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What is a Good MCAT Score to Get Into Medical Schools?

November 8, 2022
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What is the MCAT?MCAT Sections and FormatHow is MCAT Used in the Admissions Process?What is a Good MCAT Score?How to Apply Based on Your MCAT ScoreTips for Getting a Good MCAT ScoreFAQs About MCAT Scores

”Akhil

Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 10/03/22

This guide will cover exactly what you need to know about MCAT scores giving you an  advantage amongst others in the medical school applicant pool.

An essential component of your primary application for medical school is your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score. You must receive a good MCAT score, or at least an average MCAT score to get into medical school; therefore, understanding the MCAT, its importance, format, and usage by medical schools prepares you for the exam itself. 

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What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to evaluate your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles.

Most accredited U.S. medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT scores with their application. The computer-based exam was developed by the Associate of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and has been used by medical school admissions committees for over 90 years. 

Nearly 85,000 students take the exam each year. It is administered multiple times a year at over a hundred different locations in the United States.

Why is the MCAT important?

The MCAT is required by most US and Canadian medical schools as part of your application. Your MCAT score can hold a lot of weight when it comes to admissions decisions because it gives medical schools an idea of your basic understanding of fundamental med school materials.

Whether or not a medical school has a minimum MCAT requirement, achieving an above average MCAT score will set your application above the rest. Depending on the competitiveness of each school, sometimes even meeting the minimum requirements won’t be enough. Most medical schools have low acceptance rates, so you should give yourself every opportunity to stand out. 

Each school weighs applications differently, and while a few schools have no MCAT requirement, it is in your best interest to take the test and achieve the best score you can. 

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MCAT Sections and Format

Each section of the MCAT is scored from a range of 118 to 132. Your total score is the combination of your MCAT section scores. The highest MCAT score possible is 528. There are four sections in the exam, and each is designed to assess specific skills:

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section

The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT focuses on three concepts: 

  1. Biomolecules, its properties, and how they are a part of the process necessary to maintain life.
  2. How molecules, cells, and organs interact with one another and carry out basic functions of living organisms.
  3. Complex systems of tissues and organs sense internal and external environments of multicellular organisms, and how they maintain a stable internal environment in an ever-changing external environment.

This section aims to combine your knowledge of biological and biochemical concepts with your problem-solving and reasoning skills. It is designed to test your understanding of basic principles of  biology, organic chemistry, and introductory chemistry. The exam also requires you to demonstrate your research methods and statistical skills applied to the natural sciences.

There are 59 questions in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section, and you are given 95 minutes to complete it. During the exam, you are given a periodic table that you may use as a reference. 

You may wonder how much of each concept in the natural sciences are in the exam. How many organic chemistry-related questions will I see? Are there more biology questions than biochemistry? You should expect to see the following percentages of these disciplines in the exam:

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Sciences section of the MCAT exam covers two foundational concepts:

  1. Complex living organisms transport materials, sense the environment, process signals, and respond using processes that are understood in terms of physical principles.
  2. Principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions form the basis of a broader understanding of molecular dynamics of living systems.

This portion of the MCAT also asks you to solve problems, but you must combine your knowledge of scientific inquiry with biochemistry, molecular biology, and physics. It tests your knowledge of basic chemical and physical principles that operate the human body and requires that you demonstrate  reasoning in  your responses.

Like with the Biological and Biochemical section, the Chemical and Physical Foundations section has 59 questions, and you are given 95 minutes to complete them. You are given a periodic table during this portion of the exam too. This section can be broken down into the following disciplines and percentages:

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

The Psychological, Social, Biological Foundations of Behavior section has five concepts that are incorporated within it: 

  1. Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world.
  2. Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior and behavior change.
  3. Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors influence how we perceive ourselves, others, and our interaction with others.
  4. Cultural and social differences influence overall well-being.
  5. Social stratification and access to resources influences overall well-being.

This portion of the MCAT examines your ability to reason and understand ways psychological, social, and biological factors influence people. The five concepts mentioned emphasize what future doctors need to know to serve the ever-growing, diverse healthcare population. 

While this section does focus on biological sciences, there is more focus on the psychological and sociological aspects involved. 

You are given 59 questions that must be answered in 95 minutes. There is no periodic table required for this portion. Therefore, one is not provided. This section of the exam pulls content from the following disciplines:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

While the first three sections test your critical thinking and reasoning skills, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the exam delves deeper by asking passage-based questions. Unlike the other MCAT sections – which rely on previous knowledge – everything you need to answer each question is found within the passage. Therefore, your answers result from  reading and analyzing each passage provided. 

This section of the MCAT requires you to demonstrate the following skills:

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT is similar to exams you may have taken throughout the years. You are given a passage to read and questions based on it; the main difference here is that these questions and passages are designed to measure analysis and reasoning skills needed to succeed in medical school. 

While the passages are short, they are complex, thought-provoking, and are written in a more intricate style – designed to really make you think.

This section of the exam has 53 questions total, and you are given 90 minutes to answer them. The passages center around the humanities (i.e., art, literature, philosophy) and social sciences (i.e., economics, history, political science). The following is a breakdown of how the questions are likely to be distributed:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skill:

Passage Content:

How is MCAT Used in the Admissions Process?

The MCAT is an important test, and many medical schools have specific criteria regarding minimum MCAT scores that must be obtained . Admissions committees use MCAT scores to determine which students will succeed in their medical school and assess the skills they feel are most important for students to be successful. 

Your MCAT scores are used in conjunction with the following information to determine whether or not you are a good fit for medical school:

So if your GPA isn’t up to par, aim  to score higher on the MCAT to compensate. If you have a higher GPA, you may be able to get away with a slightly lower MCAT score.. While high MCAT scores do not always guarantee admission into medical school, having a competitive  score benefits your application as a whole. Shoot for getting as high of a score as possible.

What is a Good MCAT Score?

So, what is a good MCAT score? A good overall score means your grade is above the national average MCAT score. Ideally it would also mean your MCAT score is within the percentile of the current class at your desired medical school. The chart shows the most recent MCAT percentiles from the AAMC: 

Image outlining the most recent MCAT percentiles

The maximum MCAT score possible is 528. 

The average MCAT score for entering MD students in the United States is 511, so your score should not be lower than the average. 

This means that applicants were at least within the 86th percentile overall. While this is the average MCAT score, medical schools often vary as to what they expect in MCAT scores. 

Similarly, even if a school sets a minimum MCAT score, students absolutely should have a score above this. For example, Weill Cornell School of Medicine has no cutoffs for MCAT scores. 

At the same time, UCSF Medical School requires applicants to be within or above the 75th percentile (a score of 508 or more) to apply to their institution. As you can see, these are two very different responses to the MCAT. Check with your target medical schools to see if they have other MCAT criteria you must meet. 

While a good MCAT score may mean fitting into the middle of the pack, it's recommended to be far above the pack. For an excellent MCAT score that will be competitive at all schools, students should aim to be at least in the 90th percentile, which is around a score of 514. 

How to Apply Based on Your MCAT Score

Students should go into the MCAT with the intent of obtaining the highest score possible. They should use your  MCAT score to your  advantage, and apply where you have the best chance of acceptance. If you’re disappointed with your  score, or find it’s not competitive at other schools, consider retaking the exam.  

If you choose to take the MCAT exam first, you don’t have the pressure to meet a specific requirement. You can go in, hoping to score as high as possible. However, this may limit your pool of medical schools when it comes time to apply. 

For example, you may take the MCAT and score a 512. While yours is above the national average MCAT score, your application would not be considered at UCSF Medical School because you weren’t within the 75th percentile. 

If you choose to research medical schools before taking the MCAT, you have a better idea of how you should score to be considered at those schools. This is often the best route to take. However, some people go into the test feeling pressured to meet an exact MCAT score based on the medical school they wish to attend. That stress can affect you while taking the exam. 

Your goal is to get the highest score possible, but getting a good score doesn’t necessarily take you out of the running for medical school. Apply to medical school with the idea that your MCAT score is only one of the important factors in your application–not the most important. 

By keeping the above information in mind, you have a better chance of achieving a good MCAT score and getting accepted into medical school.

Tips for Getting a Good MCAT Score

You have registered to take the MCAT score but aren’t sure what to do next. There is a lot of material the exam covers, and you want to make sure you do well and are prepared. Here are some helpful tips for getting a perfect MCAT score:

1. Study

This sounds cliché, but people often don’t do well on the MCAT because they did not study enough or they studied the wrong material. Studying is the best way to get a good score on the MCAT. Create a study plan that works best for you. Keep it rigorous but allow it to accommodate your daily life. This way, you will walk into the exam prepared and more at ease.

2. Figure out what MCAT score you need

In order to set your own expectations, ask yourself: “what MCAT score do I need?” Every medical school has separate requirements and MCAT score expectations. Take a look at the minimum MCAT requirements of each of your target schools to know the minimum MCAT score you need to achieve. 

Looking at class averages may also give you a better idea of what your dream medical school is expecting from your MCAT scores. 

3. Start early

Start studying as early as possible. You don’t want to wait until the week before the MCAT to cram information into your brain. Chances are, the pressure of trying to retain the information will make you forget it more quickly. 

Starting early gives you time to cover more material before the exam. You can start a year before your exam, or a few months – depending on your baseline level of knowledge. For example, you can give yourself a month to study for each section of the exam, or two months per section depending on how comfortable you feel about retaining the information. 

4. Know how you best retain information.

Do you prefer studying on weekends or weekdays? Do you retain more information when studying in the morning or at night? Some people do better in study groups, while others do better studying alone. Find out what works for you and begin as soon as possible, so there is less stress on you.

5. Take practice tests

Taking full length practice tests is an essential step to getting a perfect MCAT score. There are resources available to you everywhere. Study guides and booklets give you information about each section in the MCAT and provide you with practice tests to give you an idea of what to expect when taking the real thing. 

Take a look at our free MCAT pop quiz which has unique MCAT sample questions with explanations!

The AAMC offers full-length practice MCATs for free. These are great because they show you the areas you are doing well and areas you need to study more. You can also time yourself to practice your time management for the real test. 

6. Register when you feel ready

You will have to register for the MCAT on the AAMC website. Schedule a date that you are comfortable with, and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to study. Give yourself at least a few months to review before taking the MCAT. 

You want to make sure to learn as much material as possible without waiting until the last minute, so register for a date that gives you a decent amount of time to do so.

FAQs About MCAT Scores

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about MCAT scores.

1. What Happens If I Don’t Get A Good Score On The MCAT?

If you didn’t do as well as you wanted, don’t worry! You are allowed to retake the MCAT. Many applicants take the exam more than once, you’re not expected to get a perfect MCAT score on the first try. 

Try to give yourself some time, so you have time to study areas where you did and didn’t do well. If you feel that you want to have the option to retake the exam, register for a date earlier in the year; that way, if you don’t do well, you can register for a date later in the year, giving you time to study more. 

Note that some medical schools will require all MCAT scores, while others will only ask for your most recent score.

2. When Will I Receive My MCAT Scores?

MCAT scores are distributed 30 to 45 days after the day of the exam. 

3. Can I Still Apply to Medical School If My MCAT Score Isn’t Good?

Yes, you can still apply. Your MCAT score is an essential component of your medical school application, but it is not the most important. If you have an excellent academic record and GPA, it’s okay for your score to be on the lower side. 

However, if your score is below all minimum requirements, you should wait to apply again unless you want to check out medical schools that don’t require the MCAT

If you do have a score on the lower end, it's important for you to apply to schools where your scores are more competitive. For example, some school's matriculants have an average score of 519, while another school's average may be 510. 

If you have achieved a 509, it's best to apply to the latter school. As mentioned earlier, your application is reviewed as a whole, not just by one item. 

4. Is the MCAT Scored On A Curve?

No, there is no curved score option when taking the MCAT. Instead, the exam is scaled so that all scores have the same meaning. 

5. What is The Average First Time MCAT Score?

The average first time MCAT score in the US is unknown, although the average MCAT score to get into medical school is 511.

6. What Is The MCAT Score Range?

The MCAT score range of all four sections combined is between 427 and 528. 

Good MCAT Score, Great Future

MCAT scores may not be the most important factor in your medical school application, but they are still crucial to your overall application. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the exam and register when you are ready and feel prepared. 

Our guide has given you information, tips, and resources to help you on your journey to getting a good MCAT score. Using the information provided, you are well on your way to applying to medical school as a strong candidate. 

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