University of Vermont

Path to Medical School: MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a 7+ hour computer-based, standardized multiple-choice exam administered by the AAMC and taken at a testing center. It is comprised of 4 sub-tests and designed to assess specific content knowledge as well as problem solving and critical thinking skills. The 4 sections are: 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 and the maximum score for each (100thpercentile) is 132. The exam is required as part of the application to allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) schools. The average total MCAT for accepted applicants in the 2017-18 cycle was ~510 (82nd percentile) for MD schools and ~503 (61st percentile) for DO schools.

When to Take the MCAT

The MCAT should be taken only after completion of the required and recommended science and social science coursework. A common mistake is for students to schedule the MCATs during spring semester and to over estimate how much preparation they will be able to accomplish during the school year. It is recommended that students take the MCAT before they decide whether they will apply in the upcoming admissions cycle. Ideally, this means taking the MCAT by the September BEFORE the next application cycle begins (begins in June). It is far better for students to delay medical school application for a year by waiting until they can devote adequate time for MCAT preparation while continuing to obtain relevant experience/exposure to the field. The time to apply to medical school is when a student’s entire application is at its strongest. An unexpectedly low MCAT score will be a significant barrier to admission.

Tips for MCAT Preparation

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to studying for the MCAT, although it is reasonable to assume that you will spend ~ 300 hours (over 2-3 months) actively preparing for it. The key is creating—and sticking to—your study plan. The AAMC offers suggestions for a Study Plan. Some students can effectively study entirely on their own, using the resources offered by the AAMC for preparing (free) and for actual test practice (reasonably priced and include full-length exams to take under “test-like” conditions). Other students prefer to purchase material from commercial test prep companies or register for self-paced-on-line, live-on-line, or in-person courses. Effective MCAT preparation must include multiple timed practice tests taken over the several weeks prior to the exam date.

Don't underestimate the CARS section. Even though it is not content-driven, you should plan to dedicate time toward learning strategies and practicing the skills and pace necessary to perform well in this highly valued section.


Registration opens in October for the January-June MCAT test dates, and February for the July-September test dates. In order to register online, you must first create an AAMC account. Plan to register for the test 60 days or more in advance of your intended test date. Early registration will improve your chances of getting a seat on your preferred date. It is especially important to take it at your preferred location to ease day-of-exam travel (and stress). Registering early will also afford lower fees and higher flexibility for changes.

Fee Assistance

The Fee Assistance Program (FAP), among other considerable benefits, provides a reduced MCAT registration fee for awardees. Benefits are not retroactive, so you must apply for benefits well before you register for the test.

Last modified October 10 2018 03:25 PM