Should I Retake the MCAT?

About 24% of MCAT test-takers between 2015 and 2017 took the exam more than once. So while retaking the MCAT isn’t the norm, it’s certainly not an anomaly. If you’re considering retaking the MCAT because your score isn’t competitive for the medical schools you’ll be applying to, or because you believe you can perform better, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Here are the rules:

How often can you take the MCAT?

AAMC rules limit how many times you can take the MCAT exam. Voids and no-shows count toward your lifetime limits. Tip: you can only be registered for one seat at a time, so plan accordingly. One advantage to testing early in the year is that you’ll have time to refocus and prep again, if needed, without worrying about missing application deadlines.

  • You can take the MCAT up to 3 times in a single testing year
  • You can take the MCAT up to 4 times in two consecutive testing years
  • You can take the MCAT up to 7 times in a lifetime

Just as important as the AAMC’s rules are about retaking the exam, you should keep in mind how the medical schools view multiple MCAT scores. Check the policies for every school you’ll be applying to before deciding to sit for the test again. In some cases, it may be advantageous to retake the MCAT if you didn’t reach your target score while in others — for example, schools that average scores — you may not see a great benefit. Here are some ways in which medical schools may view multiple MCAT scores:

  • Give more consideration to your most recent score
  • Take your highest score
  • Average all your scores
  • “Superscore”, or take your highest section score from each test you sat for

DO retake the MCAT if:

  1. You did not reach a score that would make you a competitive applicant for your target schools. Check out the AMSAR or the schools’ websites for matriculants’ average scores. If you’re in that range for most of your schools, you could spend more time polishing other parts of your application, like your personal statement, or adding more patient-facing volunteer or shadowing time.
  2. You were not able to study and prepare for the exam as well as you would have liked and you have a solid, realistic plan in place to reassess your studying. Pre-med life is extremely busy, and fitting MCAT prep into your schedule is a challenge when there are so many obligations. So if you didn’t have the chance to be your best, you should use what you learned to do better.
  3. You do not believe that your first MCAT score reflects your true ability. Pre-meds are competitive and ambitious. They can also be very tough critics, especially when it comes to self-reflection. Is your MCAT score objectively not good enough, or do you simply wish you would have scored in the 95th instead of the 90th percentile? Try and focus on your own MCAT score, and not how your friends and classmates did. If your overall score doesn’t reflect how well you prepared, or if one section is dramatically lower than others, you can consider retaking. Statistics from the AAMC show us that most people who retake the exam do see a score increase, but that this gain can be modest overall — only 2-3 overall score points for examinees with initial scores between 472-517.
  4. You have an understanding of what you could have done better and have an adequate amount of time to devote to prepping again. Is there a reasonable date for you to retest that will allow you enough time to do better and not push you into the next application cycle? It’s important that you’re not rushing your prep to beat a deadline, and it’s also essential that you give yourself a fair chance to reprep. After all, you wouldn’t want to sit through a grueling day all over again if you didn’t have time to address your MCAT content, strategy, or timing gaps. If you’re not sure where you fell behind, a prep course or a tutor can help you home on your specific areas for improvement.

Do NOT retake the MCAT if:

  1. You won’t have enough time to study again in a way that addresses what you may have missed the first time around. Since you can only hold one test date at a time, and it can take a month to get your MCAT score, you’ll need to plan strategically. Ideally, if you’re reading this before you ever take the MCAT, you’ll plan on testing in early spring — January, March, or April. This gives you a wide margin of error in case you do retake the MCAT. If your school, work, or life schedule won’t allow you enough time to take on studying for the MCAT again in earnest, you won’t do yourself any favors. And, even though most students who retake the MCAT end up scoring higher, there is a chance that you score could actually decrease.
  2. Scored higher than 518 and your current score is in the range of all the schools you’re applying to. The median score gain for students who sat for the MCAT again after scoring 518 or higher is only one point. That means a lot of time and effort that could have gone into other parts of your application have gone to make a very small movement in your overall percentile ranking.
  3. You think the people in your class or post-bac program did much better than you. Everyone’s path to medical school is different, as is everyone’s definition of their dream school. More than that, medical school admissions committees look at your application holistically, i.e. you’re not just your MCAT score. Although a low MCAT score is usually the biggest application killer, if your score is in the range of admitted students for your dream school, you should be proud of your work and consider carefully whether you want to sit for the exam again. Your application and your credentials are unique, so don’t worry about anyone else. They may envy your GPA, clinical experience, or stellar recommendations

Looking to boost your MCAT score? Check out Kaplan’s MCAT prep resources!

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How would you do if you took the MCAT today?

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How would you do if you took the MCAT today?