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Are You Prepared for the MCAT?

One of the most common scenarios MCAT students find themselves in is: “The MCAT is in a week, but I don’t feel like I’m ready. Should I reschedule or should I just take it?”

This is certainly an understandable feeling to have. The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, is one of the hardest and most important tests you’ll ever take. Getting a case of the nerves a week or two before Test Day is extremely common.

Check the scores

To really understand this question,  we’ve got to strip some of the emotions away and look at cold, hard numbers when preparing for the MCAT

If you’re like most MCAT students, you’ve taken anywhere from 5-10 (or more!) practice tests as a way to prep for the MCAT. If you haven’t taken several practice tests then it may be a good idea to schedule a later test date. You need to have reliable numbers from your practice exams.

As long as you’ve been using material from a reputable source (the Association of American Medical Colleges [AAMC] and Blueprint Prep are good choices), you’ll have a fairly decent sense of how you’ll perform on Test Day. Final MCAT exam scores are rarely significantly higher or lower than practice test performances.

Focus on section scores

The real trick is to look at your section scores, not your overall performance. Individual section scores can give you a real sense of your skill level. Ask yourself: “If I got my best-ever section scores on Test Day, would I take the test again or not?” If the answer is “Even if I had my best day ever, I would still re-take the test,” then you should NOT take the MCAT yet. If, instead, the answer is “Well, if I had my best day ever, I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I wouldn’t re-take the test” then you SHOULD take the MCAT.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate the idea:

Meet our student, Trevor. He’s new to the MCAT and is looking to go to his state med school. His grades and extracurriculars are great, and he’d be fine with hitting a 508. Let’s say his practice tests are as follows:

Test 1: 501 – Chem/Phys (CP): 124, CARS: 123, Bio/Biochem (BB): 127, Psych/Soc (PS): 127

Test 2: 503 – CP: 125, CARS: 124, BB: 127, PS: 127

Test 3: 502 – CP: 126, CARS: 124, BB: 125, PS: 127

Test 4: 506 – CP: 126, CARS: 126, BB: 127, PS: 127

Test 5: 506 – CP: 125, CARS: 127, BB: 127, PS: 127

Looking at these scores, if Trevor asked “Should I take the MCAT now?” we’d see the following: his best CP score is a 126, his best CARS is a 127, and his best BB and PS scores are also 127. That means if he has his “best day ever” he’d be getting a 507. Keep in mind, this is not a fantasy land idea–these are actual scores he’s been able to achieve. While Trevor originally wanted that 508,if he’s willing to apply with a 507 then he should go take the test.

Use your goal scores as motivators

Goal MCAT exam scores can be helpful motivators when studying for the MCAT. Assessing whether you are prepared to reach your goal score is an important check-in to do throughout your preparations. However, if an overly high goal score is discouraging you or causing you to continuously push your test day back, it may be time to think of a range of scores you would be happy to apply with. Incorporating a degree of flexibility into your goals is a helpful way to stay motivated and feel prepared on Test Day. 

Usually when panic sets in, there’s a temptation to reschedule the test just to buy yourself more time. It’s certainly an understandable feeling, but it’s also a big mistake. 

It is not a good idea to push your Test Day back repeatedly or lessen your efforts by tentatively planning to push your MCAT exam back. Make sure you set a realistic range of goal scores, create a manageable study plan, and fulfill the intensity of studying that the MCAT requires.

There are certain instances where you need to move your exam in order to meet your goal range or make sure that you can fully prepare yourself. In these cases it’s necessary to ask yourself: “If I have three more weeks, what’s going to be different about the way I spend those three weeks? Why do I think I’ll get different results with a bit more time?”

When to push back the test?

Phrasing the question this way forces us to look very carefully at specifics about how we’ve been studying and what we could do differently. So, when to take the MCAT, exactly? Here are a few of the most common examples of the sorts of situations that would merit pushing back the test:

  1. I was sick and lost three weeks of study time (or something else unexpected happened).
  2. I was spending lots of time studying as if it was a science test, but not taking enough MCAT practice exams.
  3. I’ve been working through my MCAT course modules and I have not completed a significant amount of them. I can recognize there are large gaps in my content knowledge.
  4. My scores on MCAT prep practice tests have been low enough that even if I have “my best day ever,” I wouldn’t bother applying to med school.
  5. I’ve only gotten through roughly 50% of my study plan. It wasn’t a realistic timeline OR I haven’t been completing the modules I should have.

By contrast, you should not reschedule just because you’re feeling one of these:

  1. I went through all content MCAT modules and AAMC material, but I just want to go through them all twice.
  2. I still feel really uncomfortable with specific concepts like buoyancy (or beta-oxidation or nephrons, etc.) even though I went through those materials.
  3. My practice test scores are okay, but still a couple of points shy of what I want. 
  4. I get test anxiety, and I’ve been feeling really, really nervous about the exam (even though I am generally happy with the scores on my MCAT practice exams).

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not to take the test is a pretty big one. We encourage you to get advice from knowledgeable sources, consider that advice, and make the decision that you know is right for you. If your gut instinct is strongly telling you “DO NOT DO THIS” then trust your instincts. But make sure to be confident in yourself and the hard work you’ve put in. You are an equipped test-taker who can manage testing jitters!

And remember, if you need some free study resources including 1,600 flashcards, a customizable study planner, and practice test with analytics, make a free MCAT account.

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