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Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is the standardized test required of all applicants to allopathic (M.D.), osteopathic (D.O.), and podiatric medical schools. It is also accepted as an option for some veterinary and allied health schools. The MCAT tests the mastery of basic biology, chemistry, and physics concepts, problem solving requiring the integration of these disciplines, critical thinking, and writing skills. The test consists of four sections. The Verbal Reasoning section contains multiple-choice questions based on reading selections drawn from a multitude of sources, many outside of the sciences. The intent of this section is to test reading comprehension, evaluation of ideas, analysis of data, and the application of new information. The Physical Sciences section contains multiple-choice questions involving basic knowledge in physics and general chemistry as well as the ability to apply that knowledge and interpret new information. The Writing Sample requires two brief essays written in response to a brief topic statement and assesses the presentation and development of an idea as well as the technical writing skills of the writer. The Biological Sciences section involves multiple-choice questions about basic concepts in biology and organic chemistry as well as the application of that knowledge and interpretation of new information.

The MCAT is a five and three-quarters hour test and is offered in April and August of each year. The Verbal Reasoning, Physical Science, and Biological Science scores are reported on a scale from 1 (low) to 15 (high). The Writing Sample is reported on a scale from J (low) to T (high), representing the sum of the two essay scores. Although there is no limit to the number of times the test may be taken, special permission must be obtained after the third time. Registration for the MCAT is done online by accessing the website of Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Five practice tests have been released by the AAMC.

The MCAT plays a substantial role in the medical school admissions process. How much emphasis is placed on MCAT scores varies from school to school. Other factors that are considered include: grades (overall and science), the interview, letters of recommendation, research, activities, experience in medicine, application essays, and state of residence. The two most important factors, however, are grades and MCAT scores. High grades and test scores, though, will not guarantee acceptance. If an applicant with strong grade and test credentials has poor interpersonal skills, poor references, or no experience in medicine, gaining acceptance is very unlikely. On the other hand, a very personable individual with a great deal of medical experience is very unlikely to gain acceptance if MCAT scores or grades are low. It may be useful to think of MCAT scores and grades as threshold criteria. Once the threshold is reached, the other factors become more significant. It is important to note that scores in individual sections of the MCAT may be considered as important as the overall score. For example, an applicant with 10s in each section of the test would probably be considered more favorably than an applicant with scores of 12, 12, and 6. Both total scores are 30, but the former shows consistency and the latter indicates one rather weak area.

The MCAT scores are required for several reasons. First, they validate an applicant's grades. They help the medical school admissions committee compare applicants from many different schools of varying rigor. MCAT scores are particularly useful when considering an applicant from a school that is not well known to the admissions committee. A second reason for the reliance on MCAT scores is that they are predictive of an applicant's success in the academic course work generally taken during the first two years of medical school. Finally, MCAT scores are evidence of an applicant's test-taking ability. This is relevant because successful applicants will face at least three additional major standardized tests that must be passed before they can obtain a license to practice medicine.

Work is underway in 2002 to revise and update the MCAT, although it is likely to be several years before any changes are actually made. One thing is certain, though: the MCAT will continue to play an important role in evaluating applicants for medical school.



CORDER, BRICE W., ed. 1998. Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, 4th edition. Champaign, IL: National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.

MCAT Student Manual. 1995. Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges.




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