How Hard is the MCAT | A Study into Its Difficulty Level

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Most folks, especially those who took pre-med courses, will find themselves asking the question, ‘how hard is the MCAT?’ way before they start preparing for the said test. The answer will pretty much determine a student’s behavior towards the said test, so it’s crucial to provide the correct response to this query.

In this guide, we’ll assist you in better gauging the difficulty level of the MCAT. Hopefully, we’ll also give you a good glimpse into the test to help you craft a solid and effective approach to preparing for the said test.

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Is the MCAT Hard? How difficult is it really?

To be very honest, this question is a complicated one. Not everyone finds the same things to be easy or difficult. A lot of factors are in play in gauging something’s difficulty levels. Your skills, knowledge, and experience among others all play a role in this. So it can be impossible to definitively say that a test like MCAT is hard or easy.

However, a lot of people tend to agree that it is quite difficult. Even those who found it easy will tell you that there is a level of difficulty in this test that is unique and can’t be found in other standardized tests which is why there are a TON of different ways to prepare such as by taking online classes that specialize in MCAT preparation.

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Some folks even go as far as saying that the MCAT provides a glimpse into medical school so you could expect the same difficulty levels in the test. However, it’s not an accurate comparison.

The difficulty level of MCAT will not come close to a fraction of how hard medical school is. The latter is an arduous process that doesn’t just involve a lot of studying.

Its practice comes with a very heavy pressure that makes students ultimately scared of making a mistake.

The MCAT, on the other hand, is challenging in its own way. Since it is made to assess and evaluate your knowledge and readiness for med school, it has its own brand of complexity. To better demonstrate its difficulty level, we’ll discuss some important things below.

5 Points that Can Quantify How Hard the MCAT Is

To help you better understand just how hard the MCAT is, we’ve rounded up five ways how you can gauge the difficulty level of this test.

It’s a long test.

One of the most daunting things about this test is its length. How many questions are on the MCAT, you might ask? There are only 230 questions in this test but with their complexity, test-takers are given 7 hours and 30 minutes to answer it. This makes the MCAT one of the longest tests out there and makes it hard for test takers to score high.

As for how long is the MCAT versus its difficulty level, well, for starters, it can get overwhelming. Think about it: if you’re going to take a test for nearly an entire work day, wouldn’t you think that it’s particularly laborious? What could a test contain that you’ll have to spend so much time answering it? On the other hand, if you consider how many years does it take to become a doctor, one day at MCAT is not that much.

The LSAT only has 100 questions and is administered in 4 to 5 hours. The GRE only has about 100-110 questions and runs for 3 hours and 45 minutes. The MCAT has double those numbers and test durations so it can be assumed that it’s more complex than the other two.

It’s also difficult in the sense that it can put your endurance to the test. Taking exams can be draining not just mentally but also physically and emotionally. So sitting inside the testing venue for hours can take a toll on you. Without ample preparation, you might already want to quit the test by the fourth hour.

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It’s a multidisciplinary test.

Aside from its length, the MCAT is also made complicated by the subjects it will test you on. There are 8 subjects that test takers will need to prepare for when taking the MCAT. This means that you can’t just focus on a few areas of study and wing the others. The subjects are from various disciplines, too, so you can’t just rely on your stock knowledge and hope for the best.

What are the subjects included in the test? Biology, Chemistry (Biochemistry, Organic, and General), Sociology, Physics, Psychology, and Verbal Reasoning.

The MCAT Biochemistry, MCAT Physics, and MCAT Psychology sections are tested in combination with a few other subjects so you can’t really just study a few and hope for the best for the other subjects.

This also explains why you should learn how to prepare for MCAT properly and effectively. You can’t do this without a good plan and reference information.

It’s tricky.

Like other standardized tests, the MCAT is also particularly tricky. The phrasing and construction of their questions are made to be a bit confusing to test your reading comprehension and analyzing skills. Combined with certain topics, they’re also made to gauge your critical thinking skills. These make this test extra challenging.

A quick look at the AAMC question bank and you’ll be able to tell that the test questions are made to be more difficult than what it really is by their phrasing and the way they are written. If you’ll carefully and actively read them, however, you should be able to tell what exactly they’re asking without a hitch.

It’s designed to test whether you’ve completely understood the concepts and topics within a technical field.

Most folks who previously took the MCAT will tell you that the MCAT is also difficult because you can’t just bulldoze your way through it. This means that you can’t just memorize stuff and rely on remembering the concepts. This test does not require you to remember the concepts but to understand them as well as know how they work, and maybe even apply them.

This is why the best MCAT prep books won’t just give you a rundown of the concepts that you need to learn about. They will also help you understand them thoroughly through effective discussions and answer explanations.

As mentioned above, the MCAT also tests critical thinking. This is also a reason why you can’t just expect to define concepts in this test.

It all depends on your skills and knowledge levels.

What most previous test-takers will agree on, however, is that its difficulty level will vary from one test-taker to another. Some will find it very tough while others might be able to breeze through it. Depending on one’s skills, knowledge, and level of preparation, the MCAT can prove to be very hard or manageable.

Only a few will dare say that it’s easy, however.

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Let MCAT’s Difficulty Level Scare You

Despite the things mentioned above, the MCAT shouldn’t intimidate you too much that you’ll think twice of going to medical school. Sure, most of the points mentioned above make the said test appear daunting but they shouldn’t discourage you from taking the test entirely.

Why? Because despite its difficulty and as long as you follow a good MCAT study schedule, there are certain elements of this test that will allow you to take it on without a hitch. Some of example of these are the following.

It tests basic knowledge.

Before you step away and think that only geniuses can do well on the MCAT, you also have to know that the topics covered in this test are the basic ones. You don’t have to know advanced levels of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, and the other subjects included in the test. You just need to know and understand the basics of the science courses you took.

The challenge, actually, is the breadth and presentation of the test questions and not the content itself. You will be able to deal with the content with ample preparation but the number of items that will be tested and the trickiness of the questions can make the test harder than what it has to be. Nonetheless, with ample preparation, you will be able to take on this test effectively.

It’s a standardized test.

Like any other standardized test, you can thoroughly prepare for the MCAT exam. The charm of standardized tests is the fact that they not only have a specific format and formula, but also have a set length as far as time and number of sections go . If you know the specifics of the test you’re preparing for, you can adequately get ready for them. With this, you don’t really have to worry too much about the said test no matter how difficult it may be rumored to be and how high an MCAT score you need to impress school admissions.

What you should focus your energy on is the actual preparation process. You can’t just get ready for the MCAT half-heartedly because that will seriously hurt your chances of getting good results.

With the difficulty level of this test, you should make sure to cover all your bases and prepare thoroughly for it.

If you’ve already taken other standardized tests before, you will know for a fact that ample preparation will help you conquer the MCAT. You can even use the same test prep techniques with minor tweaks to tailor fit the MCAT to get successful results.

If you understood the concepts you studied, the MCAT won’t be extremely difficult for you.

As mentioned above, one of the things that make the MCAT hard is the fact that it tests your understanding of concepts and ideas related to the medical field. While this complicates things, it also means that actually understanding the stuff that you’re studying about makes the test simpler and more manageable. So if you can completely grasp the ideas behind the concepts and how things work, the MCAT might not have to feel too tough for you.

Preparing for the MCAT

With the complex nature of the MCAT, it’s just natural to assume that preparing for it can be a challenging task as well. And to be honest, this is exactly the case. The test itself is tricky so preparing for it should be done correctly and properly for you to yield great results.

This doesn’t mean that preparing for this test is just as hard, however. It doesn’t have to be hard if you know how to study for the MCAT.

To help you in this regard, here are a few items that you should remember so you can effectively get ready for this test:

You can start preparing even before you register for MCAT.

Experts in the field of test prep always recommend that you start preparing for a standardized test months ahead of your test date. This is true for MCAT as well. Experts believe in and have seen positive results from months of preparation for this test. This is why, even if you haven’t even filled your registration because you still aren't sure when to take the MCAT, you should already take steps in preparation for the test, including registration and eligibility for the test. This includes taking your required pre-requisite science courses to get into your top medical schools. Take them seriously and you won't need to prepare as much for the test.

You can always get some help.

While most students take MCAT self-prep measures, it’s also possible to get help in this area. You can sign up for an MCAT prep course and have an expert help you get ready for the test.

These classes will guide you in which areas to cover as well as drill you with questions and explain items that you’re having a hard time with.

However, it’s crucial to only go for the best MCAT prep course if you don’t want to waste your time and ensure great results. These programs are pricey, so you have to make sure to make the most out of your investment.

Ample research will go a long way.

Getting to know the MCAT thoroughly will also help you get ready for it effectively. Look for handy MCAT tips and hacks as well so you can gain a good footing in the process. Think about Medical School acceptance rates, as well.

Make sure to get acquainted with the scoring system.

The new MCAT scoring is believed to make the test a bit more complicated so it’s a very good idea to learn about and understand it thoroughly. This way, you can effectively set a target MCAT score and work accordingly when trying to reach such goals. The MCAT scale might confuse you so make sure to look into how is the MCAT scored in detail as well.

Don’t settle for anything less than the best MCAT study books and materials.

Whether you intend to self-study or sign up with a test prep program, having the best MCAT books and materials will prove to be helpful to your efforts. Not all MCAT study books are made equally, though, so you should be very careful when shopping for some.

Yes, the MCAT is hard. Prepare for it well and study diligently!

Frequently Asked Questions About the MCAT

Is the MCAT getting harder?

The MCAT is not getting harder over time. The MCAT did change in 2016 in which some people say it is harder, but it remains relatively consistent. Even so, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) normalizes scores based on the scores of a particular MCAT.

Why is the MCAT so hard?

The MCAT is hard because it is a measure of worthiness for someone to get into medical school and become a medical student. Doctors have a lot of responsibility so schools want to make sure that they accept people who show the academic rigor required to score well. Although it is not a perfect system, it is one measure of a student's capabilities.

Is it hard to get a 510 on the MCAT?

It is not hard to get a 510 as it is at the 80th percentile. That means 20 percent of test takers score a 510 or better, which means it is a very reachable goal. However, it does require a lot of studying to get that high of an MCAT score. Fortunately, at 510 and up you'll be a competitive candidate.