So just how hard is the MCAT? If you want the short answer, here it is:
We don’t say that to scare you. In fact, it’s nothing to worry about if you have a good study plan in place.
But it would be a lie to tell you the test is a piece of cake. Like anything worthwhile, doing well on the MCAT requires you to be disciplined and put in the time.
The MCAT is hard because it tests you in a number of different ways. This isn’t your classic “memorize everything and finish in 20 minutes” kind of exam.
You’ll be tested on a wide variety of subject matter in ways that require you to apply reasoning and problem-solving skills to hypothetical situations. The test will throw curveballs at you to see how you handle them (more on that later).
Oh yeah, and it’s gonna take you a while too.
But that’s all fine. Just like anything in life, the MCAT can seem a lot harder than it is before you look behind the curtain.
Once you understand what the test is trying to do (and why that makes it challenging), the whole studying process gets a lot easier.
When you combine this knowledge with proper study habits and strong test prep, you’ll be able to drastically increase your chances of doing well come test day.
This post goes over the 4 main reasons why the MCAT is considered difficult, and how you can navigate these obstacles. By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll be much more prepared and know what to expect.
Table of Contents
Reason 1: It Covers Multiple Subjects
Medical students must learn and excel in multiple subjects to gain the knowledge and skills required for their work as a doctor. Because of this, the MCAT covers difficult material across multiple subjects.
For example, medical students will obviously take various science courses at an advanced level. That means they’ll need to focus their content preparation on concepts that span across a range of primary disciplines.
The MCAT is designed to test a combination of knowledge and reasoning rather than simply rewarding a student for memorizing material. It also tends to focus on concepts that have more interdisciplinary relevance.
Here’s what we mean:
Students hoping to do well in medical school will need to pay close attention to the skills and learning concepts that they encounter in a number of classes. For example, questions about the electron transport chain tend to find their way onto MCAT exam questions every year.
However, the MCAT will also require the test taker to prove their reasoning skills and critical analysis attributes. This is often done with verbal reasoning questions scattered throughout the exam.
Since medical students obviously have to be more than proficient in the main course materials, many make the huge mistake of failing to adequately prepare for the verbal questions as well. These tend to represent student knowledge and skills learned in social science type classes and the humanities departments.
Most experts recommend that prospective medical students spend a minimum of 300 well-concentrated hours of prep study time in order to properly prepare. The sheer number of hours you’ll need to study make the MCAT pretty daunting.
It’s recommended that students pay particular attention to what many consider the “hot topics” while also ensuring that they fully understand and grasp the bigger ideas of medicine. Taking time to develop these skills in addition to the smaller details will serve you well.
Reason 2: It Goes Beyond Memorization
Many college students tend to focus study on memorizing information verbatim. But this type of learning will not be enough to get a high score on the MCAT.
Medical school admission departments must choose students they feel can handle the rigorous training that becoming a doctor requires. One way they do this is by carefully looking at each applicant’s MCAT exam scores.
Medical schools do not want students who simply regurgitate complex information back without fully grasping the mechanisms behind it all. This deeper understanding is necessary to truly know the information and how it applies to the practice of medicine.
This means you should invest extra time on the subjects where you’re fuzzy or drawing a blank. If you can’t explain the “why” behind a concept, study until you can.
A prospective medical student lacking in any of the required sciences should take extra courses or take advantage of tutoring in these subjects to make the MCAT easier and increase their chance of getting the scores they want.
Many recommend that students use a variety of study techniques to prepare for this aspect of the test as well. You should not only aim to include different methods, but challenge yourself across a wide range of study material.
Some examples of terrific MCAT preparations include taking advantage of test preparation courses, taking multiple practice exams and utilizing up-to-date question banks as well.
It is important for students to remember that the MCAT is also designed to test the cumulative knowledge that students have picked up over the course of several years of intense training and study.
Because of this, the MCAT is not an exam where you can get away with studying at the last minute (most of the time).
Doctors must wade through clinical signs, symptoms and patient verbal history, using their proficient analytical and reasoning skills to put together a course of clinical action. The MCAT will challenge you to showcase this type of critical thinking process.
Reason 3: It Will Try To Trick You
The ability of a doctor to focus on what’s important is key to mastering the diagnostic clinical skills needed for successful patient outcomes. The MCAT is hard because it contains questions and formatting that are intended to trick the test taker.
This is done to better assess whether the test taker has the overall knowledge and the essential critical analysis skills to perform this type of work after they graduate.
The field of medicine covers a wide range of subject matter, and learning these concepts takes years of study and intense effort.
The makers of the MCAT exam questions purposely bombard test takers with a large amount of data and simulated diagnostic scenarios to test whether the student truly has what it takes to make the cut.
This is meant to prepare future doctors for evaluating mounds of information and details that their patients and other medical professionals might give them during a routine patient exam or medical consultation session.
The doctor needs to understand how to identify essential information, and not let irrelevant details negatively influence their prescribed course of action.
This is why it’s so important for you to brush up on your test-taking skills and test question analysis ability to properly decide what each exam question is really asking. It’s also why simply memorizing facts is a recipe for disaster.
Reason 4: It’s Long
Most college students take a multitude of exams throughout their years of learning.
But the MCAT is a different beast.
Because the length of the test is so long and the content is so intense, you’ll need some mental endurance if you want to get your best possible score.
You see, the MCAT takes 7.5 hours to complete on average. This is a long time to spend focusing on a test.
Even if a college student has consistently done well on tests taken thus far, there’s no guarantee that they will on the MCAT. The long time length can become overwhelming if the test taker does not adequately prepare well ahead of time.
For some comparison, the LSAT takes just 4 to 5 hours and covers only 100 questions. The GRE exam is administered over 3 to 3 hours and 45 minutes with approximately the same amount of questions.
The MCAT doubles both the test question numbers and the length of time it takes to fully complete. In addition, the MCAT is much more complex than the other types of exams encountered in college.
That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself.
Along with the proper test preparation, students should also develop good lifestyle habits that help increase their ability to tolerate lengthy and difficult testing situations.
These habits include getting plenty of rest, eating well, avoiding partying and generally keeping their life in balance. The road to becoming a medical or research doctor is intense, long and difficult, but there are ways that students can manage this process better.
So as you can tell, the MCAT is hard. There’s really no way around it.
Taking a test over an entire workday can be exhausting both mentally and physically. However, you can better your odds by taking the wise advice from those who’ve had success before you!
You see, the MCAT doesn’t have to be hard (unless you’re going for a perfect score or something).
Learn to understand the why behind what you’re learning, and take advantage of whatever resources you have available. The more smart, high-output hours of study you do, the better off you’ll be.
Don’t forget to study the test itself too. Top scorers all invest time into learning why the MCAT is hard and how it tries to trick you. By understanding this early on, it makes things significantly easier on test day.
Lastly, take care of yourself. A healthy lifestyle (both physically and mentally) will go a long way in making sure you study well and perform on the test. Each year hundreds of smart students let anxiety hinder their ability to do well on the MCAT, don’t become one of them!
Just like being a doctor, the MCAT requires hard work and discipline. Invest time in building these habits now, to be a better doctor in the future.