Do I Need to Take a Diagnostic MCAT Test?

Session 3

Session 3

In today’s episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about the next steps when you want to dip your toes and start preparing for the MCAT test, particularly starting with the diagnostic test – why you need to take it, when you have to take it, and more information you need to know about taking the diagnostic test.

Here are the highlights of the conversation between Ryan and Bryan:

Everyone has to take the diagnostic test.

You have to take something that is very similar to the MCAT. It doesn’t have to be a full 8-hour day but with the following conditions:

  • In the format of the exam
  • Simulates the difficulty
  • Has to give you approximate score at the end so you know where you’re starting out

The diagnostic test at Next Step:

Free one is half-length (20 passages long and 3 and 1/2-hour day)

The initial diagnostic test at Next Step has a high statistical validity and it is of a difficulty that closely approximates the real AAMC.

They have tweaked their scoring scale to make those adjustments so the diagnostic score would highly predict how you would do in the official AAMC practice exam.

When to take the diagnostic test:

  • You shouldn’t even be taking the MCAT until you’ve done the prerequisite coursework
  • The diagnostic test falls at the very beginning of the prep process (Anywhere from 3 or 4 to 5 or 6 months before when you plan to take the MCAT so you would know the amount of work you have to do)
  • The amount of time you have to put into the MCAT varies by orders of magnitude for some students.

Links and Other Resources:

Next Step Test Prep

Next Step Test Prep Coupon Code: MCATPOD and get $50 off any of the tutoring packages and 10% any of their MCAT exam products

Next Step Test Prep diagnostic test

AAMC Official Guide



Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast, session number 3.

A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Next Step Test Prep, The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles as a premed, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information that you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can call yourself a physician.

Alright welcome back to The MCAT Podcast if this is not your first time here. If this is your first time here, welcome to The MCAT Podcast. As I said in the opening we are a collaboration with Next Step Test Prep and myself, Dr. Ryan Gray of the Medical School Headquarters. If this is the first podcast that you’ve heard of ours, or of mine, go check out our other shows over at

This week I’m battling a little bit of a cold so I’m sorry if I sound a little off. Hopefully I’ll be over it soon.

Last week we talked a little bit about what to do when starting to prepare for the MCAT. This week we’re going to jump into those next steps when you want to actually dip your toes, and start preparing with the material. So let’s go ahead and get started. Let’s say hi to Brian.

Brian we’re back here rocking The MCAT Podcast. Are you having fun yet?

Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely.

Diagnostic Tests

Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. So last week we talked about what to do when you first find out about the MCAT, and we talked about going and getting the AAMC Official Guide. This week let’s talk about those first steps in maybe figuring out where you are on the spectrum of whether or not you’re ready for the MCAT, and that really starts with a diagnostic test, correct?

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah absolutely. There’s a little bit- I don’t want to call it controversy because that would be overstating it, but I think there’s definitely a difference of opinion out there about whether or not it makes any sense to take a diagnostic test, either at the beginning or before you begin your prep. And I suppose there’s some fairly forceful arguments that say diagnostics are pointless, but frankly in my fifteen years of doing this, working with thousands and thousands of students, I think I can pretty authoritatively say that that’s nonsense. Everyone has to take a diagnostic test. You have to take something that is very similar to the MCAT, it doesn’t have to be a full eight hour day, but it has to be in the format of the exam, it has to simulate the difficulty, and has to give you some sort of approximate score at the end so you know where you’re starting out. So that’s why at Next Step the diagnostic- the free one that we give is half length. So it’s not forty passages, it’s twenty passages long. It’s not a seven hour day, it’s a three and a half hour day. But that’s plenty enough to give you that initial analysis.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Oh it’s only three and a half hours? So it’s easy, sign me up.

Bryan Schnedeker: Only, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So let me play devil’s advocate here, and I’ll give you the premeds perspective on the diagnostic. So I’ve always heard- and I often joke that a diagnostic is there to scare the student into buying a test prep package.

Bryan Schnedeker: Okay if there’s any scaring involved we would hope it would scare the premed into getting their butt moving and start working. So yeah, I mean look, I used to work for one of those big companies and the dirty little secret known on the inside was that the initial assessment was intentionally made very difficult. For not so much the reason you’re saying about scaring anybody, but just more to make it very, very clear to the student how challenging the experience was going to be. We absolutely don’t do that at Next Step. We have a whole bunch of internal data about the reliability and validity of our diagnostic compared to AAMC Practice Test 1 scores, and we are very confident in asserting that our initial diagnostic is of a difficulty that very closely approximates the real AAMC, and that we have tweaked our scoring scale to make those little adjustments so that the score you get on our diagnostic would actually be fairly precisely predict how you would do on the official AAMC practice exam if you took that the next day. And over the tens of thousands of students that we’ve had take the diagnostic, that data has proven to have high statistical validity. So I don’t know these days how other companies operate, but how Next Step operates is our diag is absolutely a valid and reliable prediction of your current level of MCAT skill.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it. ‘Diag,’ I’m learning the lingo here.

Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah, right.

Timing a Diagnostic Test

Dr. Ryan Gray: So you talked a little bit about there is some controversy on when to take it. I think as a premed student, my goal is always to maximize my test scores, right? We’re type A students, we want to do the best we do in everything, and so I want to do the best that I possibly can on a diagnostic, which logically to me means I’m going to wait to take the diagnostic until I’ve taken all my pre-req’s, which the MCAT covers a lot of classes and so it’s going to be a while to take that diagnostic. Do you recommend that? Where do you see the diagnostic falling in coursework?

Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely, yeah. We’re going to- a little sneak preview, in a couple of weeks we’re going to be putting out a podcast about when you should take the actual MCAT itself, and you shouldn’t even be thinking about the MCAT until you’ve actually done the pre-requisite coursework. And where the diagnostic falls is at the very beginning of the prep process. So let’s just kind of arbitrarily say, ‘Oh I’m planning to take the MCAT on June 1st. So I should probably take my MCAT diagnostic somewhere between January and March; you know anywhere from three or four to five or six months before when I plan to take the MCAT so that I know right from the get-go what’s the work I have cut out for me.’ And Ryan here’s where the real distinction comes in. The amount of time you have to put into the MCAT is going to vary by orders of magnitude for some students. What I mean by that is if you come into Next Step and you take our initial diagnostic test, and let’s say you score very, very well. On our diagnostic you score in the top 20%, top 10% in the nation with no real prep, just your initial assessment you bang out a 510, or a 512, or a really phenomenal score. That means your MCAT prep is going to be very different than somebody who comes in and really struggles with the diagnostic; gets a 490, a 495, scores in the bottom 20% in the nation. And so you don’t want to sit there and make- build all these castles in the sky without a foundation, without knowing ‘Look I’m coming in at this point, my goal is that point, so here’s how much work I have to do.’ And without a diagnostic test, how are you going to know?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so in your mind the diagnostic is really the launching point for your MCAT prep, and not something like you mentioned last week with the AAMC Guide. It’s not something to use to just get an idea of what’s coming in the future.

Bryan Schnedeker: Right, exactly. You want to think of the day you take the diagnostic test as the day you actually formally begin prepping for the exam.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, there you go, diagnostic tests. Aren’t you so excited to go dive in? If you are, go over to Next Step Test Prep. Obviously they have a diagnostic that you can take and get prepared for the MCAT. If you are interested in any of their products or services, a specific coupon code that’s only mentioned here in this podcast, or in the episodes of this MCAT Podcast, is the code MCATPOD. That’s all capital letters, MCATPOD and that will give you $50 off any of the tutoring packages, and 10% off any of the exam- any of their MCAT exam products like the exams, their books and other stuff. So again, check that out, Next Step Test Prep, and go check it out. Yeah.

Alright if you have any questions for us, any topics you want us to cover, you can just email me., that’s the easiest way. I would always love a rating and review for iTunes, that’s how iTunes shows the love. You can do that at and when you leave a review we read it here on the podcast, because that’s always fun.

So I hope you enjoyed the information today, and more than enjoyed it I hope it was useful for you to continue you on the journey to a successful MCAT score. I hope you join us next week here at The MCAT Podcast.

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