We hear from countless students who worry about the difficulty of the MCAT, and that’s understandable. This test can be intimidating!
But another important question to ask is, “How long is the MCAT?”
This is likely the longest exam you’ll ever take, so learning how to pace yourself and stay sharp throughout the process is extremely important as well. This guide will break down how long the MCAT is, so you can be prepared on test day.
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How Long Is The MCAT?
The MCAT is a multi-section interdisciplinary exam that takes several hours to complete.
The total content time for the MCAT is six hours and 15 minutes. That figure does not include breaks or optional components. Six hours and 15 minutes is the overall time limit you have to complete the exam’s various sections.
Of course, your time at the testing center will be much longer. The total seated time is roughly seven hours and 30 minutes. On top of the mandatory active testing time, the seated time includes breaks, the optional tutorial, survey, and other miscellaneous sections.
All in, expect to spend roughly eight hours at the exam center. The MCAT has many strict protocols and a check-in procedure that you must complete, adding several minutes to the process.
MCAT Time Breakdown By Section
Fortunately, you don’t spend every minute powering through the exam. It has a time breakdown to account for each of the four sections, which have a cumulative total of 230 questions. Every unit is individually timed and separated with a brief, 10-minute break.
The first section to complete is “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” This unit covers a range of academic disciplines you learned when meeting your medical school prerequisites. These include topics like introductory physics, biochemistry, general chemistry, and more.
This particular unit has 59 total questions. Of those 59 exam questions, 44 are passage-based, while the remaining 15 are discrete questions with definitive answers. You have a total of 95 minutes to complete the first section. After that, you’re free to take a 10-minute break before moving on.
The second section is “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skill,” which many refer to as “CARS.” Many test-takers consider this unit to be the hardest of all. It’s designed to test your ability to comprehend reading passages and find reasoning within and beyond the test.
Covering topics like philosophy, ethics, and population health, the section requires excellent focus to complete successfully.
There are a total of 53 questions, which you have only 90 minutes to complete. All 53 exam questions are passage-based. Generally, half focus on humanities content while the other half is all about social sciences.
After the “CARS” section, you have the option to take an extended mid-exam break. It lasts for 30 minutes, which is perfect for recharging and getting a bite to eat.
Once you return, you’ll move onto the “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems.” The science-heavy unit dives deep into biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.
You have 95 minutes to complete the 59 exam questions. Just like before, 44 of the questions in this section are passage-based. The remaining 15 are discrete questions.
The final section of the MCAT is the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior” section. Like the first unit, this one covers a range of topics. However, it focuses heavily on the importance of psychology and behavioral determinants of health in medicine.
This section includes a total of 59 questions. The breakdown also includes 44 passage-based questions and 15 discrete questions. Once again, the time limit here is 95 minutes.
The four MCAT sections are all mandatory and will take up most of your time on exam day. However, there are some other smaller sections that you can complete as well.
The exam starts with test-day certification, a short document you must read before you begin the test. Then, there’s a 10-minute tutorial. The tutorial is entirely optional, but it can give you a better idea of how the exam software works.
After the final section, you’ll also have the option to void the exam and take an end-of-day survey. The void question is for those rare occasions when students want to make their attempt null and void. The MCAT is hard, and sometimes students come into it unprepared. Choosing to void the entire exam will essentially wipe away your attempt.
The software will clear your answers, and medical schools will not see it on your record at all. It’s as if you never took the test at all. This question occurs at the very end of the exam and usually takes about three minutes to answer.
Finally, there’s the optional survey. It only takes about five minutes to complete.
How Early Should You Arrive?
Ideally, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled MCAT exam time. To be on the safe side, many test-takers try to be 35 to 40 early. Generally, testing centers are open half an hour before the exam. Some may open even earlier.
There are a few things to do before you get settled. Arriving early ensures that you’re not rushed or stressed.
You can store your personal belongings in the available lockers, turn over your cell phone, and get settled.
The most important thing to do after arriving is to verify your identity and check in. Testing centers take this step very seriously. Only those who provide proper identification are allowed to start the exam.
Don’t forget to bring a current ID issued by a government agency and fitted with a photo that administrators can use to identify you.
If you don’t go through the check-in process, you won’t be allowed in, and your attempt will be marked as a “no-show.”
Get plenty of relaxation the day before your test. Go to bed early and wake up with plenty of time to eat a typical breakfast. If you’re unsure about where the testing center is, take some time before your testing day to find it and plan a driving route.
The last thing you need to worry about on exam day is being late or stressed.
Are You Allowed To Eat?
You are allowed to eat throughout the day. Because the MCAT is so long, it’s a good idea to bring snacks and a light lunch.
It’s a good idea to bring energizing foods that won’t weigh you down. Most recommend keeping things light so that you don’t fall prey to the afternoon slump. To avoid the risk of any stomach issues, you may want to stick to items you’re used to eating as well.
Throughout the day, you’re allowed to eat during the designated breaks. You can snack during the short 10-minute breaks and eat a packed lunch during the mid-exam one.
However, you’re not allowed to eat or drink during the active testing period. Food and drinks are not permitted in the testing area. Test-takers aren’t even allowed to chew gum or bring a bottle of water into the room.
All of your snacking must occur during the designated breaks.
Ways To Get Comfortable Taking Such A Long Test
There’s a good chance that the MCAT will be the longest exam you’ve ever taken up to this point. Even standardized tests from the past, such as the SAT and ACT, are only three hours at most. The MCAT is more than twice as long!
Pair that with the importance of your final score, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stressed on test day.
Long before you even attempt to take the MCAT, you need to prepare for the rigors ahead. MCAT preparation is about much more than cramming as much knowledge into your head as possible. It’s about preparing yourself mentally and physically.
If you try to jump into the MCAT without adapting to the extended testing period, you’ll likely suffer in many ways. Not only will you lose focus, but you might end up making avoidable mistakes that cost you valuable points. The MCAT’s design is not a mistake.
It’s purposely built to test your ability to solve problems and think critically under pressure. Plus, it ensures that you’re ready to perform at a high level for an extended time frame.
The best way to prepare for this lengthy exam is to replicate the experience. MCAT practice tests are readily available and encouraged.
Try to take the full-length practice tests at the same time in the day that you scheduled the actual MCAT. Then, follow the same timeline with all the breaks and limits. Take note of how your stamina level and focus wanes.
Continue to take practice tests whenever you can. Your body should adapt to the stresses of the experience the more you complete practice tests.
A few weeks before your test day, act like you’re about to take the actual MCAT. Change your sleeping habits to wake up at the same time you would on the test day. Eat healthily and exercise around the MCAT schedule.
That way, your body and mind grow accustomed to the difficult task ahead. You don’t want any surprises on MCAT day, so stick to a routine to ensure that you’re ready to perform your best.
How To Use Your Break Time
Technically, all break periods during the MCAT are optional. However, most would agree that you should take full advantage of them! This exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This is the approach you’ll need to take if you want to get a good MCAT score.
Use your breaks to decompress and re-energize. Get up and walk around to stretch your legs and get your blood flowing.
Take some time to get a drink, a bite to eat, and maybe a bit of tea or coffee if you need some caffeine.
It’s also an excellent time to use the bathroom. You can leave to use the restroom at any point during the test, but those short breaks will not stop the timer. For this reason, it’s wise to do your business on the allotted breaks to save as much time for the exam questions as possible.
Are There Any Ways To Shorten The Test Time?
It’s not uncommon for test-takers to try and power through breaks to save time. You’re free to make the same attempt if you feel comfortable enough doing so, but it’s far better if you don’t rush.
There’s no award for getting early. With so many passage-based questions, it’s wise to use every second you have.
If you still want to shorten the test time, there are some ways you can do so. Beyond avoiding breaks, you can skip through some of the optional sections.
For example, AAMC practice tests already give you a good idea of how the MCAT testing software works, so you can easily save 10 minutes by skipping the tutorial. The practice exams also give you a glimpse of the void question and test-day certification agreement.
Familiarizing yourself with what’s available can be beneficial. The saved time won’t supplement the total content time. However, skipping those optional sections can save energy for the actual questions.
You shouldn’t be intimidated by how long the MCAT will take, but it’s definitely a factor to be aware of. Failing to prepare for such a long exam can seriously hinder your performance (no matter how much studying you did).
We hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!