Most kids play doctor at some point during their childhood, but very few still want to play doctor as they grow up. For those few, the Medical College Admissions Test, much more commonly known as the MCAT, is a daunting reality. This test and the scores you receive on it determine your choices for medical school. So, what exactly is the MCAT and how exactly does one go about taking it?
What is the MCAT?
The MCAT is a standardized test that consists of four timed sections designed to test students for knowledge of subjects and concepts believed to be of the most use in medical school. It covers many subjects including biology, organic chemistry, physics, and psychology. In order to take this exam, you must be applying to medical school. Special permissions are required if you are not planning to apply to medical school.
In order to register for the MCAT, you need to have an AAMC ID as well as a username and password. If you already have an ID, you must register with the username and password that are associated with it. If you have forgotten your ID, username, or password, do NOT create a new account; reset your current one. If you don’t already have an ID, don’t worry. When you sign in to register for the exam, you should be prompted to create a new account.
The AAMC is very strict about the rules and regulations surrounding the MCAT. It is extremely important that you register with your AAMC ID and yours alone. You also need to be very, very sure that the name you register with matches the government ID that you will be using on exam day. First and last name must match exactly; luckily, your middle name doesn’t matter.
If you have a disability or medical condition that requires more time than what is generally given or some other alteration to typical testing accommodations, you must submit an application. Decisions aren’t made for 60 days, so make sure that you submit the application far enough in advance.
The When & Where & How Much
The MCAT is administered on predetermined dates at assigned locations. You have the choice of any date and testing facility as long as there is availability at that location/ that time. A list of test dates for 2016 is available here. This page also shows when your scores will be released based on the date you take the test. You can find a testing center near you here.
There is an optimal time to register for each specific date. The optimal “zones” are labeled as gold, silver, and bronze. Gold is approximately one month prior to test date; this zone has more availability. Silver is about 3-4 weeks prior. Bronze is 1-2 weeks prior to the test date and actually has a higher registration fee. The registration deadlines are listed by test date and zone here and registration fees can be found here.
Making Changes After Registering
Life happens and, sometimes, that means you can’t make it to the test you originally registered for. Your ability to change depends on whether or not registration is open for the date of choice and if there are seats available at the location. Additional fees apply for each time you make a change, so it’s suggested that you make all your changes at once if possible.
Cancellations and “No Shows”
If for some reason you need to cancel your test date, it must be done online and before the Bronze deadline has passed for your test date. Refunds (partial) will only be issued if you cancel prior to the Gold deadline.
If you don’t make it to the testing center, show up after the test has begun, or your registered name does not perfectly match your ID, you will be considered a “no show” and no refund will be issued.
Considering the fact that the AAMC considers you a “no show” if you show up after the test begins, it is highly suggested that you show up at least 30 minutes prior to start time. The check-in process will begin at that time. You will be required to show your up-to-date government issued photo ID. They are very strict about what forms of ID are acceptable, so check the AAMC website to be sure.
Entering the Test Room
All personal items must be placed in secure storage save for you photo ID and a pair of foam earplugs if you wish. You will be scanned through a metal detector each time you enter the room.
In the Test Room
Seats are assigned and cannot be changed. If you need to remove a personal item, it must be placed into storage; the timer will not stop. Scratch paper will be provided, but it may not leave the room. Two optional 10-minute breaks will be allowed after the first and third sections. A 30-minute lunch will take place between the second and third section.
The use of electronics, notes, or books is prohibited once you get through check-in. No hats or scarves allowed in the testing room and hoods must stay down. You should keep your ID visible on your desk at all times.
Scores are made available 30-35 days after the test date. They can be accessed online. Release dates for scores can be found on the AAMC website.
Scores can be voided at the end of the test, but no later. You will be given the option at the end of the exam to void your scores for that sitting. The exam will not be scored, but schools will see that a void occurred.
Where Does This Leave You?
If you’re looking to become a doctor, the MCAT is a must. There is simply no way around it. While it may be a difficult and daunting task, there are plenty of ways to help you get ready for the exam. You should definitely know what you are getting yourself into for starters. The rest is all in the preparation.
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