COVID-19 MCAT Changes: Shorter Exam in 2020

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • With all MCAT exams in 2020 being substantially shortened until the end of the year, you might find yourself wondering how to properly prepare for the new exam. If you aren’t familiar with the changes yet, here they are in a nutshell:

    • C/P, B/B, and P/S have all been shortened from 59 questions in 95 minutes to 48 questions in 76 minutes.
    • CARS has been shortened from 53 questions in 90 minutes to 48 questions in 81 minutes.
    • The lunch break has also been removed so every break between sections will now be 10 minutes.

    The “gold standard” for MCAT practice will always be the official AAMC full-length exams, but these are regular-length exams. This makes taking full-length exams that mimic test day nearly impossible.

    How do you prepare for the actual shortened MCAT if there is no practice material that will resemble the real thing?

    The short answer: Prepare for the MCAT like you would if the exam weren’t shortened.

    The AAMC has made an effort to ensure that their shortened exam resembles the original MCAT as closely as possible so that students will not face unexpected timing issues when they reach test day.

    The only real difference in the 2020 MCAT should be that the sections are just shorter. Some students have tried to take shortened versions of the AAMC full-length exams and then tried to extrapolate their score—this ends up being a bad idea because it’s nearly impossible to extrapolate a score without the actual exam data.

    Remember, all of the AAMC exams were previously administered to students, so the score you receive on them would be the score you would have received if you actually took that exam on test day. Take the AAMC exams using the same time constraints as before.

    Still, it’s important to get a feeling for what timing will be like on test day, for which there are two options:

    1. The first option is to take shortened MCAT exams created by third-party testing companies such as Kaplan. If you decide to take these, disregard the score you receive on them and be wary that third-party exams will differ from AAMC exams in difficulty, style of questions, and depth of thinking.

    2. The second option, which I recommend, would be to just use the other AAMC material and set test day time constraints on it. For CARS, use the two AAMC question packs for CARS, and just do 48 questions in 81 minutes. It won’t be perfect, but it will help you gauge what 81 minutes actually feels like. For the science sections, use the AAMC section banks and do 48 questions in 76 minutes. I would avoid doing this with the AAMC science QPacks because those are more content heavy, and do not entirely match the style of questions you’ll see on test day. We also have some tips on how to best utilize flashcards when preparing for the MCAT.

    Finally, keep all other factors consistent with test day. That means if your exam will be at 6:30 AM, then try to start your AAMC full-lengths at 6:30 AM. If it’s at 6 PM, then start at 6 PM. This will help you see how you fare with a long, rigorous exam that either starts at dawn or ends at midnight. I offer more tips for a strong MCAT test day in this post. Put all this together, and this shortened MCAT exam should be nothing to worry about.