Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner
Deciding to complete the MCAT for a second time is a decision that can have a significant impact on your chances of being admitted to medical school. It is vital that you correctly assess your first MCAT score to determine if retaking the MCAT is best for you. As a general rule of thumb, if your result is five or more points below your goal score, you should consider sitting for the exam again. However, there are also several factors to examine before solidifying your decision.
Is Your Score Competitive?
To gauge your score, consult the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), which is published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This volume details the MCAT results range for every medical school in the United States. If your MCAT score falls within this range for the majority of your target schools, your result is likely competitive. However, if other features of your application are below average (GPA, extracurricular involvement, research productivity, etc.), you may require an above-average MCAT score to have a strong chance at a particular school.
On the other hand, if the remainder of your application is accomplished, then an MCAT result toward the bottom of the score range may be sufficient to grant you an interview. If you are well below the range for the schools you were initially targeting, you should plan to retake the exam or refine your list of programs to include less competitive institutions.
Another resource you can use to evaluate your score is data published by the AAMC. This data shows that for 2013, the average MCAT score for a medical school applicant was 28.4, while the average score for a matriculant was 31.3. The AAMC also maintains tables that detail the admissions rate of applicants with certain MCAT scores and GPAs (e.g., for applicants with a GPA falling between 3.4 and 3.59 with an MCAT score of 30-32, the acceptance rate was 50.4 percent).
Additionally, recognize that different schools have varying policies on how they view an applicant’s multiple MCAT scores. Some admissions committees may look at the applicant’s highest score on each individual section to create the highest overall composite score. Others may only consider the highest total MCAT score the applicant attained. Contrastingly, some schools may only consider an applicant’s most recent MCAT score, or take an average of all available scores. Applicants should try to determine how schools they are interested in applying to will view their multiple scores by researching the schools’ admissions website or contacting the admission office. This can give them a sense of whether re-taking the MCAT would be significantly beneficial.
What Went Wrong?
If you are still uncertain about sitting for the MCAT a second time, honest self-reflection on your preparation process may help you with your decision. Determine if you allotted enough time to study for the exam. For the majority of my students, it takes roughly 300 hours of review (including practice exams) to prepare fully for the MCAT. Oftentimes, pre-medical students struggle to complete the necessary hours of preparation because of other commitments—coursework, extracurriculars, or social activities. If this describes your situation, consider utilizing a structured study calendar and/or tutoring sessions that ensure you address all the material in appropriate detail.
It is also important to note how many practice tests you took during your study period. On average, my students complete more than three practice exams before sitting for the MCAT for the first time. Three is typically the number necessary for students to truly understand the wide variety of questions the MCAT can contain and to develop a sense of time management.
A final factor to assess is how your first MCAT test day felt. Were you extremely nervous, sick, tired, or unable to concentrate? One student I worked with had a major computer malfunction during her exam, which destroyed her focus. These types of logistical issues can often lead to an unnecessarily low score. Retaking the MCAT will likely raise your score if you can overcome them.
Completing the MCAT for a second time is a decision you must make after honestly reflecting on your preparation and objectively evaluating your score. Do not be fooled by advice stating that other application factors can “hide” an extremely low MCAT score. Examine the raw data available through the AAMC to determine your chances of acceptance, and decide for yourself if retaking the MCAT is what you must do to continue on your journey to becoming a physician.
Dr. Sunny Varshney is a board-certified cardiologist and an Advanced Heart Failure, Transplant, and Mechanical Circulatory Support Fellow at Stanford University. In addition to caring for patients with advanced heart disease, Sunny uses clinical insights and outcomes research to evaluate and advise start-up companies to facilitate cardiovascular device and drug development. He engages in research that identifies persistent unmet medical needs and defines benchmark outcomes that next generation therapies should improve upon, with a focus on advanced heart failure and cardiogenic shock.