One of the most common questions we get from our students is: "When should I take the MCAT to maximize my MCAT score?" or "What's the ideal timeline?" There is both a simple answer and a practical answer to when is the best time to take the MCAT. In this blog, you will learn when you should take the test, when it's not the best idea to take the MCAT, and how to choose your MCAT test date.


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When Should I Take the MCAT: The Simple Answer When Do Most Applicants Take The MCAT? When Should You NOT Take the MCAT? FAQs

When Should I Take the MCAT: The Simple Answer

The simple answer is that you should take the MCAT ideally in the fall/winter or spring/summer of the year before you intend to apply to medical school.

This is for two reasons: a) as a premed this is the time when all the MCAT related courses are still fresh in your mind and, b) this will give you an opportunity to retake the MCAT the following year without any delay to your medical school admissions process if you don't do well on your first try.

However, the correct answer is that you should only take the MCAT when you feel 100% ready. Period. Because the MCAT is not really one of those exams you ever want to take more than once.

So how do you know you are 100% ready? 

1. If You Consistently Score in the 90th Percentile on Mock Tests

The key word is consistency. You know you are ready if you have scored in the 90th percentile or more in your last 3 mock tests in a row.

If you need more convincing on the importance of practice tests, check out what our MCAT expert, Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Harvard Medical School psychiatry residency program has to say about them and how they can help you not only decide when I should take the MCAT, but prepare you in other ways as well:

“Practice tests really help in two ways: 1) it really helps to sit down for that length of time as you want to make sure you're able to maintain the stamina through the length of the exam, 2) the best way to practice is to see as many questions as possible so that when you get to exam day, you're more likely to have seen the question before.” - Dr. Monica Taneja, MD

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Don't forget to check out this year's MCAT test dates!

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Our other MCAT expert, Dr. Neel Mistry, MD, shared his final MCAT score with us:

“I got 97th percentile on the MCAT.” When you’re comfortably in the highest percentile that’s a good sign, but having a high score can also help in choosing where to apply. For Dr. Mistry, “getting a high score broadened the number of schools I could apply to and increased my chances of admission to medical school.” - Dr. Neel Mistry, MD

2. If You Have Shown Improvement

Using the results of your mock tests, you should not only be looking for consistency, but you should also consider how much you’ve improved. If you’re continuing to get better scores each time you take a mock test, this shows that your content review and test-taking strategies have been productive. If your scores are inconsistent or you aren’t improving from mock test to mock test, then you should consider looking at ways to improve your content revision and exam-taking strategies. In this case, you might consider an MCAT tutor or an MCAT coach.

And if you think that hiring an MCAT tutor or getting MCAT coaching is a cop-out, don’t! Many of our MCAT experts took advantage of professional MCAT prep! Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, said about her MCAT prep course, “I really enjoyed the in-person component, but for me it was most helpful as it came with a structured study schedule.” A study schedule is precisely one of those things that a tutor can be most helpful with, and something that is tricky to do on your own.

As Dr. Taneja put it, “given that this was my first large, standardized test (the MCAT) I really appreciated the structure.”

3. You Can Score in the Range of Matriculants

To be realistic about when you’re ready, you should know what you’re up against. Take a look at the schools you’re applying to and review the MCAT score data. It can also be helpful to know individual section scores so you can compare performance on certain topics.

Remember, MCAT scores have a great effect on medical school acceptance rates, so do not take writing the MCAT lightly.

4. When You Have Plenty of Time Before Your Application Deadline

The practical answer for “when I should take the MCAT” is that you want to balance the timing of the exam with completing enough coursework or independent study to have the necessary background for the test, while still leaving time in your university career to re-write it if you perform poorly and getting your application in on time. So begin by researching when to start studying for the MCAT and keep in mind that there are some medical schools that don't require the MCAT, so be sure you check the requirements of the schools you want to apply to before you take the test.

Once you have a good idea of medical school application deadlines, you can dedicate the two or three months before the deadline to study for and take the MCAT, although you have to be 100% confident in your ability to get your target score. There is a lot of debate on whether you should plan on retaking the MCAT or just plan to get a high score on your first attempt and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

A study on applicants to medical schools in West Virginia found that getting an initial high MCAT score was one of three predictors for getting into medical school (the other two being having a degree in biology, chemistry, or physics, and a positive score increase between first and second attempt scores). But another important takeaway from this study is that the people who scored the lowest on their first-attempt showed the most improvement the second time around (although, sadly, not enough to get accepted).

How Conan did using BeMo's MCAT Prep

An increase in score is exactly what happened with one of our students, Conan, who is now attending medical school at the Carver Medical College in Iowa. Conan initially scored a low 497 for his first exam, and that score is an automatic retake, since it is not competitive enough to get into even the easiest medical schools to get into. But Conan knew he needed to hunker down and study to get a sorely-needed increase. He took some time off and scored 510 on his second attempt – a 13-point increase with BeMo MCAT Prep!  

When Do Most Applicants Take The MCAT?

What is a general timeline for taking the MCAT?

The following is a general timeline that many students, though not all, can consider using:

Most traditional applicants will choose to write the MCAT after their second year of university as the bulk of the MCAT content is covered in first- and second-year medical school prerequisites. Most non-traditional or mature applicants probably will choose to write it as soon as they can to not delay their application. While many schools will consider your most recent scores (i.e. giving you the option to re-write without it penalizing your application), the expense of time, energy, and money makes it worth writing only once. Also, don’t let having the option of delaying or re-writing the MCAT distract you from making your best effort to prepare. The most successful applicants are those who set out to write the exam only once, whenever that may be.

“Ensuring you treat this as a full-time job, putting in adequate work and practice, while taking time off when needed, are my best strategies and study habits to excel on the MCAT. Finally, trust the effort you have put in and go in with confidence on test day.” - Dr. Neel Mistry, MD, on the best MCAT study habits and prep strategies.


Do you want to know when it's best to take the MCAT?

Consider When You Want To Attend Medical School

It's also important to consider when you want to attend medical school. Some students will prefer to go straight into medical school from their undergraduate degrees, while others may take a year or two off in between. Once you know when you want to go to medical school, you can make sure you schedule your MCAT prior to applying.

“I knew from the get go that I wanted to take the MCAT in the summer. For me, this was the right time as I did not want to juggle MCAT studying with school work. I set aside two months which was the duration of the course I was taking, and scheduled my exam a few days after the course was scheduled to end.” - Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine


Consider Other Aspects of Your Application

Don’t forget as well that your GPA and MCAT scores don’t count for everything in your application. Think of it this way: most patients don’t want a doctor who is only a good diagnostician and prescriber; they want someone who listens and communicates well and is empathetic to their situation. A doctor they can trust. While having high grades and a strong MCAT score gives medical schools an idea of how you would “treat” a patient, they don’t tell them how you would “care” for a patient. It is only through non-academic activities that you develop the non-cognitive abilities that medical schools are looking for in future doctors. This means that you should give enough attention and care to crafting your other application components, including a strong medical school recommendation letter and extracurriculars for medical school that will show intrinsic motivation.

“I have seen many students over the years with perfect GPAs and MCAT not get in, while those with less impressive statistics get in...to optimize your chance of getting into medical school, you want to have a solid application. This means not just having a stellar GPA and MCAT, but also being thoroughly involved with research, extracurriculars, and leadership experiences, along with awards and scholarships.” - Dr. Neel Mistry, MD


When Should You Not Take the MCAT?

1. If You Don’t Feel 100% Ready

Firstly, as we already emphasized, you should not take the exam if you do not feel 100% ready. Understandably, you might be pressured for time and feel that you must write the exam if you want to have a chance of getting into medical school as soon as possible. However, writing the exam unprepared can result in a poor score and therefore, the inability to get into the schools to which you are applying, even the easiest medical schools to get into.

Additionally, you will waste a lot of money and time. Preparing and writing the MCAT is a stressful process, so if you are going to do it, make sure you feel ready for it. If you already have a date scheduled, but think you are not ready – check the deadline for rescheduling or canceling your test date. 

2. During Your Application Process

Another time you should avoid writing the MCAT is during your application process. Yes, you can certainly schedule a test date sometime during the application cycle but preparing for the MCAT and composing your medical school application at the same time is tremendously challenging. The latest period you should consider writing the MCAT is from January to March or April of your application year. This way, you will finish the exam just as the AMCAS and TMDSAS application season opens. If you are applying to medical schools in Canada, check when their applications open and schedule your MCAT accordingly to leave yourself an ample amount of time to work on your application components. 

3. When You’re Rushing to Prepare

Why is it a bad idea to work on preparing for both, your MCAT and your applications? Be realistic. The MCAT is a huge undertaking. To ensure success, you must start by taking the MCAT diagnostic test to see your baseline. Even if you just finished all the necessary prerequisites and feel prepared, it would be unwise to avoid taking the practice test to see if you are truly ready. The diagnostic test will reveal what disciplines and areas of knowledge are your weak spots and what you should focus on during your MCAT prep. Unless you score 100%, you should take some time before your test to go over the material that you felt was challenging during your practice test.

FAQs

1. When should I take the MCAT?

Ideally you want to take the MCAT in the fall/winter or spring/summer of the year before you apply to medical school so you have a chance to retake the MCAT, if required. However, the number one rule when planning on writing your MCAT is being 100% ready. That means taking the MCAT only after you have scored in the 90th percentile or above in at least 3 consecutive realistic practice tests.

2. Should I take the MCAT more than once?

We highly recommend you take it only once. This means that you have to give it your all during your initial preparations. Remember, the MCAT takes a lot of your effort, time, and money. Why torture yourself more than once?

3. How many times can I retake the MCAT?

You can take the exam 3 times in a single testing year, 4 times over two consecutive testing years, and you have 7 overall lifetime attempts. If you choose to void your exam or not show up on test day, it will still count toward your overall attempts.

4. Can medical schools see all my MCAT attempts?

Yes. The medical schools you apply to will see all your previous exam scores and they may have guidelines about how they review multiple scores. Check with the schools of your choice to learn how they consider your MCAT scores.

5. Can I reschedule my MCAT?

There is a deadline to reschedule your MCAT test date. If you’ve registered to take the MCAT but don't feel ready or can’t make it, go to the AAMC website to see if you're still able to reschedule your test. Bear in mind that you may have to pay a rescheduling fee.

6. What is a good MCAT score?

 Generally, getting an excellent MCAT score means to score in the 90th percentile (514-517) or more.  

7. How long are MCAT scores valid for?

MCAT scores are usually valid for about three years but check to see how old your MCAT score can be with your chosen schools. 

8. How should I prepare for the MCAT?

In our experience the best way to prepare is as follows. First, start by taking a timed, realistic diagnostic test. Then use the scores for each section to guide your study plan. Your goal is to work more on your lowest scores first by reviewing the background content and doing daily practice questions. Continue taking realistic mock exams once a week until your scores for each section improves to 90th percentile or more. Once you score in that range in at least 3 consecutive mock exams, you're ready to take the exam and you should take the MCAT ASAP. It sounds easy and it is. The hard part is having the discipline to practice every day and do mock exams every week until you're ready. There are no plan Bs. You will only stop when you know you're 100% ready to ace the MCAT. Now let's go! If you want us to help you, visit this page to learn more about BeMo's MCAT prep.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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