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How Long Is the MCAT? Uncovering the Facts You Need to Know to Be Prepared

5 min read / Medical School


One of the most significant steps when applying to med schools is taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This notorious exam challenges aspiring doctors to demonstrate their knowledge and show their preparedness for a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program. Needless to say, it’s common to have some questions about the exam.

How long is the MCAT? How many questions are on the MCAT? How can you ensure you’re prepared to succeed?

Take a look at what some physicians have to say about the exam to uncover the answers you need to feel prepared for success.

5 Important facts you should know before taking the MCAT

As you begin your MCAT preparation, take some time to review insight from doctors who were once in your shoes.

1. The MCAT is an extensive exam

How long is the MCAT, exactly? If you plan to take the exam, be prepared to spend the entire day at your testing site—the MCAT is seven and a half hours long. How many questions are on the MCAT? From start to finish, it includes 230 questions across a number of topics. Keep in mind that you can recharge during lunch and a few other short breaks.

On the big day, you will check in and store your belongings, explains Dr. Richard Beddingfield, a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist and author of Med School Uncensored. You’ll then be escorted to a quiet space to take the computer-based exam, which is administered multiple times each year at many testing sites.

2. The MCAT is broken down into four sections

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) administers the exam, which was reconfigured in 2015 to reflect changes in medicine and science. Compared to its predecessor, it better assesses how well aspiring physicians are able to apply what they know.

“It’s essentially a big science exam, focusing on biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and behavioral sciences,” Dr. Beddingfield explains.

The questions are organized into the following four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

3. It’s critical to prepare extensively for the MCAT

Dr. Beddingfield recommends beginning the process of studying for the MCAT early in your junior year of college. This should allow you enough time to fully cover the material in preparation for taking the exam near the end of that school year. Note that the AAMC offers an array of resources to help you study.

While there are no official prerequisites for taking the MCAT, you’d be wise to have already completed courses that align with the subjects covered in the exam, including biology, physics, psychology, sociology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. By completing relevant courses and leveraging practice exams, you’ll become progressively more comfortable leading up to the exam. This matters as much as anything.

“The most important aspect of the MCAT is confidence. You need to practice, practice, practice.”

“The most important aspect of the MCAT is confidence. You need to practice, practice, practice,” advises Dr. Alex Roher, an anesthesiologist and founder of SD Botox. He attributes his strong MCAT score to the numerous practice exams he took. “I knew what to expect and what to look for in trick questions. Being prepared breeds confidence and success.”

4. A strong MCAT score can set you up for success

You’ll receive a report with five scores—an individual score for each of the sections along with an overall score. Overall, the maximum MCAT score possible in 528 while the lowest is 472. The average MCAT score for everyone who applied to US medical schools for the 2020–2021 year was 506 while the average among accepted students was 512.

Should you be unhappy with your MCAT score, rest easy knowing you are able to retake the exam. In fact, you can take the MCAT as many as three times in a year, four times in two consecutive years, and a maximum of seven times throughout your lifetime.

It’s also important to not be discouraged if you scored lower than anticipated. There are plenty of reputable medical schools who take a holistic approach to evaluating applications, meaning your MCAT score is just one of many important elements being considered. For example, individuals who have the passion and determination to become a doctor but have difficulties when it comes to taking tests may want to consider applying to a Caribbean medical school.

5. MCAT scores matter — to a certain extent

Keep in mind that a great MCAT score and GPA alone will not guarantee your admittance to medical school. Rather, they are considered as part of a greater equation. Medical schools that leverage holistic reviews take every part of your application into account.

“Admissions officers want to see a glimmer of who you are behind the GPA, MCAT score, academic awards, and extracurricular activities,” explains Dr. Beddingfield. “Be honest. Share a personal story or experience. Show them who you are as a person.”

Schools seek a demonstration of certain personal attributes that are important to medical practice, such as critical thinking, collaboration, and a commitment to service. They examine an applicant’s life experiences, extracurricular activities, personal statements, and more. There’s a lot that goes into the admission process, so don’t allow your MCAT score to define what you’re capable of achieving.

Be prepared for MCAT success

Tackling the MCAT can help you move closer to fulfilling your dream of becoming a doctor. How long is the MCAT when you consider this overall journey? Pretty short, so see it as an opportunity to demonstrate your academic abilities to admissions teams.

Learn more about what these committees are looking for in our article, “Medical School GPA: Why Good Grades Are Only Part of the Equation.”

*This article was originally published in November 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.


October 7, 2021