If you’ve just received your MCAT score and it’s lower than you were expecting, or you’re not performing as well as you would like on your practice tests, you are not alone. There are practical steps you can take to reconfigure your study strategy and improve your MCAT score.
Assessing Your Medical School Application Timeline
The first step to raising your MCAT score is to figure out how much time you have. Ideally, you should have your MCAT score in hand by the time you’re filling out your medical school application. To play it safe, this means that you should take the MCAT early enough to receive your scores by the time application submissions open in June. Remember, many med schools have rolling admissions and begin reviewing applications as soon as they receive them, so it is in your best interest to get your MCAT scores back as early in the process as possible so you could submit your application.
Once you figure out how much time you have, you can more effectively plan a study schedule. Here are a few study plans to help you get started:
- READ: How to Study for the MCAT in 3 Months
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- READ: How to Study for the MCAT in 1 Month
Reevaluate Your MCAT Study Habits
The AAMC recommends that students spend 300-350 hours total studying for the MCAT. One of the things you can do to raise your score may simply be devoting more hours to review and prep, especially if you know you didn’t spend the full recommended hours studying for your first attempt.
Even if you did spend the recommended time studying, a lower than anticipated MCAT score may indicate that your study plan and habits were not as effective as you thought. You may need to spend more time reviewing foundational concepts, or perhaps you need to carve out more time to devote to sample questions and reviewing wrong answers. On the other hand, perhaps you were too ambitious with your initial study schedule and you need to spread out your prep more generously—studying two hours per day instead or three, for example—to increase your focus. Take some time to look back on how you studied and identify what you can change.
Identify Your Greatest Areas of Opportunity
Once you’ve reconsidered your study habits and schedule, use your MCAT Official Score Report or results from your most recent practice test to identify your biggest areas of opportunity.
Next, take a look at your timeline as that will dictate which sections you have time to focus on. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if your next MCAT test date is only a month away, you will want to mostly focus on material that you had trouble with the first time through, but that you think you can master if you have a little more time. Spending time on sections or concepts that never really clicked for you probably isn’t the best strategy.
After you identify the topics you will focus on, equip yourself with the appropriate resources. Here’s our recommended list of MCAT Study Essentials:
Come Up With an MCAT Study Schedule
Once you’ve figured out your plan and identified your resources, construct your study calendar. Be sure to take into account the way you have been studying and make any appropriate adjustments, perhaps either reducing or extending the amount of time you study per day. Even if you are choosing to narrow in on only a few of the topics covered on the MCAT, you’ll want to make sure to study for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section (CARS) every day. Create a study calendar and stick to it.
If you take the MCAT more than once, all of your MCAT scores will be reported to the med schools to which you apply. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what the admissions committees will do with these data. Some may take your highest score, some may consider an average of all your attempts, and still some others may decide to focus on your lowest score. However, simply retaking the MCAT can demonstrate resilience and dedication, and improving on your MCAT score can show growth. Keep in mind that you may only take the MCAT up to 3 times in a single testing year or up to 4 times in a two consecutive-year period, with a maximum of 7 times in a lifetime.
The only way to ensure that an actual MCAT attempt does not get recorded is to void your score. Medical schools will not be able to see that you voided one of your MCATs, but that test will count towards your lifetime limits. You are given the option of either submitting or voiding your score when you complete all sections of the MCAT. This can be a difficult decision to make considering the massive amounts of time and energy you devoted to studying. Consider voiding your scores only if factors outside of your control (e.g., illness, unrelated high acute stress, recent personal issues, test center issues) may have impacted your focus on test day and if you have time to take another MCAT during the cycle in which you plan to apply.
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