Taking the MCAT

What Score Do You Really Need?

Admissions committees look at your MCAT score to determine if you have the academic ability to succeed in med school. An outstanding MCAT score won't necessarily get you into the medical school of your choice, but a low score will probably keep you out.

How Should You Approach the MCAT?

The MCAT is a standardized test; therefore, there are standard ways of approaching it—question type strategies, time-management techniques, etc. Understanding the format of the exam and the ways you can use it to your advantage can significantly increase your score. Because of the intensity of the MCAT and the competitiveness of today's med school admissions environment, we highly encourage you to prep formally for the exam (obvious reasons aside). The structure that preparation provides can help you build the skills, techniques, and confidence to score your best.

What's A Good MCAT Score?

What you consider a good score should depend on your own expectations and goals. You should keep in mind what scores top medical schools consider as competitive. Information on average test scores at different schools and programs is readily available. Research the schools on your list. Find out what their average MCAT scores are and then develop a preparation plan to achieve it.

Some admissions officers will candidly admit that they have a formula, such as GPA × "school conversion factor" × MCAT score. Many have soft cutoffs that differ for in- and out-of-state candidates. The first cut will eliminate those who fall below the school's typical standards for both GPA and MCAT. Left are those who have sufficient proof of their academic ability. The weighing of the two depends on a number of different things.

MCAT Scores

Because GPA is subject to such variability and interpretation, the MCAT score has taken on more predominance in past years. MCAT scores can be viewed in different ways. Some schools add the three scores and consider this as one combined value, while others consider each score separately.

The entire exam is designed to test your logical ability, thinking skills, and ability to evaluate information under timed conditions. Your performance on the Verbal Reasoning and Writing Sample sections, taken together, is evidence of your ability to process complex ideas, understand arguments and communicate effectively. And while your performance on the Physical Science and Biological Science sections is usually seen as measures of your abilities in these particular science areas, they are also compared to your grades in those subjects.

The AMCAS summary page lists your most recent MCAT score, the second-most recent score, and a reading for the total number of MCATs taken. Taking the test more than once can work in your favor if you improve, but it can be a black mark if you do poorly in a particular subject more than once. If your first test results indicate a weak area, make sure you prepare well before you take the test a second time. Officially, you can take the MCAT only three times per calendar year, but an unlimited number of times overall.

Your GPA

The way medical school admissions committees interpret your GPA is colored by where you went to school, the particular classes you took, the reputation of your home institution for grade "inflation" or "deflation," and if there are any other mitigating circumstances.

All medical schools look favorably upon a positive trend in your GPA over time. If you started off slowly, but improved significantly in later semesters, take heart. On the other hand, if your grades have been dropping over time, you may have a problem. For instance, schools believe that a GPA of 3.5 arrived at by GPAs of 3.0, 3.5, and 4.0 in your freshman, sophomore, and junior years respectively, differs markedly from a 3.5 earned by a 4.0, 3.5, 3.0 sequence.