mcat timing

How Long is the MCAT? Section Breakdown + Endurance Guide

Written by: Adaora Ezike, MPH
Reviewed by: Kristine Thorndyke

The MCAT is known by many to be an endurance race rather than a sprint. How long is the MCAT, then? Well, if you’re planning on taking the MCAT with breaks, it’s going to run nearly 8 hours! So how do you optimize your time? See our full thoughts on the MCAT length, the time breakdown by section, as well as some tips on how to get through your long MCAT test day!

How Long is the MCAT? 

Without breaks, the total amount of “testing” time on the MCAT is 6 hours and 15 minutes. With breaks, the MCAT lasts for 7 hours and 29 minutes. 

How Long is the MCAT With Breaks? 

With breaks, the total “seat time” of the MCAT is 7 hours and 29 minutes. Between each section, there are optional breaks from 10 to 30 minutes. Before starting the MCAT, there is also an optional 10-minute tutorial that will help you to get settled in and feel prepared for what’s to come. 

The Case for Taking Breaks on the MCAT During Test Day

If you have not started taking simulated practice tests, it may sound easy enough to complete a 6 hour and 15-minute test without a single break. If, however, you have worked through an entire MCAT simulation, you’ll likely feel me when I say that the MCAT is extremely long and mentally taxing, and taking a break, even for 10 minutes, between sections, is extremely beneficial. 

You will not be rewarded for finishing the test early, so we suggest that you take the MCAT with breaks. See more on how the MCAT is scored here.

How Long is the MCAT Without Breaks?

As mentioned, the “testing time” for the MCAT is 6 hours and 15 minutes, not including the time for check-in or optional tutorials. I do not advise students to try to barrel through the test without taking breaks, as short snacks and the lunch break are so beneficial to fuel your body as well as have a chance to stand up and move around to stretch the legs.

MCAT Time Breakdown by Sections

Altogether, the MCAT has 230 questions. Here is a breakdown of the MCAT time, with breaks, by section:

  • Certification: 4 minutes
  • Tutorial (optional): 10 minutes
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS): 95 minutes – 59 questions
  • Break (optional): 10 minutes
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS): 90 minutes – 53 questions
  • Mid-exam break (optional): 30 minutes
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBLS): 95 minutes – 59 questions
  • Break (optional): 10 minutes
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior (PSBB): 95 minutes – 59 questions
  • Void question: 5 minutes
  • Survey (optional): 5 minutes

MCAT Test Day Tips

When you arrive to the MCAT testing center, you should plan to get there at least 30 minutes before testing time to give yourself adequate time to get settled in. I advise you to confirm the testing site ahead of time and even drive there beforehand so that you know where you are going and how long the travel will take. 

The morning of your test, try to eat your normal breakfast (you may have less of an appetite due to nerves). Make sure you dress in clothes that are comfortable and that can be layered, as testing sites are known to be cold and it’s easier to add more clothes when you’re chilly. 

Pack your snacks for the day as well as your ID. See more on what to bring to the MCAT

Building Endurance – How to Get Better at MCAT Timing

Complete as many timed practice tests as possible

Your months of studying will be in vain if you do not mentally and physically prepare yourself for test day by working through simulated MCAT practice tests. Sitting through a nearly 8-hour exam is extremely grueling, so having the endurance and practice through simulated experience will help your focus remain calm and strong. 

When you begin simulating MCAT tests, you should plan on mimicking the real test day experience, down to when you will start the practice test as well as where. This should be done at or around the same time as your real MCAT test will begin. This means that if your MCAT test day starts at 8AM, then your practice tests should be at 8AM also. Similarly, if your MCAT is in the afternoon, always take your practice tests in the afternoon to simulate your mood and energy at that time. Aim to take these practice tests in an environment that simulates the test day experience such as the library.

Because you’re trying to mimic how you’ll feel on test day, it is also beneficial to take your practice tests in the same outfit or type of clothing that you’ll be wearing on test day (and remember, layers are key).

If you find that your energy or ability to focus does not match the time that you need to start the MCAT, you can always reschedule your MCAT test. Keep in mind, you will be charged for the reschedule and the earlier you can do this, the cheaper it will be. See more details on prices for changing or cancelling your MCAT at the AAMC scheduling fees

Also, keep in mind that you are not allowed food or drink at the testing station, so you should also not be eating or drinking anything while “testing” during your practice test. Drinks, healthy snacks, and bathroom breaks should, similarly, be done during the breaks during simulation. Snacks during simulation should be similar or the same as on test day, especially breakfast. This way you will know exactly how you feel when eating these foods and avoid any unnecessary stomach issues on test day.

Take your bathroom breaks during the allotted break time!

You can certainly use the bathroom while testing, but you should try to avoid this, as the time will not stop when you leave the testing room. 

Try to take a quick restroom visit during every break to stay on the safe side, even if you don’t have to “go” at the moment.

MCAT Length & Endurance FAQ

Should I use the optional breaks during the MCAT? 

A resounding YES. Do take the optional break time to move around, go to the bathroom, and eat and hydrate. This is a long test day and you need the energy. 

How can I keep track of time during the MCAT?

Because the MCAT is a computer-based exam, the remaining time is always visible on the computer while taking the test.

What should I do if I get stuck on a question on the test? 

If you are particularly challenged by a question, do not dwell on it. Flag it and skip it and answer the questions you do know. If you have time, you can go back and work on it after you have answered the questions you do know.

MCAT Length – Bottomline

When it comes to the MCAT, there is simply no workaround to hack the amount of time it takes to complete. You should be spending your months of MCAT studying preparing for this endurance event by practicing in simulated practice tests that mock the test day as much as possible.

If you put in the time and effort, the results will pay off! Good luck on your upcoming MCAT!