The New MCAT Demystified

MCAT sections scores timeline and datesWhen the AAMC released a brand new MCAT style in 2015, there was a great deal of panic among pre-med students.

(2021 Test/score release dates below)

The exam contains more sections as well as more questions per section, and covers quite a bit more information compared to the old exam (video).

But it’s not as bad as it sounds. When I started undergrad, pre-med students were sitting for a tedious pen-and-paper exam.

What Does MCAT Stand For?

Let’s start from the beginning. The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, is sort of like an entrance exam to medical schools in the US, Canada, and a number of other countries. The MCAT, along with your GPA and application, will help you score an interview and hopefully a seat in medical school (MD or DO). Some veterinary schools also require the MCAT.

What’s so scary about the new MCAT? Yes, it’s longer and covers more information, but the testing style is different. The new MCAT doesn’t just test your ability to regurgitate scientific facts and complex equations – this new exam is designed to test your ability as a pre-med student. It’ll test your reasoning and cognitive skills, and your ability to think like a scientist and make sense of health- and medicine-related data.

New MCAT Overview and Scores

The new MCAT has a total of 4 separately scored exam sections. You also receive an overall score.

Section scores are graded on a scale of 118 – 132 with a mean score of 125. Just like the old testing system, there’s still a range of 15 points per section. If you average 125 per section, you have a total score of 500, which you can think of as the new ‘24’.

While 500 is the average score, it’s NOT enough to be competitive for medical school. You will have to research the average accepted score for your dream school to help you plan for the proper target score.

Overview of the New MCAT Exam Sections

click HERE for my MCAT Topics Overview video

Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.

I like to think of this as the physics and chemistry section, but bio oriented.

Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills aka CARS.

This is the new version of the verbal reasoning section.

Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

I like to think of this as the bio/orgo section- but with more information!

Section 4: Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior.

This is the new psychology/sociology section causing so much panic among premeds.

Sections 1 and 3 are the natural science sections. These are designed to test material that you have covered in your undergraduate courses including:

  • General Physics (non-calc based)
  • Introductory Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry

The Official guide to the MCAT Exam MCAT 2015The AAMC claims that the psychology and sociology sections do not require an official college level course, and time will determine just how important an elective course is compared to learning this information on your own.

Unlike the old exam, the new exam does not cleanly separate topics by section. In fact, the same topic will be tested over multiple sections as follows:

This information is taken from the Official Guide to the 2015 MCAT Exam. You can and should purchase a copy. Click HERE to purchase on Amazon. If you purchase through my link I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you

Section 1: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.

This section contains a total of 59 questions over 95 minutes (1 hour 35 minutes). This includes 15 discrete questions and 10 passages each containing 4-7 questions.

  • 30% General Chemistry
  • 25% Biochemistry
  • 25% Physics
  • 15% Organic Chemistry
  • 5% Biology

Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills aka CARS.

The CARS section contains 9 passages with a total of 53 questions to be completed in 90 minutes (1.5 hours).

Since this is a ‘verbal reasoning’ section, you do not require any outside knowledge. Instead. you’ll need practice and experience answering passage based questions.

  • 50% Humanities
  • 50% Social Sciences

Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

This section has a total of 59 questions to be completed in 95 minutes (1 hour 35 minutes). This includes 15 discrete questions and 10 passages each containing 4-7 questions.
This section covers the following sciences:

  • 65% Biology
  • 25% Biochemistry
  • 5% General Chemistry
  • 5% Organic Chemistry

Section 4: Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior.

This section has a total of 59 questions to be answered over 95 minutes (1 hour 35 minutes). This includes 15 discrete questions and 10 passages each containing 4-7 questions.

It will test the psychological and sociological underpinnings of constructs in health and medicine, such as health disparities and behavioral and social influences on health. It’s not surprising that there is biology in this section.

  • 65% Psychology
  • 30% Sociology
  • 5% Biology

Don’t worry if you’re confused about which specific topics will be tested. The Official MCAT Guide breaks it down, and I’m planning a detailed article on just that too. Keep in mind that you will need to know both textbook information and also laboratory research methods.

You may also be worrying about the MCAT testing statistics, but these statistics are simple and likely came up in one or more of your sciences courses. You don’t need to take a separate stats course.

A quick evaluation of the new MCAT shows that yes, the new exam is longer, both in number of sections and time per section, but you also have more time per question. This is because the new MCAT wants to examine your thinking skills.

Exam Day Timing Breakdown

The actual exam is just 6 hours and 15 minutes. However, you should expect to spend 7.5 hours taking your exam. Here is the breakdown:

8 minutes – Examinee Agreement
Just like the agreement you sign when you register for the exam, you must once again agree to their terms regarding privacy and not sharing. If you don’t submit your agreement within 8 minutes, you will be locked out of your exam.

10 minutes – Optional Tutorial
This is standard for computerized exams. While you may want to skip the tutorial, this is a good time to simply collect your wits and calm down. I’ll share more test-day strategies in another article.

95 minutes – Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

10 minutes – Break

90 minutes – Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

30 minutes – Lunch break inside the testing center. I don’t recommend the full break. Can you imagine testing on a full stomach while nervous??

95 minutes – Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

10 minutes – Break

95 minutes – Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

5 minutes – Void question You just sat a 7 hour exam- are you sure you want to void? At least get your score because voiding still counts as having taken the exam.

5 minutes Satisfaction Survey – Why not?

2021 MCAT Testing Dates

Registration opens in phases with early registration in the Fall and later registration in the winter. Check the AAMC website for details

The exam fee is $300, but assistance is available for qualifying students. FAP Details

If you’ve taken the 2014 exam and wish to test again, you can submit both exam scores. Each medical school will decide how much longer they will accept the old exam, but the AAMC will likely report old exam scores no later than 2019.

Another benefit of this new exam is the resetting of testing limits. No matter how many times you’ve taken the old exam, you are allowed to take the new one according to the following schedule:

  • 3 exams in one testing cycle (one year)
  • 4 exams in a 2-year testing cycle
  • 7 exams total

Please don’t take the exam seven times! If you score poorly, please take the time to evaluate where you went wrong, work hard to improve your weak spots and ensure that you are ready to test again.

Preparing for the MCAT

This is a LONG exam and cannot be approached lightly. While some will recommend just 3 months to prepare, I recommend 6 months or more depending on your initial score and academic background.

Here are some tutorials to help you prepare:

Re-learning the Required MCAT Information

The AAMC believes that if you do well in your science courses, you will have learned everything you need to know for the MCAT. And this may be true for some students – a very, very, tiny group of atypical students.

In working with hundreds of pre-med students over the last decade, I find that students do much better if they take part in some form of guided MCAT prep. This includes a self-guided review of old course material following the MCAT guide or signing up for a reputable MCAT prep course.

I can personally walk you through your MCAT prep with tutorials, cheat sheets, tips, tricks and more along the way. Start by downloading my FREE guide ‘MCAT Exam Strategy – A 6 Week Guide to Crushing the MCAT’ through this link

I have a brand new FREE guide along with a Companion Guide in the works.
Check it out: Ultimate MCAT Prep Guide!

In Conclusion

The new MCAT is a very different exam designed to test your true ability as a potential medical student. The sections are longer and there are more questions per section. However, if you are well prepared and plan accordingly there’s no reason you won’t ace the exam and conquer that next step towards your dream of becoming a physician.

What about You?

What questions do you have about the new MCAT? Are you excited about the changes or nervous?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!


  1. That means I need to register around two months before the actual test. I have to check the timetable for 2016. Thanks Leah for this article.

  2. This article rids of some of the nerves. Knowing what to expect on Test Day is very comforting.

  3. Thank you, Leah, for the article! The biggest thing I, along with many people taking the new format early on, are struggling with is determining how to find appropriate practice questions. I wonder whether going through passages on old MCAT review books would be an effective strategy to at least try and compensate for the lack of an actual full length exam. Or whether the difference is so large that it would be of almost no use.

    • Leah4sci says

      That’s a good question and one we all (tutors and students) wonder about. I’ve just published a few interviews from students who have taken the MCAT. Hopefully that will better help you understand what to utilize and what to expect

  4. Sakura Evenstar says

    Thank you so much for this. You explained this far more than any AAMC book could in a page!

    • Haha thanks so much Sakura. That was my goal after finding much of the information out there to be too… tedious

  5. Will you teach or have videos on each part of the new MCAT?

  6. Thank you for posting this. Very informative!

  7. How do i prepare for Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills? Is this section similar to what the old test and maybe I can start practicing that way? I am just worried to do really poor in this section. Thanks!

  8. So the 500 average is actually about a “25” on the old mcat scale. 510 is the new “30”.

    • Erica, the math doesn’t add up 100% but keep in mind this is a very different exam and it may be harder to score about 500. 30 was that ‘magical’ round number from a 10 in each section. 500 comes from a mean 125 per section. Obviously you do want to score higher but it’s too early to know what the average schools are looking for. I’ll update later on when there is more data available.

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