Practice the MCAT for Free

Get 2x more Practice Questions with Premium


The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the MCAT

About the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is an exam used by nearly all medical schools in the United States and Canada to demonstrate that potential applicants have the knowledge and skills for success in medical school. It is a standardized, multiple-choice, computerized test that has been a part of medical school admissions for nearly a century.

The exam was developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges and put into use in 1928. While it is primarily used in the United States and Canada, 15 other countries have schools that accept the MCAT as a standardized exam score that can gauge the potential of medical school applicants.

The MCAT underwent some changes in 2015 to include additional questions, and the test time was extended by two hours. The current version of the MCAT is 230 questions with a total testing time of six hours and 15 minutes. A breakdown of the sections is provided below.

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 59 questions with 95 minutes to complete.
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 59 questions with 95 minutes to complete.
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 59 questions with 95 minutes to complete.
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 53 questions with 90 minutes to complete.

Although there are distinct sections within the MCAT, it’s important to realize that each question combines elements of science knowledge, reasoning, and critical thinking. To excel at this exam, potential examinees must be incredibly prepared before arriving to take their exam, and they must have a strong understanding of what types of questions to expect in each of the sections.

Sections of the MCAT

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

This section of the MCAT tests your ability to reason about the processes involved in the study of living organisms. It deals with the foundations of biology and the biochemical sciences, while requiring you to apply research and statistics skills. You will need to know how cells and organ systems work alone, and with each other, in a living system.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The MCAT uses this section to test your ability to combine your knowledge in the areas of chemical and physical science with your ability to reason, research, and use statistical skills. You will be asked to show your understanding of the chemical and physical principles that function within the human body and living systems.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Drawing from the arenas of cultural studies, population health, ethics, and philosophy, this section requires you to perform information analysis on a wide range of topics. You do not need to know facts from these areas, as all necessary information is provided in the questions. You will be required to demonstrate your reasoning skills with regard to that information.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

This section of the MCAT is designed to test your knowledge in the areas of sociology, biology, and psychology, and your ability to use this knowledge in the area of health and healthy practices. Knowledge of related topics, such as the effects of cultural and social differences on health practices, will help you to perform well on this section.

Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning (Question Type)

Within several of the MCAT sections, there are questions requiring you to use scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. The practice questions in this section will help you hone these types of skills in preparation for the test.

What to Expect on Test Day

The MCAT is an extremely long exam. The total exam time is six hours and 15 minutes. Examinees are allowed two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute break. Given this, it is fair to expect to be at the testing center for a full day. It’s crucial that examinees get adequate rest and eat a hearty meal before arriving at the test center to ensure that they aren’t distracted by drowsiness or hunger.

Additionally, plan to arrive early to allow time for the registration process. Registration requires several steps, including:

  • Verification of your identification: identification must be government-issued and valid. It must also include a signature and a photograph.

  • Collection of biometric data: this will include a palm vein scan, a signature, and a digital photograph.

Once you have checked in, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the testing center so that you know where the restrooms and other important areas are located.

What to Bring

On the day of your exam, be sure to bring a valid, government-issued form of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. It cannot be expired, and it must have your signature and photograph. You can also bring eyeglasses if you need them.

What Not to Bring

Electronic devices, such as a cell phone or a wearable device, are prohibited. You will not need to bring any items to complete the test, such as scratch paper, a calculator, or reference materials. Everything you will need to complete the exam—such as earplugs, a marker, or scratch paper—will be provided by the testing center. You may bring food, beverages, and medication (if needed), which can be stored in a locker and consumed during breaks.

Best Ways to Study for the MCAT

Take Practice Tests for the MCAT

The MCAT is a long and difficult exam. The questions are complex and pull together many types of knowledge and skills. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to immerse yourself in practice tests. Practice tests help you to familiarize yourself with the exam format and the types of questions you will encounter. Taking practice tests can also help you identify areas where you need to spend extra time studying.

Use Alternative Study Methods

Many MCAT examinees find it useful to incorporate alternative study methods into their overall preparation plan. Flashcards for the MCAT are a great way to brush up on vocabulary and foundational medical knowledge. And they are portable, so you can take them out anytime you have a few minutes to review them. Study guides for the MCAT can also ensure that you spend time studying all content areas that you will encounter.

Simulate the MCAT Testing Experience

Another crucial strategy in preparing for the MCAT is simulating the entire testing experience. This process means that you will complete the required amount of questions in each section within the allotted time. Since the MCAT is incredibly long, simulating it can give you an idea of how well you perform under the time constraints and over a period of hours. Then, you can incorporate strategies to optimize your performance on the day of the exam - such as pacing yourself adequately and knowing when you might need a break.

MCAT Tips and Tricks

Start Preparing Early

The MCAT is comprehensive and it pulls together knowledge from a variety of fields. Experts recommend that you spend at least three months studying before your exam day, although you may need more or less time depending upon your current level of medical knowledge. Either way, you can expect to perform better if you study at a steady pace, rather than trying to cram in the last few days before the test.

Read the Questions Thoroughly

For some questions on the MCAT, there may be more than one accurate statement in the list of answer choices. However, only one of them will answer the question that is being asked. So, be sure that you understand what the question is asking before selecting your answer.

Pace Yourself

The MCAT is a timed exam, which means you should keep one eye on the clock. In order to complete the entire exam, you will have to keep a steady pace.


1. How much does it cost to take the MCAT?

The registration fee for the MCAT is $330, which includes the dissemination of your scores. Additional fees may be applicable if you need to reschedule or cancel your test.

2. What is a good score on the MCAT?

The composite score for all four test sections ranges from 472 to 528. The median score is 500, although the score you should aim for is often determined by the minimum score required by your preferred medical school.

3. Can I retake the MCAT?

Yes, you can retake the MCAT up to three times in a single year, up to four times over a two-year consecutive period, or seven times in a lifetime.

4. When will I receive my MCAT score?

MCAT scores are generally released within two to three weeks after the day of the exam.

Practice the MCAT for Free