Dr. Jordan Bilezikian By: Dr. Jordan Bilezikian
How Hard is the MCAT

Many students hoping to get into medical school are aware of what is on the MCAT but often wonder how hard the MCAT is. Since it is one of the main guides that help medical schools decide which students get accepted into their schools, it’s safe to say that anyone who attempts to take it will certainly be tested.

Covering multiple different science-based skills in the span of 230 questions and around seven and a half hours, this extensive exam will challenge anyone who takes it. This means it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

We answer the question “how hard is the MCAT” below. For help studying for this exam, consider using one of our best-rated MCAT prep courses.

While there are plenty of horror stories about how hard the MCAT is, we are here to help you understand what to expect when going into the exam. Your future and dream job may be on the line, so it is perfectly reasonable to have nerves around going into the test. However, we would like to dispel them any way we can.

More Difficult Than College Exams

Since you are someone who is curious about medical school or wants to start applying to med schools, it is safe to guess that you are someone who typically does well in school and carries a high GPA.

College exams may not be that difficult for you, but we can assure you that the MCAT is much harder than normal college exams.

Basic college exams may be in-depth, but they typically only cover one subject at a time. You wouldn’t expect to have complex inorganic chemistry questions while taking a biology exam.

The MCAT weaves multiple different subjects together throughout the test. These subjects include:

  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic and Inorganic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Though in a normal test they would be divided into sections and you would know what to expect, these subjects all connect and blend into one while taking the MCAT. Learn more about what is on the MCAT.

Harder Than College Entry Exams

You may have taken either the ACT or SAT (possibly even both) multiple times before you got into college. If you are someone who normally tests well and achieved a high GPA in school, you may not have batted an eyelash and scored in high percentiles on either test.

Though college entry exams cover a few different school subjects (reading comprehension, language, science, and mathematics), they do not go as deep into the subjects as the MCAT does.

Also, the MCAT does not function on memorization alone. While reading comprehension tests some of your deep-thinking capabilities, the MCAT challenges problem-solving, critical thinking, and scenario analysis at every turn.

You cannot make it through the MCAT on memorization alone.

There are a few reasons why the MCAT is a harder test. We have already mentioned the extensive topics covered as well as the fact that it doesn’t run on memorization alone, but there are a few more things that contribute to why the MCAT is so hard.

Length of Exam

The MCAT is probably one of the longest tests you will take in your entire life. Time-wise, the MCAT doubles the length of most other standardized tests out there.

Test Name Length in Time Number of Questions
American College Testing (ACT) 2 hours and 55 minutes 215 questions
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) 3 hours 154 questions
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) 3 hours and 30 minutes 99-102 questions
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) 3 hours and 30 minutes 80 questions
Graduate Records Examination (GRE) 3 hours and 45 minutes 40 questions + 2 tasks
Dental Admissions Test (DAT) 4 hours and 30 minutes 280 questions
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) 7 hours 230 questions

As you can see the MCAT is almost double the length in time but not the longest question-wise. This means the MCAT has questions that force you to use a lot of thinking and reasoning to answer them.

Timed Test

The MCAT is another test that is timed. While both college exams and college entry tests are also usually timed, they operate more on general knowledge and memorization. Without having to reason and think as hard to answer questions, the time limit may not seem as threatening to a good student.

Though the MCAT is all multiple choice, the reasoning and logic questions take longer to answer than just doing a simple calculation and circling an answer. It may be hard to choose between two very similar answers quickly based on the scenario you are given.

Passage-Based Questions

While most other standardized tests have sections that primarily ask you a question about something and you choose an answer, the MCAT is set up like the reading comprehension sections. Instead of reading a question and answering it, many questions are based on a six- to seven-paragraph passage that you must read before answering them.

This also takes time away from your test. If you are a slower reader, you may feel crunched for time as the test goes on. Every question you leave unanswered on the test are points that you had an opportunity to get but will not.

The MCAT is a complicated test, but it isn’t impossible to pass. In fact, there isn’t a true “passing” score, however, you do want a relatively high score to matriculate into a medical school (like 41% of test-takers from the last cycle).

Though we have made it sound rather scary, the point of this article was to help quell some of the nerves you may feel about taking the MCAT. Even though the MCAT is hard, here are some things you can do to help succeed on the test.

Study Thoroughly

There are many sites that not only give you access to what kinds of questions might appear on the test but also methods of studying for the test. Also, your education before deciding to move on to medical school should have helped prepare you for the MCAT.

If all else fails, the skin and bones index cards can help you learn all the content you need. It never hurts to start studying early and remembering everything you can about the content areas the MCAT covers to help make the MCAT slightly less hard.

Pass the MCAT

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Prep Courses

If you aren’t great at studying on your own or if you are looking to make sure the material you are studying is correct, prep courses are the best thing you can do. However, they typically cost money, so you need to be financially able to enroll in one.

Looking for a prep course to take? Check out our reviews of MCAT prep courses to make the MCAT less difficult for you.

Take Practice Tests

Another great way to feel prepared is to take practice tests. Just like the practice tests your teachers may have asked you to take before the SAT or ACT or the ones you may have looked up on your own, the MCAT practice tests include questions that may have appeared on previous versions of the MCAT.

There is no better preparation than taking the test. We have MCAT practice tests that you can find here.

As we mentioned above, around 41% of all MCAT test-takers matriculated to a medical school. What does it take to get there? Well, there is a little bit of a score difference between students who matriculated and those who didn’t.

Your score will be between 472 and 528. But how do you know if you have a good MCAT score? From test-takers in the last cycle, the average score was right around 506. However, the average score of those who matriculated last year was around 511.

Perfectionists should be cautioned that perfect scores are nigh impossible to achieve. Very few people per year score a perfect test as the MCAT is very hard. Do not be disappointed if you aren’t one of the top success stories.

Read more about MCAT scores.

Is the MCAT a difficult exam?

The MCAT is one of the longest standardized tests you could take and it tests multiple areas of knowledge as well as your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

The test will be challenging but proper studying and preparation can make it manageable.

How hard is it to get a good MCAT score?

The average score for the MCAT is 506, which is decent. Most medical schools look for 510 and above, so it should be fairly easy to get a good score if you are properly prepared for the test.

Anything from 502 and up typically gets an interview, but you may have to work a lot harder with the rest of your application process. It’s best to shoot for average or higher if possible

How difficult is it to get a 510 on the MCAT?

The MCAT is a difficult test with an average of 506. The test itself isn’t necessarily the difficult part about getting a 510 on the MCAT.

Studying and preparation beforehand needs to be rigorous for you to achieve a good score and get accepted to a medical school.