A Guide To The MCAT: Tests | Pre-Health
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
The buzz word continuously thrown around when talking about the road to medicine is daunting, and frankly thinking back to how I felt pre-MCAT/application/acceptance, I don’t think there’s a better word to describe it. My purpose in saying that is not to scare you away from medicine, but to empathize with the overwhelming sensation many of you are feeling as you try to plan out the next couple years of your pre-med lives. However, looking retrospectively I can surely say the process itself is not hard; it’s just unfamiliar. I wish at that time I had a resource that walked me through the unfamiliar jargon and explained it to me simply.
The purpose of this post and series is to ease some of the unfamiliarity by introducing basic MCAT concepts, as well as give a detailed breakdown of how I studied for the MCAT in 30 days. This is, by no means, a comprehensive article about the MCAT. In this blog we will cover the following
The importance of Raza and Dua Mubarak
What is the MCAT and why do I need it?
How is the MCAT scored and what score do I need?
I’d highly encourage you to read Navigating Majors: Pre-Health and the other blogs on the Mahad Alumni site as they simplify the collegiate and academic part of applying to medical school. Here too, Rasulullah’s (SAW) hadith of "Tadbeero Nisf Al-Aish" is the ultimate guide to MCAT studying in 30 days.
The Secret to Success
Throughout my journey to medical school there were many times I felt overwhelmed and anxious. It’s very easy to lose your passion for medicine through the hardships of just trying to get into medical school. Before starting college, I asked for Raza Mubarak to pursue medicine and knowing that Moula’s (TUS) happiness was in my pursuit of medicine fueled me through the struggles of college. Before studying for the MCAT I sent a Dua Arzi to empower me through the long process I have detailed below. In the middle of the MCAT, there was a point where I felt completely lost, and amidst the time-precious test I closed my eyes for a few seconds and remembered Burhanuddin Moula (RA). Those few seconds reassured me that no matter the outcome, I was doing the right thing. The day before medical school acceptances were sent out, I sent another Dua Arzi, nervous about the outcome of the day to come. After receiving three acceptances from amazing schools and debating for days on which school to attend, I left the decision to Moula (TUS) and sent an Istirshad (choose between multiple options) arzi upon which Moula’s Towqee Mubarak was next to the school University of Texas Medical Branch.
What is the MCAT and why do I need it?
The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is a standardized admission test that the majority of the medical schools in North America require prior to application. The exam covers the following foundational sciences.
While there are many factors to a medical school application, MCAT score and collegiate GPA are undoubtedly of the highest initial importance. I say initial, because admittance into medical school is a long (almost year-long) process filled with applications, essays, and interviews. While schools search for well-rounded applicants with experience in volunteering, research, shadowing, etc., the first qualification schools use to filter the thousands of applications coming their way is MCAT scores and college GPA. Therefore, if there is anything you take away from this post, it’s that MCAT score and GPA are very important into getting into medical school. I do want to stress the importance of having more than just good scores. Majority of medical school applicants have great scores. Differentiate yourself with extra-curricular activities, volunteering, shadowing, and research we talked about in earlier posts.
How is the MCAT Scored and What Score Do I Need?
The MCAT is broken up into 4 sections:
4. CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section).
By the new MCAT launched in 2015, each section is scored between 118-132 with a mean and median at 125 (Kaplan, Inc). This means that the highest score you can receive is a 132 on each of the 4 sections, totaling 528, a perfect MCAT score. The lowest score you can receive is a 118 on each section totaling 472. The MCAT is a scaled standardized test, which means that 125 on each section would get you a 500, the median and mean score.
To be extremely clear: a 500 is the concrete benchmark, anything above or below a 500, puts above or below 50% of all test takers.
As your score increases above 500, the percentile grows much faster, for example: a 510 is the 80% percentile, a 517 is the 94% percentile, and anything above a 524 is the 100% percentile. This means you did better than 80, 94, and 100% of all test takes, respectively. (April 2020 MCAT Statistics) So what score do you need?
This question is extremely complex because it’s difficult to say you need a specific number. Optimally, you should be aiming to get the highest score you can but based on your priorities and goals for your career, you may have a lower number goal you want to hit. For example, if you aspire to go to a prestigious, competitive medical school then you should be aiming for 518+. If you want to attend state schools or well-established medical schools, you should be aiming for around 512+. According to Kaplan, Inc. 508 is a competitive score that increases likelihood of getting into medical school.
Quick note here. The point of getting a good score isn’t just to increase likelihood of getting into medical school, but also to make sure you have options. You want to make your application strong enough that you get a decision on where you want to go to medical school because you have multiple acceptances. Ultimately, getting into medical school itself is a big feat, but if you can choose where you want to go that is even better!
The MCAT is a culmination of the basic foundational sciences needed to succeed in medical school. Therefore, you should only plan to take the MCAT after you have finished the following material.
Biology 1 & 2
Chemistry 1 & 2
Organic chemistry 1 & 2 (Orgo 2 not required but definitely beneficial)
Physics 1 & 2
Genetics (not required but definitely beneficial)
Ultimately, the MCAT is something you could self-study (study without taking the classes before). There are great MCAT review resources out there like Kaplan, Inc. and Princeton Review, that cover all the sufficient material needed to take the MCAT. But I definitely would not recommend self-studying the entire material. The reason I say you should definitely take the classes above is because those classes give you the preliminary knowledge you need to take the MCAT. Additionally, the majority of those classes are required for medical school admittance, so you might as well take them before the MCAT and learn the material in the classes. You may have noticed that, while Psychology is a topic heavily tested on the MCAT, I have not listed it as preliminary coursework. That is because the MCAT review resources from Kaplan or Princeton Review do a great job teaching the material in a succinct, efficient way, so you don’t have to take the college class if you don’t need to.
Now, we’re going to talk about how to study for this Goliath test, for which there is definitely no slingshot solution. You have to put in your hours, make sure you know the material, and understand studying will be a cumulative, consistent, marathon effort, not a sprint. Continue on to the next post by Juzer Izzee, who’ll tell you how to study for this test in an appropriate, sensible, and studious way. Unfortunately, I can't tell that story.
If you have any additional questions about medical school, the MCAT, and feel daunted, feel free to reach out to us on the Alumni page of this website. We're here to help.
Authored by: Hamza Raja - UTMB First-Year Medical Student
Edited for clarity and purpose by: Taher Lokhandwala