The MCAT administered by the AAMC and the USMLE are the most noteworthy exams that aspiring physicians must pass. But what is the difference between USMLE and MCAT? This is a big question for aspiring medical students who are just starting to work on their dream of becoming a doctor.

Difference Between the MCAT and USMLE?

Aspiring medical students must understand the difference between MCAT and USMLE. Let us gain clarity on this by analysing different aspects.

  • Definition

The MCAT is a standardised computer-based test that medical school applicants in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Caribbean must pass to enrol.

The USMLE, on the other hand, is a test required for medical licensure in the US and must be passed by doctors who desire to practise medicine in the United States.

  • Purpose

The MCAT can be attempted following an undergraduate science-based, pre-med course to assess a student’s preparation for medical school by examining their understanding of scientific principles and concepts under biology, physics, and chemistry.

A student must take the USMLE after being accepted into medical school. It comprises three steps completed at various stages during the physician’s residency and medical schooling, to evaluate their readiness to practise safe medicine in the US.

In contrast to the USMLE, which is taken both during and after medical school, the MCAT is taken before.

  • Exam Structure

The MCAT presents MCQs, consisting of four sections scored individually, each having 50 to 60 questions, allotted between 90 to 95 minutes. The exam lasts approximately 7.5 hours, including the break time between sections. 

The USMLE is extremely fragmented as candidates must take it at different points during medical school and residency. The 3-part series includes both computer-based examinations and practical exams. Step 1 is an eight-hour sit-in exam, while Step 2 is a two-part exam. The first component, Clinical Knowledge (CK), is a demanding 9-hour MCQ exam with computer-based case simulations. The second component, the Clinical Skills exam, is a practical test. Lastly, Step 3 is a two-day test comprising both computer-based case scenarios and MCQs.

  • Content

The MCAT and the USMLE have very distinct topics covered on the exams. The MCAT’s three main subject areas are reasoning abilities, biological sciences, and physical sciences, including chemistry. Notably, the content does not focus much on medical science.

Contrarily, the USMLE content is heavily focused on medicine. The first step covers subjects including pharmacology, biochemistry, and anatomy. Step 2 CK exam tests candidates’ knowledge of specific medical procedures, such as internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, paediatrics, and psychiatry. The second component of Step 2, CS, focuses on the aptitude and expertise in obtaining patient data, making a diagnosis, and communicating their results. Step 3 includes questions on pathophysiology, organ systems, patient management, diagnosis, and prognosis.

  • Scoring

The overall MCAT score is revealed 30 to 35 days after the exam date and ranges from 472 to 528, with a typical score of 500, which is the sum of the scores from these four sections. Since the MCAT score is intended to compare an applicant’s knowledge to that of other applicants, there is no actual pass or fail score.

On the other hand, a three-digit number is used to represent the USMLE scores for Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 3. Step 2 CS is evaluated solely on a pass-fail basis. The student must pass all three of the test’s sub-components in order to continue practising medicine in the US.

  • When to Take the Exams

The MCAT must be taken in April or May of the year before one intends to start medical school.

The multiple-step USMLE exam spans the course of the candidate’s medical education. Step 1 is taken upon completing the second year of medical school, while Step 2 is often taken upon completing the fourth year. Step 3 is commonly taken following the physician’s first year of residency.

For those looking forward to pursuing a medical program, understanding the difference between USMLE Vs. MCAT is crucial to making apt preparations and getting good scores.