Application season is quickly approaching, which means that Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score reports from last year and this winter break are beginning to be released. While some students will achieve their target scores, others may fall just short of their goals. Many students are then faced with the question of, “Should I retake my MCAT?” This prompts a myriad of other questions along with it. Below we’ll discuss when you should consider signing up for a retake and what to consider if you decide to take the test again.
First, it is important to consider what your ambitions are in terms of medical school. Some questions to consider:
Are you particularly set on certain schools or location?
How competitive are those programs?
What are the average MCAT scores of matriculated students?
How strong is the rest of your application in comparison to your MCAT score?
These questions should help guide your decision process. Since the introduction of the new MCAT 2015, the scoring has been solidified into percentiles and most schools have collected enough data to report average accepted and matriculant scores. To put things into a numerical perspective, if you’re familiar with the MCAT prior to 2015 the new ‘30’ is approximately a 508. This score along with an A/B grade point average and significant extracurricular activities should give you some opportunities to interview at a few programs. Obviously, these factors are on a spectrum, and a higher GPA or more extracurriculars may be able to make up for a slightly lower score, while a higher MCAT score may make up for lacking grades or extracurriculars. However, this is roughly the baseline range you should be working towards for entry into a United States medical school.
So suppose you met the qualifications listed above, what are some reasons you might still consider a retake?
One reason many students give is that their practice test scores were significantly higher and their qualifications are otherwise excellent. This makes their MCAT score the limiting factor in their application. In this situation, there are a few considerations to make when deciding whether to retake, the first of these being the conditions your practice tests were taken under as compared to those on test day.
It is essential when taking practice exams to mimic the environment your test will occur under. This means no extra resources, no cell phones, Facebook, similar time for starting the exam and for breaks, and practicing with exams that are similar in terms of content and difficulty to the actual MCAT. These factors are not easy to mimic, however; I find that students often give themselves small advantages such as starting off with a formula sheet that boosts their score on practice exams, resulting in a drop in the true MCAT score. If this is the case, you may want to consider retaking the test.
Another factor that students often shy away from talking about is test anxiety. Even medical students suffer from severe test anxiety! Anecdotally, many of my friends in school have shared how mentally and physically challenging taking the MCAT was for them. Unfortunately, anxiety can affect exam scores. Taking a practice exam compared to the actual MCAT is a very different experience. I encourage you to ask yourself if you believe this may have impacted your performance and how you might be able to address this if you should decide to retake. Taking exams is one of the tougher hurdles in medicine and it is advantageous to develop strategies to cope with anxiety and improve performance.
Students should also consider their performance in the subsections of the MCAT. For example, if the student did very well in three out of four sections but poorly in one section that resulted in a low composite score, a retake is strongly recommended. Admissions committees tend to favor balanced test scores and improving a single section is often an easier task than improving a composite score. If you fall under this category, try to reflect on why that section was particularly weak and how you plan to improve in the retake.
While these factors are all very important considerations, by far the most important factor to contemplate before retaking the test is your future performance on a second MCAT.
Since schools receive a report of all scores you receive on the MCAT, it is essential that your performance improves. A second score that is lower than the first outside of the typical margin of error is considered very poorly by most schools and can negatively impact how your application is viewed during the application cycle. Because of this, you really want to make sure that you will perform significantly better than your first exam. Should you decide to retake your MCAT, I encourage you to seek out new resources for your exam preparation and keep track of your performance on practice exams. The key to increasing your MCAT score is really planning and diligently following a study schedule (a private tutor can also help you with this, if that's something you're considering and are having trouble staying organized and focused on your study plan). There is so much benefit in getting a second pass at the material on your MCAT and looking at it with the experience of having already taken the exam before. An improved exam score can be a huge benefit to your application and show many admissions committees that you are able to reflect and improve your performance on a difficult exam. Visit Accepted.com's Selectivity Index based on average MCAT scores & GPAs to get an idea of where you stand.
About the Author
Jordan Salley is one of MyGuru's most accomplished MCAT tutors. Click here to learn more!