By Cassie Kosarek
Believe it or not, it is not uncommon to take the MCAT twice. Though sitting for seven hours and thirty minutes more than once is not anyone’s idea of fun, scheduling a second test can be the best option if your target MCAT score is not reflected in your actual score report.
If your current score does not meet your expectations, you may be wondering if another test day is the right choice for you. Should you apply with the lower score, or should you study again? Is it worth the delay, cost, and effort to re-test? While you should consider your individual case with the guidance of an academic advisor, these guidelines can help you decide whether to schedule another test.
1. There is a large discrepancy between your practice scores and your actual score
Bad test days happen to everyone. Perhaps you heard some upsetting news the evening before your exam, or perhaps you experienced more anxiety on test day than you anticipated. Whatever the reason, if your scores on your practice exams are significantly higher than your actual MCAT score, you might want to retake the test. Before you register for a second time, however, think about the source of your score discrepancy and whether that particular stress will be controlled or eliminated by your next exam date. If you have test anxiety, for example, how will you deal with it differently this time? Further, if your practice tests were not completed under real testing conditions—timed, with prescribed breaks—you might want to think about how you will better adapt to the format of exam day before you take the MCAT again. High practice test scores suggest that you have the knowledge and testing ability to succeed on the real deal, and they provide good rationale to retake the MCAT.
2. Statistically, you will not be admitted
The AAMC maintains data on the MCAT scores of admitted applicants. In 2017, the average MCAT score of an admitted applicant was 510, up from 508 the previous year. If your MCAT score falls below this average, you may want to take the test again. Though applicants with lower scores are admitted each year, if your results place you below the average for the majority of medical schools, your admission to medical school is statistically improbable. To avoid spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on an admissions cycle that is likely to be fruitless, consider delaying your application long enough to include an updated (and higher) score.
3. You did not prepare properly
Many students underestimate the time it will take to study for the MCAT, and as such, they find themselves cramming in an hour or two of studying after a full day of work or classes. If your MCAT prep was strapped for time, you might want to take the test after you overhaul your study routine. While some students can balance full-time work or other commitments with MCAT studying, others need a month or two of dedicated review in order to succeed. Though shifting your schedule around to accommodate the MCAT might seem impossible, remember that failing to achieve an adequate score on this test may preclude you from your ultimate goal of becoming a physician.
In addition, reflection upon your previous preparation might highlight inadequate study methods that led to your low score. If your MCAT studying relied on passive methods of learning, such as reading review books without doing problems, or lacked full-length practice tests to improve testing stamina and to chart your progress, scheduling another test date and switching to active methods of learning (like practice questions and flashcards) may yield a higher score.
4. Your study circumstances have changed
Repeating your old study patterns in your old study context is unlikely to get you to the score you want. If you are considering taking the MCAT again, you should think about whether you are able to dedicate the time and money involved in re-testing at this point. While you may want to schedule your second test date right away, you may want to hold off on jumping in again if other commitments or finances will impede your MCAT preparation. Further, if your initial MCAT score is near the average for admitted students and your study circumstances have not changed, it may be best to stick with your current score. If you are able to make significant changes to your studying this time around, however, and believe that you can improve your score to better reflect your capabilities, retaking the MCAT may be worth the effort.
About the Author
Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Class of 2020 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.