When Should I Take the MCAT? Scheduling Your Exam (2023/24)

October 13, 2023
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/13/23

Taking the MCAT is a crucial step on the road to medical school. If you’re wondering when your perfect time is to take the MCAT, read on! 

The MCAT looms over your shoulder, an exam that determines your success in the medical field. You’ve heard horror stories from other med students detailing the torture of this test. It’s the last obstacle in your path before your entry into medical school. 

You’ve probably already started preparing, but you might be wondering, “When should I take the MCAT test?” You may also ask if a certain time grants you a better chance at a high score or whether you should take it in the summer or the fall. We’ve devised a simple guide to help you through the scheduling process so you can truly begin your med school journey. 

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When to Take the MCAT and Apply to Medical School

So, when do you take the MCAT test? We recommend taking the MCAT during your sophomore year of undergrad. At this time, you’ve completed most of your prerequisite courses, so you have a pretty firm grasp on most of the subject matter for the MCAT.

 If you want to attend medical school in 2024, you should take the MCAT in 2023 to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Most medical schools begin accepting applications in June. If you plan to attend medical school within the same year you take the MCAT, you don’t want to take the exam any later than May so that the admissions committee can review it ASAP. 

It takes about 30-35 days after your exam to receive your MCAT score, so taking the exam during your sophomore year of college allows plenty of time to get your scores and gives you time to prepare for a retest if you don’t meet your target score. 

You shouldn’t wait until the last minute to take the MCAT. Doing so could result in receiving your score too late or realizing your score does not meet your dream medical school’s requirements. 

The best time to take the MCAT is early. Give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare for the MCAT so you can earn a high score and devote the rest of your time to your personal essays and letters of recommendation for medical school.

Here is a table to give you an idea of when you should complete certain med school application tasks, depending on your plans after graduation:

Application task No gap year 1 year off 2 years off
Take MCAT Early May of junior year Summer after junior year Summer after senior year
Application opens (Early May) End of junior year End of senior year 1 year after graduating
Earliest application submission date
(Early June)
Summer after junior year Summer after senior year While working
Secondary applications due (July-August) Summer after junior year into beginning of senior year Summer/fall after senior year While working
Senior year While working While working
Decide on acceptances (Late April) Senior year While working While working

Remember not to wait too long to apply after taking the MCAT. Your MCAT scores are valid for a long time, but they may expire after a few years depending on your target med school. 

MCAT Test Dates

The MCAT is offered from January to October, with multiple testing dates available within each month to give you plenty of opportunities to take the exam. Additionally, the MCAT is offered at a variety of testing centers. Understand that testing centers fill up fast, so you want to schedule your medical school exam as soon as you find one in an area that’s convenient for you. 

Month of January in Agenda

The MCAT testing schedule changes from year to year, so make sure you find the testing dates of the year you wish to apply to medical school. For instance, if you want to attend medical school in 2024, you can find the current testing dates here

When you look at the MCAT testing schedule, you’ll notice that there are different zone deadlines: gold, silver, and bronze. 

The gold zone gives you the largest deadline to schedule your exam (29 days prior to the exam), the best exam price, and the lowest rescheduling price. It’s also the only zone that gives you a partial refund in the event you need to cancel your testing date. 

The silver zone gives you an MCAT registration deadline of 25 days prior to the exam date, and you still receive the best exam price, but you cannot receive a refund if you need to reschedule, and the fee to reschedule increases.

The bronze zone gives you a small window of a registration deadline, only eight days before the exam date. The exam fee increases, and you no longer have the opportunity to cancel or reschedule your MCAT

The list of testing dates also provides the date when you’ll receive your MCAT score, so make sure you test during a time when your score will be available by the time you apply to medical school.

Scheduling Your MCAT

Deciding when to sign up for the MCAT hinges on your medical school timeline. Medical schools begin accepting applications in June, so you want to make sure your MCAT results are available before June to know which schools you can apply to. 

You don’t have to jump right into medical school after graduating from undergrad. It’s perfectly normal to take a minute to catch your breath before diving into your career. Just make sure you keep your mind sharp so you stay prepared for the exam.

If you’re wondering, “when should I take the MCAT?” we’d like to give you some factors to consider to help you with your decision.

Retaking the MCAT

It’s not something you want to think about, but the MCAT is a strenuous exam that you might have to face more than once. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you won’t be a successful doctor. The MCAT is a comprehensive test for med school admissions that covers various topics and requires devoting most of your free time to studying. 

We recommend taking the MCAT as early as possible to give yourself enough time if you need to retake the MCAT. 

You also may need to re-take the MCAT in the case of MCAT score expiration. MCAT scores may expire if it has been over three years since you last took the exam, so if you find yourself with outdated MCAT scores, you’ll need to re-take the test. 

Keep Your Application Deadline in Mind

Make sure you plan your testing date around the time you want to apply to medical school. The AMCAS application opens at the beginning of May, so you’ll want to spend your free time working on your application and essays so you’re ready to submit in June. 

If you want to be among the first to apply to medical school, we recommend taking the MCAT no later than the end of May so your score is available when you apply. This also help to guarantee that there are MCAT seats available at that time. 

Med school is competitive, so you want to submit your application within the first week of June. But if you don’t feel prepared at that point, don’t push yourself. You can always submit your application at a later date. Just understand that if you wait to apply until the last minute, it may decrease your chances of acceptance. 

Have You Taken the Prerequisites and Mastered the Material?

There’s nothing worse than taking a test you’re unprepared for. The MCAT covers many topics in varying detail, and you want to make sure you understand the material before you take the exam. 

The MCAT costs over $300 to take, so why take the risk of spending money on an exam if you’re not ready? Make sure you’ve taken all of the prerequisites and that you have a good understanding of this material before you take the MCAT. 

This is one of the most important exams of your career, so give yourself the best chance possible. Spend your time studying material that’s still fresh in your mind, as well as information you learned during your freshman year. The MCAT will test you on all of it. 

MCAT Practice Test Results

You can also decide when you want to take the MCAT based on your performance on the practice tests. The practice exams closely mimic the actual exam, so you might feel prepared enough to schedule your real testing date if you do well on the practice test.

If you don’t meet your target score with the practice exams, take some time to study harder and identify the areas of the exam in which you struggle. Don’t let a low practice score discourage you from pursuing a medical career. View this as an opportunity to improve. 

Studying for the MCAT

How does one prepare for a test so important? 

You might find yourself feeling stressed at the idea of studying for the MCAT. There’s so much material you have to not only memorize but understand. The MCAT exam covers all of the material you’ve learned throughout your undergrad. How does one successfully study for an exam that decides their fate? 

The MCAT encompasses a tremendous amount of material, manipulated into questions that may trip you up. But don’t let that scare you away. The MCAT is a monster, but we’ve devised the perfect guide to mastering the requirements for the MCAT exam to help you successfully slay the beast. 

Male student studying for MCAT in library

What to Consider Before Scheduling the MCAT

When scheduling your MCAT exam, you should take into account several factors. First, you’ll need to know how much time you’ll need to study for. If you schedule your exam too soon, you may not be able to study as thoroughly as you need to. 

You should also consider the possibility of re-taking the MCAT. While this is nothing to be ashamed of, it is something that you need to think about. Allow for enough time to re-take the test before medical school applications close.

You’ll also need a valid MCAT-accepted ID for your test day, so make sure that you renew your identification well before your test date. 

How Long Are MCAT Scores Valid? 

MCAT scores are generally valid for two to three years. However, this depends on the medical school you’re applying to. Make sure to check requirements and application policies for each of your desired schools.

FAQs: When to Take the MCAT

If you’re wondering when you usually take the MCAT or have other questions, these FAQs have you covered. 

1. When Do You Usually Take the MCAT?

You should aim to take the MCAT after your sophomore year of undergrad. At this point, you’ve taken most, if not all, of the prerequisite courses, so you should have a firm grasp of the material. 

Taking the MCAT early also allows you the opportunity to retake the exam if you don’t score high enough for your preferred medical school. You want to give yourself as much time as possible because this exam is brutal and requires at least three months of preparation. 

2. When Do You Take the MCAT: Junior or Senior Year?

If you feel you’ll be more prepared for the MCAT once you’ve reached your junior or senior year, you can definitely take the MCAT then. This gives you a shorter time period to retake the MCAT, but you may feel prepared enough at this point that you won’t need to retake the exam. 

Don’t compare yourself to others. Some may feel prepared to take the MCAT after their sophomore year, while others need more time. You decide when is the best time to take the MCAT. Every student is different, and as long as your MCAT score is ready by the time you apply to medical school, taking the MCAT senior year or earlier is fine. 

3. Can You Take the MCAT After College? 

Taking the MCAT senior year is usually the last time students will take the test. If you’re wondering when to take the MCAT with no gap year, medical schools normally begin accepting applications in June, so you can take the MCAT anywhere from January to May of your application year. 

If you’ve decided to take a break after college before applying to medical school, you can take your MCAT after you graduate. 

4. Can I Apply to Medical School Before Taking the MCAT? 

While you technically can apply to medical school before you take or retake the MCAT, it’s risky and not typically recommended for a couple of reasons: 

  • There’s no way to know if your actual MCAT score will be competitive for the schools you’re applying to.
  • There’s a lot more pressure on you to perform well on the test, more so than usual.
  • Some schools may not evaluate your application until they have received your scores (not pending).
  • If you’re retaking the MCAT after applying, consider how admissions committees will view your initial score. 

Medical schools are highly competitive. It’s in your best interest to take the MCAT before you apply to medical school.

5. How Long Does It Take to Receive MCAT Scores?

You receive your MCAT scores anywhere from 30 to 35 days after your exam date. Keep this in mind as you prepare your application to medical school. You want to make sure your score is available by the time you submit your application so you don’t delay your acceptance. 

6. When Do You Take the MCAT for an Easier Test?

Unfortunately, the difficulty of the MCAT doesn’t vary based on the month you take the exam. The test will be strenuous whether you decide to take it in January or if you wait until May. 

You should aim to take the MCAT in the month you feel most prepared. If you spent Christmas studying, you’re probably prepared for the MCAT in January or February, though you may have less study time because you’re still in class. 

Taking the MCAT during the spring or summer allows you to study for the MCAT without worrying about the rest of your classes, but keep in mind that it might be more difficult to find testing dates during this time. Testing centers fill up fast. You decide when you’re ready to take the MCAT, but don’t procrastinate. 

7. How Often Can You Take the MCAT?

You have plenty of opportunities to take the MCAT if you don’t meet your target score. In one year, you can take the exam three times. You can take the MCAT four times in a consecutive two-year period. 

You can only take the MCAT a total of seven times in your lifetime, so make sure when you finally commit to an exam date that you’re fully prepared. 

Understand that medical schools can access all of your MCAT scores, but don’t let that discourage you from retaking the exam when necessary. By seeing all of your scores, the schools can track your growth.

8. Can I Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

You can take a gap year before medical school, but make sure you weigh the pros and cons before you decide. Don’t go into this decision lightly. If you feel you aren’t as prepared for the MCAT, by all means, take a gap year. Just make sure you spend your free time studying so you don’t forget the material you learned during undergrad. 

Also, keep in mind that taking a gap year puts you further away from your career, but sometimes breaks are necessary. When in doubt, trust your gut. 

9. What’s the Earliest I Can Take the MCAT?

You can take the MCAT whenever you feel ready, although it is recommended to wait until the summer after your sophomore year.

10. What’s the Latest I Can Take the MCAT?

The latest you should take the MCAT is in April/May of your application year. Remember to give yourself enough time to retake the test if necessary. 

11. How Long is an MCAT Score Good For? 

Most medical schools accept MCAT scores two to three years after it was taken, although you should check your specific school’s requirements. 

12. When Should You Start Studying for the MCAT? 

This depends on your personal schedule and target score, but generally speaking, it’s a good idea to start your MCAT studying at least three months in advance. 

13. Do You Apply to Med School in Junior or Senior Year? 

It depends on whether you’re planning to take a gap year or not. If not, you should apply during the spring of or summer after your junior year. If you are taking a gap year, you should apply in the summer after your senior year. 

When Should You Take the MCAT? When You’re Fully Prepared

The MCAT is one of the factors that determine your success in the medical field. It’s a test you should regard with the utmost seriousness. You want to make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare and study everything you’ve learned throughout your undergrad so you have a strong foundation for medical school. 

There’s no magical time period where the MCAT is easier. It’s a challenging exam no matter the month you choose. Some feel prepared to take the MCAT after their sophomore year, while others decide to wait until their senior year of undergrad. Every student is different, and it’s up to you to decide when you’re fully prepared. 

Make sure you give yourself ample time to study, as well as ample time to retake if necessary. The MCAT isn’t a test on which you should procrastinate. We know this exam terrifies you, but we hope this guide will help you in the process of scheduling your exam. 

We’ve given you all of the factors to consider and all of the possible options. Hopefully, you can now answer the question, “when should I take the MCAT?” Now it’s up to you to decide. 

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