What If You’ve Already Applied and Get Back a Low MCAT Score?

What If You've Already Applied and Get Back a Low MCAT Score?

Session 297

If you push your MCAT back to June or July but you still want to apply early in the cycle, you may end up submitting your application before getting your MCAT score. In this case, you may be in for a rude awakening when your MCAT score comes in.

What should you do if you get an MCAT score you’re not happy with and you’ve already applied? This recently happened to two students I’m working with. They got scores they didn’t want or expect, and they already applied for this cycle. What should they do now?

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

[02:10] Applying to Only One Medical School

There is a strategy some students use where you only apply to one medical school when you don’t have your MCAT score back yet. I used to be against this. But now, I’m starting to come around to it a bit. I can understand why students appreciate the safety it gives you. But I’m still not 100% sold on it.

If you’ve followed my advice from the beginning, you would have taken the MCAT in March or April of the year you’re applying at the latest. That means you would have your score back by the time you submit your application. You would know your score and, hopefully, have the confidence to apply to more than one school.

But if you’re not taking the MCAT until you submit your application, then you may lack confidence in your score. But you know you have to apply early. So you end up only applying to one school. It’s a way to minimize the costs if your MCAT scores comes back low, because you only paid fees to submit to one school, but it also allows you to still apply (early) for that year and gives you some chance.

[Related episode: How This Nontrad Beat a Bad MCAT Score and Low GPA.]

[04:40] How Accurately Do Practice Tests Predict Your Real MCAT Score?

One of the students I was working with got a 495 as her real MCAT score. The highest score from her practice tests was 500, and her other AAMC full-length practice tests were 494s. So 495 was around the score she was supposed to get—it was close to her practice tests.

I always talk about how practice tests are the best way to practice for the MCAT. And what you’re scoring on the practice test should be about equivalent to what you will score on the real thing. But that doesn’t take into account the obvious fact that stress happens. Real test day jitters can get to you.

Walking into the library to do an MCAT practice test doesn’t affect you the same way that the real MCAT will. Hence, it’s not unusual to score lower on your real MCAT than you did on your practice tests. So don’t be surprised and think it’s a glitch in the system. It just happens. Sometimes, students score much better on the real test. But you can’t expect a miracle on test day.

Your anxiety levels are going to be different during the real MCAT compared to your practice tests.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should I Take?]

[06:35] Should I Play the URM Card?

So this student had a mediocre undergrad GPA with great extracurricular activities, great background, and great story. She’s a URM (underrepresented in medicine), and that adds to her application. So what do you do with a 495? Do you apply and hope there’s something in your application that medical schools will like? Are you a URM? Do you play that card?

There's a reason we consider race in admissions. We need diversity in medical schools. We need diversity among our practicing physicians.Click To Tweet

Data shows, unfortunately, that because of the biases built into our system, African Americans have scored significantly lower on the MCAT compared to Caucasians and Asians. But this doesn’t mean they should be punished for it. So med schools will look at if you are a URM in the admissions process.

[Related episode: How Does Affirmative Action Affect Medical School Admissions?]

So what do you do in this situation where you applied early and then got back a lower MCAT score than you expected?

[08:40] Option #1: Apply

One thing I always tell students I advise and students in the Premed Hangout Facebook Group is to ask the admission committees of the schools you’re interested in applying to. Lay out your cards. Tell them your story and that you’re an URM. Ask whether they have minimum cutoffs for URM students. They may consider a 495, or they may say no.

Ask the medical schools themselves. Go to them. Don't ask your premed advisor. Don't ask Reddit. Don't ask SDN. Ask the schools.Click To Tweet

Ask the school what to do next and where to go from here. They may tell you to go ahead and apply. They may tell you to apply and retake the MCAT. Hence, the first option is to apply. “Spray and pray.”

Spray and pray: Spray your application to as many schools as possible and hope that one looks at it and decides to take a chance on you.Click To Tweet

[10:55] Option #2: Retake the MCAT

Since you’ve already applied and pushed forward, the other option is to retake the MCAT during this cycle. This depends on when you took the MCAT, when you got your score back, and when you can retake the MCAT. You would need time to study and practice before your retake. If you’re going to get the same score again, there’s no point in retaking the MCAT.

If you're going to get the same score again, there's no point in retaking the MCAT.Click To Tweet

If you’re scoring higher in your practice test and then you took the real MCAT and got lower, then something went wrong on test day. Go and retake the test as soon as possible.

Refresh your memory if it’s been a month since you’ve taken it. Go take some more practice tests. Then retake the real MCAT as soon as you can. Keep your applications going, as well as your secondaries.

[Related episode: Can I Score Higher on My MCAT Retake?]

[12:00] Option #3: Withdraw Your Applications

The third option is to call it quits for this cycle. And it’s just this cycle, so it’s not a failed attempt. This doesn’t mean your dream of becoming a physician is over. It just means it’s going to be delayed for another year. And that’s okay.

This may give you time to save up some money for the next application cycle and for some MCAT tutoring. You can save up some money so you can reduce your work hours and focus more on the MCAT, volunteer activities, shadowing, and clinical experience. You have more time to bolster your whole application in the next year.

Scoring low on your first MCAT attempt doesn't mean you can't be a physician. It just means you scored low on your first MCAT attempt.Click To Tweet

That said, even though you may have time to bolster your whole application, remember your focus should be the MCAT if that’s why you’re withdrawing this year. Don’t distract yourself by thinking that since you’re taking a year off to study for the MCAT anyway, you might as well do a Master’s. The MCAT is your kryptonite, at least right now. So go study for the MCAT.

[13:41] Be Self-Aware and Get a Tutor

If studying on your own didn’t work for you, then get a tutor. Have a tutor look at you, at your study habits, your techniques, your test-taking abilities, and have them offer you advice on how to move forward.

You can check out Next Step Test Prep and get a tutor. Use the promo code “MSHQ” to save some money. Ask them to help you figure out where you went wrong with your practice tests. Not all of you are going to need a tutor to go all over the content or the practice tests. Some of you need that, and others don’t.

So if you think you’ve got the content under control, maybe it’s worth a phone call to Next Step. Tell them you need a tutor to go over a practice test or two with you. They can help you figure out where you’re going wrong, break down the questions, and see where your thought process is leading you astray. Otherwise, you’re just scratching your head wondering why you’re scoring low and if this is meant for you.

Look at the study habits and test-taking approach that led to your low MCAT score, and change those.Click To Tweet

[17:00] The MCAT Is Preparation for the Boards

Keep in mind that once you’re in medical school and you’re taking the boards, there’s no retaking them unless you fail. You get the score you get.

So you need to start practicing to do really well on these kinds of big standardized tests. That starts today.

[17:50] Why It’s Great to Delay Your Application for a Year

If you only applied to one school, then maybe that’s great, because when you apply to schools next year, you’re not a reapplicant to them and they haven’t seen your personal statement, so you don’t have to change that much. If you’re prewritten your secondaries while waiting for the MCAT score, all that stuff is already done, so great! And you’ve already asked for letters of recommendation. So if you’re going to reapply next year, most of your work is done. So you’re stress-free. You only have to focus on the MCAT.

Understand that this is not the end of the line for your medical career. This is just a hiccup in the road.Click To Tweet

But then again, you have to look at why you failed in the first place. Do not go running to forums and strangers. They might tell you to go apply to a Caribbean school. There are so many premed myths out there. Be careful taking advice. (Carribean medical schools should only be a last resort.)

Unless you're hearing it from an admissions committee member at a school you want to apply to, ignore it. It's just noise.Click To Tweet

Lastly, if you’re taking some time off, continue to be consistent with your shadowing and with your extracurricular activities. You still need to maintain consistency with those activities. It’s important to demonstrate that you’re committed to medicine—that you’re not just getting a certain number of hours and then quitting.

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