If you're planning to apply to medical school, you might be wondering what is a good MCAT score. Taking the MCAT exam is a scary prospect, considering all the stories you hear about its difficulty, stressful test conditions, and medical school expectations. This blog will tell you exactly what you need to know about MCAT scoring, preparation, and study strategies, as well as what you need to know about the test day itself.
Here's What You'll Learn:
The current version of the MCAT exam was launched in 2015. This standardized, multiple-choice exam is designed to test your preparedness for the study of medicine. The test is divided into four sections:
• Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
• Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
• Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
• Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Each section of the MCAT has from 53 to 59 questions and lasts from 90 to 95 minutes. The time it takes to complete the entire test is around 7.5 hours including breaks. Please note that this information may change, so be sure to check the AAMC website for any changes to the test format.
Your MCAT scores must be submitted during the medical school application process. While the MCAT is required at most medical schools, review our blog for a list of medical schools that don't require the MCAT. You must also take the exam within a certain timeframe. Most schools do not accept MCAT scores older than three years old. Please check with the program of your choice how old your MCAT scores can be at the time of application.
Do you want us to help you prepare for your MCAT exam?
Your score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. Wrong answers do not affect your score, so you are not penalized for answering incorrectly. Make sure to answer all questions when you take the test even if you are unsure of the answer, it's best to make an educated guess!
Your correct answers in each section are converted to a scaled score ranging from 118 (lowest possible score) to 132 (highest possible score). The scores for all four sections are added together. This means that the lowest possible MCAT score you can get is 472 and the highest is 528.
The conversion is administered to ensure scoring fairness to all students taking the MCAT. There are several different test forms in a given year. They tend to include questions of various difficulty levels. All tests are designed to examine the same knowledge and skills and the administration claims to make sure that all test forms are equal in difficulty. However, some test forms may be slightly more difficult than others. The conversion of your correct answers to scale is done through a process called equating, which compensates for small variations in difficulty between test forms. This conversion is not constant because each conversion is customized to the specific set of questions included on a test form. This would mean that two equally prepared students answering two sets of test forms with different questions are expected to get similar scores, even if there is some discrepancy between the number of correct answers.
This does not mean that the MCAT score is graded on a curve. Conversion simply ensures that different raw scores have the same meaning, no matter when you test or who else is taking the test with you.
The simple answer is that a good MCAT score is a score equal to or higher than the average accepted MCAT score at your chosen schools. Each school has its own MCAT expectations. Some schools will not consider an applicant with a score lower than 511, while others may be happy to accept students with lower scores.
But you want to do better than good! Try not to focus on just one number. To get an excellent MCAT score means to score in the 90th percentile, which is a score of 514-517. Anything above the score of 517 is considered as outstanding. With that kind of score, it will be difficult for med schools to reject your application! Remember, when it comes to medical acceptance rates, there is also a correlation between your GPA and your MCAT score. The lower your GPA is, the higher your MCAT score needs to be in order for you to have a chance to get accepted. For example, applicants with a GPA greater than 3.79 have only a 2.5% chance of acceptance if their MCAT is lower than 486. However, if they score between 510 and 517, their chances increase to 75%-82%! Applicants with a GPA of 3.4 to 3.59 need to get a score of 510-513 to have a 50% chance of getting in. If you want to research your chances, check out AAMC’s correlation grid.
Do not settle for one specific score. Prepare, study, and aim to get the highest score possible in your first test sitting. Do not settle for the minimum requirements. This kind of outlook will not encourage your study habits and determination.
Know what is on the exam
First things first, you need to understand what to expect from the MCAT exam. This online AAMC resource provides information about each MCAT section, as well as helpful video tutorials, sample questions, and explanations. It might be a good idea to print this resource and reference it alongside your coursework when studying. It will give you a guideline as to what disciplines you should focus on and on which sections of your studies to concentrate.
Take Practice Tests
To prepare a study plan, you must first know where you stand and how much you know, i.e. figure out your baseline. You should take a full-length practice exam to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the disciplines and areas covered in the exam. Unfortunately, practice tests are usually not free. It’s recommended to practice with the AAMC tests, as they provide a scaled score. You will get results with feedback and answers to all questions, as well as the percentage of your correct answers in each section. AAMC test materials are available for purchase. They are most reflective of the actual exam, so they are a good investment. There are four AAMC practice tests. Each test gives you a score between 118 and 132 and indicates how many questions you answer correctly in percentile format.
A practice exam provides detailed explanations of your correct and incorrect answers, so you can learn as you are taking the test. You will be able to strategize which disciplines, concepts, and skills you need to strengthen. Some sections may be easier and more familiar, while others will pose a challenge. Once you know which sections of the test you must work on, you will be able to gather the necessary resources and organize a study plan to fill in the gaps. It's important that you take the full-length exam in one sitting. This way, you will know what it will be like when you take the actual exam. Try to recreate the exam environment to feel more prepared when you walk into the testing center. To do this, know the test day's schedule, i.e. break lengths, items allowed in the test center, check-in procedures, etc. Try taking the test outside of your home, somewhere like a local library or a campus classroom. Recreating the setting will help you feel more prepared and build stamina.
You can use the AAMC worksheets to document how you did on the practice exam or create your own method of keeping score. List your concerns and challenges for each MCAT section. You can also write down general concerns about taking the test: did you lose focus? Did you get tired half-way through the test? Were some sections completely unknown to you? This worksheet will be a good foundation to outline specific concepts, categories, disciplines, and skills you will need to improve. The next step in your study plan should be the assembling of information and study resources. Gather all the resources that will help you focus on the content of the exam, as well as on how to practice and apply your knowledge in the exam setting.
Very important to remember: your study strategy needs to incorporate as many learning tactics and modules as possible. Reading the textbooks, watching instruction videos, and reviewing your notes will not be enough. Passive learning will only get you so far. You must incorporate active learning strategies into your study plan. Some of these may include:
- Voicing or writing down summaries of what you have read or watched.
- Explaining concepts in your own words to people who have nothing to do with the medical field. If they understand your explanation – you are on the right track!
- Applying concepts and ideas you learn to real-life scenarios.
- Making flashcards with concepts that are most challenging to you.
- Discussing MCAT content with fellow medical school applicants.
- Taking full-length tests
- Practicing with sample passage-based questions.
- Reading. The CARS portion of the MCAT exam consists of 9 passages with 5-7 questions per passage. These are meant to test your reading, comprehension and reasoning skills. Make sure you practice with challenging reading materials for CARS. Be sure to check out our MCAT CARS practice to get you ready!
You can use the AAMC worksheets to schedule your study plan or you can create your own. Your study schedule should include three main sections: areas of study, the time allotted to each area, and useful resources. This study schedule must include all your study responsibilities and how many hours you will dedicate to each activity. Then you should calculate how many hours of study you have available each day. Your areas of study section must outline the concepts and disciplines you need to improve. Useful resources may include the study sources and strategies that will help you learn. Make sure to outline learning strategies for each section.
Remember, your study plan and strategies will change throughout the process and this is completely normal. After a few weeks of studying, you may think you need to rearrange the timeline, or the number of hours dedicated to each discipline. You may also add new resources to your plan. Adjust your schedule accordingly and do not panic if it changes. This is why early preparation is important. The earlier you start, the more flexible your schedule can be. Have a look at our blog before you get started to learn when to start studying for the MCAT.
Review. Review what you studied or practiced during the previous day whenever you have time. Review the problem areas you have identified in your plan. Regular revisions will help you retain information. You do not always need to be in a formal setting for your review – you can practice on your way to school or work, on the bus, or in the subway. Use free time to review small chunks of information you learned the previous day.
Time yourself. Practice timing yourself when you answer practice questions. When you review answers, try to analyze why you answered them correctly or incorrectly. In the case of a wrong answer, go back and review the discipline or concept to advance your level of knowledge.
Prepare questions. Make sure to prepare a set of questions you will ask yourself after you read a textbook or watch a video. Your list may include questions like: 1) How can I explain this concept to a friend? 2) Can I think of a real-life scenario when this concept may be applied? 3) How is this concept related to other concepts I already studied? 4) Do I understand this concept and if not, where can I find more information about this concept?
Flashcards. Create your own detailed flashcards with concepts, vocabulary lists, and diagrams.
Study with a partner or in a group. Try to include collaborative study into your schedule. Try teaching each other and going through each topic you find challenging. Use other people as sounding boards to ask questions, think out loud, and share knowledge. You can even quiz each other!
Include a variety of topics. Schedule different topics into each study session to make connections and relate concepts to each other.
Ask for help. It is normal to approach a professor with a list of questions you may have about MCAT content. While you study, keep a list of concepts you struggle with and any other questions you may have. Arrange for a meeting with your professor and ask for help with your questions.
Summarize. Summarize what you learn from memory, create diagrams and charts that compare concepts. Check your summaries by using lecture notes, textbooks, or any of your other study resources. Summaries are a great way to revisit content you already understand. This practice will cement your learning.
Class. Join a class if you feel that you need more help than you can source by yourself.
If you need help in your MCAT preparation, you may want to look into getting an advisor. Having the right person guiding you through medical school applications can make the process much easier. Please read our blog to learn how the right medical school advisor can help you with your medical school application.
Do you want some more tips on how to ace your MCAT exam? Check out our video:
It is beneficial to take multiple full-length practice tests, as they will let you see where you stand. Again, try to recreate the actual test's environment by doing the full test in one sitting, timing yourself, and taking the right breaks. After sitting the practice test several times, your next step will heavily depend on how well you scored. Are you happy with the result? Do you still need to focus on certain areas?
Once you repeatedly take the test, you will find out which disciplines and concepts you still need to study. You will be able to rearrange your study plan based on your test results. Take the test as many times as you need. If you think you can do better than your practice test scores, review your study plan and modify areas of focus. Add more time and resources to areas you struggle with the most. In addition, focus on how you feel during the test. Do you get tired or anxious? If so, plan to address these difficulties.
If you are happy with your test results and you are consistently scoring well, you may be ready to take the actual exam. It would be a huge mistake to take the actual test if you just happened to score well in just one practice – it might have been a fluke. Before taking the test, make sure you score well in all your practices. Aim to answer at least 90% of questions correctly before you take the real test. Make sure you see improvement in your score after each practice test.
Once you're ready to take the test, you'll need to look into registering to take the MCAT at a test center near you. Review MCAT test dates and release dates to schedule accordingly. Keep in mind that you can retake the MCAT exam 7 times in a lifetime and three times in an application cycle. However, taking the exam so many times in an application cycle might make a poor impression. You should also find out whether your desired programs choose your best MCAT score or whether they combine all the MCAT sittings and get your average MCAT score. This might influence when you choose to take the test. Try not to rush yourself. If you are still not sure, check out our blog and get some ideas on when you should take the MCAT.
Before you take the exam, make sure you plan several routes to get to the test center. It's also a good idea to take a test drive before your exam day if you're driving yourself or with a friend or family member, so you'll only have to focus on the exam during your test day, instead of worrying about directions or getting lost.
When you arrive at the test center on the day of your actual test, you will need to check-in with the test administrator. You will sign-in, present valid identification, have your palms digitally scanned, and have a test-day photograph taken.
The only four items that will be allowed in the test room are:
- Photo ID
- Center-provided notebook and marker
- Center-provided storage key
- Center provided foam, wireless earplug
Remember that calculators are not allowed in the room. All math must be done manually or in your head. A periodic table is provided for relevant sections of the exam.
If you require personal items for medical conditions, like a puffer, insulin pump, or, crutches, you will need to apply for accommodations when registering for the exam.
The exam will have two 10-minute breaks and one half-an-hour break. During these breaks, you'll be allowed to have access to food, water, and medication. MCAT test rules are very strict and you must abide by them from the moment you check-in to the moment when you leave the test center:
1. Do not use your cell phone or any other electronic device. Try leaving these items at home and definitely don't bring them into the center. Simply having your phone or checking the time using an electronic device is considered a violation.
2. Do not reference any notes or study materials. Don’t even bring them into the center.
3. Do not leave the testing center once you're inside.
4. Use the provided storage to keep your food, water, and medication – you may not leave the center to get them.
MCAT scores are indeed important. They are one of the key components of your medical school application and have a great influence on your chances of getting into your desired school. However, you must remember that no one component determines your chances of getting into a program. Your MCAT scores will be considered along with your GPA, your undergraduate coursework and grades, and your personal statement. While it is important to prepare and do well on your MCAT exam, do not overlook the other application components.
1. Can I reschedule my MCAT exam?
If you already registered to take the MCAT but don't feel ready as the day approaches, visit the AAMC MCAT page to see if you're within the deadline to reschedule your exam. Rescheduling fees may apply.
2. When should I take the MCAT exam?
The best time to take the exam is when you feel most ready. Remember, you should be scoring in the 90th percentile on practice tests. Before you make your decision consider the following:
a. When you plan to attend medical school. Many students choose to take the MCAT exam the same year they are applying to medical programs.
b. Do you think you will need to retake the exam? Many applicants test more than once. If you think you may need to take the exam more than once, then you are likely not ready the first time. Taking the MCAT exam is expensive, stressful and time-consuming, so it's best to only plan to take the test once and write it when you are 100% confident in your abilities.
3. Are there specific courses I can take to prepare for the MCAT exam?
All of the content on the MCAT exam is usually covered in your introductory science classes that are part of your undergraduate degree. Research methods and statistics are also part of your introductory social science classes.
4. How many times can I take the MCAT exam?
Be mindful that schools may be able to see all the times you took the MCAT exam. In a single testing year, you can take the MCAT three times. In two consecutive years, you may sit the exam four times. You can take the MCAT exam seven times in your lifetime.
5. What is the most difficult section of the MCAT?
Typically, the MCAT CARS section is considered to be the most challenging. Because no background knowledge is needed to answer CARS questions, it is difficult to know how to prepare.
6. Should I take the breaks offered during the test?
Yes, it is a good idea to take the breaks. These short recesses will give you a mental break. Try to keep your mind off the test. Even if you do not feel like you need a break when it is announced, you might start feeling overwhelmed as the test goes on. Do not miss your break opportunities. Take your time to have a snack, stretch and grab a drink.
7. I tend to get stressed and anxious when I take tests. Is there some stress relief advice you can give?
There are some long- and short-term stress relief strategies you can practice. Four to six months before you take the MCAT pay attention to your diet. Plan your study schedule in order to have time for exercise and sleep. Most importantly, do not cram – make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare for the test.
A week before your test, start to slow down on studying. Do not study the day before your scheduled test, relax, and get a good night’s sleep. Before you sit down to take the test take some calming breathes and visualize success in your mind, for example, you can imagine getting that coveted medical school acceptance letter. Focus on your test, block out other test-takers and stick to your plan and strategies.
8. What if I do poorly in one section of the MCAT and OK on others?
You should know that schools look for consistency across scores. If one section has a much lower score, medical schools typically will assess the student as lacking in an area of scholarly competence.
Do you want us to help you prepare for your MCAT exam?
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo,
BeMo Academic Consulting