When to Take the MCAT: An Ideal Timeline
It’s no secret that becoming a doctor involves a long and difficult journey. However, you might not realize that applying to medical school can be a stressful process all on its own.
After all, prospective attendees will need to complete a number of application components, including writing a personal statement, securing letters of recommendation, filling out medical school applications, and of course taking the MCAT. Keep reading to learn more about the MCAT and discover the best time to take this essential exam on your medical school application journey.
Understanding the MCAT
So, what is the MCAT anyway? What is a good MCAT score? Also known as the Medical College Admission Test, MCAT is a standardized multiple-choice exam used by admissions officers to determine entrance to medical schools across the U.S. and Canada. It is offered by the AAMC with 30 exam dates annually.
Utilized for almost a century, the exam evaluates test takers’ knowledge is four principle areas that have been deemed essential for healthcare professionals:
- 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
MCAT scores range from 472-528, with 500 being considered average. While values vary from school to school, the most successful applicants generally score in the 75th percentile, earning between a 510 or higher.
The Importance of MCAT Scores
While MCAT scores are a key element of getting into medical school, they aren’t the only factor colleges look at when making admissions decisions.
In general, institutions consider three areas: personal qualities that are assessed from recommendation letters, personal statement, and interviews; extracurriculars like community service and research; and academic performance, which includes grade point average (GPA) and MCAT scores.
While all three factors play an important role in admissions, it’s difficult to know what element will matter most to an individual school.
When Should You Take the MCAT?
The first piece of advice: plan to take the MCAT when you can devote time to adequately prepare. We recommend the following:
1) Plan to devote a total of 400 – 500 hours of study time
2) Plan to study a minimum of 15 hours per week
Only once you determine when you have the time to devote to studying can you decide when you will take the exam.
Ideally MedEdits recommends that students aim to take the MCAT by April of their application year and after taking all medical school prerequisites. Doing this helps ensure applicants have plenty of time to work on other application components, such as AMCAS work and activities and the medical school personal statement.
The earliest that students opt to take the MCAT is during the latter part of their sophomore year or the summer between sophomore and junior year. At this point, most students have completed their medical school prerequisite courses and are prepared to take the exam. If you don’t feel ready to take the MCAT at this point, you are not alone.
Most applicants opt to sit for the test later in their college journey. We find the vast majority of students take the exam sometime between the junior and senior years of college. However, keep in mind that you need to plan accordingly in the event you are not happy with your first exam result.
In general, you should take the MCAT for the last time between January and April of the year you plan to apply to schools. Note that the MCAT is not offered between October and December nor in the month of February.
Additionally, taking the MCAT early can help you target which medical schools you should apply to more effectively. The last thing you want is to invest time and resources into applying for schools that you’re unlikely to gain entrance to based on your scores.
It’s worth noting that students can take the MCAT multiple times. The rules allow applicants to take the MCAT up to three times in one year (or four times during two consecutive years). However, we recommend taking the MCAT two times at the most.
No-shows and voided tests still count toward that limit, so students should plan accordingly. For best results, aim to take the MCAT at least twice before applying to schools.
Sample Schedule for Taking the MCAT
To increase your odds of getting into your dream medical school, it’s a good idea to come up with a schedule for taking the MCAT in advance. Here’s a sample schedule to ensure you have plenty of time to prepare for and take the MCAT:
- May to August before your application year: Study for the MCAT devoting a total of 500 hours of study time.
- September before your application year: Take the MCAT for the first time
- January to April of your application year: Take the MCAT for a second time (if needed)
Note that this sample schedule is just one option and is unlikely to work for every student. The best time to take the MCAT is the time that feels most comfortable for you and when you know you can block out the time necessary to adequately prepare.
When to Delay Taking the MCAT
In some cases, students may want to delay taking the MCAT. If you have yet to study some of the necessary test subjects in college, you might want to wait to sit for the exam. Additionally, students who scored poorly on MCAT practice exams should probably wait a little longer to take the actual exam.
Finally, students who feel overwhelmed by personal or academic responsibilities may do better to wait until they have sufficient time and energy to devote to the test.
How Long Can You Use Your MCAT Scores?
In general, students can apply to medical schools using scores earned within the last two to three years.
It’s important to note that MCAT scores won’t be “valid” forever. However, different medical schools have their own requirements. It’s best to do your own research to ensure your scores will be valid at your target institutions.
Choosing the Right MCAT Testing Schedule for You
Medical school applicants have a lot on their plates, and deciding upon the best MCAT testing schedule can be stressful. While you don’t want to sit for the exam too early and risk earning a lower score, you also don’t want to wait too long and have to rush the application process.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one right answer for choosing a time to sit for the exam.
To boost your odds of scoring well and getting into your dream medical school, students may want to build their application timelines around their MCAT exam dates. Doing this ensures that you’ll be able to devote plenty of time to studying without sacrificing other aspects of the application.