MCAT vs LSAT: Complete Comparison
- Jun 28, 2022
- LSAT Blog, MCAT Blog
- Reviewed By: Liz Flagge
The MCAT, medical college admission test, and LSAT, law school admission test, are both incredibly difficult, long exams. The MCAT prepares future physicians for medical school while the LSAT does the same for aspiring law students. While the subjects tested on these two tests are extremely different, you might be surprised at the number of similarities.
If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in law or medicine, or if you just want to learn more about these two legendary exams, look no further than this complete comparison guide on MCAT vs LSAT!
One distinction people sometimes make is that the LSAT is a “thinking” test while the MCAT is a “content” one. What this means is that, where the MCAT tests knowledge like chemical formulas or organ functions, the LSAT looks for an examinee’s ability to reason out arguments and find patterns. And this makes sense considering the goals of each test. Medical professionals need to know core biology, chemistry, and psychology concepts, regardless of what later field they specialize into. Meanwhile, legal scholars may go through a variety of different cases that require different background knowledge—the one thing they’ll always have to do, however, is be able to identify, formulate, and pick apart logical claims.
Of course, this is an extremely broad generalization. The LSAT still requires “content”-based knowledge like argument structures and terms, and the MCAT requires plenty of critical thinking about science concepts (and even has a content-free section based purely on critical thinking). In broad terms, this distinction provides a reasonable starting point to get to the heart of these two exams.
Both exams consist of four important sections, but that’s where the similarities in structure end.
For the MCAT, those sections are
- -Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- -Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- -Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- -Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Altogether, there are 230 multiple-choice questions to complete in about seven and a half hours (including optional breaks between sections). That’s a lot of testable “biological” information!
When it comes to the LSAT, the big four are
- -Logical Reasoning,
- -Logic Games,
- -Reading Comprehension, and
- -a writing prompt (which is unscored but sent to law schools with the rest of your exam).
There’s slightly less than 100 multiple-choice questions in total on the exam, plus that essay, and around three total hours to finish it.
Both tests are so massive that it takes around a month for scores to be released. The good news is that the exams do have built-in breaks. The MCAT allows test takers to stop and rest between each section with one extended break for lunch, while the LSAT has a single ten-minute cooldown between its second and third sections.
When it comes to taking difficult exams such as the LSAT and MCAT, it sometimes helps to know the average score and what the goal is. So you might be wondering, what are the average scores each year for the MCAT and LSAT? Well, that can depend on a few factors, but the average MCAT score is 500 while the average LSAT score is 152. Since these exams are important for medical or law school admission, it’s important to create a prep and study plan that can help you achieve whatever your goal score may be.
The days of paper exams are gone — there are now digital interfaces that allow test-takers to complete the MCAT and the LSAT on computers. Both systems allow for highlighting (plain yellow for the MCAT and the additional pink and orange for the LSAT). Test questions can also be flagged, making it easier for students to skip around within sections without accidentally mis-marking a paper answer sheet.
For physical tools, students are equipped with scratch paper or a wet erase booklet and marker for note-taking, depending on whether they’re taking the LSAT or MCAT, respectively.
Now, after looking at the exam breakdown, you may be wondering if these two tests could be any more different. The section titles aren’t alike at all, fair enough, but what if I were to tell you that even though the memorized content varies wildly, there’s a considerable amount of skill overlap?
Reading Comprehension and Critical Thinking
The MCAT and LSAT are chock-full of passages on a range of topics with lengths varying from a few sentences to mini essays. So it’s no surprise then that what separates good scorers from great scorers is their ability to quickly dissect information from the given sources and apply that information to rationally answer individual questions.
Both exams require test-takers to, at minimum, recognize basic argument structure as well as identify what makes for strong, compelling arguments — whether those arguments are about contrived logical situations or about the firing of a neuron. The analytical tricks and tips you learned in your high school English classes will serve you well on the MCAT or LSAT. In fact, critical reading skills often make or break a student’s score on both exams.
Since both exams have timed sections, being able to pace yourself and keep an eye on the clock is key. While the LSAT sections are shorter (each clocking in at a dainty 35 minutes, compared to the MCAT’s hulking 90-95 minute blocks), learning how to attack a question efficiently comes in handy on the MCAT, too. Because of the section splits, test-takers of either exam can’t go back to previous sections, even if they have time left in their current one. Thus, students have to learn how to work with the clock, rather than against it.
Process of Elimination
There’s a universal skill that’s vital for all multiple-choice exams and that’s the ability to recognize and eliminate wrong answer choices. No matter how well you study, there’s going to be a question that makes you stop and wonder, “Okay, which one of these options is the best fit?” In such cases, whittling away incorrect answers gets you closer and closer to picking the right one and earning those juicy points.
For both the MCAT and the LSAT, you’re solely scored on how many questions you answered correctly, which means leaving questions blank is the same as getting them wrong. Knowing how to eliminate wrong choices on difficult questions is invaluable for both tests.
We said it once already, but it bears repeating: the LSAT and MCAT are both very difficult, very long exams. Their workbooks and study guides may look distinct, but both groups of test-takers agree that you’ll need to spend a good chunk of time hitting the books. On average, whether it’s the LSAT or the MCAT, students study for roughly 300 hours. What that time commitment looks like for most students is three to four months of prepping with roughly three hours of studying per day. Ouch! Considering how important these tests are in young physicians’ and legal scholars’ lives though, it’s no wonder that studying is taken so seriously.
Hopefully this article helped clear up some confusion regarding the LSAT and MCAT exams. While there isn’t much overlap on content, there are similar core skills that prospective law school students and med school students need to succeed. Regardless of which exam you plan to take, be sure to leave enough time for that immense, 300-hour study schedule!
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