MCAT 101: Tips for Retaking the MCAT

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MP 251: MCAT 101: Tips for Retaking the MCAT

Session 251

Today, we talk about retaking the MCAT and what strategies, tools, and resources you can use to improve your score next time you take the MCAT.

We’re joined by Ali from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:55] What It Means to Not Do Well on the MCAT

The MCAT is not a one-and-done deal. Not everyone does well on the MCAT the first time they take it. But many people think that if they have to retake the MCAT, they shouldn’t even apply to medical school. They think medical schools aren’t going to take them seriously because they had to retake it. It’s a sign of weakness and so, they’re a failure.

'This test does not define you as a student. And it definitely doesn't define you as a person. So you're not a failure because you didn't do well on the MCAT.'Click To Tweet

Not doing well on the MCAT doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It simply means that you may need to change the way you approach the test, and prep in a different way. Sometimes, too, you don’t do well maybe because you just had a bad day.

Now, there are minimal changes you can do to do well the next time. And that could involve changing the way you studied for the MCAT because it didn’t work for you the first time. Hence, use this as an opportunity to rethink everything and start from the beginning.

[03:15] Your Chances of Getting Into Med School

Ultimately, this is not going to affect your ability to get into medical school as long as you improve your score. Obviously, you need to retake the test just to get a more competitive score that will get you into medical school. Aim for a score high enough to make medical schools forget about the first one. 

'Medical schools are not looking for the one perfect applicant who woke up and got 528 on Day 1. They are looking for people who will be successful in medical school.'Click To Tweet

[04:39] A Mistake You Must Avoid

One of the most common things students make is they take the MCAT knowing they didn’t do well. They get their score and don’t do well. Then they register for the next available MCAT in a month and don’t do well again.

Remember, you’re only allowed to take the M CAT only three times in a calendar year and seven times in a lifetime.

Ali recommends putting some distance between you and that score. Don’t make an emotional decision that you need to take the MCAT.

Sit down and figure out what went wrong the first time, and what work you need to do in order to get to a better score. Sometimes, one month is enough to get you there. But oftentimes, it’s not.

“Give yourself enough time to come up with a different plan and approach for how you studied and see if things work differently.”Click To Tweet

A bad MCAT doesn’t tell the medical school anything other than you had a bad day taking the MCAT. Now, having too bad MCAT a month apart tells the medical school that maybe you have some judgment issues. And so, it tells a different story than just having a bad test.

For a bad MCAT, Ali recommends giving it three months apart. There might be some constant issues you need to deal with, either in your approach or practice.

[07:54] It’s YOUR Decision

'Don't let anybody else make the decision for you.'Click To Tweet

Parents obviously love their children and they want them to do well. They think their kids are the smartest on earth. And many of them, give their kids this sense of encouragement that just isn’t practical telling their kids they’re going to ace if they take it again in a week. But it doesn’t work that way. Therefore, don’t make an emotional decision and make sure you are making your own decision, nor your parents, not your tutor, not anyone else.

[08:56] How Much Time to Study for Your Retake

Factor #1:

First, look at is the score gap that you need to bridge. For instance, if you got a 502 and you’re aiming for a 512. That’s a 10-point increase that isn’t doable in four weeks.

Factor #2:

The second factor you need to consider is why you scored low on the first test. For example, your practice tests were in the 512-516 range, but then on test day you had flu and got a 502. You could then give yourself a month to prepare and get back to your range. Otherwise, you need more time.

Alleviating Test Anxiety

Aside from having a bad day, another reason for not doing well on the MCAT could be test anxiety. Maybe you’re doing well when you were taking it at home, but when thinking about the real thing, you start getting anxious.

In this case, check if you have a history of test anxiety. Look at your ACT or other standardized tests. Then look at how you can alleviate this test anxiety first.

[11:48] Reusing Practice Tests

One of the biggest complications that come from needing to retake the test is reusing practice tests. And there’s a false sense of reassurance that the student is ready to go take the test again. Ali says this is a big issue since there are only four AAMC practice tests. And for a lot of students, this is the only resource they have so they have to repeat them.

Ali suggests throwing the score out because the score might not be as reliable as when you saw it the first time. Especially if you’re repeating the test within a month or two of taking the MCAT the first time.

If possible, take more practice exams. Several students take three or four of the Blueprint exams and then switch to AAMC. So they have seven remaining full-length exams that they can repeat.

Even if you’re repeating a couple of AAMCs, try to get fresh exams to see if you’re making any progress. But instead of the score, focus more on the analytics and the breakdown of what questions you’re getting wrong this time.

[14:08] Getting Past the Mindset Issue

There are some students who are in the heat of the moment of taking the test and they feel they’re doing horrible. So they decide to void the test and just retake it. But do not void your tests unless something huge and catastrophic happens.

'The way you feel about the difficulty of the exam will always be colored by the anxiety of taking the real test.”Click To Tweet

If you voided, go back home and write down what went wrong on that day. Did you panic? Was it a content or approach issue? Did you have a timing issue? And if you have a big timing issue on all four sections, then don’t rush into retaking the MCAT. You have a timing issue that you need to handle.

And this is mainly the reason why you need to take a lot of full-length exams to catch these issues before you have to leave your desk. 

[16:34] Aiming for a Bigger Score

The most important thing about retaking is to show that you can improve on the test. The bigger the improvement, the better.

'Aim to improve by more than four points.'Click To Tweet

When you take the MCAT, they give you your score, but they also give you a range for a confidence interval. So if you got a 506, that means your score is between 504 and 508. Then you take the second one and you get 509, then you’re between 507 and 511. Then medical school will say maybe you’re in the middle.

If you improve enough that those confidence intervals don’t overlap, then you’re kind of nudging the schools to look at that second score. Then if you get to the interview stage, it’s very easy for the school to think that maybe you just had a bad day the first time. But when your scores are close, then it’s going to be harder for the medical school to neglect that lower score.


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