How hard is the MCAT? (The Honest Truth in 2023)

How difficult is the MCAT? You’ve almost certainly heard horror stories about this exam. The MCAT examines practically everything you learned during your college education in a demanding seven and a half hours. Isn’t it difficult? But you might be wondering how difficult it is to earn a competitive score. It’s a significant factor because a high MCAT score will help you stand out to admissions committees at your preferred institutions.

The MCAT is shrouded in secrecy, and there are even rumors regarding its difficulty. This blog corrects the record by providing an honest assessment of the MCAT’s difficulty. Of fact, the MCAT is a difficult exam to pass, but it is not impossible to do so with appropriate preparation.

If all of the horrible stories you’ve heard about the MCAT were true, thousands of applicants would not be accepted into medical school each year. So, what can you expect when you sit down to take the MCAT?

This blog provides an overview of how the MCAT is assessed, what students find most difficult about the MCAT, and strategies for overcoming each of those obstacles. Understanding these characteristics of the MCAT will assist you in developing an effective strategy for preparing for the exam.

How is the MCAT scored?

Before delving into how difficult the MCAT is, it’s critical to understand how the MCAT is graded. Many factors contribute to your MCAT score; by understanding how the MCAT is graded, you will be better prepared to do well on the MCAT test day.

Students are taught to conceive of exam scores in terms of how many questions they correctly answer. For example, if you take a 100-question test and answer 97 of them right, you are certain that you performed well on the MCAT and will likely leave the examination feeling as if it was simple.

The MCAT, on the other hand, is not judged in this manner: the MCAT is a standardized test, and your score is scaled in relation to the performance of other takers. You are taking the MCAT with other dedicated, high-achieving students. Assume that the other students taking the same 100-question test answered 98, 99, or 100 questions correctly.

In comparison, your score of 97 does not appear to be as impressive. You didn’t miss many questions, but when taking a test like the MCAT, it’s not so much about how many questions you get right as it is about your percentile rank in comparison to other takers.

To determine your MCAT score, the number of questions you successfully answer for each section is first counted. The number of accurate responses is then translated to a scaled score. Each of the four MCAT portions yields a scaled score ranging from 118 (lowest) to 132 (highest), with a midpoint of 125.

These scaled scores for each part will result in an MCAT score range of 472 (lowest) to 528 (highest) (highest). Each question is worth two points on average, and incorrect or blank responses will not lower your score. This means that you should answer every question on the test and make smart guesses where necessary.

The revised scoring system places a score of 500 in the midpoint, or at the 50th percentile, for a total MCAT score of 528. The scaled score is compared to test-takers’ scores from the previous three years and is given as a percentile ranking.

Your percentile rank indicates the percentage of test-takers who received the same or lower MCAT score than you; in other words, your percentile rank indicates how your score compares to the scores of other test-takers.

For example, if you score in the 80th percentile, your MCAT score was higher than that of 80 percent of MCAT test-takers in the previous three years. Percentile ranks do not alter significantly from year to year; however, the MCAT percentile ranks are revised in May of each year using data from the most recent three years to assure current and consistent scoring information.

This means that variations in percentile ranks from year to year represent substantial changes in your score rather than simply year-to-year swings.

What is the purpose of scalability in MCAT scores? This is due to the fact that not all MCAT exams are the same. Scaling equates MCAT results from examinations taken on different days and years.

Converting the number of correct answers to scaled scores accounts for modest differences in difficulty between examinations and provides a more reliable and accurate assessment of a student’s performance. Despite minor variances in the number of correct answers each student received on their MCAT, two students with equivalent preparation who took the MCAT on different days are projected to acquire the same scaled score.

What makes the MCAT challenging or difficult?

Okay, you’ve seen the facts — attaining a competitive MCAT score is unquestionably possible with rigorous preparation. So, why is the MCAT regarded as such a difficult exam? There are numerous causes for this:

Reason 1 – The length of the MCAT

How long does the MCAT last? The MCAT testing time is six hours and fifteen minutes. The overall seated time for the MCAT, including introductory steps and breaks, is little over seven and a half hours for students who use the optional pauses between parts. The MCAT’s arduous duration makes it a challenge, and something that students fear, because you have probably never taken an exam that lengthy before. College examinations and other lengthy standardized tests often last three to four hours and do not even come close to the length of the MCAT.

Reason 2 – Many questions, and many different subjects

The MCAT is an interdisciplinary exam with 230 questions covering a wide range of topics spread across four sections. It is comparable to a cumulative exam that tests numerous years of college coursework. Your medical school prerequisites, such as general and organic chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology, will be tested.

These are difficult topics, but they are ones you have addressed in your introductory-level college classes. Furthermore, in the CARS section of the MCAT, you will be examined on your critical analysis and reasoning abilities.

The CARS section is the only one on the MCAT that does not need explicit preparatory course work, which can cause test-day anxiety. What kinds of questions can be found in the CARS section? Check out our blog for an in-depth look at an MCAT CARS practice passage complete with questions and expert feedback.

Simply knowing a lot about each of these courses isn’t enough to ace the MCAT. You will be required to apply your understanding to previously unseen passages and complicated queries.

Reason 3 – The MCAT is passage-based

You will not simply be regurgitating facts and information that you have already memorized on the MCAT. The MCAT is a passage-based exam in which you read a six to seven paragraph passage and then answer questions about it that require you to apply your knowledge of specific disciplines such as biology or sociology. This makes the MCAT hard since you cannot simply memorize material.

You must read each passage critically, gather many pieces of information from it to properly grasp it, and then answer questions that combine specifics from the passage with your knowledge base. A passage-based test necessitates the use of multiple abilities at once, including reading comprehension, critical reasoning, data analysis, and others.

For a reason, the MCAT evaluates analysis and problem solving. The exam is intended to determine whether applicants have strong critical thinking skills. After all, being a doctor is more than just memorizing data.

A physician’s job frequently entails analyzing a patient who appears with multiple symptoms and arriving at a diagnosis that may not be obvious. Medical school applicants are challenged to demonstrate their ability to link several bits of information, identify unnecessary facts, notice patterns, and think critically to select the best response on the MCAT.

The MCAT will overwhelm you with data to imitate diagnostic circumstances, as well as questions and formatting designed to deceive test takers. This is done to examine your ability to determine which details are relevant and whether you have the necessary knowledge and critical thinking skills to be a successful physician.

Reason 4 – Time to answer each question

How much time do you have on the MCAT to answer each question? The MCAT, in reality, asks a lot of questions in a short amount of time. Students frequently struggle to complete specific sections of the MCAT, resulting in lower marks on those areas than they could have attained with greater time.

Which sections are students most likely to run out of time on? On the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS) and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) sections, time is often an issue. If you run out of time, remember that incorrect answers do not count against you, so try to answer every question – even if it is only an informed guess.

How hard is the MCAT – How hard will the MCAT be for me?

In addition to the broad causes highlighted in this article that contribute to the MCAT being a challenging exam, there are individual-specific elements that can make the MCAT easier or more difficult for any given person. Here are some of these factors (disclaimer: each of these factors can be overcome based on how you study for the exam, and there are counterexamples for each one we have listed!):

  • Undergraduate major: An English major may outperform a Biochemistry major on the CARS exam, while a Biochemistry major may outperform a Bio/Biochem major on the Bio/Biochem section.
  • Other time commitments while studying: a student who is only preparing for the MCAT will have more time to spend to the exam than a student who is also in medical school, volunteering, and studying for the MCAT.
  • Method of preparation: A student who efficiently prepares by focusing high-yield practice over rote memorizing of minor details will most likely perform well on the exam.
  • Preparation time: A student who prepares for the recommended 300-400 hours will almost certainly outperform a student who prepares for 75 hours.

How can I do well on the MCAT?

The data presented in this blog demonstrate that the MCAT is not an impossible exam; yet, there are understandably numerous reasons why students believe the MCAT to be more difficult than any other exam they have taken. Let’s go over each of the reasons why students find the MCAT hard, and how to overcome each one.

The duration of the MCAT cannot be changed; however, you can prepare for this component of the test. The MCAT is not a race; it is a marathon. Training and endurance will be required for your success.

Check out our blog to find out when you should start studying for the MCAT. In general, you don’t want to take a full-length MCAT exam for the first time on test day, when nerves are high.

To get enough experience, we recommend taking 8-10 full-length practice examinations throughout your MCAT preparation. This will help you prepare for many areas of the MCAT, but most significantly, it will allow you to become accustomed to the duration of the exam and how to power through it.

Yes, the MCAT has a lot of questions and covers a lot of different topics. Our advice for tackling such a broad knowledge base is to break your MCAT preparations into two stages:

At least 70% of your study time should be spent studying content during the first stage. Remember that learning information comes before in-depth practice that assesses how well you apply your knowledge.

Take notice of concepts with interdisciplinary relevance – notions you’ve heard in several science courses – as these will most likely be addressed on the MCAT. Concentrate your studies on high-yield information for each subject area: comprehending major ideas is more important than little details because the MCAT promotes analysis and application of knowledge than than memorization of information.

Medical schools do not want pupils who can retain complex knowledge but do not grasp the mechanics underlying the data they have learned. If you can’t explain why something is the way it is, study it until you can! In order to practice medicine, a deeper understanding is required. It is critical that you recognize that the MCAT is a test for this deeper comprehension.

This level of comprehension is what distinguishes an average score from a competitive score. Finally, don’t dismiss the MCAT’s social science components. Allow plenty of time to study for the MCAT’s Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (PSBB) portion — here is your chance to show that you grasp the psychosocial intricacies of your future patients.

Focus on the practice part of your MCAT preparation after you finish the content-heavy section of your studies. Switch gears such that at least 70% of your study time is now dedicated to answering MCAT practice questions and taking full-length practice tests.

Focus your content review on themes that you notice yourself lacking during practice. A knowledge gap in one area will not only limit your ability to answer questions about that subject, but it will also hinder your ability to answer an interdisciplinary question. It is not sufficient to merely go over practice sections and answer explanations.

It is critical to learn from one’s mistakes! Take the time to understand why you missed a question so that you can approach each round of MCAT practice with fresh eyes. It is critical to continue to broaden your knowledge base in order to improve your MCAT score.

The sheer amount of hours required to study for the MCAT can be intimidating. Need assistance developing a study plan that progresses from in-depth material review to extensive MCAT practice? Use our comprehensive six-month MCAT study program as a starting point to create a timetable that works for you.

To ace the MCAT, you must have a good knowledge base in the material areas covered by the MCAT; yet, the MCAT is more than just memorization because it is a passage-based exam. To perform well on the MCAT, you must also be able to analyze critically and apply material to innovative questions. How can you tackle MCAT passages efficiently, aside than studying content?

The first step is to comprehend how the MCAT is written. On a passage-based test, you must know where to look for the solution to each question. The answer to some questions will be found within the passage; for others, you will need to apply your outside knowledge to get the answer.

Some queries will necessitate a combination of these approaches in order to be answered. Knowing that these three sorts of questions exist is essential for understanding how to approach a passage-based exam. If you can’t figure out the solution to a question, you’ve probably overlooked vital information hidden inside the section.

Except for CARS, these ideas are applicable to all MCAT sections. What makes CARS unique? The CARS part does not rely on external sources; the answers to all of the questions in this section can be found inside the passages.

When To Take The MCAT?

Your curriculum is one of the most significant variables to consider when scheduling an MCAT test date. Consider your MCAT study regimen before deciding on a date. Consider how much time you will need to study and thoroughly prepare for each exam question (usually between three and six months).

Some students choose to take the exam in January since the winter months provide ample opportunity for test preparation. Also, by taking the test in January, you can have the remainder of the spring semester to work on the remaining components of your medical school application.

Another factor to consider while selecting an MCAT date is the chronological order of applications. Ideally, you should take the MCAT early enough so that your score is available when medical schools open.

Medical school deadlines for classrooms span from October to December, but because most medical schools have rolling admissions, it is in your best benefit to implement them as soon as feasible.

The AAMC will release the first wave of medical school applications in late June, so aim to take the MCAT by May at the latest if you want your application to be assessed first.


What is the next step now that you understand how the MCAT is written? The second stage is to practice, practice, and practice some more! Collect as much practice material as possible. You’ll need practice passages for each MCAT part, as well as numerous full-length MCAT practice examinations. The AAMC website is a fantastic source of practice materials because their materials most closely mirror the difficulty and format of the actual MCAT.

The MCAT is a timed exam. Again, you have no control over this, but you may prepare for the time crunch. When taking MCAT practice sections or full-length examinations, aim to simulate as much as feasible test-day conditions. Complete your practice in one session and within the time limitations specified.

This is the most effective way to learn how to manage your time properly, understand how exam anxiety may influence you, and identify any flaws you should work on. Aim to spend ten minutes on each of the nine CARS passages. Aim for eight minutes per passage-based question and one minute per stand-alone question on the remaining MCAT sections. If you complete your MCAT preparation with these suggestions in mind, you will be well-versed in how to pace yourself through the MCAT by the time test day arrives.

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