What the Average MCAT Score Increase Means to You

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What the Average MCAT Score Increase Means to You

Session 93

The MSAR recently released their updated stats, and it showed a big jump in average MCAT scores for matriculants and for applicants to medical school.

How does the average MCAT score increase so significantly in just a one-year time span, and what does it mean for premeds? Today we discuss this matter and dish out some theories.

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

Update: Average MCAT Scores Continue to Rise

Since this podcast episode was recorded, the average MCAT score for matriculating students continues to rise. In this episode, we said the average MCAT score for matriculating students was 510. As of the 2017-18 data, the average MCAT score for matriculating students is up to 511.2. Here is the table with the new data.

As of the 2017-18 data, the average MCAT score for matriculating students is up to 511.2.Click To Tweet

[03:00] The Average MCAT Score Has Gone Up

Based on the AAMC MCAT Table A-16, the total mean MCAT score was 501.8 for 2016-2017 for all applicants. For 2017-2018, that score increased 2.9 points to 504.7. The standard deviation is the same, but how has the score gone up almost 3 points in a single year?

How has the average MCAT score gone up almost 3 points in a single year?Click To Tweet

That’s pretty significant for a single year when you’re talking about tens of thousands of data points. But does this actually reflect an underlying improvement of students? This may also be one of the ways that the radical changes to the MCAT in 2015 are playing out. The third possibility is that this is merely a statistical artifact.

Personally, I think the AAMC must be changing the scale somehow. Maybe there were passages that needed to be thrown out, so they increased some scores. Maybe the 2018-2019 data will come back down. (Note: That did not happen. The averages scores have continued to rise, from 504.7 to 505.6.)

[05:30] Is the Increasing Average MCAT Score Just a Statistical Artifact?

If the average MCAT score was 500.1 and then the next year it was 500.8, that would even be a pretty big swing. Considering this, the change in average MCAT score is likely a statistical artifact.

The AAMC calls this out of the bottom of Table A-16. They explicitly say that the 2016-2017 scores are not comparable to previous years. The 2017 scores are not comparable to the 2016 scores. And they call out the fact that some people still had scores from the old MCAT in 2016.

The 2016-2017 MCAT scores were not comparable to previous years. Let's take a look at why.Click To Tweet

Remember, MCAT scores are generally good for about three years. So if you managed to take the old MCAT in January 2015 and had a good score, surely you’re not going to retake the MCAT and contribute to the score average for the new version of the test.

So for the first couple of years of the new MCAT after 2015, what admissions committees were looking at was this situation where some applicants had good scores on the old MCAT. This is going to affect what range of test scores are being submitted and accepted for the new MCAT during that crossover period.

[06:53] 510 is the New 30

But now, as of 2017, in this new application cycle, we’ve basically entirely transitioned over. The old MCAT scores were not being considered alongside the new MCAT scores anymore.

Bryan feels actually vindicated, as he actually published a big blog post saying that 510 would be the new 30. (30 on the old scale was the number everybody wanted). He was absolutely certain that 510 would become the new 30.

[08:53] How the Transition from Old MCAT to New MCAT Affected the Score Averages

So when an admissions committee is accepting an incoming class of medical students, often they will take some kids with high MCAT scores (90th percentile), then those with average MCAT scores (80th percentile), and then with weaker scores (70th percentile). That’s the typical behavior of an admissions committee.

During the two transition years, the 90th-percentile kids were overwhelmingly kids who had good old MCAT scores. So when you took the low end of your incoming class, you were taking more new  scores out of the 70th-percentile group.

So for two years, the old MCAT was disproportionately represented among high scorers and the new scorers were disproportionately represented among the low scorers.Click To Tweet

So for two years, the old MCAT was disproportionately represented among high scorers and the new scorers were disproportionately represented among the low scorers. And now they’ve made the switch. Bryan suspects 510 is the number we see year after year. (Note: This is not what happened! The average MCAT score for matriculating students has further increased, up to 511.)

[10:48] What Does The Average MCAT Score Tell You?

This new data doesn’t fundamentally change your MCAT prep process. You always want to do your best and master content. Practice testing strategy and take practice tests. All this does is shift the calculation a bit about whether you feel like you’re ready.

So maybe previously you thought you were ready for the MCAT when you were scoring around 508 or 509 on your practice tests. Now you might consider pushing your test date back and consider prepping for another few weeks. To put yourself in the same group of students who are matriculating into MD schools, you want to be around 510 (now 511).

[Related episode: How Do I Know If I Am Ready to Take the MCAT?]

[11:50] One More Thing to Keep in Mind!

As you look through the MSAR, the MCAT scores that you see on each of those web pages for those schools are median numbers. That is not the average. Median means 50% of the class is above it while 50% of the class is below it. Average MCAT score is different from median score because it can be skewed by outliers. So keep that in mind.

If you are below the median MCAT score for a school, well, so is 50% of the class. So it doesn’t really mean much. I talked about this more in an episode of Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A about the MSAR.

Hence, don’t look at MCAT and GPA when applying to medical schools. That goes counter to whatever everyone else says, but that’s my advice.  Instead, choose schools based on location, class size, weather, specific programs and opportunities there, and how it feels on campus.

Don't make your list of schools based on the median MCAT scores or GPA scores.Click To Tweet

Links and Other Resources