One of the most common questions we get from our students is: "When should I take the MCAT to maximize my MCAT score?" 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

The simple answer is that you should write the MCAT when you feel 100% ready to write the MCAT. Period. How do you know you are 100% ready? You know you are ready when you consistently score in the 90th percentile or above on your realistic mock practice tests. The keyword here is "consistently". That means if you scored well once, that's not sufficient you should score really well at least 3 times in a row to feel confident that you are ready and when that happens, you should write the test immediately. Remember, MCAT scores have a great effect on the medical school acceptance rates, so do not take writing the MCAT lightly.

You must score at least in the 90th percentile in your practice tests before you take the MCAT

When should I take the MCAT: The Practical Answer

The practical answer 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. Review our blog to find out 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. 

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.

Have a look your chosen schools' admissions statistics, including the average accepted MCAT score. 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.

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. Students hoping to attend medical school in the fall may want to take the MCAT the year before. Review our blog, MCAT test dates, to find out available dates to take the MCAT.

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. 

When Should You Not Take the MCAT?

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. 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. 

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 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. 

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.

During your prep, you must create a thorough MCAT study schedule that can help you organize your time and keep you on track. Not only should you include the disciplines you must cover, but you should also write down the study strategy you will implement. For example, most students find the MCAT CARS section quite challenging, and rightfully so. You cannot prepare for CARS by taking prerequisites. Having taken social science or humanities classes does not guarantee your success in CARS. Students who do well in CARS are avid readers. This is why in your schedule, you must outline your MCAT CARS strategy, such as reading complex materials like the classics of literature, philosophy, literary magazines, etc. Passive reading is not enough, so you must analyze and dissect these materials to get a grasp of what is expected in CARS. Additionally, you will need to go over MCAT CARS practice passages and questions to get familiar with the format and see if you are improving.

Just consider how time-consuming and difficult preparing for one section of the MCAT is! Now, think about studying for all four sections on top of composing your medical school applications. Imagine combining MCAT prep with writing your medical school personal statement or organizing your AMCAS Work and Activities section. It is possible to get it done, but wouldn't you rather focus your attention on one task at a time? This is why planning when you should take the MCAT is important – it will allow you to dedicate all the necessary time to MCAT prep while leaving ample amount of time to focus on your application components when the time comes. 

Are you running out of time? Check out short-term MCAT study schedules:

How Long Are MCAT Scores Valid?

Each medical school in the United States and Canada has its own limit on how long the MCAT score is valid. Most medical schools will not accept MCAT scores older than 3 years, but make sure to check with the schools of your choice what is the oldest MCAT they accept. To learn this information, visit the admissions webpage of your schools of choice. If you cannot find this information on the official website, check out the AAMC Medical School Admission Requirements page. This portal provides all the necessary information you need to know about each medical school in America.

How to Choose Your MCAT Test Date

Every year, the AAMC will release a list of around 30 test dates in Canada and the United States that you can choose from between January and September. There are 2 to 6 dates available per month.

Keep what we already talked about in mind when you are choosing your date and consider the following:

Most students who do not want to take a break between undergrad and medical school take the test after their sophomore year or in their junior year of college. If this is your plan, keep in mind that you will have to juggle your college coursework and exams with MCAT preparations. Perhaps, you are planning on taking the 3 month summer break to study for the MCAT.

If you are taking a gap year before med school or a longer break between college and medical school, you still want to take the MCAT by April or May of your application year. This means that if you want to start med school in the fall of one year, the latest you should take the MCAT is in the spring of the previous year.

Once you narrow down your date, you must pick a time of the day. You can choose to take the MCAT in the morning (7:30 am start time and finishing at 3:00 pm) or in the afternoon (starting at 3:00 pm and finishing at 10:30 pm). So, take into account the time you need to commute to the testing center, the meals you need to take (and skip) during the test day, and whether you are a “morning person” or you would perform better later in the day.

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FAQs

1. When should I take the MCAT?

The number one rule when planning on writing your MCAT is feeling 100% ready. Do not take the test if you are not feeling confident in your knowledge. You must be scoring in the 90th percentile during your practice tests before you take the actual exam.

When it comes to choosing a date, everyone's circumstances are different, so consider your own preferences and situation when scheduling your date. However, keep in mind that you will want to avoid preparing for and writing your MCAT during your applications. This means that you should try to finish up with your MCAT before May of the application year.

2. Should I take the MCAT more than once?

Many students retake the exam - there is no shame in that. MCAT is one of the most challenging tests you'll ever write. And although many students take the MCAT more than once to try to improve their scores, we highly recommend you to 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 you effort, time, and money. Why torture yourself more than once? If during your mock exam you are consistently scoring in the 90th percentile you should be able to ace the actual test.

Keep in mind that rewriting the exam does not guarantee a higher score. Do not retake the exam until you are confident that you can do better than your first score.

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 MCAT page 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?

Simply put, a good MCAT score is a score equal to or higher than the average accepted MCAT score at the medical schools you’re applying to, as each school has its own MCAT requirements and cut-offs. Generally, getting an excellent MCAT score means to score in the 90th percentile (514-517). 

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?

Take multiple full-length MCAT diagnostic tests to see if you are improving. Recreate the actual test's environment by doing the full test in one sitting, timing yourself, and taking the right breaks. 

Taking the practice test a few times will show your strong and weak knowledge areas, so you can plan which topics you must spend time studying. As you study, continue to take full-length practice tests and examine your scores. Adjust your MCAT study schedule according to your needs. 

If you notice that you consistently score in the 90th percentile, you are most likely ready to take the test. Remember, only take the MCAT when you feel absolutely ready. 

9. I have just taken all the necessary prerequisites and feel ready to take the test. Should I schedule my test date?

It's great that your knowledge is fresh but taking the test without sitting through at least one diagnostic test to see how you score is not wise. You should take a diagnostic to at least learn the structure of the exam and what to expect. You may find some sections more challenging or learn that you were missing an entire content area that was not covered in your introductory classes. Even if you feel confident in your knowledge, do yourself a favor and take a diagnostic exam to see how you score. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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