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A Closer Look at the MCAT Exam Format

3 min read / Medical School


Every pre-med student is familiar with the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This exam has been a part of the medical school admissions process for nearly a century. Each year, more than 85,000 medical school hopefuls sit for the test, as nearly all Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs require MCAT scores.  

Examinees are tested on the knowledge and skills that have been identified as prerequisites for medical school success. This includes information that will have been covered in your undergraduate science courses.  

Admissions committees consider a number of different factors when reviewing medical school applications, but you can expect your MCAT score to carry quite a bit of weight. As you prepare, it’s helpful to learn a bit more about the experience and we have provided an overview of the MCAT exam format and when you should take the test. 

When do you take the MCAT? 

As you prepare, it’s important to first look into the timing of the MCAT exam as part of the medical school application process.  It will help you can map out your journey toward medical school accordingly. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) administers the test multiple times each year, from late January to September.  

So when should you take the MCAT? Most pre-med students take it during the calendar year that precedes the year they plan to enter medical school. Some examinees are more comfortable factoring in extra time in case they decide to retake the exam in hopes of achieving a better score.  

Do note, however, that medical schools will be able to see all your scores, and there are specified testing limits in place. You can only sit for the MCAT three times in a calendar year, four times over the course of two years, and seven times in total.  

What is the MCAT exam format like?  

The MCAT is presented in a multiple-choice, computer-based format. The current format has 230 questions divided into four sections:  

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: includes basic biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: includes biology, general chemistry, basic biochemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: including introductory psychology and sociology
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills:  reading comprehension sections like other standardized tests with topics on humanities and social sciences 

Be prepared to spend the entire day at your testing site, as the exam lasts seven and a half hours with some breaks spread throughout. Students will receive five results from their exam—one for each of the four sections accompanied by one combined total score. 

Prepare for the MCAT 

Now that you have more information about the MCAT exam format and ideal timing, you can feel confident in preparing for this important milestone on the path to becoming a doctor. Performing well on this exam can set you up for success for your career in medicine. 

Get some preparation advice by reviewing our article How to Study for the MCAT: 6 Tips and Tricks to Try.” 



April 28, 2022