Healthcare is a dynamic field of study and professional realization. With the fast pace of scientific progress, the significant demographic, economic and policy changes that affect us nationally, the medical and other health professions have the great responsibility to ensure they prepare competent health professionals and leaders for the future. Healthcare practice is moving from a physician-centered to a team-based model. The social determinants of health are as important for patients' and communities' well-being as scientific expertise.
Medical professionals, educators and admission officials recognize the need to adapt pre-medical and medical education to the changing needs of the profession and the patients. Several initiatives undertaken in the past few years have resulted in a new format for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and a clear articulation of the scientific and personal competencies necessary for success in medical school and practice. The new MCAT replaced the old one in spring 2015 and medical schools will announce changes (if any) to their evaluation of applications based on competencies in the coming years. Most medical schools evaluate competencies based on the range offered by the AAMC but they do differ according to the schools' missions. These differences are not radical and the overarching goal of the medical school application process evolution is to make the admission review more holistic and inclusive. The typical Brown course work for pre-medical students continues to be the best preparation for the MCAT and medical schools' course work expectations.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) has undergone several revisions since its inception but has not been reformed since 1991. In response to the growth and inter-dependence of scientific knowledge, as well as the need to serve a progressively more diverse population, the MCAT was modified in spring 2015. The new exam applies to all current first-year, sophomore and junior students. The exam consists of 4 sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- 59 items, 95 minutes
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- 59 items, 95 minutes
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- 59 items, 95 minutes
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- 53 items, 90 minutes
The first two sections test concepts in biology, general and organic chemistry as well as biochemistry. The content knowledge expected of you is not fundamentally different from the current exam format. Emphasis is placed on drawing connections between the concepts you have learned in these various disciplines and the overall context of medicine and living systems. Following the pre-medical/health careers courses should give you a solid foundation.
The third section is new to the MCAT exam and draws on knowledge you gain from work in courses such as sociology, psychology, or community health. Foundational courses in Community Health, Sociology, or Psychology would be helpful in preparing for this section of the test. Interspersed throughout the exam are questions that draw on your familiarity with statistics.
The fourth section, while new, draws on experience with critical reading and writing. It does not test any specific subject matter. You are asked to analyze, evaluate and apply information from a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Courses with extensive reading and writing, as well as critical analysis will give you the skills you need to do well on this section. We also recommend that you embrace liberal learning at Brown and read consistently and broadly academic journals or periodicals in a breadth of fields for your own personal growth. These will help you develop the analytical skills to do well on this portion of the MCAT.
All questions are designed to test one of the following four skills:
- Knowledge of scientific concepts and principles
- Scientific reasoning and evidence-based problem solving
- Reasoning about the design and execution of research
- Data-based and statistical reasoning
*** See bottom of page for exam preparation resources***
For detailed information from AAMC, click here.
Test takers receive five scores from their MCAT exams: one for each of the four sections and one combined total score. The AAMC produces a score report that brings together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights aplicants' strengths and weaknesses. You can view a prototype score report here.
Section Scores: Each of the four sections—Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior—are scored from a low of 118 to a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Test takers receive scores for each of the four sections.
Total Score: Scores for the four sections are combined to create a total score. The total score ranges from 472 to 528. The midpoint is 500. Note that these are the projected scores of test-takers. The section and total scores of admitted applicants are always higher than the scores of all test-takers. See "What do my Scores Mean?" below for further detail.
Confidence Intervals: The new exam uses confidence intervals to remind score users to use scores in a way that recognizes the inherent imperfections in the test.
Percentiles: In addition to scores and confidence intervals, test takers receive percentiles on the MCAT exam. Percentile ranks are reported for the total and section scores so examinees can see how they compare to others who have taken the exam. Becuase the test is new, admission commitees are most likely to focus on the percentiles to gauge applicants' performance on the test. Every year on May 1 the AAMC will update the percentiles based on the scores of all examinees during that and previous years. These annual updates will ensure that the percentile ranks reflect current and stable information about all examinees scores. To learn more consult the AAMC page on the subject.
Score Profiles: Score profiles that show test takers' strengths and weaknesses on the new exam are also provided.
Score Release: The AAMC releases test takers' scores within a month. This is important to note as you plan the optimal timing of your test in relation to your course completion, test preparation and application timing.
What do my scores mean? There has not yet been an admitted medical school class with scores from the new MCAT exam. Because of this, the MSAR only provides the median scores of applicants to the individual schools represented in the MSAR. In spring 2017 each MSAR school entry should include the scores in the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentile of applicants and admitted applicants. Until then, admission committees will roughly compare the percentiles of the old exam scores with the new one as they make admission decisions. Note that these scores are not equivalent as the two exams are different. However, the percentiles on the old exam are a good reference to consider in assessing what your scores on the new MCAT mean. AAMC provides these two graphic representations of score and percentile distributions for the old and new MCATs.
Two reference points to consider: the median MCAT score for those admitted to MD programs with the old MCAT was 32 (88th percentile). The median old MCAT score for applicants admitted to DO schools was 28 (67th percentile). This is roughly analogous to 512 and 504 on the new exam, respectively. All schools accept applicants with a range of MCAT scores, although this is not a very wide range. All other aspects of the application are important as schools review applications holistically and the MCAT is not the sole factor that determines your likelihood of admission to medical school.
Prepare for the MCAT
The MCAT requires content knowledge which you acquire in your courses and subsequent preparation for the exam itself. Test takers should complete all necessary courses and dedicate 2-3 months of intensive exam preparation before taking the MCAT.
Applicants to medical school generally take the exam in early fall (August- September) in the year before applying to medical school, mid-winter (January), or late spring (April- May) just prior to the beginning of the application process in June. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare well for the exam. All test scores remain permanently on your record and are reported to all medical schools to which you apply. Take the exam only when you are best prepared. Consult with us if you don't believe your exam scores are representative of your preparation and are considering a re-take. Explore the Applicants section for details about the application process and Brown's robust support.
We strongly recommend you use the excellent Official AAMC free and low-cost preparation resources below.
- AAMC MCAT 2015 website
- AAMC MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2017
- AAMC the Official Guide to the MCAT Exam, which can be purchased on its own or in a bundle with web-based test questions.
- AAMC Official Pracitece
- AAMC Official MCAT Sample Test (full-lenght)
- AAMC MCAT Practice Exam 1
- AAMC MCAT Practice Exam 2
- AAMC Online-Only Complete Official MCAT Prep Bundle
- AAMC Complete Official MCAT Prep Bundle (online and print)
- AAMC MCAT Section Bank
- AAMC Official MCAT Question Pack Bundle
- AAMC Online Practice Questions from the Official Guide to the MCAT
- AAMC Official MCAT Flashcards
- Khan Academy, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AAMC Collaboration MCAT preparation materials for test takers.
- AAMC medEdportal iCollaborative MCAT Preparation tutorials
- AAMC MCAT FAQ
Learn More About the Design of the Test
To learn more about the the reform to competency-based medical education explore:
- Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians (Howard Hughes Medical Institute and AAMC)
- AAMC Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians
- AAMC What's on the new MCAT Exam
- AAMC Testing Academic Competencies with the new MCAT Exam
- AAMC The MCAT Score Scales
- AAMC MCAT and Medical School Admissions Research to support the design of the new MCAT exam. Published in Academic Medicine, May 2013
- AAMC MR5 MCAT Review Group Research and Recommendations The AAMC MR5 project is an advisory committee that reviewed the previous MCAT and made recommendations for its current format and content.
- AAMC Final Recommendations for the 2015 MCAT Exam