Preparing for the MCAT

Preparing for the MCAT requires a lot of studying.

lenetstan /

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is the test that students are required to take for admission to medical schools. The test lasts 7.5 hours, is taken on a computer, and consists of four different sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Each section is graded between 118 and 132, with overall scores ranging from 472 to 528. Average scores hover around 500 (or 125 in each section). The test is given 20 times throughout the year and costs between $310 and $365 depending on when you register for the test.

Has that sunk in? It’s an expensive, 7.5-hour multiple-choice exam that covers biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and sociology, not to mention your basic reading and analytical skills. It’s definitely not a test that you’re going to want to have to take more than once.

When should I register for the MCAT?

Registration can be completed on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website. Scores take approximately a month to be released, so you should plan on taking the MCAT well in advance of your medical school application deadlines. If you think that you will need to take the MCAT more than once, it is advisable to take the test a year before your applications are due. Then, if you need to redo the test, you have enough time to study more, register, and receive your new scores.

How much does the MCAT cost?

A stethoscope resting on top of money represents the question "how much does the MCAT cost?"

felipe caparros /

The registration fee will differ based upon your timing. If you register over three weeks before you are scheduled to take the exam, you will be charged $310. If you register one to two weeks before the exam, you will be required to pay $365. If your family income is less than 300% below the national poverty level, you are eligible for fee assistance. This would bring your registration costs down to $120 or $175 depending on your timing. International students will be required to pay an additional $100 fee.

If you have to change the date of your exam or where you will be taking it for any reason, you will be required to pay an additional fee. For students who registered less than two weeks before the exam, there is no option to reschedule. Students who registered between three and four weeks before the exam date will have to pay $145 to make any changes. Students who registered over a month in advance will only have to pay $85.

Only students who registered over one month in advance will be eligible for a partial refund ($155) should they have to cancel their testing.

How do I study for the MCAT?

The Princeton Review says that most students who do well on the MCAT spend between 200 and 300 hours studying for the test. There are multiple ways to study: with a partner, on your own, with a private tutor, as part of an MCAT preparation class, and with online resources, to name a few. These options all come with associated monetary costs and take different amounts of time. The consensus is that if you don’t prepare at all, you’re going to fail miserably. Just doing well in your courses at school isn’t enough.

Test preparation courses consisting of live instruction, practice tests, and video instruction purchased through The Princeton Review range from $2,399 to $9,499. A self-paced individual online instruction course by The Princeton Review still costs $1,899. The company does, however, offer one free online practice test. Kaplan test preparation courses range from $1,999 to $3,999. It too, offers occasional free events, such as practice tests, MCAT strategy sessions, or class previews.

Purchasing printed flashcards and an exam guide and receiving online practice questions and exams through the Association of American Medical Colleges will cost you $196. An AAMC practice exam will only cost you $35. This is obviously significantly cheaper, but you have to have the drive to study on your own. Khan Academy offers MCAT videos and test preparation for free, since not every student can afford other options.

Students preparing for the MCAT together after they reach a consensus on how to study for the MCAT. /

You do not have to take a commercial MCAT preparation class in order to be successful on the test. Half of the students who take the MCAT study on their own, using flashcards, study groups, guidebooks, and practice exams. The best way to study, regardless of the method you choose, is going to be to dedicate a certain amount of time to MCAT preparation each week, for a significant number of weeks leading up to the test. If you can put in 15 hours a week, for example, plan to study for a minimum of 13 weeks. More, obviously, is better.

What are the rules if I need to take the MCAT again?

  • You can take the MCAT up to three times during a single year.
  • You can take the MCAT a maximum of four times in a two-year period.
  • You cannot be registered for more than one exam at a time.
  • You can take the MCAT no more than seven times total.

Good luck!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

Leave a comment