The MCAT: Everything You Need To Know For 2022!

Updated: Mar 24

This article will serve as a comprehensive guide to help you understand all the hype about the MCAT! The MCAT, also known as the Medical College Admission Test, is a critical entrance-style exam that students are required to take to be considered for a seat in a medical school. As a pharmacy student, you probably have heard of this notorious test, but know little about the finer details! It requires a substantial amount of planning along with some cognitive resilience to perform well.


As a pharmacy student interested in applying to medical school, we will talk about exam basics including an MCAT overview, MCAT percentiles, MCAT score ranges, average MCAT scores, and so much more!

mcat

The MCAT:

As mentioned, the test is a standardized, 230 question, multiple-choice, computer-based examination that is essential to getting accepted into an accredited medical school. Academic proficiency regarding content review along with an appreciation for testing strategy will allow students to get the score of their dreams. Unfortunately, medical school is getting harder and harder to get into and there has been a steady uptrend in average matriculant MCAT scores. In other words, it's imperative that you take this exam seriously, and knock it out of the park on test day!


Before we dive into exam basics, it's important to learn how the MCAT is structured. The MCAT format includes four independent sections that test different specialty/knowledge backgrounds.


Chem/Phys:

The first section is the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, also known in layman's terms as "Chem/Phys." Students will have 95 minutes to answer 59

Multiple choice questions. These questions can be further subdivided into 44 passage-based and 15 standalone (non-passage based conceptual) questions. Both the Bio/Biochem and Psych/Soc sections follow the same question breakdown. The CARS section is the only one with different numbers of passages and questions.


The content asked in this section includes Introductory Physics (25%), Biochemistry (25%), Organic Chemistry (15%), General Chemistry (30%), Introductory Biology (5%).

chem/phys

CARS:

The second section of the MCAT is the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, also known as "CARS" for short. This section will ask a total of 53 passage-based questions. Students are given 90 minutes to read passages and complete questions. The CARS section is a unique component of the MCAT that doesn't test any prior content knowledge. All the material you will see and read about will be completely novel. The goal is to test students ability to analyze new material, understand passage based arguments, and make inferences based on the passage author's tone/perspective.


Formally, they will test Foundations of Comprehension (30%), Reasoning within the Text (30%), and Reasoning Beyond the Text (40%). Rather ambiguous descriptors in my opinion!


This section is notoriously despised by almost every medical school applicant, and you are likely no exception to this rule. Testing well on the CARS section requires severe strategic discipline, pattern recognition for question analysis, and some innate literary skills. Students who are fast readers and have stronger literary backgrounds tend to fair better! If you are are slower reader (like myself), this section will require additional attention during your studies along with far more practice.

CARS Section

Bio/Biochem:

The third section is Bio/Biochem, formally known as "Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems." This section is usually a pharmacy student's strongest section. The material you are responsible to learn in this section is by far the closest to your pharmacy background. Don't get too excited though! They won't be asking any pharmacology questions related to treatment, although you may get lucky with a Fluoroquinolone mechanism of action passage (hint: it's DNA Gyrase).


I personally enjoyed studying for this section because most of the material was content that I had seen before in my undergraduate studies. I started my MCAT preparation with Biology because it helped me get into the study groove while building up my confidence.


The section breakdown includes Biology (65%), General Chemistry (5%), Organic Chemistry (5%), and Biochemistry (25%).

Bio/Biochem

Psych/Soc:

The fourth and final section of the MCAT is the "Psych/Soc" section (Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior). The material tested on in this section can be easily memorized and regurgitated on test day! There will be plenty of topics that you may have never heard about, but rest assured, it's usually the easiest section on the test. At least they saved it for the end!


Being a pharmacy student/graduate, we tend to excel with semantic memory (factual content) tasks. Memorizing drug dosing or side effect profiles uses the same memory heuristic and is reason why I personally found it quite manageable. This section has a reputation for easy score improvement with lower scores usually indicating a knowledge gap rather than an application issue.


The best way to tackle the material is through repetition, with a lesser focus on "application" learning. For example, the term "Social Capital" is defined as "an individual's social networks and connections that may confer economic or personal benefits." Understanding a mere definition can be used to answer questions in a passage about intergenerational wealth, while easily disqualifying the other answer choices simply because you know all the other definitions. The other sections mentioned above tend to test more of your application skills and less semantic memory. For example, not only must you define a Western Blot, but you will need to use said definition to interpret experimental data and then apply these principles to other experiments. This will make more sense after you have taken a few practice tests!


The section breakdown for Psych/Soc is Psychology (65%), Sociology (30%), and Biology (5%). For those of you Googling the definition of Sociology, its just the "study of human social relationships and institutions."

Psych/Soc

To recap:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)

  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Biochem)

  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)

______________________________________________________________________________________


How is the MCAT Scored?

We have tackled the section breakdown and question allotment for the MCAT, but it's about time we talked about MCAT scoring! The total score ranges from 472 to 528 and students are given a percentile score along with the physical total. For instance a 528 would be 100 percentile. Each subsection is scored from 118 to 132 and totaled up to give you your total score.


For instance, you may have a breakdown of 129/120/129/130 totaling at a 508. Breakdowns are important because some medical school programs may reject your application if one subsection score is too low. In our example, a CARS score of 120 is considered very low and a program may disqualify an applicant with such lopsided results. This principle is school specific and may not apply for all programs.


I would like to call your attention to the reality that percentile ranks are not linear. This means that a 528 is equivalent to a 524 when considering percentiles; both being in the 100th percentile. The difference in your percentile will change with larger increments the closer you get to the middle, in comparison to the top and bottom ends!


To better portray this example, we can take a look at 2021-2022 MCAT Summary Scores provided by The AAMC.

AAMC MCAT Score Percentile Ranks 2022

Keep in mind when scheduling your MCAT, most exam score reports take approximately 30-35 days after your actual exam date to be released to the applicant. This may delay a your application if you plan on taking the test closer to the submission dates of AMCAS (typically late May, or early June). For more information about the medical school timeline, checkout our 2022 Application Cycle Timeline Article.

________________________________________________________________________________


What is a Good MCAT Score?

It should be obvious that the higher your score is the better. However, to define what a "