What to Expect from the MCAT

This post is the first in a series examining the MCAT exam and how to prepare for this rigorous test.

The new MCAT is different from the old MCAT in a few fundamental ways. This article investigates three key changes and the resulting implications for MCAT preparation.

Longer Length

The new MCAT is a 7.5 hours from start to finish with about 6.25 hours of test-taking. For comparison, the SAT is less than 4 hours. That is a lot of time spent concentrating! Most graduate college entrance exams much shorter and have a narrow focus, but the MCAT requires mastery of many subjects. To succeed at a test such as the MCAT, the test taker must maintain a high level of executive functioning for an extended period of time.

MCAT Test Length Implication:
More physical and mental conditioning will be required for the new MCAT than previous versions. A serious MCAT student will take between 10 and 20 practice tests, in addition to the extra practice sections. This means a lot of time spent consistently studying a large amount of information. A student preparing for the MCAT will spend lots of time in a chair, at a desk, and at a computer, focusing hard. That won’t be easy for students first starting out – minds will wander and backs will hurt. This physical and mental endurance aspect of the test will require some extra thought, but it can be easily addressed with the right study plan.


More Material

There will now be Biochemistry, as well as Psychology and Sociology, included in the exam.

Before even taking the exam, students will have to take 3 more classes as undergraduates, one of which will likely have at least two years of prerequisites: biochemistry. The hidden implication of this change is that the courses taken early in college will occur long before the time a student starts preparing for an exam. The material will not be anything close to fresh! Not only will additional time have to be spent on biochemistry, but also additional time will likely have to be spent reviewing courses from the past. Extra time to prepare for this review should be expected. Fortunately, learning large volumes of material is not difficult when using the right strategies (which will be discussed in a later article), so this change in material should not cause concern. After all, the material required for the MCAT is a rounding error on what required in medical school. New MCAT test takers can be assured that logic and critical thinking were the hard part of the old MCAT, and will likely continue to be the hard part of the new MCAT.


New Question Types

The new MCAT will have more questions on experimental design and graphical analysis. This is rather different from the way most topics in school are taught. Rather than abstract-fact based learning (cell membranes contain phospholipids), experimental design-based learning (how would one discover that cell membranes contain phospholipids as opposed to some other lipid?) will be emphasized. Additionally, a test taker should know what the results for such an experiment would look like in both table form and graph form.
There will be slightly more information to study about each content topic. However, this can be seen as a good thing. Studying the experimental methods and possible experimental results that justify knowledge will allow a much deeper understanding of facts and principles, as well as force a much greater understanding of logical inquiry. One might be tempted to approach this aspect of the new MCAT with a history-class point of view, but that would be ill advised. Memorizing the experimental history of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and psychiatry, would be difficult. By knowing the applicable methods in subfields of each subject (such as knowing the different uses of Q-PCR) combined with critical thinking would be sufficient.

Having a meaningful study plan that takes into account changes to the MCAT is crucial to scoring well. Especially with the extra material, knowing how to learn content in an efficient manner is critical. Excellent study skills need to be paired with a comprehensive study plan that perfectly fits a student’s needs and can be modified based on ongoing progress. At the end of the day, the study plan may be one of the most important components of MCAT preparation. For expert help advice and test prep, contact us!

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