We’ve all heard it to the point where it has become a meme: “The MCAT is hard, and the MCAT is important.” Whether we like the 7-hour-long test or not, it is a reality of medical school admissions, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Note: If you are reading this between May and September 2020, the MCAT is now closer to 5 hours long.)
While the MCAT is just one of the many components of your medical school application, a subpar score can often be a deciding factor for admissions committees. If you received a disappointing score and are wondering what next, read on to figure out if you should retake the MCAT and how to tackle that beast anew.
The first step here should be an honest evaluation of whether or not you should take the MCAT again. This is a difficult question to ask, but it really depends on your goals.
Many applicants rush into retaking the test in a month of less, and that’s not a great call. Rushing into something this mentally taxing without evaluating your needs (mental, physical, and academic) is a surefire way to repeat the same mistakes.
A good way to figure out if you are already in the target range for your schools is to think about the hard numbers. The average MCAT score for students accepted into DO schools is 504, while the average for accepted MD students is 510.
The AAMC’s MSAR tool is a great way to see how your stats line up with MD schools, since it shows the first quartile, mean, and third quartile for composite GPA, science GPA, and MCAT scores and subscores. For DO applicants, AACOM’s Choose DO Explorer has the stats for DO schools, though it’s not as comprehensive of a tool as the MSAR.
As a rule of thumb, though, any subscores under 125 are a good indicator that you may need to take the MCAT again.
In medical school, you’ll likely have to assess and adjust your study habits. An underwhelming MCAT score is a good sign that you may need to shake up your process now, and it’s never a bad time to start applying metacognition to your process as a learner.
Did you run out of time on any of the sections, or finish any with a lot of time to spare? What made you successful and what made you struggle in each one?
How did you study last time? Were you consistent? Did you go in with a plan, or just wing it? How often did you use practice questions and exams? Which materials did you use?
There are many different learning styles, and it will help you immensely to figure out what works best for you. Are you visual or auditory? Do flashcard programs like Anki work well for you?
All right, so you’ve decided that you’re going to retake the MCAT, and you’ve taken a hard look at your previous attempts. Now it’s time to lock in that new date and commit to retaking it.
That largely depends on your goals and what time of year it is. Ideally, applying to medical school is about a year-and-a-half-long process: from the fall of the year before through the fall/spring of the actual application year.
You should take the MCAT at least three months before you plan to submit your application in late May/early June. This way, you can see your score before choosing to apply in the coming cycle, and you can focus your time on the MCAT, your personal statement, and paperwork-gathering separately.
So, if you planned to apply in 2021 and matriculate in 2022, you should try to have your MCAT squared away by February or March 2021 at the latest.
If it is later than March in your intended application year, you shouldn’t rush into taking the MCAT again within a month, like we discussed earlier. It is risky, but you can take the MCAT in May or June and submit your application.
However, if it’s at all possible, you should avoid doing that; you’ll want to know your scores before sending them to schools. Consider taking a gap year to make sure you’re going to send the best possible version of your application. You may not like the idea of delaying a year, but it’s better to apply successfully once than to be a reapplicant, and medical school admissions get more and more competitive over time.
If you need more specific counseling, reach out to our team here at AcceptMed; they can address your unique situation and help you figure out what your next step should be.
Now that you’ve committed to the retake, you need to adjust your method and stick to a plan. A good study plan has three main components: resources, a long-term schedule, and a daily routine.
There are both free and paid resources for studying and practice. For free materials:
• Khan Academy (but their materials will be gone in September 2021, unfortunately)
• Jack Westin (primarily for CARS practice)
• The AAMC’s Roadmaps to the sections
• The AAMC Official Sample Test (free starting October 2020)
For paid materials, check out:
• The Official AAMC materials (your best option!)
• Kaplan’s 7-book MCAT prep set
• ExamKrackers book set
• BluePrint (has many good practice tests, though they are generally a bit harder than the AAMC materials)
Student Doctor Network has a free tool called StudySchedule that takes the materials you have, the time you can dedicate to studying, and your test date, then spits out a schedule that you can follow to stay on top of things. It’s not perfect because it doesn’t include a lot of the newer AAMC material in its database, but it’s a viable place to start!
If you want to come up with a long-term schedule for yourself, make sure that you take a practice test at least twice in the month leading up to your MCAT date. Sprinkle in a practice test about once a month before then, and make sure that you have looked all new content at least a month before your test.
The month before your test should be primarily focused on practicing problems and solidifying content; you definitely should avoid learning any new information within two weeks of your test.
It can be hard to balance gap year responsibilities with MCAT studying, but you need to set aside the time and space to really crack down. After all, it will be tough as a medical student, so why not build those habits now?
Make a set time for study time, and hold yourself to it. You may need to take a break, and that’s complete fine. If you’re having a hard time focusing for your set time, try the Pomodoro method and incorporate “sprints” and rests into your study routine.
Once you have your plan, there’s nothing left but to execute it! Make sure to have a productive, clean space, and get yourself in the right mindset before each study session. This is not just a slog you have to get through; this is the work you have to put in to achieve your goals, and you absolutely can nail it!
Studying for the MCAT is a grind, but once you put in the work, you will reap the rewards. Stick to it, don’t be afraid of the work, and go out there and crush it!
The MCAT is hard, the MCAT is important, but with the right tools, plan, and mindset, you can retake it and get back in the med school apps game. Good luck!
If you still need help figuring out how to get your medical school application back on track, we are here to help. AcceptMed’s expert team of advisors are all Harvard Medical School graduates who are dedicated to your success, accessible, and responsive. Set up a free consultation today!
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