The MCAT Basics (Including Free MCAT Resources!)

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Session 2

The MCAT Basics (Including Free MCAT Resources!)

In today’s episode, I cover some MCAT basics including MCAT prep, the new changes in the MCAT 2015, and a ton of free MCAT resources that will help you on your journey.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

About the MCAT

  • Not a test on knowledge but a test to see how well you take tests
  • It tests a student’s aptitude for medical school
  • Started back in 1928 as a way to filter students due to a huge dropout rate in medical school
  • Used to be a paper-based test until switching to a computer-based
  • Runs for several hours long

A 2008 journal article showed that the MCAT compared to other courses has the lowest percentage of questions that are strictly knowledge-based. The majority of it is comprehension.

[Check out my book about the MCAT, co-written with Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep): The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.]

Planning when to take the MCAT

  • Most students take their MCAT in their junior year (August is the busiest time)
  • Plan to start your MCAT prep 4-6 months in advance of the MCAT test date
  • A lot of people take some time off now to gain some life experiences and decrease burnout
  • If you plan to take a lot of time off between undergrad and medical school, plan on holding off in taking the MCAT—otherwise your MCAT test result will expire (3 years for most medical schools)
In the traditional premed timeline, the best time to take the MCAT is the spring of the year before you want to start medical school.Click To Tweet

Changes in the 2013 and 2014 MCAT in preparation for 2015 MCAT:

  • Dropping the written portion of the test
  • Addition of a trial section of Psychology, Sociology, and Biochemistry (45-min. block of 32 questions)
  • The trial section is not scored. It is a voluntary test and if you decide to take it, the AAMC pays you $30 Amazon gift card.

Other parts of the test:

  • Physical sciences – 52 questions in 70 mins
  • Biological sciences – 52 questions in 70 mins
  • Verbal reasoning – 40 questions in 60 mins

Total time: A little over 5 hours

Changes in the 2015 MCAT:

  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems (65 questions in 95 mins)
  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems (65 questions in 95 mins)
  • Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior (65 questions in 95 mins)
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills (60 questions in 90 mins)

For more on changes to the 2015 MCAT, listen to MCAT 2015: A Review of All the Changes and New Tips.

Best ways to prepare for the MCAT

  1. Take practice tests.

AAMC offers loads of practice tests as well as MCAT test prep companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review. Start with the official MCAT Guide from the AAMC (that’s an Amazon link to the book).

First, see what it’s like. Don’t worry about studying for it.

[Related episode: Do I Need to Take a Diagnostic MCAT Test?]

  1. Sign up for MCAT Question of the Day sites.

Questions will be emailed to your inbox. These are excellent free MCAT resources because they keep you studying even on days without dedicated MCAT study time. Examples:

  1. Traditional classroom or web-based tutoring
  1. MCAT Books

Check out our MCAT Prep page that has links to some highly reviewed books and other materials.

  1. MCAT Flashcards

Flash cards are so handy. They’re lighter than a book and you can take them anywhere and read through them during some free time or while you’re standing on the line waiting for your coffee.

Anki is a computer program that helps you practice spaced repetition with your MCAT flashcards for optimal learning. You can download other premeds’ MCAT flashcard decks—how’s that for a free MCAT resource? Or you can make your own MCAT cards for even better learning.

[Related episode: How to Best Use Flashcards to Study for the MCAT.]

  1. Extra coursework

Consider taking Psychology (1 semester) and Sociology (1 semester) in preparation of the 2015 MCAT.

What MCAT score do you need to get?

We’ve done episodes of The MCAT Podcast asking “What Is a Competitive MCAT Score?” as well as “What Does the Average MCAT Score Increase Mean for You?

For MD medical schools, a 511 is the average MCAT score for matriculating students. Therefore, shoot for a 511 or higher if possible. When you score at that level or above, your MCAT score becomes a real asset to your application.

That said, you can be accepted to medical school with a lower MCAT score. In an episode of The Premed Years, I interviewed a student who was accepted with a 496 on the MCAT.

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

Use the free MCAT resources we talked about in this episode! Use the MCAT question of the day websites. Get your MCAT diagnostic test from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep).

The big take-home message from this episode is the fact that the MCAT is a test more about reasoning, understanding, and analysis, not so much pure knowledge.

So read! Read news articles, physical papers, and online newspapers. This helps you hone your reading skills thus increasing your speed of reading and honing your skills to think while you read.

For more tips on how to effectively read MCAT passages, check out episode 259 of The Premed Years.

The MCAT is not a science test. It's a reading and reasoning test that happens to be about science.Click To Tweet

Links and Other Resources