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All About the MCAT Test: MCAT Topics, MCAT Question Breakdown, and More

  • by Erica Forrette
  • Oct 27, 2020
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

We’ll clue you in on everything you’ll need to know about the MCAT exam, including its main topics, structure, test prep statistics, and more.

MCAT is an acronym which stands for Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT exam tests prospective medical students on their knowledge of biological, chemical, physical, and social sciences while also evaluating key problem-solving skills that are critical for success in medical school. The vast majority of US and Canadian medical schools require MCAT scores as an integral part of their admission processes.

Structure of the Exam

At the beginning of the MCAT, you’ll first encounter a quick user agreement portion followed by an optional tutorial guiding you through the format of the test. The substance the exam consists entirely of multiple-choice questions that are organized into four subject blocks with a total of 230 questions.

MCAT chart

  • Time from Start to Finish: 7 hours, 38 minutes
  • Examinee Nondisclosure Agreement: 8 minutes
  • Optional Tutorial: 10 minutes
  • Time per Block: 95 minutes
  • Optional Break Time Allotted: 50 minutes
    • Two 10-minute Breaks
    • One 30-minute Mid-Exam Break for Lunch
  • “Void” Questions: 5 minutes
    • Assessment of Future MCAT Questions
    • Not Counted Toward Score
  • Optional Survey: 5 minutes

Content Areas Tested

The four sections of the MCAT are broken down according to these four broad topics.

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Each of the first three sections consist of 59 questions, while the last section, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS), is made up of 53 questions. The fundamental sciences of biology, chemistry, physics, sociology, and psychology are evaluated in an integrated fashion. Because real medical scenarios won’t involve solving problems that are discretely separated according to topic, the MCAT challenges you to reason through the interplay of knowledge from each discipline. Similarly, the CARS block of questions probes your interpretation of information and scientific reasoning based upon reading information from short passages.

Raw vs. Scaled Scores

What is the MCAT out of? Raw scores from each of the individual sections first are normalized on a range of 118 to 132, which are then added together to yield overall scores ranging from 472 to 528 with the midpoint set at 500. Scaled scores are then obtained from raw scores to account for possible variation in question difficulty across exams. Correspondingly, two equally capable students may have slightly different raw scores, but their scaled scores would be the same. For tests administered between May and October 2020, the mean score was 501.1 with a standard deviation of 10.6 based upon statistics from the AAMC.

Unlike many other multiple-choice exams, the MCAT does not penalize wrong answers. Only correct answers are scored and there is no point subtraction based on the number of wrong answers to adjust for right answers that might result from random guessing. According to the AAMC, your approach should be to reason through to find the best answer that you can. This is an important distinction to make from aiming to always get the correct answer; the questions and available answers may be vague, so the correct option won’t be clearly found in a timely manner.

Cram Fighter MCAT Stats

Cram Fighter compiles some MCAT preparation statistics from our registered users. According to our latest statistics as of October 2020, the average time that premed students using Cram Fighter to study for the MCAT is right around 100 days. The most popular months for Cram Fighter customers to take the MCAT exam are June, December, and January. Finally, we also publish an ongoing analysis of the most popular MCAT resources as chosen by our customers. You can also review our list of supported MCAT resources if you’re considering using Cram Fighter to manage your MCAT study schedule, to ensure we support what you plan to use.

Register with Cram Fighter to try it free for 7 days to build your own MCAT study plan. You may also try our FREE MCAT practice test from study guide, up to 1,600 free flashcards, full-length practice exam and many more. Check it out today!

About the Author

Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.