Tag Archives: Medical School AdmissionsMCAT

The MCAT: An Overview

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15. According to the AAMC, the test was changed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The MCAT is now double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. Medical schools vary in their policy about whether they will still accept the old MCAT for the 2019 application cycle.

Before we provide you with a detailed look at the test, it’s important to keep in mind that the MCAT is just one of various factors used by medical schools. The evaluation process also reviews college grades, trends in grades, extracurricular activities, and medically-related experiences such as research, shadowing, and clinical work.

Test Structure 

The current MCAT consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes—double the length of the previous version of the test.

The first three sections of the MCAT are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

The MCAT will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The newest section, added during the 2015 revamp, is “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” which comprises 25% of the test and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observed:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

MCAT Test Dates and Centers

The MCAT is offered 30 times throughout the year, from January through September, with scores released five weeks after administration. You can find a local test center here.

MCAT Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The test is not graded on a curve, and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Below is the expected distribution of total scores for the MCAT taken between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019.

The score reports provide details on your test performance, and combines MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles. See the sample score report below.


What Are Percentile Ranks?

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Percentile ranks are updated May 1 of every year. This info has been particularly useful to med schools in the first 3 years after the new MCAT was implemented, before sufficient historical data was available to evaluate applicant’s scores.

Importantly, on May 1, 2019, the percentile ranks will be based on the MCATs from the entire four preceding years; having this history will provide much more useful information to both students and med schools.

Below is a chart outlining the percentile ranks in effect from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019:

What Are Confidence Bands?

Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam. According to the AAMC, “non-overlapping confidence bands show a test taker’s likely strengths and weaknesses. Overlapping confidence bands suggest that there are not meaningful differences in performance between sections.” For instance, in the example above, the student would have strengths in the BBFL and PSBB areas, and relative weaknesses in the CPBS and CARS areas, but would have comparable strengths between BBFL and PSBB; and between CPBS and CARS.

Note that the confidence bands for each of the four section scores are two points, whereas the confidence band for the overall total is four points. So if your total score is 501, and you retake the MCAT, you have a reasonable chance of scoring anywhere from 499 – 503.

Average MCAT Scores for Selected Medical Schools

Below are the median new MCAT scores and GPAs for accepted students at a variety of medical schools.

Medical School US News Rank MEDIAN
Columbia 6 3.87 519
Drexel 83 3.73 511
Emory 23 3.79 515
Georgetown 45 3.74 512
Harvard 1 3.92 518
NYU 12 3.9 520
Stanford 2 3.89 518
Temple 55 3.79 512
Washington Univ 7 3.89 521
Univ of Miami 48 3.8 513

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.