Calendar with various dates illustrating the challenge of knowing when to take the MCAT

When to Take the MCAT: Factors for Success

April 5, 2021
Part 1. OverviewPart 2. The Difficulty of the MCATPart 3. The Perfect Time to Take the MCAT‍Part 4. Overcoming the Overwhelming Test Timing‍Part 5. Dealing with All the Unwanted Stress‍Part 6. Medical School Deadlines ‍Part 7. Re-taking the TestPart 8. FAQsPart 9. Conclusion‍

Overview

Knowing when to take the MCAT is a question that troubles a lot of students. Once you have decided to pursue a medical field career, you’ll need to determine when to take the test to ace it and achieve the best possible score. This decision might not be as easy as it sounds. The Medical College Admission Test, developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, consists of all multiple-choice questions which assess your knowledge, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. These are prerequisites for studying medicine. 

The answer to when you should take the MCAT is not a very simple one. The AAMC releases more than 25 test dates each year for the MCAT. However, which day you should choose depends entirely on how much studying you have done, which school you want to attend, and when you want to go to medical school. So, if you’re wondering when to take the MCAT, the answer is not black and white, but grey, meaning that there is no so-called “best time” to take the MCAT. You have to take into consideration a couple of factors before deciding when to take the MCAT. In today’s blog, we’re going to discuss all these factors and everything else you should know before choosing the perfect date to take the MCAT. 

The Difficulty of the MCAT 

Once you decide to take the MCAT, there may be a voice of doubt following you and asking will I pass the exam? Let’s face it; we have all heard of someone who wasn’t able to pass the MCAT and thus failed to get into their dream school. You don’t want that to happen to you, and this may make you dread the exam. Any exam that lasts over seven hours is bound to scare anyone. But is the MCAT that difficult?

To be honest, there is no simple answer to this. The first apparent reason is that what might be easy for someone might be difficult for another. There is undoubtedly a lot of information that you have to grasp. You need to memorize everything you learned in the first two years of university, along with various other things. So, in short, your skills and knowledge play a huge role in determining the difficulty level of the MCAT. 

The highest score that you could achieve on the MCAT is 528. The AAMC advises med schools to consider all students that score in the range of 500 and not just take in students who have higher scores on the scale. In general, try to ensure that your score is close to the average accepted MCAT score at US medical schools, 511. Though different schools have different expectations, giving you the best chance of success aims to score within the 90th percentile.  

The exam is undoubtedly a long one, with 230 multiple questions in it. These questions cover different subjects like general chemistry, physics, biology, sociology, and so on. All these subjects are quite different from each other. Studying so many subjects together poses a bit of difficulty in acing the exam. But then again, with adequate preparations, acing the exam will not be an issue.

To make it simple, let’s summarise the areas which make the MCAT difficult:

- Length 

- Variety of subjects

- Passage-based exam

- Timed

These are the four main areas where you can face significant issues in taking the MCAT. However, the difficulty is not just limited to these areas. You also need to understand that the test is a bit complex. The MCAT is passage-based, which means you have to understand and analyze the text and then answer questions accordingly. This can pose a challenge for some as you’ll need to read and understand the paragraphs quickly to complete all the sections of the exam. In addition, some questions require you to make very long calculations. Let’s not forget, you need to do all of this within a limited time, adding even more pressure to an already challenging exam. This is why it’s important to manage your time accordingly to ensure you can complete the test within the allotted amount of time. 

The Perfect Time to Take the MCAT

Now that you know which areas to work on to ace the exam, let’s get back into when to take the MCAT. How will you know if you are ready enough to take the test or need more time to achieve a competitive score? Keep in consideration all the underlying factors before booking your exam date.

Be Thorough With Your Course Material 

The first step towards deciding on your perfect date for the MCAT would be to know where you stand in your preparation. The MCAT exam covers many topics from various subjects like biology, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, reading comprehension, sociology, etc. There are a total of 230 passage-based questions. To be ready to take the MCAT, you need to master all of these subjects. Learning so many subjects might take some time because they are quite different from each other and unrelated to each other. It is essential to know the important topics or details from all these subjects and apply the knowledge in the MCAT exam passages.

The good news is that most of the MCAT content will be covered in your first and second-year introductory college courses. These courses include general and organic chemistry, physics, and biology. If you’re still unsure whether you’re taking the right courses, get in touch with your pre-health advisor to help you decide which coursework will ensure you achieve your goals.

Breakdown of the number of questions and categories on the MCAT


The Ideal Study Time

Preparing for the MCAT takes about three to five months if you study for an average of 20 hours a week. Your knowledge about the course material will also help you determine how much time you will need to spend on a particular subject. It all depends on your schedule and the amount of time you can designate for studying.

According to the AAMC, an average pre-med student can score well by spending 300-350 hours preparing for the MCAT. Some students feel that three months is a very long time to prepare, but do keep in mind that you have to prepare well before taking the MCAT. So basically, it all depends on the time you can set aside for your studying. You sure would not want to go through the pain of retaking the test simply because you didn’t set aside enough time to prepare. 

Most students feel like they do not have enough time to study for the MCAT during school, so they begin their preparations during their term breaks. Reviewing the course material during this time is always a good idea. There is a lot of material to grasp on this exam, so preparing early will always work in your favor. 

If you feel that you are too late to do this, don’t fret. Most students start preparing for their MCAT after their second year. 

Essential Tips and Tricks that can go a long way in the preparation of MCAT:

1. Start Early

You should start preparing for your test way ahead of your test date. The longer you prepare, the better results you can achieve. Make sure you go through the recommended courses before writing the exam. Take these seriously, and you will go a long way.

2. Prep Courses:

Many students enlist the help of an expert when preparing to write the MCAT. Signing up for a prep course can help you with areas that you may find challenging. 

3. Research: 

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Make sure you know everything about the exam and the format of the test. The AAMC has all the valuable information that you will need. Keep checking the website for all MCAT essentials. 

4. Grading System:

The scoring system of the MCAT is a little complex. It is essential to understand it so that you can set your target score accordingly. 

Practice Tests are your Savior.

Whenever you are in a dilemma about whether you are prepared to take the MCAT or not, practice tests are your go-to. These tests are the best ways to let you know your strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, you will have a better understanding of the areas that need work. The most efficient way to take practice tests is in one sitting. Practice tests give you a fair idea of your timing and help you get used to the exam’s long length. 

You should take about 10-12 full-length practice exams before you take the exam. If you are scoring well consistently, you know that you are ready to take the exam. The word consistently should be focused on here. You should score well on at least 3-4 tests consecutively to know that you are ready. Once you can do this, you don’t need to wait any further before taking the exam. 

However, if you do not do well in these tests, you know that you need to work a little harder before you book your test date.

Overcoming the Overwhelming Test Timing

A seven-hour test undoubtedly scares anyone. You need to be prepared, both physically and mentally, to sit through these long hours. The exact time you have for the test is six hours and fifteen minutes. But when you take seating time, initial steps, and breaks into consideration, the test time is more than seven hours. 

Though the number of questions is just 230, the questions are quite lengthy. They are all passage-based, which makes the test a little complex and overwhelming for many students.

You may have never taken an exam this long before. Most of the exams you would have taken last for three or four hours. The MCAT time is double.  The best way to overcome the test length, as discussed, is to complete full practice tests in one sitting. 

While you are preparing for the test, you also need to gather some endurance to help you through the exam. Understandably, these exams can drain you mentally, physically as well as emotionally. 

You need to be prepared to sit through the seven hours and concentrate throughout these hours. You do not want to give up on the fifth hour of the test because your mind or body cannot take it anymore. So be sure to be well prepared to sit through the lengthy test. Your aim should be to have the same level of energy throughout the exam. 

Having this is only possible through ample practice and by developing a proper timing strategy. For example, you should aim to spend 8 minutes reading through a passage for the biology section and then a minute on every question about the passage. 

Dealing with All the Unwanted Stress

A challenging test like this is bound to bring along with it a lot of tension and stress. More often than not, students are stressed over the exam even before they begin their preparations. Other common feelings that take control over you can be anger, dissatisfaction, guilt, etc. 

The thought of even taking the exam can make you feel anxious and worried. Preparing or taking a test while you are stressed can hinder your performance.

It is so important to stay calm and composed throughout the test. There will be times when you will feel like giving up. But what you need to keep in mind is the bigger picture. All your efforts are going to pay off in the end. 

To keep your stress under control, here are a few recommendations :

Enjoy Your Non-MCAT Prep Time Thoroughly

Whenever you are not preparing for the MCAT, live in the moment. Enjoy each moment thoroughly. Living each moment can go a long way in relieving stress. 

Set Small Goals

The course material can be overwhelming. Just looking at it may worry you. It is essential to set small goals so that you feel positive and relieved once you achieve them. 

Track Progress

Practice tests provide a fair understanding of where you stand in terms of your performance. Keep tracking your progress and performance over time. 

Practice Tests

Needless to say, practice tests are something to swear by when it comes to acing the exam. Once you do well on these tests, you feel more confident and optimistic, leaving behind all worries.

Relax and Breathe

Panic is your enemy. You must believe in yourself. Relax and take a deep breath. Adequate preparation is all you need to pass with flying colors.

Medical School Deadlines 

Another essential factor to keep in mind when deciding when to take the MCAT is your dream school’s application deadline. Once you take the test, it takes almost one month for you to receive the results. You should keep in mind the college’s application deadline so that there are no delays in your application.

Often, medical schools review your application only after you submit the secondary application. Ensure that you prepare yourself well to be fully ready to take the exam a couple of months before the application deadline.

Application deadlines are set individually by medical schools. You need to keep an eye on these and submit your application to AMCAS by 11:59 pm to meet the deadline. AAMC will not provide you with any kind of extensions. 

Re-taking the Test

It is always advisable to give your best on the first attempt. With that said, there is still an option to retake the test, but you should know that medical schools can see all of your previous test scores. Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes you put in your best but still might have to retake the exam. When deciding when to take the MCAT, always keep a provision for re-taking the exam, if needed. There is no harm in re-taking the test if you feel you could have done better. 

Moreover, most med schools want you to take the test within three years, meaning that you would have to retake the exam if you took the test three years or more before applying.

Keep in mind that it is NOT possible to take the MCAT between October and December. Just try to retake the test early in the testing year. Doing so will help you to avoid any kind of delays in the application process.

FAQs

1. Is there a limit to how many times you can take the MCAT?

You are allowed to take the MCAT maximum of three times in a year, four times in two years, and a total of seven times in your lifetime. 

2. What is the validity of my MCAT scores?

Once your test results are released, your scores are valid for two to three years. Most medical schools accept two to three-year-old MCAT scores. MSAR contains the details of all medical schools and their MCAT expiration date policy.

3. When is the worst time to take the MCAT?

The worst time to take the MCAT is when you are not well-prepared for the exam. If you keep performing poorly on the practice tests, you know that it is not the right time for you to take the test. Also, if you know you do not have enough time on hand to devote to your studies, it might not be your time. 

4. Is the MCAT getting more and more difficult?

Though many people believe that the MCAT is getting more difficult with time, it is not valid. There were some changes made to the MCAT a few years ago, but the difficulty level remains the same. 

5. What is a good MCAT score?

Each school has its MCAT expectations. With this said, an excellent MCAT score would mean to be in the 90th percentile. Anything in the score range of 514-517 falls under this category.

6. How can I do well on the MCAT?

Doing well on the MCAT requires a lot of dedication and hard work. You need to be determined and sincere. Preparing for the MCAT is very time-consuming. You need to understand this and plan accordingly. Practicing many test formats is the key and will help you know what you should be doing.  

7. Why do people fear the MCAT?

Many students fear taking the MCAT because they feel that there isn't enough time to prepare for the exam. Managing both the school courses as well as the MCAT prep becomes difficult. Moreover, you have to memorize a lot of information. 

Conclusion

Our final thoughts on when to take the MCAT? When you feel that you are 100% prepared. You need to set aside adequate time to prepare for the test. Take the test only when you are ready. There is no point rushing into taking the exam if you don’t feel that you can score well. 

In addition, keep an eye on medical school deadlines and ensure you take the test with enough time for the results to be transmitted to the schools where you are applying. Remember that taking the MCAT is one of the initial and most crucial steps towards achieving your goal of becoming a doctor. Make sure you make a sound and well-informed decision so you can get the timing just right. 

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