“How many times can you take the MCAT?” is a question that goes through the mind of many prospective medical school students as they brace themselves for the notorious exam. For those who feel the need to retake the MCAT, this anxiety can be much more invasive. If you did not perform to the best of your ability on your first test, you could be wondering how many chances you have to get it right and what this may mean for your future.
This article answers that common question and informs you of any limit to retaking the MCAT and what additional retakes mean for your application to medical school. We also cover how to go about retaking this dreaded test, what other options for you may exist, and the benefits of seeking medical school application help in your quest to ace the MCAT.
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How Many Times Can You Take the MCAT?
Despite the complicated nature of the decision, the question of how many times you can take the MCAT has a pretty simple and direct answer: you can take the test up to three times in a given testing year, four times in a two-year period, and seven times total in your lifetime.
With those numbers, you do have multiple chances to take the test should you not be satisfied with your score, especially if you plan to take a gap year before medical school. More specifically, you might want to improve your score in the individual sections, such as MCAT Physics, if your preferred schools require a high score in science-based areas. Or you may need to improve your MCAT CARS score.
That being said, the question of whether or not it is worth it to retake the MCAT is more complex. No prospective medical student wants to complete the MCAT multiple times. This only adds more stress to an already challenging process. Your ultimate goal is to take the test only once and receive the best score possible so that you are accepted into medical school.
On the other hand, there are some instances in which taking the exam again might be beneficial to you. This should only be done when necessary. Most of the time, preparing for and taking the MCAT is a grueling process that students do not want to have to undergo more than once.
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The MCAT is seen as a significant indicator of future success in a career in medicine. Due to the competitive nature of medical school admissions, many schools require a very high MCAT score to even consider your application. Even if a school is considered one of the easiest medical schools to get into, you still need to be a worthwhile applicant with the right credentials to be chosen as a good fit for any medical program.
These standardized test scores, as well as your academic performance such as GPA, are used as a first-round tool for admissions committees when narrowing down the applicant pool. Since they receive many applications every cycle, many medical schools will use strict cut-offs to start removing those deemed unsuitable for their program. Low scores will almost always overshadow other aspects of your application that may be a better representation of your qualifications, such as your medical school recommendation letters or clinical research experience. If your score is bad enough, there is the unfortunate chance you will not be accepted anywhere.
When comparing the two, MCAT results and GPA tend to be evaluated on a similar playing field, meaning that a stellar score in one can sometimes make up for a less desirable score in the other. Of course, underperforming in this case still means you got a decent score, but it is on the lower side within the overall pool of medical school applicants. When wondering how to get into medical school with a low GPA, having a really impressive MCAT score could be the key to superseding a lesser academic performance. The MCAT score could produce different results if you retake it and score higher, while it is inherently harder to change your GPA, especially after you have graduated.
For these reasons, many students may feel the need to retake the MCAT to make a better first impression in their medical school applications.
How to Go About Retaking the MCAT
A good mantra when thinking about the MCAT is the following: just because you can retake the test, it does not mean you should. You really have to dig deep and figure out why you need to retake it and then have a strategy dedicated to getting the highest score possible in order to succeed.
If you do decide to retake the MCAT, there are distinct ways to go about doing so to ensure that you take the exam the least number of times possible. First, you need to determine whether your current score is high enough. Analyze what areas you may need improvement in and if your score translates to the schools you plan to apply to. Using the same study practices from the first time will not result in a better score, so serious adjustments need to be made. For example, students with science backgrounds may be good test-takers but might struggle with MCAT timing and adjusting to the particular format of the test. In this case, they would need to work on their time management specifically.
Wondering if you should retake your MCAT? Watch this video:
With the right MCAT prep strategies, needing to take the MCAT seven times is very unlikely. Nevertheless, here are some things to consider when taking the MCAT several times:
Limitations to Retaking the MCAT
Retaking the MCAT is not a perfect science by any means. Depending on the school you apply to, having several MCAT results may end up backfiring on you. Medical schools are able to view every score you received on the MCAT, and it is also up to their discretion how they choose applicants based on that information. Some schools will be gracious and prioritize your highest MCAT score among your attempts, but others will consider them all, or an average.
In some cases, taking the MCAT more than once or twice may not be a good way to proceed. If a school uses your latest score and it is worse than your previous ones, you may be unintentionally lowering your chances of acceptance. The admissions committee may believe that you are unable to learn from your mistakes if you score lower the second or third time around.
It is also important to note that some schools desire a minimum score in each section of the MCAT, rather than an overall score. Some medical schools will also prefer a higher score in one specific section over another. For instance, the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University places more weight on the CARS section of the MCAT. With this information in tow, you may need a better MCAT CARS strategy specifically for a retake if you are interested in a school that emphasizes performance in this section.
While a handful of institutions may state on their website how they evaluate multiple MCAT scores, many do not publicize this information. Therefore, to make the best decision for yourself when it comes time to apply, it is important to research medical school acceptance rates and what different schools expect with respect to the MCAT. An informed decision is a knowledgeable one. Making the best move for your future depends on how to maximize your chances of acceptance with the various credentials you have garnered over the years.
Take the Time to Prepare
Once you dedicate time to studying for the MCAT again, there is no reason for your score to falter on the second attempt. Improving your score takes serious effort and a large amount of practice to truly be effective. You need to be adaptable and change your strategy if you are retaking the test.
Knowing when to start studying for the MCAT is paramount to achieving this goal. You might have already done this process once, but you may have to alter your entire study strategy to actually see results. If you are still a student, you may need six to seven months to properly study due to other commitments. Meanwhile, if you are currently on a gap year, this may mean you can adequately prepare yourself for the MCAT in less time, maybe about three months. No matter what your situation is, you always want to be aware of MCAT test dates when you are planning to retake the MCAT so that you can get started as early as possible. Many students take the MCAT at the end of the summer or early fall, so they have had the entire break to study. That is probably the most optimal time to take the exam if you are still in school.
You can also prepare for the MCAT without that being the actual goal. To avoid having to retake the exam again, learn everything you can about it so that there are no surprises. Many of your undergrad courses will provide you with content and strategies that will help your performance on this test. For example, taking biology courses will certainly improve your understanding of MCAT biology questions, just as taking an advanced English literature course will contribute to your MCAT CARS prep.
When creating your step-by-step process for how to study for the MCAT, it will be very beneficial for you to get started with a full-length practice exam. Even if you have taken the official exam previously, an MCAT diagnostic test will let you know where you are currently and what exactly you need to work on to ensure a better score this time around. Taking this diagnostic as if it were the real MCAT is an extremely crucial step that will determine your MCAT study schedule later on.
Throughout the months of preparation, you should be practicing for all four sections in alternate weeks while paying special attention to the areas you had trouble with on the diagnostic. Do not forget to include critical reading of texts such as classic literature, sociology articles, psychology textbooks, and more to help with the CARS section and your MCAT reading comprehension in general. Half of the battle to acing this test is knowing how to read and understand the questions presented to you that day. Some students may benefit from implementing our CARS strategy for slow readers to have a real impact on their reading speed and comprehension.
Reading challenging material and practicing with the most accurate MCAT prep questions is a great recipe for MCAT success. You can access official AAMC MCAT practice tests and learn expert strategies for how to tackle even the most difficult MCAT questions. Until you can score within the 90th percentile consistently on your practice exams, you may not be ready for the real thing. Consistency is the point to remember here, as you may get lucky if you perform well one time, but it shows true preparation when you are able to keep that up.
Benefit from Academic Consulting
When retaking the MCAT, seeking professional help may be useful for you to improve your score. A trained MCAT tutor can help with your skills in record time to make you feel 100% confident on exam day. Extra guidance could be the key that makes the difference, especially if you did not have that the first time.
Academic consulting firms such as BeMo Academic Consulting offer MCAT preparation services with unlimited private tutoring dedicated to your success. In addition to helping you plan your schedule, academic consultants can also guide you through the entire medical school application process, aid with supporting documents, and more. When having to retake the MCAT, you may feel at the end of your rope, but companies dedicated to student success like BeMo could alleviate that stress. The journey to medical school is not a road to take alone and having an extra set of eyes on your application is sure to produce positive results.
Explore All Options
Technically, it is up to you how many times you want to try taking the MCAT until you reach that seventh time, should you need it. However, with each subsequent test, you are lowering your chances of admission to medical school. You are showing admissions committees that you may not be prepared for medical school after all.
By the time you are reaching four or five times taking the test, or perhaps even earlier, you may want to consider medical schools that don’t require the MCAT at all. While these institutions are rare, they do exist and can be a loophole for you if you have no interest in going through this process or have serious issues with standardized testing.
If you consistently underperform on the exam, you could also look into tips for how to get into medical school with a low MCAT. Explore every avenue by researching in databases, such as MSAR, to identify schools with lower MCAT expectations. You may also wish to consider a DO school application.
Some students choose to abandon medical school altogether to pursue another facet of the medical field, such as nursing. It is an unfortunate circumstance to imagine but can still lead to a worthwhile career in health care. Medical school may be a great destination to aim for, but at the end of the day, it is just one option among many to advance your education and career.
How hard is the MCAT? The truth is, the MCAT is a very difficult part of the medical school admissions process, which is already competitive and nerve-wracking. Early organization and implementation of the right study habits are the only surefire ways to obtain a high score.
While it may be helpful to strategize by picking schools based on the mean total MCAT scores for students who matriculated, in the end, you can’t influence anyone’s performance but your own. Retaking the test takes a lot of effort and is very situational, but it can be a great help if you go into this endeavor with the correct mindset. On the other hand, as we’ve mentioned, retaking the MCAT multiple times can be a waste of time, energy, and money and may not result in a medical school acceptance. Therefore, it is vital to get the best score you can in the least number of tries.
Being a great test-taker is not the sole important quality of a medical student but working at your weaknesses will be a part of your everyday life as a future physician. In most cases, the MCAT is just the next step in the application process that ensures your other attributes actually get considered. It is one test that has a large influence on the progression of the rest of your application, so make each attempt count. If this is a weak spot for you, do everything you can to overcome it.
1. What is a good MCAT score?
A “good” MCAT score really depends on the medical school you are applying to. Some will have a strict cut-off score for what they determine should be the absolute minimum for their applicants. Other schools could accept lower scores if other criteria are met.
2. Should I retake the MCAT?
Preparing for and taking the MCAT is very demanding, to say the least. It requires a large amount of dedication and time. There are only a few circumstances that truly require you to retake the MCAT. If your first test score was low but not low enough to be dismissed entirely, you could have a viable shot at improving your score with a retake.
3. Why does it lower my chances of acceptance to take the MCAT multiple times?
Having multiple scores shows admissions committees that you either did not have a good grasp of the material necessary to succeed, were not prepared enough for the first few times you took the MCAT, or could not effectively learn from your mistakes. Most of the time, these committee members often look at students who have only taken the MCAT once or twice. Your application could be perceived as less impressive in comparison if you have more scores in your file.
4. Should I study with a specific score in mind?
You should not study with a particular score in mind. Unless you really want to get in at a specific school that has a high cut-off, there is no reason to aim for a set number. Instead, focusing on putting in the work to receive the best score possible will serve you more in the long run.
5. What is a median matriculant MCAT score?
In terms of admissions, the median matriculant MCAT score means that 50% of a particular first-year cohort accepted into a program is above it, while 50% of the class is below it. This can be overall, or for each section of the MCAT. The goal of compiling these data is to evaluate the kind of applicant preferred by the school in terms of test scores. A median score can be significantly higher than the minimum score required by the school.
6. When do I know I’m ready to take the MCAT again?
If you’re wondering “when should I take the MCAT?”, the simple answer is that the right time is when you feel 100% ready. This is even more important for any subsequent retakes, as the stakes are higher with each attempt. That being said, you can know you are fully ready when you score in the 90th percentile or above several times in a row. Scoring well once is a great start but is not sufficient evidence to prove you are ready for whatever the MCAT throws at you.
7. Do osteopathic medical (DO) schools also have MCAT requirements and thresholds?
Yes, they do, although these thresholds are typically lower than those of allopathic medical schools. Researching DO school rankings is a good way to learn more about admission statistics for osteopathic institutions.
8. What can academic consulting services help with?
Academic consultants, such as those at BeMo, are trained admissions experts who can guide you through any part of the medical school application process from A to Z. In addition to helping with preparation and how to approach MCAT question types, consultants know the ins and outs of other standardized tests. They can provide tailored feedback to improve your CASPer prep, MMI interview skills and secondary application documents, such as the medical school personal statement.
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