When Is the Best Time to Take the MCAT Exam?

Scheduling the MCAT exam requires planning since it is taken the year before you hope to be admitted. Consider these factors when planning your date.
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  • MCAT exam dates are from January through September.
  • A good score on the MCAT is critical for getting into medical school.
  • The right timing for taking the MCAT exam can vary due to several factors.

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice exam that's used by medical schools to assess your reasoning skills and science knowledge. The test allows medical schools to compare applicants' qualifications and preparedness.

Getting a good score on the MCAT exam has a direct impact on your application. With the exam offered from January to September, students have options for tailoring their MCAT exam prep in accordance with their preferred timing.

Let's examine the best time to take the MCAT exam and how that affects your application to medical school.

The MCAT Exam: Key Facts to Know

The MCAT exam is well known for being challenging. The process of applying to and getting into medical school is highly competitive, so schools use the MCAT exam results to identify students they believe will thrive in the medical school environment.

The test has four sections, three of which focus on science and big concepts and ideas. They reflect a student's knowledge base and understanding of these concepts. The fourth section tests critical reasoning. The sections are:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The critical analysis and reasoning skills section is unique since it doesn't rely on past knowledge. Instead, it determines your ability to analyze arguments and find underlying assumptions. This section assesses your ability to interpret information when you don't have background knowledge. The best way to prepare for this section is to do practice questions so you're familiar with how to analyze the information given.

The maximum score in each section is 132, and the top score you can achieve is 528. Since the MCAT exam scores are important metrics medical schools use to choose students, schools publish the average GPA and average MCAT scores for the last class of first-year students admitted. This offers insight into the scores you must achieve to be considered for admission.

The average MCAT exam score for most schools ranges between 502 and 517. Remember, this is an average score, so there are students whose scores are higher and those whose scores are lower.

Medical school is a crowded space, and acceptance rates across all medical schools also vary, but the average acceptance rate is only 5.5%. There is not a lot of breathing room between schools that take the lowest average MCAT exam score and the highest, with a range from 501 on the low end to 522 on the high end.

The Association of American Medical Colleges publishes the upcoming percentile rank for the MCAT. For the test to be given from May 1, 2023, to April 30, 2024, the mean score is 501.3. These percentile ranks are used to scale the test because students are competing against each other and not on a strict right/wrong algorithm.

Each question on the test is graded based on several variables, and the questions you get right are compared to other test takers. For instance, if you get 50% of the questions on the MCAT correct, it doesn't mean your score is 264 or half of 528. Instead, if 80% of the test takers get 50% of the questions correct, then the equivalent score is slightly over 500.

When Should I Take the MCAT Exam?

There are several important factors you should consider in deciding your best MCAT exam date. The MCAT exam dates are from January through September. Thisaccommodates students' schedules for taking and submitting the results to medical schools. MCAT exam results must be submitted to medical schools just over one year before your desired start date.

So when is the best time to take the exam? The simple answer is to take it when you feel best prepared and when the results can be submitted in enough time for medical schools to consider your application.

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

The first factor you have to consider is the year you want to attend medical school. Some pre-med students take a year off between their undergraduate work and medical school. Others move straight into medical school.

Once you know the year you want to attend, then it's time to work backward.

For example, if you intend to attend medical school in the fall of 2025, then choose to take the MCAT on a date between January and May of 2024. This allows you to submit your scores within the application deadline. You might want to give yourself the option of taking the MCAT more than once to get a better score. In this case, think about taking it on an earlier MCAT exam date, which allows you to receive your scores and decide whether to retest or not.

However, you can only take the test three times in a single testing year and four times over two consecutive testing years. Also,, when you request your MCAT scores to be sent as part of your application to a medical school, they see all your exam scores, and each program has a policy on how they evaluate students who have multiple scores.

Your decision to attend medical school is an exciting one and should be celebrated. You are becoming part of the healthcare solution to provide quality patient care. The steps you take now to study for and schedule your MCAT exam date will influence your medical school application. It is wise to talk with your advisor or a trusted faculty member to help you plan and prepare.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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