MCAT vs SAT: What’s the Difference?

February 20, 2024

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The MCAT and the SAT are two different standardized examinations used by universities and colleges in various countries as part of their admission process. Both of these exams have different exam structures and contents.

Many students are still confused about whether they should take the MCAT or SAT as part of their university or college admission requirements. Some also think they can take the MCAT instead of the SAT when applying for an undergraduate program or courses. Some students think they should to take the SAT because it is easier than the MCAT when applying to a med school.

To end all confusion between these two tests and help you choose the proper exam, we will differentiate the MCAT and SAT.

 This article will go through the different exam structures, exam fees, and other characteristics of the MCAT and SAT. We will give a comprehensive comparison between these two exams.

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized admission test intended for pre-med students who want to proceed to medical school.

Principally those institutions are located in the United States, Canada, Australia, Caribbean Islands, and other countries worldwide. It is officially administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Also, this exam is the primary requirement for admission to these medical schools. The MCAT’s objective is to measure students’ and test-takers' knowledge of ChemistryPhysicsBiologyPsychology, and Sociology, which are the fundamental sciences for the field of medicine. 

Furthermore, AAMC is a trusted institution that provides reliable data and resources suitable for medical students and medical professionals in academic medicine.

The MCAT was initially a paper-based test but starting in 2007, and it shifted to computer-based until now. Also, MCAT is the only standardized admission test with multiple-choice questions across all its test sections.

And it does not require test-takers to write free-writing responses in any exam parts compared to other standardized exams used by educational institutions. The test duration is 7 hours and 30 minutes.

MCAT consists of four test sections as follows: 

What is the SAT?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, commonly known as the SAT, is widely used among universities and colleges worldwide. It is a standardized test used as an admission exam for undergraduate courses or programs offered by these institutions.

Also, it is administered by the Educational Testing Service on behalf of the College Board, which is the SAT developer. It is also accepted and recognized in over 4,000 educational institutions.

The exam is paper-based and utilizes multiple-choice questions in its test contents. And the exam duration is approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes, including break time.

At the same time, the SAT with Essay takes around 4 hours and 15 minutes long. SAT contains three test sections:

  • Mathematics
  • Evidence-based Reading
  • Writing

MCAT vs. SAT: What Are The Similarities? 

The MCAT and the SAT are both considered standardized examinations widely used by educational institutions to determine the readiness of incoming students to take up a higher level of education.

Also, these two admission exams assess the general knowledge of their test-takers on top of their primary purpose. The MCAT and the SAT are recognized worldwide for providing quality test results.

 These standardized exams are also known for being challenging in terms of their individual test contents and structure.

Exam Format and Structure: MCAT vs. SAT

The MCAT and the SAT vary in terms of their exam format and structure. For example, the MCAT is a computer-based test, while the SAT is offered in a paper-based test format.

Furthermore, the SAT contains three test sections that assess the test-takers literacy, numeracy, and writing skills.

On the contrary, the MCAT has four test sections focusing on the different branches of science. It also assesses the test-takers critical analysis and reasoning skills.

In terms of duration, the MCAT takes around 7 and a half hours for you to finish, while the SAT takes approximately 3 to 4 hours.

And as for their exam frequencies, the MCAT has 35 prescheduled test dates in a year while SAT only has 7 prescheduled test dates.

The table below comprehensively compares the MCAT and the SAT exam structure and format.

Exam Format and Structure

MCAT

SAT

Test Sections

Four Test Sections:

- Biological and Biochemical Foundations

- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Three Test Sections:

- Math

- Writing

- Evidence-Based Reading

Test Duration

Duration per Test Section:

90 to 95 minutes

Overall Duration:

7 hours and 33 minutes, including break times. 

Regular SAT:

3 Hours and 15 minutes, including breaks

With Optional Essay:

4 Hours with 5 minutes break

Test Frequency

35 testing dates from January to September annually.

Have 7 prescheduled tests in a year

Test Delivery Mode

Computer-Based Test

Paper-Based Test

Scoring: MCAT vs. SAT

These two standardized exams use different scoring scales for their test sections. Furthermore, the SAT uses an overall scoring scale between 1600 to 400 points, the total accumulated scores for the three test sections.

Also, each SAT section scored between 200 to 800 points. And for the SAT with Essay has a different scoring system that uses a score range between 8 to 2 points.

Note that the score in the essay test section does not affect your overall SAT score since it is an optional test section.

In comparison, the MCAT has a scoring system that ranges from 132 to 118 points for each test sectionAnd each test section score has a corresponding percentile rank, and the overall MCAT score ranges from 528 to 472 points.

MCAT Scoring

SAT Scoring

Score Range Per Test Section: 118 to 132

Overall Score Range: 472 to 528

Overall Scoring Scale: 1600 to 400 points

Essay Section Overall Scoring Scale: 2 to 8 points

For reference, we have included the recent MCAT Percentile Rank from May 1, 2021 - April 30, 2022

Overall MCAT Score

Percentile Rank

Overall MCAT Score

Percentile Rank

Overall MCAT Score

Percentile Rank

472

<1%

491

19%

510

78%

473

<1%

492

21%

511

81%

474

<1%

493

24%

512

84%

475

<1%

494

27%

513

86%

476

1%

495

29%

514

88%

477

1%

496

32%

515

90%

478

1%

497

35%

516

92%

479

2%

498

38%

517

94%

480

3%

499

42%

518

95%

481

4%

500

45%

519

96%

482

4%

501

48%

520

97%

483

6%

502

52%

521

98%

484

7%

503

55%

522

99%

485

8%

504

58%

523

99%

486

9%

505

62%

524

100%

487

11%

506

65%

525

100%

488

13%

507

69%

526

100%

489

15%

508

72%

527

100%

490

17%

509

75%

528

100%

Test Requirements: MCAT vs. SAT

The MCAT and the SAT have different sets of requirements for their test-takers. Also, they significantly differ in terms of their registration process.

The SAT accepts walk-in registration at their testing centers and offers an online registration option for their test-takers. On the contrary, MCAT test-takers can only register for the exam on their official website.

These two standardized exams do not require their test-takers to provide equipment such as computers for their test-takers since they will be taken at their respective testing centers available in your area.

MCAT Requirements

SAT Requirements

For Registration/Online Application:


- Make an account on the AAMC website.

- Fill out the application questions and prompts on their website.

- Go to MCAT registration systems and follow the instructions given.


Present the following upon registration:


1. Any government-issued IDs (must be valid and not expired)

2. ID must contain a clear photo of you.

3. ID must be in English.

4. Accepted IDs include:

- Driver’s license

- Passport

- Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)

- Employment Authorization Document

- Canada Health Card (For Ontario and British Columbia only)

- Consular ID

- Canadian Aviation Card

5. Submit your academic transcripts (applicable for high school, undergraduate, and post-graduate education).


It accepts unofficial transcripts but must include your full name.


No additional equipment is required.

For Registration/Online Application:

- You can register at their official testing centers available in your area.

- Or register online by creating an account on their official CollegeBoard website.


Present the following upon registration:

1. Any valid, unexpired photo ID that the government issues.

2. Current school ID with one’s full name and a clear photo.

3. SAT Student ID Form (prepared by the school or notarized if homeschooled)

4. Accepted IDs include:

- Any Government-issued ID (driver’s license or non-driver ID card)

- Official school-produced student ID (current attending school)

- Government-issued passport or U.S Global Entry Identification Card

- Military ID or any national identification card.


No additional equipment is required.

Test Costs: MCAT vs. SAT

The MCAT and the SAT have different modes of payment available for their test-takers. For example, payments that are made through credit cards and debit cards are accepted for the MCAT.

Meanwhile, the SAT offers various payment options, including credit cards, debit cards, e-checks, and PayPal. In addition, cash payments are not accepted for the SAT.

Also, these two exams vary in their exam fees. For example, the MCAT costs $310 USD, the regular SAT costs $55 USD, and the SAT with Essay costs $64.50 USD. In addition, the SAT also has an additional regional fee that is based on your country of origin.

Here’s a comprehensive table reflecting their cost differences and payment options.

Header

MCAT Fee

SAT Fee

Payment Methods:

Only accepts credit or debit cards (American Express, VISA, MasterCard)

- Accepts credit or debit cards (American Express, Diners Club International, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, Rupay Global, UnionPay, VISA)

- PayPal

- E-check ( for US Banks only)

- Money Order/Certified Check/Voucher


Note that cash payments are not accepted.

Exam Fees:

USD 310

Regular SAT - USD 55

SAT with Essay - USD 64.50


With a regional fee depending on your location

Test Recognition: MCAT vs. SAT

Both the MCAT and the SAT are acknowledged and trusted by different universities, colleges, graduate schools, and other educational institutions worldwide.

Moreover, the MCAT is the top choice of medical schools in the USA, Canada, Australia, the Caribbean Islands, and other countries as a standardized examination for their admission process.

The SAT is accepted in over 175 countries, including the USA, India, United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, and more.

Below are some of the educational institutions worldwide that accept the SAT:

  • Boston College
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Duke University
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard College
  • McGill University
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • … and more.
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Yale School of Medicine
  • Boston University School of Medicine
  • Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • New York Medical College
  • Duke University School of Medicine
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
  • Saint Louis University School of Medicine
  • Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
  • George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
  • University of Kansas School of Medicine
  • Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine
  • Eastern Virginia Medical School
  • Medical College of Wisconsin
  • University of South Alabama College of Medicine
  • University of Hawaii
  • Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine
  • And many more.

Which is Easier: MCAT vs. SAT

The MCAT is a complex and challenging examination intended for med school admission. It contains hard questions and focuses on different branches of sciences, which is the basis for any medical school. And the SAT is designed for university and college admission tests.

And given the difficulty level of the MCAT examination, the SAT is much easier compared to the latter. It measures students’ general knowledge of reading, math, and writing. Also, it assesses the readiness of students who wish to enroll in colleges and universities.

Should You Take the MCAT or the SAT?

You can take the MCAT if you plan to enroll and continue pursuing a medical degree or profession. The exam is intended and used by most medical schools worldwide as a basis for school admission.

The MCAT is focused mainly on scientific concepts and principles, while the SAT is designed to measure the general knowledge of students and their basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics.

On the other hand, you can take the SAT if you plan to enroll in any university or college, especially those located in English-speaking countries. It tests high school students’ readiness to take an undergraduate program or courses offered in universities and colleges.

Summary Table of Differences: MCAT vs. SAT

Below is the table of differences between the MCAT and SAT.

Header

MCAT

SAT

Test Duration

Four Test Sections:


- Biological and Biochemical Foundations

- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Three Test Sections:


- Math

- Writing

- Evidence-Based Reading

Test Duration

Duration per Test Section:

90 to 95 minutes

Overall Duration:

 7 hours and 33 minutes, including break times.

Regular SAT:

3 hours and 15 minutes, including breaks

With Optional Essay:

 4 Hours with 5 minutes break

Test Frequency

35 testing dates from January to September annually.

Have 7 prescheduled tests in a year

Test Delivery Mode 

Computer-Based Test

Paper-Based Test

Exam Cost

USD 310

Regular SAT - USD 55

SAT with Essay - USD 64.50

With a regional fee depending on your location

Mode of Payment

Only accepts credit or debit cards (American Express, VISA, MasterCard)

- Accepts credit or debit cards (American Express, Diners Club International, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, Rupay Global, UnionPay, VISA)

- PayPal

- E-check ( for US Banks only)

- Money Order/Certified Check/Voucher


Note that cash payments are not accepted.

Scoring System

Score Range Per Test Section:

118 to 132

Overall Score Range:

472 to 528

With percentile ranks

Overall Scoring Scale:

160 to 400 points

Essay Section Overall Scoring Scale:

2 to 8 points

Additional FAQs – MCAT vs. SAT

Is the SAT a Good Predictor of the MCAT?

Many have considered the SAT a good predictor of the MCAT. However, it does not specifically mean that if you have a good score on the SAT, you will also excel on the MCAT. Note that the SAT and the MCAT vary in their exam contents and structure. And they also have various purposes. Also, the SAT is used by universities and colleges to assess their incoming student’s readiness to take up college courses. In contrast, the purpose of the MCAT is to determine an individual’s skills and knowledge. So, these two exams are incomparable; thus, the SAT is not a good predictor of the MCAT.

Is There a Correlation Between SAT and MCAT?

No, there is no direct correlation between the SAT and the MCAT aside from being known as standardized examinations used by educational institutions. However, there is no significant correlation between the SAT scores to the MCAT results.The SAT is designed to measure general knowledge intended for undergraduate programs offered in universities and colleges. In comparison, the MCAT focuses on sciences suitable for medical school.

Is it Hard to Pass the MCAT?

The MCAT is considered one of the most challenging standardized examinations out there. Also, it focuses mainly on the different sciences, and the test questions are very complex. It is a very long test that takes around 7 hours and 30 minutes, which adds to its level of difficulty, thus making it hard for its test-takers to hit a high score. However, given the complexity and difficulty of the MCAT, many test-takers have passed the exam, which helped them pave their way into med school.

Are the SAT and MCAT similar?

The SAT and MCAT are not similar in any way. The MCAT is way more complex and considered a very challenging standardized test for med school. Also, the contents and structure of the MCAT are more advanced than the SAT. In contrast, the SAT is used as a standardized college and university admission exam. And also, it tests the readiness of high school students to take up any higher education programs and courses usually encountered in universities and colleges.

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