Preparing to Take the MCAT as a High School Student

Plus Expert Tips & Advice That Anyone Can Use to Prep

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and used by medical schools to consider students during the admissions process. Although the test is mostly taken by college-level students, in some cases, high school students take the test. This guide provides information about the test, how people can prepare for the exam, and what students can expect on testing day.

Why Take the MCAT in High School?

Although taking the MCAT in high school is not the path that most students travel, there are still some reasons that students may decide to tackle the exam before entering college. One reason, according to Will Haynes, Regional Recruiting Manager for The Princeton Review, is to help students gain admission into combined undergraduate and MD programs.

“Students who are accepted into these are essentially accepted into an MD program without having to get an undergraduate degree before applying to med school. Med schools work with universities that are part of the same school system or are geographically close to each other,” he said. “Some of these combined programs require students to take the MCAT, but don’t require as high a score as a traditional med school applicant.”

In addition, Haynes says that some students who are interested in going to medical school may take the exam during high school in order to practice and determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.

“When students take the test as practice, they find out where they land in order to select their college, or maybe high school, classes,” he said. “However, the MCAT is an expensive and long exam, so taking it just for practice may not be the best idea.”

Everything to Know About Taking the MCAT as a High Schooler

Students who want to take the MCAT are likely to have a lot of questions about the test. This section answers some of the most common questions students will have about the MCAT.

Who can take the MCAT?

Students who plan to enroll in a program to prepare for a health profession, such as a medical, dental, podiatric, or veterinary medicine degree program, can take the test.

When can I take the MCAT?

There are several dates to take the MCAT from January through September of each year. Students can find MCAT dates on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website.

How can I register for the MCAT?

Students can register for the MCAT by logging on to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website.

What do I need to have when I register for the MCAT?

Before registering for the test, students should first create an account on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website. Then they can select the date they want to take the test, as well as the test center, and pay the fee. Students should also have a government-issued identification when they register.

How much does it cost to take the MCAT?

The fee to take the MCAT is $315. Those who register for the exam late -- one to two weeks before the date students want to take the test -- are charged $370.

What payment methods are accepted when registering for the MCAT?

When registering for the MCAT, students can use a Visa or Mastercard.

What if I can’t afford the MCAT fee? Is there assistance available?

For students who are unable to pay the MCAT fee, as well as the application fees for medical schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges offers a Fee Assistance Program. Eligibility for this program is based on the students’ household income.

What if I can’t make the date I scheduled? Can I reschedule and get a refund?

Students who need to reschedule may be able to get a refund depending on when they contact the Association of American Medical Colleges. In addition, they are charged a rescheduling fee.

What if I need special accommodations to take the MCAT?

Students who have a disability or medical condition that requires special accommodations to take the MCAT can apply for accommodated testing with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

How many questions are on the MCAT?

There are 230 questions on the MCAT, which are found in the following four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
How is the MCAT scored?

The MCAT is scored between 472 to 528 points, with each section being worth 118 to 132 points.

How long does the MCAT take to complete?

The MCAT is 7 hours and 30 minutes long, including breaks.

How many times can I take the MCAT?

The Association of American Medical Colleges has imposed limits on how many times people can take the MCAT. As a result, students can take the test up to three times in one year, up to four times in two consecutive years, and up to seven times overall.

Tips, Practice Tests & Other Test Prep Help

When students prepare for the MCAT, they should be armed with tips on how to approach the exam, as well as resources to help them study. This section includes study pointers, as well as a list of MCAT study materials that are available, some of which can be used for free.

MCAT Prep Advice

High school students put a lot of time and effort into preparing for the SAT and ACT -- and the MCAT should be no different. The following are some tips to help students get ready to take this exam.

Begin preparing early. Ideally, students should give themselves at least six months to prepare for the MCAT. They can begin their preparation by taking a practice exam to familiarize themselves with the test, and to get a good idea of their strong and weak areas.
Practice, evaluate, and adapt. “Taking the MCAT is not just about memorizing content. The MCAT requires using strategy. This means practicing the strategies that you learn, evaluating how you’re doing, and making the necessary adjustments,” said Haynes. “Some students like to just take exams or practice sections. Without the proper reflection and adaptation, merely taking exams can solidify bad habitats.”
Take as many advanced science courses as possible. Students preparing for the MCAT should expose themselves to as much advanced science as they can in order to become accustomed to the type of material they’re likely to find on the test. Taking classes like physics, biochemistry, and psychology can go a long way toward helping students learn what they need to know for the MCAT.
Slow down to score more. “We often stress about attempting every single question on the exam. The way you get a good score is by getting questions right, not by attempting more questions,” Haynes said. “It often makes sense to slow down and focus on getting more questions correct as opposed to moving fast, making mistakes, but answering more questions. It’s okay to skip questions if they are time wasters or cover areas you know you don’t know.”
Avoid absolutes. Some answer choices on the MCAT may include absolutes like “always” and “never”—and these are the answers that are usually best to avoid. Since science generally has exceptions to the rules, these answer choices may be put on the test as distractors.

MCAT Study Guides & Practice Tests

Preparation is key to doing well on the MCAT, so students should use available resources in order to help them get ready for the test. This section provides a variety of study guides and practice exams students can use to help them.

Study Guides

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Study Guide for the MCAT: This page includes information to help students review for the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Study Guide for the MCAT: Students can study for the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section of the MCAT with this page.

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Study Guide for the MCAT: This page is designed to help students prepare for the MCAT’s Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section.

How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam: This is a free download from the Association of American Medical Colleges to help students create an individual study plan based on six suggested steps.

MCAT Test prep: On this page, Khan Academy provides free practice materials that cover a wide range of topics found on the MCAT. Students can use the site to review subjects such as organ systems, cells, biochemistry, psychology, and chemical and physical processes.

MCAT® Ultimate Classroom: This resource includes 11 MCAT review books, 15 full practice tests, a library of over 500 videos, and 123 hours of live instruction. Students can get this package for $2,299.

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Study Guide for the MCAT: This page includes information students can use to study for the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior portion of the MCAT.

Science Review Video Pack: This set, which costs $299, has over 100 interactive videos that cover complex scientific topics found on the MCAT. Students have unlimited access to the content for 180 days.

The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam, Fifth Edition: This print guide, which is available for $30, is published by the Association of American Medical Colleges and includes test preparation tips, as well as 120 practice questions.

The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam + Online Practice Questions: This bundle includes the print guide from the Association of American Medical Colleges, as well as 230 practice questions that are provided in online and print formats. This product is available for $34.

Practice Exams

10-MCAT Bundle + QBank: Next Step Test Preparation provides this bundle of 10 MCAT practice tests for $249. In addition, students get a Study Planning Tool. When people buy this product, they get access to the bundle for six months and may choose to extend access for an additional three months for $50.

AAMC MCAT Section Bank: This set of questions is made up of three packs that cover behavioral, social, and natural sciences. Students pay $45 for this product and have access to 300 questions for 15 months after purchase.

Adaptive Qbank for MCAT: Kaplan Test Prep offers this set of customized quizzes that are made up of 2,000 questions for $49 per month. As students use this program, their practice tests are built based on their skill and performance.

Free MCAT Practice Bundle: This practice bundle of MCAT questions is offered through Next Step Test Preparation. Students get access to a partial diagnostic test and a full-length practice exam, as well as video lessons.

Free MCAT® Practice Questions: Kaplan Test Prep provides this set of free MCAT practice questions that students can take in 20-minute increments.

Free MCAT Practice Test Online: Available from The Princeton Review, this is a free MCAT practice test to help students gauge their knowledge of the exam material.

Full-Length Practice Exam Pack: This pack of three full-length tests is offered by Kaplan Test Prep for $299. Students get explanations to answers on the tests and can have access to them for 180 days.

Official MCAT Flashcards: For $10, students can receive this package of flashcards that include 150 practice questions.

Official MCAT Question Pack BuCAndle: Available through the Association of American Medical Colleges, students who get this pack gain access to a total of 720 questions. Students can use this product, which costs $76.50, for 15 months.

Passage-Based Question Pack: This $299 pack includes over 1,000 questions that can be accessed for 180 days. The practice questions are organized to allow students to choose the topics they want to concentrate on during their study sessions.

What is the MCAT Test Day Like?

Studying test material is an important step in the preparation process, but students should also know what to expect when they show up to their testing center on the big day. The following are answers to some questions students may have about MCAT test day.

When should I arrive at the test center?
When should I arrive at the test center?

Students should arrive at least 30 minutes before the test is scheduled to begin to allow time to check in.

What should I bring with me on test day?
What should I bring with me on test day?

Students should bring their government-issued identification that includes their photograph and signature. The identification should include the same information they used when registering for the exam.

What items are allowed in the MCAT testing area?
What items are allowed in the MCAT testing area?

When students arrive, they are provided with a noteboard and marker, earplugs, and a storage room key where they are expected to place their belongings. Students can bring the earplugs, marker, noteboard, and key, as well as their identification, into the testing area. Those who need accommodations for items such as medications or food will receive approval before test day to bring these items into the test area. Otherwise, students should keep food and drinks in their locker to consume during the break periods.

What happens during the break period?
What happens during the break period?

On test day, students will receive two ten-minute breaks and one 30-minute break. During this time, they can go for a walk, consume the food and drinks they stored in their locker, or go to the bathroom. At the beginning of the break period, students check out of the room and must check back in at the end of the break.

What if I need to go to the bathroom when it’s not a break period?
What if I need to go to the bathroom when it’s not a break period?

Students are allowed to take a bathroom break, but the time will not be stopped on the test. In addition, students will have to be escorted to the restroom by an employee at the testing center.

Expert Interview: Will Haynes

Will Haynes is a Regional Recruiting Manager for The Princeton Review (TPR), where he is also a teacher and tutor. Before moving into seeking out and finding the best teacher and tutor candidates, Will worked as a Tutoring Manager. He consulted and advised and helped hundreds of families create a study plan specific to their students’ needs, including matching the student with the best-fit tutor or class. Will also works as a host of the Friendship Hacks podcast, helping others find, build, and maintain friendships, which will be made available to the public in early 2019.
Why is it beneficial for high school students to take the MCAT? What are the drawbacks?

There aren’t many benefits for a high school student to take the MCAT. It could help students get a feel for the exam but is also a bit premature. Students could use their MCAT experience to help determine future class selection or even to help select a major. In some cases, taking the MCAT early could convince students not to pursue med school after seeing how challenging the admissions exam is. The MCAT would be helpful for students applying to a combined program (undergrad and med school).

The drawbacks of taking the MCAT early are many. It costs $315 to take the MCAT. The test is rather long, which makes it a seriously stressful experience, especially since high school students are unlikely to have taken the number and level of prerequisites recommended to do well on the exam. The other issue that could come up is that the student’s MCAT score is on record. When he or she applies to med school, all MCAT scores will be sent. Most schools simply take the most recent or the highest scores of the MCAT, but some average scores together. A low MCAT score during high school could bring that average down years later, even if it had significant improvement.

Can doing well on the MCAT help high school students when applying to undergraduate programs?

The MCAT is not used for undergraduate admissions decisions, except in the case of a combined med school program. Undergraduate admissions teams look at the SAT or ACT (or do not require a test at all) for admissions. I can imagine an undergrad admissions team being impressed by a good MCAT score, but it may not have any impact on acceptance. If the student had the qualifying SAT/ACT scores and a good MCAT score, it could certainly pad the application to help show competence. No college credit would be given for a high score, so high schools students are better off focusing on doing well in AP science courses as they both show competence in the subject but can provide college credit.

What are the most important things high school students should know about the MCAT?

High school students should know that this test isn’t meant for them. This should take off some pressure. Imagine taking the ACT while in elementary school! Taking the MCAT before intended will feel the same way, but it’s okay. You aren’t supposed to know all of the content just yet, so a lower score doesn’t mean failure.

High school students should also know that the MCAT does not predict their futures, it only shows how well a student does on that exam. A less than stellar score doesn’t mean there is no hope of being a great doctor. If you’re taking the MCAT in high school, be sure it’s for a good reason. If you only want to see what it’s like, find a free test and take it. Otherwise, don’t let it stress you out; even if it doesn’t go as planned, you can always take it again when you are ready.

Resources

Going to medical school is a huge step in anyone’s educational path, so those considering it should know exactly what they’re getting into. The following are resources that can help students decide whether or not to attend medical school, and what it’s going to be like once they get there.