The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-based standardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States and Canada. It is designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis, and writing skills in addition to knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. Prior to August 19, 2006, the exam was a paper-and-pencil test; since January 27, 2007, however, all administrations of the exam have been computer-based.
The exam is offered 25 or more times per year at Prometric centers. The number of administrations may vary each year. Most people who take the MCAT are undergraduates in college in their Junior or Senior year of college before they apply to medical school. Ever since the exam's duration was shortened to 4.5–5 hours, the test may be offered either in the morning or in the afternoon. Some test dates have both morning and afternoon administrations.
The test consists of four sections, listed in the order in which they are administered on the day of the exam:
Physical Sciences (PS)
Verbal Reasoning (VR)
Writing Sample (WS)
Biological Sciences (BS)
The Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences sections are in multiple-choice format. The Writing sample consists of two short essays that are typed into the computer. The passages and questions are predetermined, and thus do not change in difficulty depending on the performance of the test taker (unlike, for example, the Graduate Record Examination).
The Physical Sciences section assesses problem-solving ability in general chemistry and physics and the Biological Sciences section evaluates these abilities in the areas of biology and organic chemistry.
The Verbal Reasoning section evaluates the ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information and arguments presented in prose style. The Biological Sciences section most directly correlates to success on the USMLE Step 1 exam, with a correlation coefficient of .553 vs .491 for Physical Sciences and .397 for Verbal Reasoning. Predictably, MCAT composite scores also correlate with USMLE Step 1 success.