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When Should You Take The MCAT?

Students who are planning their academic timeline and preparing for medical school need to know, “When do you take the MCAT?”

When to take the MCAT is a pivotal decision at the outset of preparing for medical school. With roughly 30 test dates to choose from, students wonder if they should take it early or late, or if there is a best month to take it. We cover the best time to take the MCAT in this detailed resource guide.

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When to Take the MCAT – Junior or Senior Year?

Students usually take the MCAT after they have finished all their prerequisite courses for medical school, as material on the exam is covered extensively in these classes. Typically, that means that most students take the MCAT after their sophomore or junior year of college. This timing also provides the opportunity for students to retake the test if they are not satisfied with their scores.

MCAT When To Take

While the MCAT is offered from January to September, many believe that the best months to take the MCAT are between April and September. This will give you the most class time to learn the material and, if necessary, additional time when classes end, to study. The most popular testing months are March, April, and May, as they occur just before applications start in June.

If you prefer to complete your academic year and then begin intensive study for the MCAT, a late summer or early fall test date might work best for you. Although it would occur later in the application cycle, it would provide you with time to exclusively study for the test, without regard to class work as well.

If you think that you may want to take the exam more than once, you may want to give yourself the option of taking the exam earlier in the testing year. When planning for your MCAT, it is best to decide when you want to enroll in medical school, and then work backwards from there to decide on test taking options. For example, if you want to start medical school in Fall 2021 you may want to take your exam during 2020 (allowing time for a retake). You should allow yourself time to review your scores, look carefully at criteria for the medical schools you are applying to, and decide if you should take the test more than one time.

There are very liberal limits to the amount of time you can take the MCAT exam. You can take the test three times in a single testing year, four times over two consecutive testing years, and you can have seven overall lifetime attempts. Please note that if you choose to void your test or do not show up for an exam, it will count toward your overall attempt limitations. It is important to note that each medical school program has a different procedure for how they view and evaluate multiple scores. Most schools do not accept scores that are older than two or three years. It is best to review admissions guidelines and carefully adhere to the requirements of the medical schools you are most interested in applying to.

When to Take MCAT Gap Year?

If you are taking a gap year in between graduating from undergraduate work and applying to medical school, it is best to take the MCAT by early May of your senior year to get your score before submitting applications in June. This will also give you an opportunity to retake the MCAT if necessary.

Many students elect to take a gap year before medical school to save more money, however, they may lose their good study habits while not being in regimented courses. Some people feel that the gap year is important to reflect and consider if medicine is the career they ultimately want. Taking more than one gap year, however, may give admissions directors the opinion that you are not dedicated to school and that you may be out of the rigorous studying routine required to succeed in medical school.

How Late Can You Take the MCAT?

You should take the MCAT for the final time no later than between January and April of your application year. For example, if you want to enroll in medical school by August 2022, you will need to take the test no later than April 2021.

Please remember to look carefully at the requirements of each school you are considering applying to for medical school. In some cases, you can submit an application without an MCAT score. You can do this and have your scores added in as late as August (mid-July test date). This is the absolute latest recommended time to take the MCAT and this is only possible if you don’t plan to take the test more than once. If this is the case, be sure to get everything else in order for your applications so that the test is the last item to be submitted.

Aside from planning your test around the study time you’ll need to prepare, and your anticipated enrollment into medical school, other criteria you may want to consider: Do you want to take the test on a weekend date? Are you limited to or prefer the locations of certain testing centers? Ultimately, your own circumstances, preferences and individual needs will best determine when you should take the MCAT.

More About The MCAT

The MCAT is a computer-based, multiple choice, standardized exam for students preparing to enter medical school. It is used in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean Islands. It assesses problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis and knowledge of scientific principles and concepts. Basically, it tests your knowledge of natural, behavioral and social science concepts as a prerequisite to a formalized study of medicine. Most of the content is found in introductory level courses at most undergraduate colleges and universities. It includes biology, physics, general and organic chemistry, sociology and psychology. There are no specific courses you have to take in order to be able to register and take the exam, however, taking these courses will help you feel more comfortable with the content and skills tested on the MCAT. If you think you need additional coursework to prepare for the MCAT, you should do so, and also speak with a faculty member knowledgeable about medical school requirements.

The MCAT is required for admission to most medical schools. It costs $315 to take the MCAT. If you are late to register, it can cost you an additional $370 in fees. This exam is administered by the AMMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). The general recommendation is that you spend between 300-350 hours studying for the MCAT, so you should calculate this into your testing plan as well. This comes out to about 10-15 hours per week to study over a period of at least four to six months.

MCAT registration opens in October for tests administered between January and May. The registration for tests administered between June to September opens in February.

The actual exam is six hours long, but you should count on eight hours of your time to include breaks, early arrival and check-in.

The mean MCAT score for student’s acceptance into medical school is 31.4 or the 83rd percentile. Based on the new MCAT scoring system we can approximate the average score for accepted students to fall between 510-512.

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