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The MCAT: What aspiring medical students should know

SOURCE: Paul ELLIS / AFP
For aspiring medical students who wish to gain an education in the US or Canada, an above-average MCAT score will set you apart.


By U2B Staff 

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According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of students applying to enter medical school in 2021 is up 17% from last year. Most are motivated to join the field that is currently at the forefront of creating solutions for COVID-associated challenges.

“At Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, applications for admission to the class of 2025 are up more than 35% compared to the same time last year. At Boston University School of Medicine, they’ve risen by 26%. And at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, admissions officers have seen applications increase by 27%,” reports the AAMC.

“In fact, nearly two dozen medical schools have seen applications jump by at least 25% this year, according to AAMC data. So far, there are more than 7,500 additional applicants nationwide, according to data from the AMCAS. That’s an increase of nearly 17%.”

Medical school aspirants all over the world are witnessing the challenges being faced by healthcare workers and the suffering of those infected. Those with a lifelong passion for the field have been inspired by the heroism and are ready to take the leap and get involved. 

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The first step to do so usually involves a standardised exam.

For medical admissions, it is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) — a multiple-choice, computer-based exam that is a prerequisite for admission to medical schools across the US and Canada. Every year, over 85,000 sit for the exam.

The MCAT is developed and administered by the AAMC and serves as a tool for medical schools to compare qualifications and determine the preparedness of a candidate for over 90 years. Scores are typically assessed alongside academic records and supporting materials. 

The exam is broken down into four sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (95 minutes), Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (90 minutes), Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (95 minutes) and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (95 minutes). Applicants can expect to spend over 7.5 hours taking the MCAT, with optional breaks scheduled in between.

The MCAT is designed to test students in general chemistry, organic chemistry, general biology, biochemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. A high score in the MCAT is crucial to stand out in a competitive applicant pool.

The test is structured in a way that tests an applicant’s skills and critical analysis and reasoning as well. Applicants will need to know what they are in for before studying for the test itself and copious amounts of preparation is key to achieving an above-average score.

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When it comes to scoring, it is important to target your goals based on which medical schools you are planning on applying to. Each MCAT section is scored from 118 to 132, with the mean and median at 125. A total score ranges from 472 and 528, with the mean and median at 500. Results are rendered 30 to 35 days post-exam.

The top 10% often achieve a score between 514 and 528. In order to secure a score in this range, participants should spend around three to five months preparing before their test date. Kaplan recommends between 300 and 500 hours of test prep to excel. 

In 2021, there will be 31 MCAT testing dates between Jan. and Sept. On the week of Feb. 15, 2021, registration will officially be open for those who wish to take the test in April, May, or June.