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When to Take the MCAT: Factors for Success

December 6, 2021
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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

Knowing when to take the MCAT is a question that troubles a lot of students. Once you have decided to pursue a career in the medical field, 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 (MCAT), developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), consists of all multiple-choice questions that 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 gray, meaning that there is no so-called “best time” to take the MCAT. You have to take into consideration several factors before deciding when to take the MCAT test. 

In this post, we’re going to discuss all of these factors, when is the best time to take the MCAT exam, and everything else you should know before choosing the perfect date to take the test.

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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. You have to grasp a lot of information, and you need to memorize everything you learned in the first two years of college, along with various other things. So, in short, your skills and knowledge play a huge role in determining the difficulty 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, aiming to score within the 90th percentile gives you the best chance of success.  

The exam is undoubtedly a long one, with 230 multiple questions in it. These questions cover subjects like general chemistry, physics, biology, and sociology. All of 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 preparation, acing the exam will not be an issue.

To make it simple, let’s summarize the areas that make the MCAT difficult:

However, the difficulty is not just limited to these areas. You also need to understand that the test is 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 that 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.

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The Perfect Time to Take the MCAT

Now that you know which areas to work on to ace the exam, let’s answer the question: “When do you take the MCAT?” 

The first step to understanding when to take the MCAT is to ask yourself whether you are ready enough to take the test or need more time to achieve a competitive score. Keep under consideration all of the underlying factors before booking your exam date.

Be Thorough with your Course Material 

The first step toward deciding on your perfect date for the exam would be to know where you stand in your MCAT preparation. The MCAT exam covers many topics from various subjects like biology, physics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, reading comprehension, and sociology. 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

When should you start studying for the MCAT

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 to 350 hours preparing for the MCAT. Some students feel that three months is a very long time to prepare, but remember that you have to prepare well before taking the MCAT. You don’t 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 the MCAT after their second year. 

Essential tips and tricks that can go a long way in the preparation of MCAT:

Practice Tests Are Your Savior

Whenever you are facing a dilemma about whether you are prepared to take the MCAT, practice tests are your go-to. These tests are the best way to let you know your strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, you will have a better understanding of the areas that need work. 

You should take about 10 to 12 full-length practice exams before you take the exam. 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 length. 

If you are scoring well consistently, you know that you are ready to take the exam. The word “consistently” should be focused on here. Once you can score well on at least three to four tests consecutively, you don’t need to wait any more 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 take the exam.

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 15 minutes. But when you take seating time, initial steps, and breaks into consideration, the test time is more than seven hours. 

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 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, and emotionally. 

You need to be prepared to sit through the seven hours and concentrate throughout. 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 eight 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, or guilt. 

Stay calm and composed throughout the test; preparing or taking a test while you are stressed can hinder your performance. 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:

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.

Visual guide on when to take the MCAT

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 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 p.m. on the date to meet the deadline. Remember — the AAMC will not provide you with any kind of extension. 

What’s the Earliest I Can Take the MCAT?

The earliest you should complete the MCAT is late in your sophomore year or during the summer before your junior year. The MCAT has 30 testing dates for the coming admissions cycle, and around 25 of them are between April and September. So, if you sit the MCAT early, you will have plenty of opportunities to resit it if needed. 

You will have completed most of your medical school prerequisite coursework by the end of your sophomore year. But Hamilton College, a private liberal arts college in New York State, recommends that you complete all of your medical school prerequisites before taking the MCAT. 

Although you can take the MCAT as early as your sophomore year, you should only do so if you’re sufficiently prepared. Preparing for the MCAT can take months, depending on how comfortable you are with the material. So, ensure you are ready before you take it! 

What’s the Latest I Can Take the MCAT?

The latest you should take the MCAT is in the winter or early spring of your application year. For example, if you want to apply during the fall of next year, take the MCAT before April of this year. 

Princeton notes that, “If you want to know your score before submitting your application, take it by mid-May. If you’re okay with submitting your application before knowing your score, then late June/early July is okay.” While this timeline works, there are several reasons why you should complete the MCAT by early spring. 

If you delay taking the MCAT past April, you will have to balance working on the AMCAS work and activities section, your medical school secondary essays, and your personal statement. Please do not underestimate how much time these essays take; you need to write, rewrite, and proofread them to ensure they are competitive. 

While completing the MCAT before April sounds stressful, it allows you to take advantage of medical schools’ rolling admissions process. Additionally, with the MCAT out of the way, you can begin prepping for your medical school interviews

Retaking 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 make sure there is enough time for re-taking the exam if needed. There is no harm in retaking 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 avoid any kind of delays in the application process. 

FAQs: Best Time to Take the MCAT

Understanding when and how to take the MCAT can leave you feeling exhausted. After all, you will have to fill out the rest of your AMCAS application and prepare your secondary. To help you answer the question, “When do I need to take the MCAT?,” we’ve compiled several questions and answers. 

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

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

2. How much time do I need to prepare for the MCAT?

How much time you need to prepare for the MCAT depends on you. We recommend spending at least two months preparing for the MCAT, as there are a lot of topics to review. But if you’re confident answering questions about the exam’s content, you may need less preparation time. 

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, this isn’t true. Some changes were 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, a good MCAT score would mean to be in the 90th percentile. Anything in the score range of 514 to 517 falls under this category.

6. Can you take the MCAT too early? 

Yes. You may be taking the MCAT too early if you haven’t completed most of the required courses or prepared adequately for the exam. 

7. What is the best time to take the MCAT? 

The ideal time to take the MCAT is when you have thoroughly prepared, taken practice tests, and are confident you can handle the exam. 

8. How do you know when to take an MCAT prep course?

Taking MCAT prep courses as early as possible will help you understand the material better and boost your confidence for the exam. We recommend booking prep courses at least a month before your exam so you have time to digest what you have learned. 

9. When do you usually take the MCAT? 

Medical school applicants typically take the MCAT after completing their prerequisites. Although this can vary between candidates, most students take it between March and May. 

10. When do I need to take the MCAT? 

If you want to apply to medical school with your MCAT scores, you need to take the test by mid-May at the latest. 

11. How do you know when to take the MCAT in college?  

This is a common variant of the “when do you take the MCAT” question, and the answer is simple — apply when you are ready. 

12. When do you take the MCAT if you’re an international student? 

International students should follow the same MCAT timelines mentioned above. If you are still unsure of when to take the MCAT exam, please get in touch with the med schools you wish to attend.

When Should I Take the MCAT? Final Thoughts

Our final thoughts on when to take the MCAT? When you feel that you are 100 percent prepared is when you should take the MCAT.  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 make sure 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 toward achieving your goal of becoming a doctor. Make a sound and well-informed decision so you can get the timing just right.

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