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Am I Ready to Take the MCAT? Part 1

  • by Allison Chae
  • May 16, 2013
  • MCAT Blog, MCAT Info, MCAT Long Form, MCAT Prep, MCAT Retake

Are You Prepared for the MCAT?

One of the most common questions MCAT students face 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 reaction to have. The 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.

To really understand this question, then, we’ve got to strip some of the emotions away and look at cold, hard numbers.

If you’re like most MCAT students, you’ve taken anywhere from 5-10 (or more!) practice tests as a way to get ready for the exam. If you haven’t taken several practice tests then the answer to the question is simple – you’re NOT ready. This doesn’t happen often, but every now and again I’ll hear from someone who says, “Oh I only ever took one practice test and it seemed fine.”

So with Test Day looming, you’ve got a half-dozen or so scores to look back at. As long as you’ve been using material from a reputable source (the AAMC and Next Step are good choices here) you’ll have a fairly decent sense of how you’re going to do on Test Day. Scores rarely end up significantly higher or lower than practice test performance.

The real trick, though is to look at your sections scores, not your overall performance. It’s the scores on the individual section that give you a real sense of your skill level. The question to ask yourself is this: “If I got my best ever section scores all 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. 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 two examples to illustrate the idea:

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

Test 1: 501 – Chem Foundations (CF): 124, CARS: 123, Bio Foundations (BF): 127, Psych Foundations (PF): 127

Test 2: 503 – CF: 125, CARS: 124, BF: 127, PF: 127

Test 3: 502 – 126, 124, 125, 127

Test 4: 506 – 126, 126, 127, 127

Test 5: 506 – 125, 127, 127, 127

Looking at these scores, if Trevor asked, “Should I take the MCAT?” we’d see the following: his best Chem Foundations score is a 126, his best CARS (Verbal) is a 127 and his best Bio and Psych 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 an unrealistic Pollyanna Fantasy Land idea – these are actual scores he’s been able to achieve. I’d ask Trevor, “If you got a 507, would you apply with that score, or would you just take the test again?” While Trevor might be kind of disappointed – he really wanted that 508 – if he’s willing to apply with a 507 then he should go take the test.

Our second student is Melissa. She’s already been prepping for the MCAT for five months before she began tutoring because she’s absolutely committed to getting a top score on the exam. She’s not interested in going anywhere other than a really competitive school. Her practice test scores are:

Test 1: 509 – 125, 127, 127, 130

Test 2: 505 – 125, 124, 126, 130

Test 3: 510 – 127, 130, 125, 128

Test 4: 510 – 126, 130, 126, 128

Test 5: 512 – 127, 129, 127, 129

For Melissa, her “best day ever” would be getting a 127 in Chem and Bio, and a 130 in CARS and Psych. This gives her the very impressive score of 514. Chances are Melissa would be perfectly happy with this score and she should definitely take the test.

The fundamental reason this is important advice is that if you let yourself keep pushing your Test Day back over and over, you’ll end up either really hurting your applications chances, or you’ll end up never taking the test. You have to hold your feet to the fire and really push yourself to work hard towards Test Day and then get it done. Constantly pushing back to get “just two more weeks to study” is a quick way to ensure you never hit that level of intensity that the MCAT requires. More on that in the next post.

In Part 2, we discuss whether or not you should make the decision to push back your test date.