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The Best and Worst Times to Take the MCAT

When Should You Take the MCAT Exam?

Let’s start with a bit about the MCAT. Every MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is “equated” against a standard scale. This means that an MCAT score of “510” on one test is comparable to a “510” on another test, even if one test is slightly harder than another. Your test scores are not being graded against the other people taking that particular MCAT exam, so there’s no need to worry about the MCAT having an “easier curve” during one time of the year or another. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has said that unlike curved exams, which evaluate performance by comparing individual performance with other students on that test day, all scores are equivalent. So, avoid the common misconception that your score will be affected by other students testing on the same test date since the difficulty of a particular form is, in fact, accounted for in the scoring process. The idea that it’s better to take the MCAT later in the summer because it’s easier is nothing more than a myth. What is the average MCAT score? 

So if All MCATs Are Essentially the Same, Which MCAT Test Should I Take?

There are three major considerations when determining when to take the MCAT: Coursework, Prep, and Deadlines and Retakes.

1. Coursework

The MCAT covers material equivalent to a year of physics, a year of chemistry, a year of organic chemistry, and one to two years of biology. It’s generally not a good idea to take the MCAT until you’ve finished most or all of these prerequisite courses. Students will occasionally take the test during their second semester of organic chemistry or their second semester of physics. That’s usually okay, although  it’s preferable to wait until you’re done with these classes. While taking other courses such as human anatomy/physiology, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology can be highly beneficial, these are not as crucial to have a prior understanding and are more easily self-taught. Rather, create your study plan to accommodate longer stretches of time for content review of these sections. Ultimately, the rigor of your school coursework will likely affect your level of background knowledge, so it is up to you to decide when you feel most confident. 

2. MCAT Prep

The most important factor to consider in deciding when to take the test is your MCAT study schedule. When will you have a solid three to four months during which you can spend at least an hour or two (or, more likely, three to five) every single day studying MCAT content? This involves taking multiple practice exams to see where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you’re still in school, think of MCAT prep as a semester-long course that’s worth 8-10 credits all by itself. Most students take anywhere from 3-6 months to prepare for the exam, and it really depends on your other commitments, whether school or work, as well as the amount of time you can allot for MCAT preparation. It is recommended that students complete approximately 7-8 full-length exams and 3,000 practice questions throughout studying to ensure that they’re exposed to a wide array of topics and question types that are presented, so definitely orient your studying to accommodate the sufficient practice. 

While it’s quite common to take the MCAT exam during the spring semester of junior year, if you’re already taking 18 credits and doing volunteer work, you should probably wait until the summer. On the other hand, if you have a demanding internship lined up for the summer, it might be a good idea to free up your schedule in the spring so that you can focus intensely on the MCAT.

By contrast, if you’re already out of school and are working, there may not be a time when you can dive into an MCAT course full-time. In that case, you’ll need a longer window of time: 5-6 months rather than 3-4 before the MCAT test date. And instead of working 3 or 4 hours a day on MCAT prep, you may only do an hour or so. Don’t overexert yourself; prepping for the MCAT while working is difficult, and if you need to take a break during your journey, then you should. In essence, your decision to register for a particular MCAT date should be carefully planned to allow you to maximize your studying and reach your potential. 

3. Deadlines and Retakes

The final two considerations—Deadlines and Retakes—go hand in hand. You’ll want to make sure you’ve finished the MCAT well before the application deadlines, and chances are you’ll want to give yourself time to retake the MCAT if necessary. So be mindful of the MCAT registration date.

The vast majority of MCAT test takers (85%) only take the test one time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and be thorough with your MCAT preparation. You may find that the MCAT study material is harder than you expected, or life may throw a curveball your way. It’s better to plan on getting the test done early so that you have breathing room when it comes to applying to med school and give yourself the best chance at admission by applying early. If you schedule the test for the last possible minute, you’ll be creating lots of unnecessary stress. And don’t be afraid of extra help with MCAT tutoring.

So when is the best time to take the MCAT for test takers? Usually, the best way to balance these considerations is to aim to take the test during one of the May test dates. If you stick to your New Years Resolution to work hard on the MCAT, a May test date gives you a solid 4 or 5 months of prep. If things aren’t working out the way you planned, you can reschedule and push your date back to late May or early June.

By taking the test in late April or early May, you’ll have your scores back by early June. If everything has gone well, then you’re off to the races with your applications. If not (knock on wood), you’ve still got plenty of time through June and July to do an intensive summer prep and retake the test in mid-August.

Having to retake the test in August or September can certainly hurt your medical school admissions chances. By September, the schools are well underway interviewing (or selecting for interviews) their first round of candidates. By the time you get your scores back at the end of September, schools have already started filling their classes. In a rolling admissions cycle, that means you’ll be competing for fewer slots later in the year. Nevertheless, there are still spots available, so you’re not totally out of the game. Furthermore, AAMC allows students to take the MCAT three times within one year and four times within two years, so if you are retaking the MCAT, be sure to account for these factors as well. 

When Should You Not Take the MCAT? 

The short answer is simple: before you’re ready. If you haven’t completed the prerequisite courses, started an MCAT study plan, or haven’t looked at an MCAT practice question, you won’t do well. The MCAT is a grueling and expensive process, so there’s no reason to do it “just to see how it goes.” That’s why it helps to take the MCAT practice test, so you have an idea of what you’re dealing with.

Finally, don’t put the MCAT off. Pushing the test back to the end of the summer for no good reason does you a real disservice. Not only will this rush your med school application process, but you will tend to forget information and decline in performance without constant practice and review. If you absolutely have to take the MCAT in September, then it’s nice to have that safety net there. But don’t plan from the start on waiting until the very last minute. It’s a risky approach.

Stay on top of MCAT test dates. When you are deciding when to take the exam, keep in mind that the AAMC can cancel exams randomly and add new test dates and times. See our MCAT test dates page to stay up to date and register for an available MCAT test date.

Learn When YOU Should Take the MCAT

If you have specific questions about your own individual scheduling concerns, set up a  free consultation with one of our MCAT Advisors. We’d be happy to talk to you about your needs and suggest a way to tailor your study schedule to your lifestyle, whether that’s with a private MCAT tutor or our Self-Paced MCAT Course. You can start prepping for the MCAT by taking Blueprint Prep online courses or  create a free account to access a study planner, practice test and more!

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