About the MCAT
Almost all medical schools require MCAT scores, a fact evidenced by the more than 60,000 test takers registering for the exam every year. The test is a standardized, multiple-choice exam that reports measured scores in four sections: verbal reasoning, physical sciences, biological sciences, and a writing sample. Most medical schools will not accept an MCAT score that is more than three years old, so in order to retake the test, a student would need to submit fresh registration.
The average MCAT score is ten (on a 1–15 scale) in each section, combining for a total score of 30. For the writing section, the average score is “P” (on a scale of J–T).
There are plenty of reasons to retake the MCAT—and as of January 2007, this is permitted up to three times per calendar year—including illness, an inexplicable discrepancy between grades and test scores, and inadequate preparation for the test. If you’re in doubt as to whether to retake the exam, consult your prospective college’s student affairs office or a pre-med advisor.
The “New” MCAT
Due to advances in technology, as well as steadily increasing registration numbers, some important changes were made to the paper test to make it faster and more accessible to examinees. In August 2006, the organization which regulates the MCAT, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), delivered the last paper-based edition of the exam replacing it with the now-universal computer-based version. The test consists of the same questions and scoring methods, with a few changes and highlights:
- The testing time is approximately three hours shorter since breaks between sections are optional in the computer-based version, and there is no longer a need to count or collect the paper test booklets previously used.
- The test is computer-based, not computer-adaptive—which means that takers are permitted to go back and change questions, as long as the section itself has not yet been finished and closed.
The AAMC is confident that although the testing format has changed somewhat drastically, test takers should expect no discernable difference in resulting scores between the old paper-based model and the new computer-based one.
What to Expect on the Big Day
Despite these recent changes, the delivery format for the MCAT is as closely monitored and as serious as ever. Test takers may only bring the clothes on their backs into the testing area and, by the same policy, nothing may be removed.
Examinees must bring with them one form of valid, government-issued identification that includes a current picture and the test taker’s signature.
When registering to take the test, you may initially come to a screen that says, “Welcome to MCAT Registration and Thank You for Your Patience.” This screen is an electronic “waiting room” that indicates that the system is busy. Please do not close your browser or double click anything at this time, as this might result in a loading error forcing you back to the end of the line. Once you reach the login screen, you will have one minute to enter your user name and password. It is important to use only the direction buttons on the site itself—using the browser’s back, forward, or refresh buttons can also be detrimental to your ability to log in.
For more information on taking the MCAT, contact the AAMC by telephone at (202) 828-0690 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You should receive a response within 72 hours, but remember that the first day of registration is a very busy time for the AAMC, so expect longer hold times.
By Hannah Roberts