how hard is it?

How difficult is the MCAT? If you do well in your science classes (a's, b's), is the test just a matter of good review, or are the questions meant to fool you?

The MCAT is not an info-recall exam like you are used to taking in science classes. The MCAT is purposely a reading comprehension and info application exam, taking things - at least attempting to do so - to the next level. That said, having a liberal arts background is actually more advantageous to the test taker than is a science background. We science folks have not generally leanred “critical reading skills” - our texts are dense w/ info making it unnecessary to gleen subtle undercurrents of meaning, intent, mood & other BS from our reading. The info is there in plain sight to read, digest & hopefully learn to apply.
However in a liberal arts underpinned education, they learn how to read b/t the lines to discern the multiple levels of intent by the author. The MCAT is purposely written to test in this style. I suspect this is why liberal arts majors out score all majors on all sections of the MCAT except for physics majors on the physical science section.
In short, yes, it is a very difficult exam, but not for the reasons you suspect. It is not because they ask about such obscure, minute details. It is how the info is presented & the steps involved in solving the questions.
Do bear this in mind as you prepare for the beast. To do well requires far more than sequestering a large fund of factoids in your knoggin and then regurgitating it all up on the test.

Dave's observations are spot-on. The MCAT is an absolute mother of a test, and will require substantial preparation. Plan to take a practice test several months in advance of the real thing - Kaplan and Princeton Review often host half-length practice exams that are free, as a way to induce you to sign up for their classes. Those free exams will be tough (they want you to conclude that you need the prep course, after all!) but they will NOT be significantly tougher than the real thing.
Can you do it if you've done well in your post-baccs / pre-reqs? Sure. But you'll need to prepare specifically for the MCAT, not just do well in your pre-req classes.
A physician friend of mine said he thought the MCAT was THE worst test he ever took, much worse than any of the licensing or certification exams he took later as he went through med school and residency, because of what Dave has described as its emphasis on comprehension and application. I'm not saying this to scare you, just to emphasize that it is more than one quantum leap betwen the MCAT and any exam you've taken for any other reason while in school.
But the bottom line is, lots of us here have taken the MCAT and lived to tell about it, so you can too.

QUOTE (claudette737 @ Jun 16 2003, 04:17 PM)
How difficult is the MCAT? If you do well in your science classes (a's, b's), is the test just a matter of good review, or are the questions meant to fool you?

Hi there,
The questions are not meant to "fool" you at all but they are meant to force you to apply your knowledge. Many questions test your ability to go to a second and third level of thinking. Memorization is not much of a help but doing lots of practice questions that force you to think and evaluate are good. Memorizers tend to crash on this one.
There is a certain amount of "test taking skill" that will greatly assist you on this exam. If you know how to evaluate physical science problems on an order of magnitude, you can generally get the correct answer without having to work completely through a problem. If you are a careful and thoughtful reader, you will probably do pretty well on this exam. If you are an efficient test-taker, you will probably do well on this exam. I can't emphasize more, the importance of reading every question and evaluating every answer on the page. You have to answer the question that is asked. You need a good night's sleep so that you are well rested and ready to read and evaluate. Keep the coffee to a minimum and keep the snacks on the light side. "Food Coma" is not a good thing for this exam. rolleyes.gif
In general, the questions are well-written and well-researched. I found that my preparation for my graduate qualifying exam turned out to be great prep for the August MCAT that I took three weeks after my qualifying exams. I tried to review things that were remote for me like Physics which I had taken almost 12 years before I took MCAT but other than that limited review, I did lots of practice tests and questions.
Don't panic if you are working practice tests and questions if you get things wrong. Instead of panic, evaluate why you missed the question. Did you know the fundamental material that was being asked? Did you read too little of the question? Did you over-think the question? Did you understand what was being asked of you? If your knowledge base is poor, you have to get it built up before you can take this exam. If your reading skills are poor, do some practice and find your weak spots. Make them strengths!
Things worked out well for me and I found that the MCAT is similiar but easier than USMLE Step I. Both exams ask you to take knowledge and apply it as opposed to regurgitation of factoids. You need to know your material from your PreMed courses well but even better, you need to be able to apply what you know to novel situations.
The MCAT is not to be feared. It's a little like a tennis match. You practice your strokes and hone your serve. When you face an opponent, you put your skills to work so that you overcome your opponent. If your backhand is weak, work on it but go into that test knowing that you have every skill it takes to do well. It is just a matter of applying each skill as needed.
Good luck!
P.S. You are going to take tests like the MCAT for the rest of your life as a physician so get those skills honed on this one.
The MCAT is not to be feared

I think Nat makes a wonderful point here - do NOT fear the MCAT, but do respect the challenge that it represents. As I intimated in my previous post, most folks make the critical error of preparing for this exam as though it were just a massive factual recall exam, just like 98% of the ones we have taken for years as science-related majors. Or, as Nat described it - those who tend to be memorizers tend not to do well, if that is the strategy they have chosen to employ.
Another critical error I see over & over again relates to people who have/are repeating the MCAT. If their initial strategy self-destructed, they choose to effectively punish themselves by attributing their underperformance to not having worked hard enough or put in enough hours. Let me suggest this now, BEFORE you begin preparing in earnest, in lieu of the compulsion to simply poor more & more hours into preparation, learn to work smarter & not just harder!!! If your orginal strategy was not effective, be willing to modify or change it altogether to a tactic that will work. This is something that is not comfortable for many people - but it is something you must get used to doing, because altering your style of attacking exams, once you are in med school, will be in constant flux.
Take ownership of the MCAT & your education. Learn to identify your stregths, and even more importantly, your weaknesses. Only then will begin to be able to curtail your learning strategies to the task at hand. Yes, a lot of this may appear to be placing the cart before the horse, but these sorts of skills are what will allow you to survive medical school. The completely lost & all alone feeling for the first couple of terms of medical school can largely be attributed, in my humble opinion, to deconstructing of the academic credos that you have adopted and replacing them with much efficient & effective methodologies. So, why not begin building your armamentarium now?

Thanks for all the great advice, Dave, Nat and Mary!

Yes, thank you all who replied to my question!I appreciate your taking time to include such detailed, useful advice. I’ve taken the Law school admissions test before, so I have a good idea of what you mean about “reading between the lines”.

Since your previous posts have asked about whether you should go to law school or med school, let me add my $0.02 by saying that the LSAT, the MPRE, and the bar exam all sound similar to what everyone has said about the MCAT. You need a solid base of knowledge, but you also must be able to apply that knowledge. I must admit I spent a lot of time studying for the bar and I aced it. My studying wasn't about re-reading the study materials but do practice questions until I puked. This was a very efficient way to study because I honed my test-taking skills while at the same time I was able to spot gaps in my knowledge of law. Then, I would re-read that portion of contracts or torts that I had weaknesses on. But I would not sit there and just study and memorize.