Mcat Essay Scoring System

The scores issued for the Medical College Admissions Test are designed to reflect the candidate's ability and knowledge in the Physical and Biological Sciences, in Verbal Reasoning, and in Writing. Each test-taker will receive a score sheet with individual scores for each section of the exam as well as a total score. The Physical Science, Biological Science, and Verbal Reasoning sections of the exam consist of multiple-choice questions.

The number of questions answered correctly is converted into a score on a scale of 1 to 15, taking into account the relative difficulty of the test version. The scaled scores also minimize the effects of factors that are not reflective of an examinee's actual skill or knowledge, allowing for a more accurate assessment of individual ability as well as comparisons of competing scores. Note the raw score is derived from the number of questions answered correctly; in other words, there is no difference between a question that is not answered and a question that is answered incorrectly. For this reason, candidates should make their best guess when they are unsure about an answer. The scaled scores will also be given in terms of percentile rank, so that candidates can see how they compare to one another. The mean score on the multiple-choice sections of the exam is 8, with a standard deviation of 2.5. The scoring system for the Writing Sample portion of the exam is slightly different. Each essay will be read and scored by two independent readers. The score scale for the Writing Sample ranges from a low of 1 to a high of 6. These numerical scores will then be converted into an alphabetic scale in which J is the lowest and T is the highest. These letters represent the combined scores from both essays, so it is possible for various combinations of numerical scores to result in the same letter score.

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Premed Resources

"MCAT" redirects here. For other uses, see MCAT (disambiguation).

TypeComputer-based standardized test
Developer / administratorAmerican Association of Medical Colleges
Knowledge / skills testedPhysical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning.
PurposeAdmissions to medical colleges (principally in the United States and Canada; 15 other countries).
Year started1928 (1928)
Score / grade range118 to 132 (in 1-point increments) for each of the 4 sections (Chemistry and Physics, Biology/Biochemistry, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, and Psychology and Social Sciences). So total score on scale of 472 to 528.[1]
Score / grade validityUsually 2 to 3 years (depends on medical college being applied to).[2]
Offered25 times from January 2017 through September 2017.[3]
Restrictions on attempts

Can be taken a maximum of 3 times in a one year period; 4 times in a two year period; and 7 times for life.

Countries / regionsUnited States, Canada and 19 other countries.[5]
Prerequisites / eligibility criteriaCandidate must be preparing to apply to a health professional school (otherwise, "special permission" is required).[6] Fluency in English assumed.

Gold zone (registration about 1 month or more prior to test date): US $310
Reschedule fee: US $75 Cancellation refund: US $155
Silver zone (registration about 3 to 4 weeks prior to test date): US $310
Reschedule fee: US $135 Cancellation refund: n/a
Bronze zone (registration about 1 to 2 weeks prior to test date): US $360
Reschedule fee: n/a Cancellation refund: n/a International testing: US $100 in addition to above.[7]

("Fee Assistance Program" available to U.S. citizens, permanent residents or refugees, demonstrating financial need.[8])
Scores / grades used byMedical colleges (mostly in United States and Canada).

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-basedstandardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States, Australia,[9] Canada, and Caribbean Islands. It is designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis and knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. Prior to 2006, the exam was a paper-and-pencil test; since 2007, all administrations of the exam have been computer-based.

The most recent version of the exam was introduced in April 2015 and takes 7.5 hours to complete. The test is scored in a range from 472 to 528.


Moss Test: 1928–46[edit]

In the 1920s, dropout rates in US medical schools soared from 5% to 50%,[10] leading to the development of a test that would measure readiness for medical school. Physician F. A. Moss and his colleagues developed the "Scholastic Aptitude Test for Medical Students" consisting of true-false and multiple choice questions divided into six to eight subtests. Topics tested included visual memory, memory for content, scientific vocabulary, scientific definitions, understanding of printed material, premedical information, and logical reasoning. The score scale varied from different test forms. Though it had been criticized at the time for testing only memorization ability and thus only readiness for the first two years of medical school, later scholars[who?] denied this. In addition to stricter medical school admission procedures and higher educational standards, the national dropout rate among freshman medical students decreased from 20% in 1925–1930 to 7% in 1946.

A simpler test: 1946–62[edit]

Advancements in test measurement technology, including machine scoring of tests, and changed views regarding test scores and medical school readiness reflected the evolution of the test in this period. The test underwent three major changes. It now had only four sub tests, including verbal ability, quantitative ability, science achievement, and understanding modern society. Questions were all in multiple-choice format. Each subtest was given a single score, and the total score was derived from the sum of the scores from the subtests. The total score ranged from 200–800. The individual scores helped medical school admission committees to differentiate the individual abilities among their candidates. Admission committees, however, did not consider the "understanding modern society" section to be of great importance, even though it was created to reward those with broad liberal arts skills, which included knowledge of history, government, economics, and sociology. Committees placed greater emphasis on scores on the scientific achievement section as it was a better predictor of performance in medical school.

From 1946 to 1948, the test was called the "Professional School Aptitude Test" before finally changing its name to the "Medical College Admission Test" when the developer of the test, the Graduate Record Office (under contract with the AAMC) merged with the newly formed Educational Testing Service (ETS). In 1960, the AAMC transferred its contract over to The Psychological Corporation, which was then in charge of maintaining and developing the test.

Status quo: 1962–77[edit]

From 1962 to 1977, the MCAT retained much of its previous format, though the "understanding modern society" section was renamed as "general information" due to its expanded content. Handbooks at the time criticized the test as only a measure of intellectual achievement and not of personal characteristics expected of physicians. Admission committees responded to this criticism by measuring personal characteristics among their applicants with various approaches.

Phase four: 1977–91[edit]

During phase four, the MCAT underwent several changes. The "general information" section was eliminated and a broader range of knowledge was tested. At this point, topics tested included scientific knowledge, science problems, reading skills analysis, and quantitative skills analysis. Individual scores were reported for biology, chemistry, and physics rather than a composite science score, thus six different scores for the whole test were reported. The score scale changed to 1–15 as opposed to 200–800 from previous versions of the test. Cultural and social bias was minimized. Though the AAMC claimed the new version intended to evaluate "information gathering and analysis, discerning and formulating relationships, and other problem-solving skills," no research supported this claim.

New changes: 1992–2014[edit]

In 1992, the test changed again. Though the test was still divided into four subtests, they were renamed as the verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences, and writing sample sections. Questions retained the multiple-choice format, though the majority of the questions were divided into passage sets. Passage-based questions were implemented to evaluate "text comprehension, data analysis, ability to evaluate an argument, or apply knowledge from the passage to other contexts." A new scoring scale was also implemented. The total composite score, which ranges from 3–45, is based on the individual scores of the verbal reasoning, biological sciences, and physical sciences, which each have a score range of 1–15. The writing sample, which consists of two essays to be written within 30 minutes for each, is graded on a letter scale from J-T with T being the highest attainable score.

On July 18, 2005, the AAMC announced that it would offer the paper-and-pencil version of the MCAT only through August 2006. A subset of testing sites offered a computer-based version of the full-length exam throughout 2005 and 2006. A shorter, computer-based version of the test debuted in January 2007. The exam was at that point offered numerous times annually, and scored more quickly.[11][12]

MR5 and the 2015 test[edit]

The MR5 advisory committee was appointed by AAMC in fall 2008.[13] Highlights of the MR5 process were surveys of what undergraduate institutions teach and surveys of medical school faculty in which they ranked undergraduate subjects for importance in medical school curricula of the future. Late in 2011, the MR5 recommendations were formalized as core competencies that will be tested in 2015.[14] MR5 recommendations were enacted by the AAMC in 2012. The largest changes consist of testing in biochemistry, multicultural/behavioral concepts, and critical analysis/reasoning from the humanities. Because college freshmen entering in fall 2012 took a new MCAT, undergraduate premedical advisers studied the MR5 documents to translate tested core competencies into premedical course recommendations at their campuses. The MR5 MCAT revision has the potential to lead to changes in mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, and general education recommendations in addition to changes in biology, chemistry and biochemistry. One scientific society to comment on the new MCAT and its implications for the undergraduate curriculum is the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Though ASBMB noted that the premedical curriculum in mathematics, physics, social sciences and the humanities is likely to change, the society confined its recommendations to coursework in biology, chemistry and biochemistry.[15]


The exam is offered 25 or more times per year at Prometric centers.[16] The number of administrations may vary each year. Most people who take the MCAT are undergraduates in their junior or senior year of college before they apply to medical school. Ever since the exam's duration was lengthened to 7.5 hours, the test is only offered in the morning.

The test, updated in 2015, consists of four sections, listed in the order that they are administered:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The four sections are in multiple-choice format. 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 general Graduate Record Examination).

The first section assesses problem-solving ability in general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics while the third section evaluates these abilities in the areas of biology and biochemistry. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section evaluates the ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information and arguments presented in prose style.

Test contents[edit]

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems5995
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems5995
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills5390
Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior5995

The test consists of four sections, each with a maximum score of 132 points (and a minimum score of 118 points). The total MCAT score is the sum of the four section scores, and ranges from 472 to 528, with 500 being the median score.[17]

2016 scoring percentiles[edit]

The following are the scores along with their percentiles from test takers from April through September 2015. MCAT percentiles are updated every year on May1st. The average scaled score was 499.6 with a standard deviation of 10.4.[18]

MCAT 2015OG MCATPercentileMCAT 2015OG MCATPercentile


Like some other professional exams (e.g. the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the MCAT may be voided on the day of the exam if the exam taker is not satisfied with his or her performance. It can be voided at any time during the exam, or during a five-minute window that begins immediately after the end of the last section. The decision to void can only be based on the test taker's self-assessment, as no scoring information is available at the time—it takes 30–35 days for scores to be returned.

The AAMC prohibits the use of calculators, timers, or other electronic devices during the exam.[19] Cellular phones are also strictly prohibited from testing rooms and individuals found to possess them are noted by name in a security report submitted to the AAMC. The only item that may be brought into the testing room is the candidate's photo ID. If a jacket or sweater is worn, it may not be removed in the testing room.[20]

It is no longer a rule that students must receive permission from the AAMC if they wish to take the MCAT more than three times in total. The limit with the computerized MCAT is three times per year, with a lifetime limit of seven times.[21] An examinee can register for only one test date at a time, and must wait two days after testing before registering for a new test date.

Scaled MCAT exam results are made available to examinees approximately thirty days after the test via the AAMC's MCAT Testing History (THx) Web application. Examinees do not receive a copy of their scores in the mail. Nor are examinees given their raw scores. MCAT THx is also used to transmit scores to medical schools, application services and other organizations (at no cost).


Like most standardized tests, there are a variety of preparatory materials and courses available. The AAMC itself also offers a select few tests on their website.

Some students taking the MCAT use a test preparation company. Students who do not use these courses often rely on material from university text books, MCAT preparation books, sample tests, free web resources, and educational mobile applications (free/paid).


A recent study (2016), shows little to no correlation between MCAT scores and USMLE step 1 scores, as well as little to no correlation between MCAT scores and the NBME scores.[22] The MCAT also correlated poorly with the Canadian Board exam in 2016, the (MCCQE-1). [23]

The Biological Sciences section had been the most directly correlated section to success on the USMLE Step 1 exam in an article published in 2002, with a moderate correlation coefficient of .553 vs .491 for Physical Sciences and a weak correlation of .397 for Verbal Reasoning, however, these are not very well correlated with USMLE Step 1 score, as a strong correlation would be anything above 0.7, meaning that even in 2002, MCAT did not have a strong correlation with USMLE Step 1 success.[24] MCAT composite scores had previously (in article published in 2002) claimed to have some form of correlation with USMLE Step 1 success, although exact numbers are not given.[25]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Julian, E (2005). "Validity of the Medical College Admission Test for predicting medical school performance". Academic Medicine. 80 (10): 910–7. doi:10.1097/00001888-200510000-00010. PMID 16186610. 
  • Simonton, W. Kyle (2006). "Accommodations for the Disabled During Administration of the MCAT, Individual State Interests Versus National Uniformity". Journal of Legal Medicine. 27 (3): 305–322. doi:10.1080/01947640600870890. PMID 16959654. 

External links[edit]

  1. ^"The New Score Scales for the 2015 MCAT Exam: An Overview of What Admissions Officers Need to Know"(PDF). Association of American Medical Colleges. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  2. ^"MCAT FAQ". 
  3. ^"Search"(PDF). 
  4. ^"MCAT FAQ". 
  5. ^"MCAT Testing Center Locations". Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  6. ^"Taking the MCAT® Exam". 
  7. ^"Register for the MCAT Exam". 
  8. ^"Fee Assistance Program". 
  9. ^"Melbourne Medical School International Applicants". University of Melbourne. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  10. ^McGaghie, William C. (2002-09-04). "Assessing Readiness for Medical Education". Journal of the American Medical Association. 288 (9): 1085–1090. doi:10.1001/jama.288.9.1085. PMID 12204076. 
  11. ^Medical College Admission Test Will Convert to Computer-Based FormatArchived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^What is changing on the MCAT?Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^AAMC MCAT MR InitiativeArchived 2012-05-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^"Search"(PDF). 
  15. ^"Response to the new MCAT". 
  16. ^"2007 Completely Computerized MCAT Exam". Association of American Medical Colleges. 
  17. ^"The MCAT Exam Score Scale". 
  18. ^"Summary of MCAT Total and Section Scores Percentile Ranks in Effect May 1, 2016 – April 30, 2017"(PDF). Association of American Medical Colleges. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  19. ^"The MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2016"(PDF). Association of American Medical Colleges. 2016. :24−25
  20. ^"Testing Center Regulations and Procedures". Association of American Medical Colleges. 
  21. ^"MCAT FAQ". 
  22. ^Giordano, C., Hutchinson, D., & Peppler, R. (2016). A Predictive Model for United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 Scores. Cureus, 8(9), e769.
  23. ^Roy, B., Ripstein, I., Perry, K., & Cohen, B. (2016). Predictive value of grade point average (GPA), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), internal examinations (Block) and National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) scores on Medical Council of Canada qualifying examination part I (MCCQE-1) scores. Canadian Medical Education Journal, 7(1), e47–e56
  24. ^"Undergraduate Institutional MCAT Scores as Predictors of USMLE Step 1 Performance". Acad Medicine. 2002. 
  25. ^"Adult Learners: Relationships of Reading, MCAT, and USMLE Step 1 Test Results for Medical Students". Education Resources Information Center. April 2002. 

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