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How Hard Is The MCAT?

When preparing for med school, the first thing aspiring doctors often wonder is, “Is it hard to pass the MCAT?”

The MCAT is the door through which every aspiring doctor must pass to begin medical school. Knowing this, the first thing every hard working undergrad student then asks is, “How hard is the MCAT?”. In fact, this is sometimes a gatekeeping question for many students as to whether they even want to pursue med school. Whatever the case may be, we address this exact question and more in this detailed resource guide.

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How Difficult is the MCAT?

So just how hard is the MCAT really? Well, there’s no reason to sugar coat it – the MCAT is an extremely difficult exam. In fact, it is perhaps the toughest graduate school entrance exam in the country. However, the good news is that while difficult, it is achievable.

MCAT Difficulty

The average score for students admitted to medical school is 510-511. It should go without saying that the more you study and prepare for the MCAT, the better your chances are of receiving a desirable score.

What Makes the MCAT so Hard?

Let’s take a look at what makes the MCAT hard:

  • It is a very long exam. It has 230 questions, covering multiple subjects. Including the breaks between sections, you will spend 7½ hours on this test. The time you will spend taking the MCAT will be a test of endurance, and can prove to be overwhelming.
  • Memorizing information is not enough. Your recall of facts and memorization skills may have gotten you through other tests, but it won’t be enough on the MCAT. You will be expected to apply learned information to situational questions, and your problem-solving skills will be tested. You will be required to express the reasons behind a concept, not just the answer to a question.
  • The manner in which the questions are asked is tricky, testing your comprehension and critical thinking skills. It will assess your ability to decipher information and determine what is important and what can be disregarded as non-essential information.
  • Students often run out of time and find themselves unable to finish a certain section. Since wrong answers do not count against you, you might find yourself guessing on some answers in order to finish on time.

Is it Hard to Get a 510 on the MCAT?

When setting your aim on a certain MCAT score, you will need to consider which schools you intend to apply to, as their view of a good MCAT score could be determined by other aspects of your application. They will likely look at the percentile portion of your MCAT score report. A 50th percentile in your MCAT score report indicates that you scored as well as 50% of all test takers. Likewise, a 75th percentile means that 75% of examinees received the same score or lower, placing you in the top 25%.

MCAT Hard
Source: Kaplan

Currently, a score of 510 on the MCAT places you in the 80th percentile, which will require you to score in the top 20% of test takers. As such, getting a score of 510 or better is not easy, and will require some very hard work. This is particularly true given the caliber of students that you are going up against.

Is the MCAT the Hardest Test?

Unfortunately, the MCAT is likely not the hardest test that you will complete in medical school. If anything, it’s the first of many difficult exams.

The USMLE exams are a series of three exams that you will need to pass during your medical studies. They are: USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, USMLE Step 2 CS, and USMLE Step 3.

If you want to know if the MCAT is more difficult than the LSAT, GRE, or GMAT (the other graduate school exams), your perceived difficulty of these tests depends on several factors. These attributes include what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as how much time and effort you have spent in preparation for the exams.

The LSAT tests comprehension and reasoning. The GRE is a basic logic and knowledge test. The GMAT assesses analytical skills and one’s ability to make judgements. The MCAT requires more substantive, specific knowledge and is heavy on critical reasoning. The MCAT is also a very long exam, nearly twice as long as the GMAT and LSAT. So with respect to whether the MCAT is harder than other entrance exams, the answer is likely yes, but depends on the type of student you are.

Get Started Early in Order to Score High

You want to make every effort to achieve a desirable score on the MCAT, but where do you start? We offer the following tips for effective test preparation:

  • Create a detailed study plan: You should set blocks of study time each day, and assign a set of topics to cover on each day of the week. However, also schedule regular breaks to eat, rest, and socialize with family and friends.
  • Use a prep course: Using a MCAT prep course from one of the big test prep companies can help you prepare and provide a much-needed score bump.
  • Take a timed practice exam: You should have a baseline score to assess how well you understand the material at the start of your study session. Don’t worry if you score low: it’s just a benchmark!
  • Use study groups: Make sure that your group is covering all the material and that you have a mix of strengths. That way, you can each counter each other’s weaknesses. However, don’t rely on your study group alone. You also need to cover the material on your own.
  • Complete the practice questions in exam conditions: This will help to build your test-taking ability. However, make sure that you can justify your answers. As you review your missed questions, you should also understand why you got them incorrect. You need to be able to interpret the questions and correctly evaluate the options in each question.
  • Stick to your study plan: Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Remember this.

As You Approach the MCAT Exam

As your test date draws near, you will want to ensure that you:

  • Get sufficient sleep: Yes, sleeping is important for your brain health. Furthermore, your MCAT exam will likely begin in the morning, so you need to practice waking up rested and alert to face the day.
  • Take another practice exam: This will help you to evaluate your knowledge and understanding of the concepts. And you will see all the progress that you’ve made compared to the earlier baseline exam.
  • Scope out the test venue early: You can drive to the location at a similar time and weekday as your actual test date so that you can assess traffic flow. You don’t want to be late getting to the venue on the day of the exam! Also, check the parking areas and decide on your best parking spots. If possible, explore the layout and ensure that you know where all restrooms are located.

Test Day Tips for the MCAT

Your test date has finally arrived. You have worked hard and are ready to tackle the exam. A few important, last minutes tips for a successful test taking experience:

  • Remain calm: It’s hard, but you don’t want adrenaline coursing through your body and clouding your mind. So, relax, breathe deeply, and stay calm.
  • Pack snacks and lunch: Energy bars will help to maintain your stamina as you go through the day. Also, pack a quick and easy but nutritious lunch as well. If you’re a coffee drinker, then bring your coffee along. Do all that you can to remain calm and in a good mood on your test day.
  • Pause for a 30-second breather (if needed): If you begin to find it difficult to focus as you’re completing a block of questions, then pause the test for 30 seconds. Take deep breaths, calm your mind, and regain your focus. Then get back to business.
  • Use your breaks wisely: You will need to complete four sections of questions for your MCAT exam. We recommend that you alternate your breaks between each section so that you have time to rest and reset after each block. You can choose to take your lunch break either before the third block or before the fourth block. Simply do your best on test day!

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