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The combination of code-division multiple-access (CDMA) and multicarrier modulation has been proposed for high data-rate wireless communication systems. In this paper, a novel practical technique based on alternative Gaussian approximation (AGA) for determining the bit error rate (BER) of maximal-ratio combining (MRC) receivers for MC-CDMA systems in frequency selective Rayleigh fading channels is presented. The impacts of the channel estimation errors are also taken into account in both the conventional MRC receivers and MRC based parallel interference cancellation (PIC) receivers. The analysis assumes that different subcarriers experience independent fading channels. The accuracy of the proposed approach based on AGA is verified by computer simulations. The results of this paper can be applied to link design of the future MC-CDMA based wireless communication systems.