The question of “How hard is the MCAT?” comes down to a number of factors:

  • the length of the test (7.5 hours)
  • the variety of topics tested (across 230 multiple-choice questions)
  • the timing of the test (roughly 1-2 minutes a question)
  • the exam format (different methods and strategies encouraged for each section)
Student studying at table with textbooks and laptop, looking thoughtful.

The MCAT is Long

One of the main factors that makes the MCAT tough is that it’s long. The total seated time for the exam is 7.5 hours, which is a lot, by anyone’s standards. Most other postgraduate standardized tests are only about 4 hours long.

The MCAT Tests a Wide Variety of Topics

Questions on the MCAT are drawn from:

  • Reading Comprehension and Analysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Research Methods
  • Statistical Reasoning

Most MCAT Questions are Passage-Based

In addition to the many topics covered, the exam format requires students to analyze, synthesize, and interpret passages (including graphs and data) to arrive at the credited response. This is true of all of the CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) questions and most of the science questions (44 out of 59 in each section). Test-takers cannot simply regurgitate information to get the correct answer.

The MCAT is Timed

The timing of the MCAT is very tight:

  • Sciences sections: 59 questions | 95 minutes
  • CARS: 53 questions | 90 minutes

Being able to quickly analyze, synthesize, and interpret passages, graphs, and data is key for MCAT success.

Study Methods and Strategies Differ for the Different Sections

What works when studying biochemistry might not work for one of the other sciences, and CARS requires its own set of strategies. Since test-takers must juggle so much content, the four MCAT sections are almost like four different mini-exams, each with different paths to success.

How Hard is the MCAT?

The MCAT is fixed in length, format, and structure: that is, how the content is presented and tested stays the same. Therefore, if you take a full practice test, you will have a good idea of exactly how hard the MCAT is for you.

When preparing for the MCAT, remember to do the following.

  • Review the content.
  • Look for patterns in your own performance. If you struggle with certain types of passages or question types, finding patterns will help you focus your studying.
  • Examine your pacing. If you get more questions correct at the beginning of a section than at the end, you’ll need to work on your endurance. Consider completing multiple passages in a row while studying. If you get more questions right at the end of a section, you may benefit from ranking the passages from easiest to hardest so that you can get adequately warmed up.

You can rise to the challenge of the exam by setting a study plan, taking a prep course , completing timed drills, and analyzing your own performance.