Should I Retake the MCAT?
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is notorious. It’s rigorous, comprehensive, and extremely difficult. It also plays one of several determining roles in whether or not an applicant is admitted into medical school.
The MCAT is scored on a scale of 472 to 528, with an average score that hovers around 500. However, for students that are accepted into allopathic (M.D.-granting) medical schools, the average is higher. In the 2020–2021 academic year, the MCAT average for admitted students was 511.5.
If you fall short of that average, it’s natural to feel discouraged.
You also may be wondering:
- Should I retake the MCAT?
- Will retaking the MCAT help me get into medical school?
- Will retaking the MCAT hurt my chances of getting into medical school?
- What is the best timing to retake my MCAT?
The Rules of Retaking the MCAT
Before you consider whether you should retake the MCAT, it’s important to know whether you can retake the MCAT. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) does set some ground rules about this. They are:
- You are allowed to take the MCAT no more than three times per year.
- You may take the test a maximum of four times in a two-year period.
- There is a lifetime cap of seven test sittings.
Bear in mind that if you fail to show up for the test or your scores are voided, these instances will factor into these limits.
Advantages of Retaking the MCAT
1. You could improve your score.
Score improvement is, of course, the entire motivation behind retaking the MCAT in the first place. According to the AAMC, test-takers who scored between 472 and 517 the first time saw a median gain of two to three points the second time around. That means that unless you already have a very high score, you’re likely to show improvement.
2. You’ll have more time to prepare.
A lack of preparation could be the reason behind an initial disappointing score. Perhaps you simply didn’t realize that the MCAT would be so challenging, or maybe you focused on studying the wrong material. Perhaps you thought you could “wing it” with minimal preparation.
You may also have been dealing with external factors at the time. If you elect to retake the exam, then you’ll have an opportunity for a redo and more time to put in the hard work the MCAT requires.
3. You may open up the possibility of getting into a better medical school.
Perhaps your MCAT score might get you into a solid medical, but you’re aiming higher — top tier. Schools like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Columbia, and New York University (Langone) admit students with an average MCAT score ranging from 519 to 522, significantly higher than the average score for medical school admits. So, retaking the MCAT could be your ticket in.
Disadvantages of Retaking the MCAT
1. You could earn an even lower score.
The same AAMC report that shows a gain for students with score under 518 reveals that the average point increase for test takers who earned a 518 or higher when they first took the MCAT have a median increase of zero during their second sitting.
Therefore, it’s also possible that you’ll receive an even lower score especially if you don’t take the time necessary to figure out what you need to do to improve your score.
2. Med schools will review every MCAT exam result.
Medical schools evaluate MCAT scores in a number of different ways.
For example, some consider only your highest score, while others review an average of all iterations. Still others consider only the highest scores from each section.
No matter what, admissions committees will see all of your MCAT scores. While taking the test twice is unlikely to impact your admissions decision, if you end up taking the MCAT three or more times could make them question if you’re prepared for the challenges of medical school.
3. You’ll need to put in more work.
You’re not going to earn a higher score if you don’t put in additional work preparing. This means revamping your study schedule, which will be grueling.
We advise students to spend at least three months preparing for the MCAT again. We find that if students don’t take this time, that they rarely bump a test score unless there was something extraneous that went wrong on test day to negatively impact an outcome (you were sick, you got into a car accident on the way to the exam center, etc.).
The Bottom Line: Should You Retake the MCAT?
Your MCAT plays a pivotal role in determining whether you’ll be admitted into medical school, along with your GPA. It’s a metric that could get you through a threshold — or prevent medical schools from evaluating other aspects of your candidacy.
Retaking the MCAT is not a simple decision. When it comes down to it, it depends on a number of factors.
Reasons you Should Retake the MCAT
- If you weren’t adequately prepared the first time you took the MCAT and have the time to address what went wrong and/or your score is somewhat lower than (but approaching the range of) the average at your target school or schools. We usually recommend a minimum of three months preparation to restudy for the MCAT.
- You have only taken the MCAT once (sometimes twice) and think you can bump your score by a minimum of three points. When you start taking the MCAT three or more times, a higher score is less “convincing” in the eyes of admissions committees.
- Another factor to consider is your performance on practice tests. If you took the test in simulated testing conditions, meaning with the time constraints and breaks between sections and your performance on the actual MCAT was significantly different, you should spend some time reviewing what went wrong. If you can pinpoint and address the reasons next time, then it could be worth retaking the exam.
- Ultimately, deciding whether or not to retake the MCAT depends on your goals. For example, if you are aiming to get in to a medical school with an average matriculant MCAT score of 518 and you earned a 512, you will have to retake the MCAT to have a realistic shot at that medical school. But, if you are aiming to get in to a medical school with an average MCAT score of 509 for matriculants, there is likely no need to retake the exam.
Reasons you Should not Retake the MCAT
- If you’re not sure why you didn’t do well (and it’s not because of a lack of preparation) it may be tough to improve your score.
- If you already scored exceptionally well (high enough for the schools for which you’re aiming).
- If you have taken the MCAT two or more times already. Taking the MCAT numerous times is not viewed favorably.
- If taking the MCAT will delay review of your medical school application, consider postponing your application to medical school. The latest we recommend taking the MCAT is June of the application year.
Ultimately, medical schools generally do consider the MCAT a reliable tool for predicting your ability to make it through medical school and do well on future standardized exams and in your future career.
Some candidates will benefit from an MCAT retake, while others won’t. It’s a personal decision, coming down to your own strengths, ambitions, and abilities.