT exam. Most professionals and medical schools suggest you start preparing 3 to 6 months before your test date. Another suggestion is 200 hours. This means you should spend anywhere from 2 to 6 hours studying each day on average depending on how often you study each week and how early you started this preparation process.
Recognize what you already know
If you are already fairly confident in some of your knowledge that will be covered on the MCAT, then make note of that and adjust your study schedule as needed. For instance, if you majored in biology for your undergraduate degree, then you will not have to devote as much time reviewing that material which will cut down your overall preparation time needed due to its large presence on the test.
On the other hand, if you are lost when it comes to biology or another popular subject on the test, then consider that when preparing for the test. You may need additional time to study than some of your peers. Overall, there is a wide range of students who will be taking the MCAT, all with a unique background that has put them in different places in terms of preparedness for the exam.
What is the Best Way to Study for the MCAT?
Studying for the MCAT is a daunting task due to the wide range of content covered by the test. Below we have some tips and methods that show you how to study for the MCAT.
Give yourself enough time
This is the most important thing you can do while studying for the MCAT. It is suggested that you start reviewing the material at least 3 months before your test date. This large amount of time will allow you to focus on details within the information without restricting yourself to just a big picture understanding.
Practice multiple-choice questions
If you are sure of anything going into the MCAT, it should be that there will be plenty of multiple-choice questions. On each of the 4 sections of the exam ( 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) there are about 60 multiple choice questions that test your knowledge. Therefore, testing your knowledge along the way in a multiple-choice format will ensure your ability to comprehend their information while being able to demonstrate it through multiple-choice questions. We’ve reviewed a number of MCAT prep books and MCAT review books, be sure to check them out.
In addition to the number of hours spent studying for the MCAT, you should make sure that there is also quality within them. Spreading out your time among the 4 sections equally (since they are equally weighted), or distributing your time proportionally depending on your understanding of each concept is essential. Also, making a study schedule to stick to will help you stay motivated and efficient when covering the material and familiarizing yourself with the format. Waiting until the last minute to cram like you may have done in college is simply not an option when it comes to the MCAT due to the vast nature of the content.
Can You Get a Perfect Score on the MCAT?
A perfect score on the MCAT is 528. This rarely happens and is very difficult to achieve.
How is your score calculated?
Your MCAT score consists of 4 sections: 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. Each of these 4 sections is worth 132 points (which is calculated using a raw multiple-choice score) and these totals are used to get your final score out of 528 points.
To further support the claim that the MCAT is indeed hard, is that less than 1% of students who take the MCAT each year get a perfect score on anyone 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 sections. Therefore, to get 100% on all of these sections is next to impossible. Despite the odds, a handful of students among the hundreds of thousands who take the test each year pull off that perfect score that so many seek.
What is a Good MCAT Score?
Based on the percentile marks listed earlier in this article, the 50th percentile for the MCAT is between 500 and 501. In other words, the average MCAT score is between these values. Speaking in general, a “good” score on the MCAT would be above this average range since you would then be out-performing half of your peers. However, speaking from a medical school perspective, a “good” score would be 517 or higher since that is what is typically accepted and preferred by most medical schools.
What are your goals?
Using words like “good” or “bad” to define your score on a test like the MCAT is always up to one’s interpretation. Therefore, it is important to take into account your goals when taking the MCAT and analyzing your MCAT score. If you are hoping to get into medical school (usually the goal when taking the MCAT since it is an entrance exam for medical school), then what type of medical school are you aiming for? Is it a prestigious university with a slim acceptance rate, or is it a mid to low tier institution? Understanding your school’s requirements will help you define your score because you likely won’t have to worry so much about a percentile as you would your actual score if applying to a less competitive medical school.
What is your experience?
This standard is often overlooked when students consider their MCAT scores. Based on the sections of the MCAT (as explained above) a great focus of the content is on science subjects. Therefore, if you are familiar with these topics (perhaps you majored in it during your undergrad), then your good MCAT score would be expectedly higher than someone less familiar with the exam’s information. Similarly, the amount of time you invested In the material beforehand would increase the score that you perceive to be “good.” Truly, a good score is different from everyone, but it usually falls around 515 or higher for most students.
5 Steps to Ace Your MCAT
Below are some steps to take that will illustrate how to ace the MCAT. There are obviously many methods out there to score well, however these narrow down the most important steps that you should focus on.
Identify your goals
Before taking the exam, or even starting to study for it, understand where you want to be. Why are you taking this test? Is it for medical school? If so, which medical schools are you interested in? What score range are they willing to accept? Asking yourself these questions and more will help motivate you throughout the study process since you have a final goal in mind. Furthermore, you will be able to interpret some practice test results to see if you are on track.
Familiarize yourself with the information
Being comfortable with the information is the most important step in acing the MCAT. Put simply, this is not a test of memorization. You must understand the content but also understand the reason why it is the way it is. Being able to trace relationships and have an in-depth grasp of the information will ensure your success on the exam. First, review the material section by section to organize your thoughts and the material. The reasoning behind giving yourself so much time to review is due to the complex and large amount of information that you will be tested on. This step will be by far the most time consuming of the 5.
Take some practice tests
Taking practice tests here and there along your preparation path is necessary. The first and perhaps the most important reason to do so is that it outlines your weaknesses. Often you will be able to draw patterns from the questions you got wrong and start to see what concepts you need to focus on in the future (next step!) Also, taking practice tests will familiarize you with the structure of the test (multiple choice questions), the phrasing, the timing, and the organization of it too.
Focus on your weaknesses
Coming off the last step it is important to identify what sections you need to spend additional time reviewing that were illuminated in practice tests or questions. At the same time, these tests will show you what you know. Therefore, come to peace with the information that you know and work on what you need to understand. It can be easy to skip this step and continue to review the information that you are comfortable with, however, this habit will not help you ace the MCAT.
Analyze your results
As mentioned before, use percentiles and your medical school of choice’s standards to measure up your results. These results, be it from a practice test or an actual MCAT, will help you adjust your goals set in the first step so that you can continue this process until you get a favorable result.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Ace the MCAT
To ace, the MCAT is clearly by no means simple. However, we hope that this advice will propel effective study and testing habits that will contribute to a respectable MCAT score. At the end of the day, there are many more aspects to your medical school application. However, since the MCAT is traditionally a weighted part of your admission decision, it is important to give it the time and effort that its role demands.
If you find this post helpful, be sure to check out our MCAT tips and test taking strategies as well.