MCAT Tutor Tells-All: The History of the MCAT

Posted by Erik Halber on 11/16/12 9:36 AM

describe the imageAs you gear up for MCAT season this winter, you might wonder about the origins of the test. The MCAT has evolved since its introduction in 1928. Take a look below for a brief timeline!


The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) (of which we know all of you are intimately aware) is the rite of passage for students intending on applying to medical schools (MD and DO), as well as certain other fields ancillary to medicine in the United States and Canada. The exam was first developed in 1928 in response to astoundingly high attrition rates in US medical schools. By 1946, attrition rates had dropped to 7%, and the MCAT was widely credited with having undergirded this drop.

The exam’s first edition in 1928 had between 6-8 sections! These included memory, knowledge of scientific terminology, reading, comprehension and logic. In 1946, the exam was reduced to four sections: verbal and quantitative skills, science knowledge, and “understanding modern society.” Since then, the exam has had another four iterations, the last of which came in 2007, giving us the MCAT we have today. However, the AAMC has announced substantial changes to the exam for 2015—including a new section entitled “Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior.”

Today’s MCAT

The current MCAT features three sections: Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Verbal Reasoning. In the Biological and Physical Sciences sections, students are allotted 70 minutes to complete 52 questions. Of these 52 questions, 13 stand independently, and the remaining questions are tied to seven passages (4-7 questions per passage). The Verbal Reasoning section contains 40 passage-based questions, which students are expected to complete in 60 minutes.

For a full listing of topics covered, visit the AAMC website.


Each section is graded on a continuous scale from 0-15.

In 2011, from among the 86,181 students who took the MCAT, the median scorer had a composite score of 26. The mean score was a 25.1. Students tended to do best on the Biological Sciences section (mean score = 8.8), followed by Physical Sciences (8.4), followed by Verbal Reasoning (7.9), although the scores were not significantly different.

The average MCAT score at top 10 ranked medical schools tends to cluster around 35-36, and schools are looking for relatively balanced scores. Less highly-ranked schools traditionally consider 30 as an admissible score. That said, students have certainly been admitted to medical school with scores as low as 26, although this is not the norm, and these students usually have many redeeming qualities, despite their MCAT scores.

Moral of the story: the MCAT isn’t everything, but it’s a big part of your medical school application.

Tags: MCAT