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Should You Retake the MCAT?

Lower Than Expected MCAT Score?

Sometimes things don’t work out the first time around. If you’re staring at your MCAT score report wondering, “Should I retake the MCAT,” we have good news. The MCAT will permit you to take the test again – up to three times a year or seven times in a lifetime. If you have to retake the test, you’re not alone. According to data released by the AAMC, thousands of students retake the test every year. Unfortunately, if you don’t prepare thoroughly for the second try, you risk getting a score that’s the same or lower than your original score.  For the overwhelming majority of retakers, there’s nearly a 1/3 chance that you’ll get the same or lower score. This emphasizes how important it is to prepare thoroughly for an MCAT retake.

It’s not enough to “just study harder” when you take the exam again. You need to carefully analyze, what study patterns produced the results you got the first time. Then you’ve got to craft an approach that will build on past success, correct past failure, and lead to a strong performance on the next test. The decision about whether or not to re-take is easy if your score is well below the average for the programs you’re applying to—obviously retake it! Similarly, if your score is comfortably at or above the “average” range for your target schools, then you certainly don’t retake the test. The question becomes tough if you’re on the edge.

If your score is below your target by only a handful of points, it can be tricky to decide whether or not to risk a lower score on another test. The solution is to ask yourself a few fundamental questions:

First, do I have time to prep for the test?

It’s important to remember that when you sit for the MCAT a second time, you’re not just brushing up quickly. You have to start over from scratch. All the study and practice you did months ago isn’t stored up in a bank of MCAT points you can just withdraw from. You’ve got to prep to get yourself back into shape. Then you’ve got to prep even harder to push your performance beyond your first test.

So start by looking at your calendar. What other time commitments do you have? School? Job? Family? Volunteer work? If you’re going to retake the MCAT, you’ll need to allocate anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week of prep time for two to four months. So plan your MCAT test date and study schedule accordingly. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that has huge payoffs.

Second, what will I change this time around?

Doing the same thing will get you the same results. This is an incredibly simple idea, but it’s so easy to lose sight of it. How did you prepare the first time? Books? A classroom course? Did you take any full-length practice exams under test-like conditions? If so, how many? If you took a classroom course, look into an online MCAT course. Similarly, if you took an online course, consider private MCAT tutoring.

By far the most common mistake students make the first time around is simply not allocating enough time and resources to the MCAT. While classroom courses promise big results, you can be left flat if the instructor and materials didn’t provide you with the kind of intensive and individualized feedback you need to succeed.

The second most common mistake students make is treating the MCAT as if it were just another science test. By now, you know that’s not true. The actual science content on the exam isn’t that advanced – often just what would be covered in freshman-level courses. You can’t study your way to a better MCAT score; you need to practice. Make sure you are practicing with full-length exams as well as shorter tests and quizzes. Use as many free MCAT materials as you can to help supplement your main prep. You can also download our free Retaking the MCAT Guide!

Finally, you may have found that you just weren’t prepared for the psychological pressure of the exam itself. When it comes to the MCAT, it’s not what you know, it’s what you show. And that ability to show your best performance can be hampered by test anxiety in a variety of shapes and forms. All of the books and classes in the world won’t help if you don’t have some expert guidance to diffuse all of that test anxiety. Here are some great tips to combat that!

Finally, how will the admissions committees view multiple scores?

When you submit your applications, all MCAT scores will be included. If you are going to be sending multiple scores to a medical school, the admissions committee will do one of the following:

  • Take the most recent scores, regardless of which scores are the highest
  • Average all scores to generate a single overall MCAT score
  • Take the highest single test administration
  • Take the highest section scores from each test administration

Each med school will have its own policies, so it’s a good idea to contact each school directly to find out how they treat individual scores.

Ultimately, retaking the test is only a good idea if you know you can work hard and see a significant improvement. Admissions committees see students with a low first score and a high second score all the time. The key is not to be one of those unfortunate folks whose second score is actually lower than the first one.

Ready to start boosting your MCAT score? Start by creating a free Blueprint MCAT account to get free MCAT flashcards, a study planner, content guides, and a practice MCAT exam.

However, MCAT scores alone will not guarantee you admission into medical school. The entire application, including personal statement, is just as important. Dr. Ryan Gray of Medical School HQ created a Medical School Admissions Master Class series to help applicants create a strong application. If you need additional help, an MCAT Advisor can walk you through everything you need for the med school application and help you decide what to do if you have a low MCAT score.

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.