Podcast Episodes

Podcast Episode 22: Retaking the MCAT

Today we sit down with Ken Tao, director of MCAT tutoring for Med School Coach, to talk about MCAT retaking. Renee sees a lot of students who are borderline on their MCAT score or low in just one section. These students wonder whether they need to retake the exam, and it’s a big decision to make. Most students score higher or roughly the same when retaking an MCAT, but there is a risk of getting a lower score.

Anyone thinking about retaking the exam should get some advice, which Ken provides for us in this episode. He takes us through many situations that students may find themselves in, including having a borderline score and having a low score in just one section. Ken also makes recommendations for how to study for the exam the second time around.

[1:33] Scenarios where Ken would automatically recommend a student to retake the MCAT.

The first things students should do when they get their MCAT score is to look at their numbers. It’s very helpful for students to then check the average GPA and MCAT scores at the schools they are targeting. All students have target schools, reach schools, and safety schools. If their scores are below the average of their safety schools, they should usually retake the test. The average MCAT score matriculants in the most recent application cycle was about 510 to 511. Generally, Ken would recommend students who got lower than 508 to retake the test.

Students should also retake the test if their score is not balanced. For example, a student could score very well on the science section but low on CARS. Your MCAT score will look a bit off to medical school admissions committees.

[3:40] Considerations that Ken discusses with a student if they have a borderline score.

It’s important to realize that even though the average is 510-511, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get into a school with a 508-509. For some students, if the rest of their application is strong, they might be okay.

It’s also important to consider why the student might have gotten a lower score. Ken would want to know how they were doing on the practice exams. If a student was scoring higher on practice exams than on the actual test, they will likely get a higher score if they retake it.

Another consideration is for students to determine if there were areas in their preparation that they could have improved upon. That being said, it’s sometimes tough for students to do an evaluation on themselves. Ken says that these students should reach out to an MCAT expert.

[7:26] Recommendations for students that had a low score in just one section.

Students should certainly focus their studying more on the section that they scored low on, but they also shouldn’t forget the other sections. For students that did well in certain sections, Ken says that it’s usually not hard for them to increase their score further. They should continue doing some studying on-the-side; not as intense as before, but still put in some time.

For the section that they did the worst on, it’s important to self-reflect. Students should think about how they were performing on the practice tests. If their score is the same as on their practice tests, then the actual score reflects their studying performance. In this case, I would recommend the student do something completely different. These says, there are so many different strategies and techniques that are unknown to certain types of students. Try something new, and if that doesn’t work, try something else.

[9:55] How to prep for an MCAT retake and choosing when to take it.

For students who did great on their practice tests but scored ten points lower on their exam, they can easily attribute that to anxiety. Often, having been through the process once is enough to ease these nerves, meaning that this group of students could easily sign up for the next MCAT and do fine. For students who realize that they could have studied more efficiently, Ken wouldn’t recommend taking the next test. They need to put in significant time in preparing again, so they need to look at their schedule to find a date that would allow this time leading to the test.

[13:40] Closing thoughts.

Recognize that the MCAT is just an exam. Don’t let something like an MCAT hold you back from becoming a physician. You might think that taking an MCAT the first time was so stressful that you don’t want to retake it, but about half of all medical students retake the exam. It’s about persevering and pushing through it.

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