Whether you want to be a doctor or a research scientist, you will most likely have to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) or the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Both of these standardized tests are requirements for entry into postgraduate programs, or your next degree after you graduate from college.

Which test you should take depends on what kind of career you are thinking about pursuing. If you want to apply to medical school to become an MD or DO, you will need to take the MCAT. If you’re thinking about graduate school to pursue a Master’s or, eventually, a PhD, you will have to take the GRE.


Both the MCAT and the GRE are entrance exams for higher education degree programs post-college. They are both timed, standardized tests. You’ll also be taking both on a computer, so no need to stress about bubbling in answers with a No. 2 pencil.


The similarities pretty much end there. Here’s a side by side comparison to give you a better sense of the structure of each exam:

Required for medical school (MD or DO)Requirement for graduate school (most Master’s or PhD programs)
Administered by the AAMC (American Association of Medical College)Administered by ETS (Educational Testing Service)
About 30 test dates per year.Offered year-round. Registration is first-come, first-served.
Scores valid for 3 years.Scores valid for 5 years.
Can take up to 3 times in one year and 7 times in a lifetime.Can take up to 5 times in one year.
Cost: $315Cost: $205
Not adaptive.Adaptive, Multi-Stage Test. Adapts to your performance.
7 hours and 30 minutes long3 hours and 45 minutes
4 sections: 1) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (95 minutes) 2) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (90 minutes) 3) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (95 minutes) 4) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (95 minutes)3 sections: Analytical Writing Verbal Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning
Max score is 528. The top 10% of all test takers score at least 514.Max score is 170. The top 10% of all test takers score at least 163 on Verbal, 165 on Quantitative, and a 5.0 on Analytical Writing.


Both tests will require you to sharpen your reading comprehension skills, but overall, the content tested by both exams is very different. 

The MCAT will test your knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Math, Psychology, Sociology, and Biochemistry. Although you won’t be expected to recall everything you learned in those classes, the MCAT will require you to not only know, but also to apply concepts and information from all of those subject areas. The AAMC recommends that the average pre-med student spend between 300 and 350 hours over several months preparing for the MCAT.

Studying for the GRE will require you to review foundational concepts and master the strategic approaches to each type of question tested. Most people spend between one and three months studying for the GRE. 

Before you begin preparing for either exam, spend some time setting your score goals. Base your score goals, above all, on the requirements of your target graduate programs. Take some time to review your programs of interest and research their score requirements. Once you decide on the programs to which you are going to apply and set your score goals, you should create a study plan and calendar.