How Hard is the MCAT? Everything You Should Know

If you have been planning to take MCAT, you’ve probably heard that it is one of the hardest tests out there. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-based and standardized test that medical schools use to admit students.

While the issue of being easy or difficult may vary from one person to another, MCAT is still considered more difficult than other standardized tests. It tests a wide variety of subjects and requires test takers to apply their problem-solving and reasoning skills.

Nevertheless, it is very possible to score well on the MCAT if you study well. A good number of students have done well in the MCAT and proven that it is possible to get admitted into a medical school.

Read this article to know what makes the MCAT hard and how you can get successful results.

What Contributes to the MCAT’s Difficulty Level?

Here are things that make the MCAT test more difficult than other standardized tests.

1. The Test Length

One of the factors that make the MCAT difficult is its length. When compared to other popular standardized tests, the MCAT is long and takes 7 hours and 30 minutes. It has 230 questions, which are considered complex compared to other tests.

For instance, the GRE takes 3.75 hours, the SAT takes 3 hours, ACT takes 3.5 hours, and the GMAT takes 3.75 hours. The length and the complexity are what make it difficult for most test-takers to score high. The long seated time makes most students nervous, especially those that have never sat for a long test before. 

2. MCAT is Based on Passage

MCAT is a passage-based exam that requires you to incorporate different skills and knowledge of different topics. Unlike other tests, where you can memorize information, MCAT requires test takers to read a passage with 6 to 7 paragraphs and then answer questions from the passage critically.

This is unlike reading any other passage because it requires you to apply your knowledge of topics like sociology and answer the questions decisively. Basically, the test is designed to access your critical thinking skills, data analysis skills, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension skills.

The MCAT tests your ability to reason out and assess arguments and to apply basic knowledge to different situations. It also evaluates your ability to identify patterns and whether you completely understand the concepts and how they work. Therefore, the questions are phrased in a more complex manner than you would expect in standardized tests. 

To perform well, you must have outside knowledge and focus on understanding the science content. Having these skills and knowledge will prove to the medical schools that you can ascertain important details, which is vital for any physician. It shows that you can access the symptoms of a patient and make the right diagnosis. 

3. MCAT is Multidisciplinary

Something else that makes MCAT a tricky test is that it covers many subjects that are quite different. The 230 questions in this test come from different subjects including Reading Comprehension, Biology, Sociology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Psychology, Biochemistry, and Physics. This means that you will need to prepare comprehensively for all 8 subjects. If you want to pass the MCAT test, you need to plan and come up with an effective approach to understand each subject. Don’t just focus on a few subjects and hope for the best in other subjects. 

Medical students should pay a lot of attention to the hot topics without neglecting to understand the concepts of medicine. This calls for dedicating a lot of hours of preparation study time to cover a wide range of primary disciplines. Ideally, the recommended prep time for the MCAT is between 300 and 400 hours

4. Contains a Lot of Questions and Limited Time

MCAT is difficult in the sense that it has many questions and the allocated time for some sections may not be adequate. Most test-takers find it difficult to answer questions in subjects like Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS), and the Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS) within the given time. This means that test takers may not finish some sections and this may deny them essential points. 

5. Requires a Lot of Preparation

Preparation is the key to achieving a high score in the MCAT, as is the case with most tests done for graduate-level admission. Given that MCAT is long and complex, it requires a lot of preparation time to improve performance. Test takers need to start making preparation early enough if they want to make the cut. This can mean starting your test preparation about 2 to 6 months before the actual test day. Besides, it is recommended to take several full-length practice tests to improve your stamina, concentration, and ability.

However, the time demanded for preparation can be a challenge to most students. This is especially true for those who are working or have a tight school schedule. Students that devote most of the time to study for the MCAT are more likely to record high scores than students with other commitments. Therefore, this aspect alone can make the MCAT a difficult test to do and to prepare for.

Why MCAT Difficulty Shouldn’t Intimidate You?

If you are planning to take the MCAT test, you should not be ignorant of the fact that it is hard. Nonetheless, it is still possible to pass this test and go to medical school. Here are reasons why MCAT difficulty should not discourage you.

1. The Test is Standardized

MCAT is a standardized test, meaning that it has a specific formula, format, and a set length for each section. With this knowledge, you can thoroughly prepare for the test to increase your chances of getting great results. Make sure you understand the specifics of the test and cover all the concepts of the test during your preparation. 

Also, the fact that it is standardized means that scoring is normalized depending on how each student performs. This helps to account for slight difficulty variations that may occur between different exams. 

2. It Requires Basic Knowledge

While MCAT goes beyond memorization, it tests the basic knowledge and that prepares well can pass. Of course, you need to have an understanding of the concepts of various subjects tested in the test. However, you don’t need to be knowledgeable of the advanced levels of these subjects. This is particularly true for science subjects. The trick is to do ample preparation and understand the basics.

3. Understand the Concepts

Admission departments in medical schools choose students with a deeper understanding of complex information and the mechanism behind it. To become a physician, you need an explanation behind a concept. This is one reason why MCAT is deemed difficult.

The good news, however, is that you can invest extra time in the subjects and take tutorials to help you know how different concepts apply to the practice of medicine. Seek to understand the ideas behind concepts and how they work to increase your chances of scoring high in the MCAT.


Tips for Passing the MCAT

While MCAT may be a tricky test for most medical students, there are still ways that one can ace it and get admitted to medical school. Below are some tips that can easily set you up for success when preparing for the MCAT exam.

1. Take Practice Tests Often

As we have noted, the MCAT is very long and this can be mentally and physically draining for most students. To get a grasp of the timing and overcome the anxiety that comes with the long hours, it is recommendable to incorporate practice tests into your study schedule.

Taking practice tests in similar conditions that you will seat for the test will give you a feel of what it’s like to take the MCAT. This will also help you understand the time constraints and give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. This is because the practice tests will enhance your critical thinking ability and teach you the basics of applying scientific concepts.

You can start with test exams that take at least 5 hours and do them as often as possible. You can then proceed to 8 to 10 full-length practice tests so you can get used to the length of the actual MCAT. You can find our list of free practice tests here.

Take breaks during the test as you would in a real MCAT and tackle each question with seriousness. By the time you are getting to the test day, your mental stamina would have improved and you will be able to concentrate more on the exam.

2. Create a Comprehensive Study Schedule

Premeds that are looking for success in the MCAT need to develop an effective study plan that will help them plan their study before the actual test day. You need to have an expansive knowledge base when it comes to content areas to help you ace the MCAT.

Therefore, you need to plan your schedule such that you do an extensive content review without sacrificing practice. Allocate at least 70% of your study time to review content. Use this time to grasp the mechanism behind concepts in various science subjects and how you can apply the knowledge.

Once you have a deeper understanding of the concepts and the other subjects, switch gears to practice tests and full-length practice exams. Use this time to identify your strength and weaknesses and then develop an effective strategy to improve your weak areas. Reviewing your mistakes during practice tests will expand your knowledge base and enable you to improve your MCAT score. 

3. Use Quality Study Books and Materials

Get your hands on good study materials and resources to help you effectively prepare for your MCAT. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is the creator of the MCAT, publishes good-quality study books and materials with practice tests that are close to the real MCAT.

You can find useful test prep resources online or at the bookstore. Besides, most universities have pre-med programs and they can offer these study materials. Furthermore, you can consider the Blueprint, Kaplan and the Khan Academy study resources. 

You can find our top picks below.



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Blueprint MCAT Prep (Formerly Next Step)

Blueprint MCAT Prep (Formerly Next Step)

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Kaplan MCAT

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Princeton Review MCAT

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Magoosh MCAT

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4. Develop  a Timing Strategy

If you don’t know how to manage your time when taking MCAT exams, you are likely to leave some questions unanswered and this can negatively affect your MCAT score. You may record low scores in sections that have been allocated a short amount of time than you would if you had more time.

For this reason, it is a good tip to create a timing strategy where you will practice how to answer the questions without running out of time. A good strategy is to spend about 10 minutes per passage for the 9 passages on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section.

Also, you should aim to spend 8 minutes per passage on the Biology/ Biochemistry, Chemistry/Physics, and Sociology/Psychology sections. For the 15 standalone questions in these sections, use one minute to answer each question. 

Use this timing strategy when taking full-length practice tests to prepare for the MCAT. As you pace yourself often, you will find it easier to tackle the 230 questions on MCAT within the allocated time frame.

5. Answer Questions Critically

MCAT can be difficult because it does not just involve memorizing information. Beyond regurgitating complex information, students need to have a much deeper understanding of the mechanism behind concepts.

Therefore, you need to carefully read the passage and think critically to find the answers that the examiner is looking for. As is expected of your career, learn how to identify important information and develop the analysis ability to know what exactly AAMC might be asking. 

It is especially important to note that sections of the MCAT like the Physics/Chemistry, Sociology/Psychology, and Biochemistry/Biology require outside knowledge that may not be in the passage. As for the CARS section of the MCAT, there is a piece of text that directly supports the questions. This means that your answer choice will more likely be inside the passage.


The truth is the MCAT can be a bit challenging. But even with this, it is still possible to do well in the MCAT and see your dream of becoming a physician a reality. It will take a lot of preparation, dedication, and determination to get an MCAT score that you are happy with. Make sure that you do a lot of practice to familiarize yourself with how the AAMC asks questions. 

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