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Pre-med Basics: Getting Started with the MCAT

June 2nd, 2008 admin

There are few things pre-med students dread more than the MCAT (a.k.a. the Medical College Admissions Test), and too little preparation can make a big difference in your overall score. I almost feel like an expert on this topic since I’ve recently observed my husband prepare for and successfully take the MCAT. Here’s what you need to know to get started. (If you want a lot of detailed info, take a look at AAMC’s Official MCAT Essentials guide.)

Know the Format

Once upon a time the MCAT was a handwritten “paper-and-pencil” test. Lucky for you, you’ll be taking the new computerized MCAT which, at about 5 hours, is significantly shorter than its predecessor (can you imagine having to take the old one?!? Ugh!). The test is divided into four parts:

1. Physical Sciences (Chemistry and Physics)

2. Verbal Reasoning (Reading comprehension, evaluation & application)

3. Writing Sample (Essay questions)

4. Biological Sciences (Organic Chemistry and Biology)

Generally there are breaks between each section that are about 10 minutes long.

Choose a Practical Test Date

Your med school applications will be due two summers before you want to enter med school (so for most of you, the summer following your Junior year of college). That means you need to take the MCAT before then, and remember to allow time for the test to be processed and your results sent out. A late application to med school can affect your chances of getting in, so don’t let anything push it back!

You can see a list of 2008 test dates & times here.

Register on Time

Registering for the MCAT is pretty easy. Just go to the AAMC’s MCAT website (, and click on the “Registration” link. You need to create and AAMC username and password if you haven’t already. Then you simply select a date, fork over the fee ($210 for 2008), and mark the date on your calendar so you don’t accidentally sleep through it or show up on the wrong day…

Check out AAMC’s PDFs with 2008’s registration deadlines to keep yourself on track.

Study Early (and Often)

Since you probably have a life outside the MCAT–school, a job, a social life, etc.–its better to start studying ASAP, and give yourself a good few months.

If you have a busy schedule, I personally recommend giving yourself at least 6 months of study time, and really dedicate yourself to putting in the hours every week (or every day!). If you have a long stretch of nothing where you can study often (like summer break, for example) 3 months might be enough.

Want to Know More?

Stay tuned… I’m planning to discuss some of your MCAT study options & resources as we get into summertime, so if you haven’t already subscribed, do it now! Otherwise just keep your eyes peeled (and feel free to email or comment with questions or suggestions!).

Already taken the MCAT? What helped you get through it?

photo: Xray of Hands by adamci

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