The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test®, is the standard measure of applicants for medical school admissions. It is a high stakes test designed to evaluate whether a candidate can critically analyze a medical situation quickly and develop a reasonable medical approach to solve the problem. Most pre-med students want to get accepted to the top medical schools in the country, but only those students who score in the top percentiles of the MCAT will likely be considered. You can develop a study plan to get your best score on the MCAT if you understand the test and how it is scored.
What is the MCAT?
The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam designed to assess your problem solving and critical thinking skills, and your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. The majority of U.S. medical schools and most Canadian schools require you to pass the MCAT exam for admission to medical college. Many schools don’t accept MCAT exam scores that are more than three years old.
How is the MCAT structured?
The MCAT is a 6.5-hour exam that consists of 4 parts. The MCAT sections are integrated. Subjects are not tested independently. They include overlapping areas of concentration, which is how you’ll encounter these subjects in medical school.
Overview of the Sections of the MCAT
|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||
What is included in each section of the MCAT?
The Biology & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section focus on the body and how it functions. Topics covered include DNA, Genetics, Circulatory System, Lymphatic System, Immune System, Digestive System, Muscular and Skeletal Systems, Reproductive System, Nervous System, Endocrine System, Evolution, Amino Acids & Proteins, Lipids, Meiosis, and Mitosis.
Question Breakdown: 25% Basic Biochemistry, 65% Introductory Biology, 5% General Chemistry, 5% Organic Chemistry
The Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section focus on Biochemistry, Physics, & Chemistry. Topics covered include Carbohydrates, Doppler effect, Fluids, Electrostatics, Ohm’s Law, Lenses and Mirrors, Magnetics, Acids/Bases, Solubility, Gravity, Friction Drag, Waves, Translational Motion Thermodynamics, and Periodic Trends.
Question Breakdown: 25% Basic Biochemistry, 5% Introductory Biology, 30% General Chemistry, 15% Organic Chemistry, 25% Introductory Physics
The Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior section focus on understanding patients and their circumstances. Topics covered include Cognitive Functions, Emotion and Stress, Memory, Sleep, Social Change and Inequality, Conditioning, Central Nervous System, Prejudice and Discrimination, Psychological Development, and Psychological Disorders.
Question Breakdown: 65% Introductory Psychology, 30% Introductory Sociology, 5% Introductory Biology
The Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills section focus on your ability to understand and interpret what you have read. It consists of 9 reading passages in either humanities of social service with 5 to 7 questions following each passage.
Question Breakdown: 30% Comprehension, 30% Reasoning Within the Text, 40% Reasoning Beyond the Text
Scoring of the MCAT
The AAMC uses a whole scoring scale on the exam. Your raw score, which is based on the number of questions you got right, is converted to a scaled score that considers the difficulty of the questions.
Each of the four MCAT sections is scored from 118 to 132, with the mean and median at 125. Test takers will receive a score for each of the four sections.
Scores for all four sections are combined to create a total score in the ranges 472 to 528, with a mean and median at 500.
When you receive your MCAT score, it will include:
- Section scores for each section of the MCAT.
- A Total score ranging from 472-528
- A "confidence band," which is a range of scaled scores above and below your score.
- A percentile rank of score, ranking your performance relative to the scores of other MCAT test-takers..
- Your score profile, which shows you your strengths and weaknesses across all four sections of the MCAT.
What is a Good MCAT score?
The highest score you can receive on the MCAT is 528 total or 132 on each of the four sections. Based on average scores nationwide in 2018 and 2019, a good MCAT score is 127 in each section or 508 out of 528 for all four parts.
|Average score acceptable to few medical schools||Average score acceptable for most medical schools||Average score acceptable for Top medical schools|
|Qualitatively||Average MCAT score||Good MCAT score||High MCAT score|
|Percentile rank||50th percentile||80th percentile||95th percentile|
|Sectional score: (max. = 132)||125||127||129|
|Combined score: (max. = 528)||500||508||516|
What is the significance of the MCAT percentiles?
The average MCAT score is 500. Medical colleges will compare you to other applicants by relying on an MCAT percentile, which is a percentile calculated against the scores of everyone who has taken the MCAT in the last three years. The percentile ranking represents the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than you on the MCAT. If your score, for example, was a 508, you score in the 80th percentile.
|MCAT Percentile||Scaled MCAT Total Score|
|Top 10% of all test takers||514 to 528|
|Top 25% of all test takers||508 to 513|
|Top 50% of all test takers||500 to 507|
|Below 50th percentile of all test takers||499 or below|
MCAT Scores for Top Medical Schools
The table below shows the Average MCAT scores, Average median GPAs, and acceptance rates of the top 16 medical schools. This table will help you determine what MCAT scores you may need to get accepted into your school of choice.
|School||Rank||Average MCAT||Average GPA||Acceptance Rate|
|Johns Hopkins University||2||519||3.91||6.0%|
|University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)||3||521||3.90||4.4%|
|New York University (Grossman)||4||522||3.93||2.5%|
|Mayo Clinic School of Medicine (Alix)||7||520||3.92||2.4%|
|University of California - Los Angeles (Geffen)||8||517||3.84||2.4%|
|University of California - San Francisco||9||517||3.83||3.8%|
|Washington University in St. Louis||10||522||3.89||8.2%|
|Cornell University (Weill)||11||518||3.87||5.1%|
|University of Washington||13||510||3.72||4.1%|
|University of Pittsburgh||14||517||3.78||4.5%|
|University of Michigan - Ann Arbor||15||514||3.80||5.0%|
|University of Chicago (Pritzker)||17||520||3.87||4.3%|
|Northwestern University (Feinberg)||18||520||3.90||6.4%|
|Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai||20||518||3.86||5.7%|
How to Study for the MCAT
One of the most challenging parts of MCAT prep is assessing how much work you’ll need to hit your target score.
1. Start by taking an MCAT practice test or diagnostic exam to get a baseline score and determine the areas you will need to focus on in your review.
Visit our directory of MCAT Practice tests to see where you stand.
2. Build a well-thought-out MCAT study schedule early on in your test prep. The AAMC says that, on average, pre-meds will spend 240-300 hours over 12 weeks studying for the MCAT. If you study every day, you should average about 3 hours each day.
The AAMC publishes “How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam“ which offers some free scheduling and tracking worksheets to download
3. Make practice problem review a daily part of your MCAT study plan. If you are plan on spending 12 weeks studying for the exam, you should use six weeks for the mostly-content phase (70% content and 30% practice) and six weeks for the mostly-practice phase (70% practice and 30% content.)
Start with the six content area key themes and CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning skills problems). So a sample week might look like this:
- Monday: Proteins & CARS Passage
- Tuesday: Genetics & CARS Passage
- Wednesday: Atoms & Periodic tables & CARS Passage
- Thursday: MCAT Math & thermodynamics & CARS Passage
- Friday: Behavior & Psych Disorders & CARS Passage
- Saturday: Cells & Bonds & Interactions & CARS Passage
- Sunday: Rest & Recreations
A good MCAT score is a score that gets you into a medical school with the programs of study that you want. Taking a practice MCAT will give you a general idea of your score and areas you need to focus your study. Commit to a study plan, stick to it, and you could raise your scores by 10 to 20 points.