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Charting A Course to Medical School: PART III

Today we will get to the topic you've all been wondering about....or stressing about: The MCAT EXAM!

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is offered twice a year, once in April and once in August. The MCAT is required by 98% of all medical schools; the other two percent of schools require other standardized tests. Applications are available through your school's health professions advisor, an office of measurement and evaluation (if your school has one), or directly through the American College Testing service. Beware: the MCAT is a rather expensive test. Fortunately, there is a fee reduction program for financially disadvantaged students.

What does the MCAT consist of?

The MCAT consists of four sections: physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and a writing sample. The testing period takes a total of approximately eight hours and is split up in the following way:

• Verbal Reasoning, 85 minutes
• Physical Sciences, 100 minutes
• 50% Physics
• 50% Chemistry
• Writing Sample, 60 minutes
• Biological Sciences, 100 minutes
• 75% Biology
• 25% Organic Chemistry

**NOTE: The MCAT Exam will be making some changes starting in 2015. If you are planning on taking the exam then, please read more here.

How much should I study?

No one can really answer this question, simply because it depends upon the individual in question. If you have completed the core requirements prior to the exam, it should be fresh in your mind and you should not have to spend an exorbitant amount of time re-learning. It may be a good idea to take a diagnostic test to see in what areas you should focus your review efforts.

How important are MCAT scores?

Generally, the admissions committees look at many things when considering applicants. For example, they look at academic records, recommendations, and extracurricular activities, in addition to MCAT scores. Ultimately, the importance of test scores is particular to each individual school.

Should I take the MCAT in the spring or summer?

If you have completed all of the core requirements by spring, then definitely take the test in the spring. However, if you will not have them completed until summer, you may be better off waiting until then. The key is that you should take the MCAT as soon after you have completed the required premedical courses (general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology). If you are applying to schools for early decision, however, then the spring test time is your only option. Also, remember that most schools have rolling admissions policies, so waiting until August before your senior year may put you at a big disadvantage, as your applications will not be complete until October at the earliest. By the way, if you will have finished all of the required courses by August before your junior year, you may want to consider taking the MCAT at that time. This will give you a chance to retake the test the following April if necessary without falling behind in the application process.

Should I take the MCAT twice?

You should choose this option only if you did not perform up to expectations in your first testing. DO NOT EVER TAKE THE MCAT FOR "PRACTICE". Many schools count each MCAT you take, some will take your best, and some will take only the most recent -- it really varies from school to school. The MCAT registration booklet also advises students to take the test twice if there is a large discrepancy between your first score and your undergraduate grades. Are MCAT preparation courses necessary?

The preparation courses provide a structured schedule as well as practice tests. For those who prefer to study on their own (and save money), there are many good practice books available. These books usually contain several practice tests as well as an adequate review of the subjects covered by the MCAT. The important thing is to make a review schedule and stick to it. The MCAT preparation courses are there to provide structure, not to study for you. The preparation courses do not provide information that has not already been covered in your basic science courses.

How do I get through the MCAT day?

Get a good night's sleep. Relax. You have studied hard! Bring number two pencils, black pens (writing sample), and a sweater. You may also want to bring food to munch on during breaks.

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