When Should I Take the MCAT?
The question When should I take the MCAT? is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the exam. In some instances, a student may feel optimistic about applying to medical school in the near future but they may also feel like they don’t have much time to prepare given their current course load, extracurricular schedule, or the presence of other obligations.
Since each test-taker is different, it is hard to provide a concrete answer for students wondering when the right time to take the MCAT might be. The advice that the AAMC provides test-takers in relation to this question is simply to take the exam when you feel that you are ready for it. This feeling of being “ready” has both objective and subjective aspects to it: one objective aspect might be the scores on your practice exams, whereas one subjective aspect might be your general level of confidence when it comes to sitting down on test day.
To help students determine when they should take the exam, the AAMC has recommended that students ask themselves these three additional questions in order to determine when the right time might be.
The first question students should ask themselves is “When do I want to go to medical school?”. If you know that you want to apply for medical school right after your undergraduate degree is complete, then you will have to start studying a lot earlier than someone who perhaps wants to take a gap year or gain work experience before applying. While the length of time differs for each school, the majority of medical schools will not accept MCAT scores that are more than 2-3 years old. Therefore, to avoid any issues on this end, students will often take the MCAT during the year that they are planning on applying to medical school. It is generally recommended that students take the exam in May or earlier during the year you are sending off your applications to ensure that your scores come back in time for you to submit them together with the other components of the application.
The next questions you will want to ask yourself are “Will I have to take the MCAT more than once? If so, how many times?” When thinking about your answers here, it is important to not only be aware of the AAMC regulations regarding the limits to MCAT test-taking, but also to be realistic in your expectations for yourself. In terms of the rules, the AAMC has mandated that a student can take the MCAT no more than 3 times in a given testing year, no more than 4 times over two consecutive testing years, and no more than 7 times overall within your lifetime. Once you are familiar with these rules, you can now begin to assess your own readiness and ability when it comes to the exam. If you think it is likely that you will want to take the exam more than once (which is not uncommon!), then you should consider testing earlier in the given year so that you have time to review your initial score and give yourself the option to re-take if you want to.
The final, and perhaps the most straightforward question, that students should ask themselves to determine when they should take the MCAT, is simply “Am I prepared for the MCAT?” The AAMC recommends that students have completed specific introductory level or first-semester college courses (such as biology, organic chemistry, and physics) before they take the MCAT. While these courses are not a requirement, they are meant to ensure that students go into the MCAT feeling comfortable with the material they are being tested on. If you have not taken one of the recommended courses or if you are unfamiliar with the content on various sections, you should consider testing at a later point in time after you have covered all of this material. Additionally, students often juggle a multitude of obligations during their college or university careers, which can make it difficult to find the time to adequately prepare for the MCAT. Given this possible circumstance, it is important for students to be realistic about how much time they will need to study given the amount of time that they currently have available, and to pick a test date wisely given this information.
Ultimately, while asking yourself the question “When should I take the MCAT?” may seem like a heavy and stressful one, it doesn’t have to be, as long as you honestly ask yourself these questions and assess your unique situation wisely!