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When do you take the MCAT? It’s no secret that becoming a doctor is a difficult and time-consuming process.
If you’re applying to medical school, the numerous application components you must complete, from your statement to letters of recommendation, can make your medical school application timeline feel like a juggling act.
However, all premeds are aware of one major milestone: the MCAT. Your performance on this exam and your college GPA will significantly determine which schools you are admitted to.
You may have many questions about what MCAT score to aim for or what a good MCAT score is. This is followed by questions about when to take the MCAT, with variations like:
- When should I give the MCAT?
- What is the best time to take the MCAT?
- When should I take the MCAT at the earliest?
- When should I take the MCAT at the latest?
- What’s the latest date I can take the MCAT and still apply during a certain application cycle?
So, When do you take the MCAT to get the best score and improve your chances of getting into medical school?
Each year, the AAMC offers about 30 MCAT test dates. Some dates will work better for you than others, depending on where you are in your education and when you want to apply to medical school. There is no particular season that is “best” for the MCAT.
This guide will answer the most common MCAT questions to help you plan your medical school admissions process effectively.
Understanding the MCAT
So, what exactly is the MCAT? What is a good score on the MCAT?
MCAT, also called the Medical College Admission Test, is a standard multiple-choice test that admissions officers use in the U.S. and Canada to decide who gets into medical school. The AAMC conducts it, and there are 30 exam dates each year.
The exam has been used for almost a century to test people’s knowledge in four main areas that are considered important for healthcare professionals:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Scores on the MCAT can be between 472 and 528, with 500 being the average. Values change from school to school, but the most successful applicants usually score in the 75th percentile, which means they get a score of 510 or higher.
When do you take the MCAT: The Importance of MCAT Scores
While MCAT scores are important for admission to medical school, they are not the only factor colleges consider when making admissions decisions.
In general, institutions consider 3 areas:
- Personal qualities are evaluated through recommendation letters, personal statements, and interviews.
- Extracurriculars like community service and research.
- Academic performance includes grade point average (GPA) and MCAT scores.
Even though all three play a big role in admissions, it’s hard to say which one is most important to a specific school.
When do you take the MCAT at the earliest?
You should take the MCAT as early as your sophomore year or during the summer between your sophomore and junior years. Most of the requirements for medical school will have been met by then, so you won’t have to review as much content, no matter what MCAT prep books or courses you buy.
If you take the MCAT early, 24 of the 30 or so test dates fall between April and September, giving you many options. Just give yourself enough time to study—between two and four months, depending on how well you know the material and how hard you can work—so you can do well on the first try. Taking the MCAT is not fun, and it’s even worse to take it again.
When do you take the MCAT test at the latest?
Plan to take the MCAT for the last time between January and April of the year you want to apply. For example, if you want to start medical school in August 2024, you’ll need to take the MCAT during the first four months of 2023 or no later than April 2023.
You might wonder why you need a window like that. AMCAS won’t accept even your primary application until late May.
There are many good reasons for finishing the MCAT by April:
- It would be best if you put a lot of thought and time into your application essays. Suppose you wait too long to take the MCAT. In that case, you won’t have enough time to focus on your statement for medical school, your AMCAS Work and Activities section, and the many other essays you must write (including pre-writing secondary essays before secondary applications are released).
- The main thing that will determine which medical schools you should apply to is your MCAT score(s). You don’t want to waste time and money applying to medical schools only to discover that your MCAT score is ineligible.
- Your MCAT score won’t be made public for about a month after you take the test. You should finish your tests early if you want the admissions committee to look at your application with all of your scores and if you want to make the most of the rolling admissions process at medical schools.
You might want to take the MCAT more than once, so we stress the last time. You can take it up to 3 times in one testing year, 4 times in two years in a row, and 7 times throughout your life. (Note: If you skip an exam or don’t show up for a scheduled test date, it will still count against these limits.)
If your diagnostic or practice tests don’t go well by the end of the summer before your application year (in our example, by August 2022), you may want to take the MCAT twice. You don’t want to rush through the exam while writing medical school essays, preparing for Casper, and (hopefully) to interview.
What year of college should you take the MCAT?
This is another version of the question, “When is the earliest/latest I should take the MCAT?” Even though you can take the MCAT at any time, you should do so no later than the summer after your sophomore year and no earlier than April of the year you want to apply. Your “application year” might be the spring of your junior year, the spring of your senior year, or a gap year. Make sure to get the best score you can in as few tries as possible.
A timeline for your final MCAT exam
Working backwards, here’s a conservative plan that will give you the best chance of passing the MCAT:
- Summer before your application year (June-August): Prepare for the MCAT
- Fall (i.e., September) before your application year: Take the MCAT only once (Note: The MCAT is not offered between October and December)
- Winter (January-April) of your application year: If necessary, retake the MCAT.
If you’ve been doing well on tests and are good at taking them, you might not need to study for that second try. Still, if you want to go to med school while you’re still in college, you should plan to study for the MCAT the summer before your application year (i.e., the summer between your sophomore and junior year) to give yourself the most options for tests in the future.
When should you not take the MCAT?
Because the MCAT is so important, you’ll want to be well-prepared each time you take it. As a result, here are some reasons why you should not take the exam:
- Many of the topics on the test will be unfamiliar to you if you did not study them in college (we recommend having completed at least 80 per cent of your prerequisites)
- If you are performing poorly on the AAMC practice exams and require more study time,
- If overburdened with other responsibilities, you may require dedicated MCAT study time.
What’s the latest date I can take the MCAT without delaying my medical school application?
To avoid delays with your application, you should take the MCAT as soon as possible after the last test date in May of the year you are applying. You’ll get your score about a month after you take the MCAT. Since AMCAS applications don’t go to schools until late June, taking the MCAT on the last date in May won’t slow down the review of your application.
Please keep in mind that AACOMAS (the D.O. medical school application) and TMDSAS (the Texas medical school application) have slightly earlier deadlines: AACOMAS begins transmitting applications to med schools on June 15th, while TMDSAS begins on June 1st. If you’re also applying through these systems, you’ll want to take the MCAT by mid-May or, at the very least, the end of April.
Of course, most medical schools will not review your application until you have submitted your secondary application. As a result, the true answer to this question is: the absolute latest date you can take the MCAT is the test date with the closest score release date to your secondary application submission.
Nonetheless, for the reasons stated above, we do not recommend you consider MCAT test dates later than May of your application year.
How many times should you take the MCAT?
The MCAT should be taken as few times as possible, but that doesn’t mean that taking it more than once is bad. Med schools will probably be fine with it if your scores go up meaningfully from one test to the next. For example, start with a 508 on your first try and get a 518 on your second. We can all agree that you should have taken the test again. But if you get a 508 on your first try and a 509 on your second, we would probably say that the retake wasn’t worth it.
How long are MCAT scores valid?
Most medical schools accept MCAT scores from the last two to three years. But to make things even more complicated, some med schools require a score earned within 2 to 3 years of the date of application, while others count backwards from the enrollment date. This can cause a difference of at least a year between schools.
It’s important to note that, as far as the AAMC is concerned, MCAT scores don’t “expire” on their own. Instead, each medical school decides when a score is good enough.
So, you should find out which med schools will accept your test on the earliest date. MSAR or the websites for applying to schools will be able to give you this information.
How does my graduation year affect the expiration of my MCAT score?
Students who want to graduate early or take a gap year often ask how their plans will affect when their MCAT scores expire. The answer is – they don’t. So, it doesn’t matter when you graduate or are a “nontraditional” applicant; what matters is when you want to start medical school to determine if your scores are valid.
Assume you’ll graduate in May 2024 and intend to take a gap year before starting medical school in August 2025. Based on the previous, we recommend taking the MCAT no later than April 2024. Setting a specific earliest test date is more difficult; however, summer 2022—between sophomore and junior year—would likely be the earliest date to consider.
But keep in mind that if you didn’t get in and had to reapply to medical school the next year, a summer 2022 date would be seen as expired by some schools, and you might have to take the MCAT again.
FAQs: When do you take the MCAT
If you’re curious about when you should take the MCAT or have any other questions, these FAQs will help.
1. When do you take the MCAT normally?
It would be best if you planned on taking the MCAT after your sophomore year of college. You should now grasp the material well because you’ve taken most, if not all, of the prerequisite courses.
Taking the MCAT early also allows you to retake the exam if you do not achieve the required score for your preferred med school. You want to give yourself plenty of time because this exam is difficult and takes at least three months to prepare.
2. When should you take the MCAT: junior or senior year?
When do you take the MCAT: If you think you will be better prepared for the MCAT in your junior or senior year, you can take it at that time. This gives you less time to take the MCAT again, but you may feel ready enough that you don’t need to.
Don’t measure yourself against other people. Some students may feel ready to take the MCAT after their second year in college, while others may need more time. You choose when you should take the MCAT. Every student is different, and you can take the MCAT as early as your senior year as long as you have your score ready by applying to medical school.
3. Is it possible to take the MCAT after college?
When do you take the MCAT: Most students take the MCAT for the last time in their senior year. If you don’t have a gap year, medical schools usually start accepting applications in June. If you don’t have a gap year, you can take the MCAT anytime from January to May of the year you want to apply.
You can take the MCAT after college if you want a break before applying to medical school.
4. Can I Apply to Medical School Without First Taking the MCAT?
When do you take the MCAT: You can technically apply to medical school before taking or retaking the MCAT, but it’s risky and usually not recommended for a few reasons:
- There’s no other way to know if your actual MCAT score will be good enough for your applying schools.
- You have more pressure than usual to do well on the test.
- Some schools might not look at your application until they see how you did on the test (not pending).
- If you apply to medical school and then decide to retake the MCAT, consider how the admissions committee will look at your first score.
Medical school admissions are extremely competitive. Taking the MCAT before applying to medical school is in your best interests.
5. How long does it take to get MCAT results?
When do you take the MCAT: You get your MCAT scores between 30 and 35 days after taking the test. Keep this in mind as you fill out your medical school application. You want to ensure that your score is ready before you send in your application so you don’t hold up your acceptance.
6. When Do I Take the MCAT for an Easier Test?
When do you take the MCAT: Unfortunately, the difficulty of the MCAT doesn’t change based on what month you take it. Whether you take the test in January or wait until May, it will be hard.
Try to take the MCAT in the month when you feel the readiest. If you spent Christmas studying, you’re probably ready for the MCAT in January or February. However, you may not have much time to study if you’re still in school.
Taking the MCAT in the spring or summer can help you study for it without worrying about your other classes. However, it might be harder to find testing dates during these times. Test centres get full quickly. When you’re ready to take the MCAT is up to you, but don’t put it off.
7. How often can the MCAT be taken?
When do you take the MCAT: You can take the MCAT as often as you want if you don’t get the score you want the first time. You can take the test 3 times a year. You can take the MCAT up to four times in two years.
You can only take the MCAT test 7 times, so make sure you’re ready to choose a date.
Know that medical schools can see your MCAT scores, but don’t let that stop you from taking the MCAT test more than once if you need to. By looking at your scores, schools can see how much you’ve improved.
8. Can I take a year off before starting medical school?
You can take a year off before medical school, but consider the benefits and drawbacks before deciding. Don’t rush into this decision. Take a gap year if you aren’t prepared for the MCAT. Just make sure to study in your spare time so you don’t forget what you learned in undergrad.
Also, remember that taking a gap year will take you further away from your career, but breaks are sometimes necessary. When in doubt, go with your instincts.
9. When do you take the MCAT at the earliest?
Taking the MCAT in the summer after your sophomore year is best.
10. When do you take the MCAT at the latest?
The MCAT should be taken as late as April/May of your application year. Remember to allow enough time to retake the exam if necessary.
Final words: When do you take the MCAT
When do you take the MCAT? Students frequently inquire about the best time to take the MCAT. The answer depends on when you can properly prepare for the exam and when you want to start medical school.
Don’t study too quickly, or you might get a lower grade, and don’t study so much that you have to put off sending in your applications. The same reasoning applies to the question, “When should I take the MCAT in college?”
We recommend planning your medical school application timeline around MCAT test dates. However, remember that it is only the starting point and that once you have your ideal score, you will want to devote your full attention to the remaining essays. That makes it even more critical to get the timing right for this crucial exam.