Maybe you got your MCAT score back, and you’re disappointed and scared/, Or you’re in the month-long period between taking the test and receiving your score. Either way, you’re wondering what happens next. How do you know if you should retake the MCAT? Does it look bad? How do you study for a retake? How do you keep your head up and do better next time?
What Is a Good MCAT Score?
To understand what scores would warrant a retake, it would be helpful to have a sense of what a “good” score is. There is no perfect score (even a 528) because there is no score that guarantees you an acceptance. You want to aim to do as well as possible, but you want a score that you feel comfortable with when you submit your application.
According to the most recent data (2021-2022) from the AAMC, the average score for matriculants is 511.9. It’s reasonable to assume that scoring above this average can improve your chances and that scoring below can hurt your chances. To be near or above this average, it’s good to aim for a 510 or above. Scoring just a few points below this doesn’t automatically mean you should retake the MCAT, but it might be helpful to consider whether a retake would improve your score.
If you score below a 500, I strongly recommend retaking the MCAT, even if that means delaying your application until the next cycle. It’s possible to get into medical school with a sub-500 score, but it’s generally much harder. You need an admissions committee to take a chance on you and for there to be another element in your application that gains and keeps their attention.
Your MCAT score can either hurt or help your application, and you want to aim for a score that will help.
How Many Times Can I Take the MCAT?
Hopefully, you never need to come near the lifetime limit, which is seven, but it’s still good information to have. You can sit for the test up to twice in one year and three times in two years.
When and How to Decide on a Retake
Don’t make the decision immediately after seeing your score. You are likely to be faced with many feelings at once when you see your score, including disappointment or surprise at the actual score and fear at the thought of not getting into medical school this year. But you don’t want fear to be the main thing guiding your decision to retake or not. Take some time to decide whether retaking will help you. Talk to friends, family, and people whose advice you trust. The MCAT is expensive and grueling, so don’t make yourself retake it if it’s not worth the time and money it would take.
It may also be helpful to decide before getting your score back what would prompt you to retake the MCAT. It could be the score itself, subsection breakdowns (not the most important factor), or how you felt your test day went. Two students could receive the same score and come to two different decisions.
For Student A, that may be the best they can see themselves doing this cycle and be a score they’re comfortable with. Student B may have been scoring much higher on full-length exams and had a rough test day, leading them to retake because they believe they have it in them to do better in the future.
When deciding whether your second score is likely to be an improvement, you want to consider your current schedule, any new courses you might have taken, and the timing of your applications. If you have more on your plate than the first time you studied, you may need to drop things or give yourself a more extended period of studying to fit it all in. You also want to reflect on what worked and didn’t the first time. If you don’t change anything, your score is unlikely to improve much, if at all.
If You Get Your Score Back Before Applying
Those of you have the option to delay applying until the next cycle. This will give you more time to retake, and you can study at a more relaxed pace than if you need a new score relatively quickly. If you have significant content gaps or think you need a lot of work before retaking, delaying your application is probably your best option.
If you think you can retake and get a competitive score back before September, you should feel free to apply before retaking. You can mark on your application that you plan on retaking the MCAT, and schools can know to expect an updated score. To reduce some of the risks of applying before a retake, you can submit to just one school and wait to add others until you get your new score back.
If your new score is what you are hoping for, you can quickly add them to your list and submit the additional secondary applications. Submitting your application to one school allows you to get verified and ensures that you don’t get delayed by the verification process when you are ready to submit. You’ll want to prewrite the secondaries for the additional schools if you do this. You’ll receive the prompts quickly, and you need to submit them soon after receiving them.
If you won’t receive your new score until June or later, don’t wait until you receive it to decide whether to apply. Doing this will delay your application and hurt your chances, even if your new score is fantastic. Instead, either wait until the following cycle to apply or submit to only one school to secure your place in line.
If You Get Your Score Back After Applying
If you’ve already applied by the time you get your score back, you can still retake, and you should still keep yourself in the pool of applicants. However, if you haven’t submitted secondary applications yet and think it will be a while before you are ready to test again, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to withdraw your applications and try again next cycle. Don’t make this decision in a rush, though. Take the time to think through all of your options, seek advice, and choose the option that works best for you.
Is It Bad to Retake the MCAT?
Some students are afraid of the stigma associated with retaking the MCAT, even if their score improves. I hope all of you crush the MCAT on the first try, but it’s okay if you don’t. Needing to retake or not scoring as well as you had hoped is incredibly common. Improving your score the second time will show admissions committees that you can take what you learned from a first attempt and use it to improve. It helps reassure them that you are comfortable with the material and that you can learn from your mistakes.
What can reflect poorly on you is rushing to retake it and scoring similarly or worse than you did the first time. Rushing can show poor judgment, which may reaffirm any suspicion that you don’t have a good grasp of the material. While retaking an acceptable or high score doesn’t necessarily hurt your application regarding how it reflects on you, your time would be better served by focusing on other aspects of your application, like your personal statement.