What to Expect on MCAT Test Day

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If you're applying to medical school in the United States or Canada, there's a very good chance you're going to need to take the MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test. To do well on the exam, you're going to need to have a strong background in biology, chemistry, physics, and the social sciences. Your critical thinking and problem solving skills will also be important.

Along with being prepared for the exam content, you'll also want to be prepared for the actual test experience. Here's what you need to know and what to expect on MCAT test day.

When to Arrive

The Association of American Medical Colleges recommends that you arrive at your test center at least 30 minutes before the exam. This will give you time to find where you need to go, check in, store any personal items that can't be taken into the exam room, and get settled. Don't cut your arrival time close to the exam time. A frantic rush to get ready isn't going to put you in the best state of mind for the exam, and if you end up arriving late, it's likely you won't be allowed to take the exam at all.

What to Bring to the MCAT

Aside from the clothes you're wearing, you can take very little into the testing room. You can wear eyeglasses, although they are likely to be inspected, and you need to bring your accepted MCAT ID. This needs to be either a photo state drivers license or a passport. The test center will provide you with earplugs (you can't bring your own), a key for your storage unit, a wet-erase noteboard booklet, and a marker that you can use for note taking. Do not bring any paper, pens, or pencils of your own.

The exam is long, so you'll also want to bring food and drinks for break periods. These will need to stay in your storage unit outside of the testing area. No food or drink is allowed in the exam room.

You will not be allowed to bring any electronic devices into the exam, nor can you store them loose in the storage unit that you access during break. Instead, all electronic devices will be sealed in a bag that will be unsealed by a test administrator at the conclusion of the exam. Realize that if you are found with a cell phone or any other device at any point during the exam or breaks, you will likely have your exam canceled. In general, it is best to leave watches, phones, calculators, tablets, and even jewelry at home.

MCAT Security

You should be aware that the MCAT has higher security than other exams, such as the SAT or ACT, that you may have taken in the past. Before entering the exam room, you'll need to store all personal items in a locked storage unit. When you check in, not only do you need to have your MCAT-accepted identification document, but you will also have your photo taken, your palm scanned for entering and leaving the test room, and you'll be asked to provide a digital signature that will be matched against your registration signature. When you are taking the exam, your testing station will be constantly monitored by closed-circuit digital video recording.

During the Test

The MCAT is an all-day computer-based exam. You'll be in the exam area for about 7 hours 30 minutes with 6 hours and 15 minutes of actual test-taking time. Each section of the exam takes 90 or 95 minutes. This is clearly a lot of time to be sitting in front of a computer, so make sure you are dressed in clothes that don't bind and maintain a comfortable posture. If you need to leave the exam room at a non-scheduled time, or if you have a problem with your testing station, you'll need to raise your hand to get the assistance of a test administrator. If necessary, the test administrator can escort you out of the room. Your exam clock will not stop if you require an unscheduled break.

Note that you are not allowed to leave the testing building or floor at any point during the MCAT. Doing so will forfeit your exam.

Scheduled Breaks

You will have three scheduled breaks during the MCAT:

  • A 10-minute break after the 95-minute Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section.
  • A 30-minute break after the 90-minute Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section.
  • A 10-minute break after the 95-minute Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section.

These breaks are your opportunity to use the restroom, eat, or stretch. Note that these breaks are optional, but skipping the breaks will not give you more time to work on the exam.

At the End of the Test

At the conclusion of the MCAT, you will have the option to void your exam. If you think you performed horribly and you have time to retake the exam before your medical school applications are due, this can be a wise option. You will still be billed for the exam, but it will not appear in your records.

Once you have completed the exam and are escorted out of the testing area, you will give your sealed digital device bag to a test administrator to be unsealed. You will also return any materials provided to you by the test center. At this point, you will receive a letter confirming your completion of the exam.