What is the MCAT? † ZDNet

More than 88,000 people have taken the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) at least once in 2020. Nearly all medical schools in the US require students to submit exam scores from this standardized test. Many graduate-level health care programs also ask for MCAT scores.

Like other standardized tests in higher education — the SAT and the GRE, for example — the MCAT is part of a larger set of information that schools use to screen candidates. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) develops and administers the test.

Keep reading to learn more about the MCAT, when to take the exam and if you should take it.

Main highlights about the MCAT

Used for

Medical School Admission


$325 in 2022


Eight o’clock

Skills tested

Biology, Biochemistry, Psychology and Critical Analysis Skills

Computer adaptive?



Total score range is 472 to 528

Average score


Available online?


When to take?

Six months before you plan to enter medical school

Can you record it again?


Are there subject-specific tests?


What knowledge does the MCAT test for?

Graphical summary of the four MCAT sections below.

The MCAT has four sections. Here’s a rundown of what’s in each, according to the AAMC.

Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems

Focus: Biological concepts, scientific research and reasoning skills. You will solve problems and answer questions on topics related to natural sciences, such as how living organisms respond and adapt to environmental changes.

Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems

Focus: Demonstrate your understanding of the mechanical, physical and biochemical functions of human tissues and organs; demonstrate knowledge of the basic chemical and physical principles of the human body.

Psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior

Focus: Demonstrate knowledge of how psychological, social and biological factors influence responses to the world; behavior and behavioral change; and the cultural and social differences that affect well-being.

Critical analysis and reasoning skills

Focus: Text passages and questions that assess your reading comprehension. The lectures and questions test skills relevant to medical school. Topics relate to the social sciences and humanities.

How do I take the MCAT?

Pre-registration is required to take the MCAT. You must register at least 10 days before the exam date. AAMC offers the exam at hundreds of testing locations in the US and internationally.

When you sit for the exam, prepare for a full day of experience. The MCAT takes nearly eight hours to complete. You have two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute break.

Can I do the MCAT online?

Unlike other standardized tests in higher education, you cannot take the MCAT from home. From 2022, you must take this exam in person at a testing center.

“We have concluded at this point that there is no way to ensure equal access and test integrity by conducting an online supervised exam,” the AAMC states. The organization went on to say that, in its view, “the only way to conduct fair and accurate testing is in professional testing centers.”

Can you take the MCAT more than once?

Yes, you may take the MCAT multiple times.

You may take the test three times in a test year, four times in two consecutive years, or seven times in your lifetime.

Please note that if you do not show up for an exam date or choose to void an exam you are taking, those attempts will also count towards the lifetime limit.

When should I take the MCAT?

The ideal time to take the MCAT depends on your situation. The AAMC says students study for the MCAT for about 20 hours a week for three months.

Most people take the exam the same year they enroll in medical school. For example, if you plan to start medical school next fall, you can take the MCAT in the spring — about six months ahead.

The MCAT is offered approximately 30 times in the US throughout the year. Visit the AAMC’s MCAT scheduling website for the latest information on test dates and deadlines.

Please also note that you will not receive any score information immediately after taking the exam. Wait about a month for your official scores to come back.

How is the MCAT scored?

Although the MCAT is a computer-based exam, it is not computer-adaptive. That means that the difficulty of the questions does not change based on the answers you give while taking the test.

Scores on each of the exam’s four sections range from 118 to 132. For each cohort taking each exam, the test takers’ scores for each section are “centered” at 125 (meaning, the average is scored at 125).

Then the four section scores are combined. The total score is then centered at 500.

You get a score on each section, plus a total score. Total test scores range from 472 to 528. Scores in the top 25% usually range from 508 to 513.

Why is the MCAT “centered”?

Like other standardized tests, the MCAT score is scaled. In simple terms, this means that a statistical calculation is applied to your raw score to determine your centered, total score.

This allows the test administrators to create a unified performance measure regardless of which version of the test a person might take.

As a result of this process, it will take approximately 30 days to receive your official MCAT scores. You will also receive a percentile rank as part of your score report.

How much does the MCAT cost?

The MCAT will cost $325 in 2022 in the US and Canada. Anyone taking the exam outside of the US or Canada must pay an additional $120 “international fee”. This amount is non-refundable if you cancel your exam registration.

Anyone interested in taking the MCAT should know that the AAMC charges a change and cancellation fee. You can also change your registration no less than 10 days before your scheduled exam.

If cost is a concern, the AAMC offers a reimbursement program. The program helps people who are unable to attend the MCAT or receive medical training due to financial difficulties.

A variety of MCAT study guides, preparation courses, and resources are available. The AAMC offers a free, official sample test, sample question guide, curriculum guidance, and some paid study resources.

Independent organizations such as Kaplan offer on-demand, live online and in-person courses in preparation for the MCAT. These options cost $1,799, $2,499, and $2,899, respectively.

Do I have to take the MCAT if I want to study medicine?

The short answer is yes. Most students who want to become doctors will probably have to take the MCAT. While some medical school programs do not require the MCAT, taking the exam will expand your options.

However, there are a few options that don’t require you to take an exam.

One is a BS/MD program. In these programs, students earn a bachelor’s degree. After that, they go straight to a Doctor of Medicine program. Some schools offer accelerated options that allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree and MD in six years.

According to Forbes, some schools have opted to waive standardized testing requirements in early 2021. The prominent Stanford University School of Medicine was one of them.

Other schools still require students to take the MCAT, but do not require a minimum score. And others, including Case Western Reserve and Syracuse University, do not require the MCAT to enroll in a BS/MD program.

This article was reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS

Sarah Holliday, a black woman in a purple top, smiles.

Sarah Holliday has years of experience working with non-traditional and traditional students in a variety of areas related to career coaching and training and development. Holliday holds a BA in English from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and an MS in Educational Design and Technology (Training and Performance Improvement) from Walden University.

Holliday is currently working on her PhD and looks forward to finishing her dissertation soon.

Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

Last reviewed on March 31, 2022.

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