Find out when you should take the MCAT along with other FAQs, like the earliest and latest you should take the exam, how long scores are valid, and tips for achieving your best score.
One of the most common questions our admissions advisors get is, “When should I take the MCAT?” While there is no hard and fast date that will apply to all pre-med students, we do offer these guidelines to help you decide when is the best time for you to take the MCAT.
First, Why Scoring Well on the MCAT is so Important
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test®) assesses your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts. Your score helps medical school admissions committees determine how likely you are to succeed in their specific program. The lowest you can score on the MCAT is 472 and the highest score is 528.
Every school has its own MCAT score requirements. More competitive and prestigious schools demand higher scores; conversely, less competitive schools accept students with lower scores. In general, you need at least a 495 on the low end and a 522 on the high end.
If you have your heart set on certain schools, you’ll need to research those schools in advance to know the minimum you need to score on the MCAT before applying. Even if you’re not overly particular, your MCAT score will be important when you start creating your school list as it will help you categorize schools that are a reach, target, and undershoot (safety).
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Frequently Asked Questions About MCAT Timing
Now let’s dig into when to actually take the MCAT. We’ll approach this by answering some of the most common questions we get.
When is the earliest I can take the MCAT?
You can take the MCAT at any time during your undergraduate program. However, you will not have completed your medical school prerequisite courses until after your sophomore year. If you take the MCAT before that, plan to devote a lot more study time. Also keep in mind that most schools only accept MCAT scores earned within the last 2-3 years.
If you want to get the MCAT out of the way early, we recommend the earliest you should take it is the end of your sophomore year or the summer between your sophomore and junior year.
When is the latest I should take the MCAT?
The latest you should take the MCAT is April in your application year. For example, if you plan to apply to medical school in May of 2022 to start school in August 2023, you should take the MCAT for the final time by the end of April 2022.
This often confuses students as the earliest you can submit your primary AMCAS application is late May/early June and most schools’ application deadlines aren’t until later in the fall.
But having your MCAT score in hand by the end of May is helpful because:
- It determines which target schools you should apply to, instead of wasting money applying to too many undershoot and reach schools.
- It lets you take advantage of schools’ rolling admissions process. While your MCAT score is not required to submit your application, generally speaking most schools will not look at your application until AMCAS updates it with your MCAT score. Early, complete applications have the advantage.
- It gives you more time to work on your application. Writing your personal statement for your medical school application is a huge undertaking, and we recommend starting as early as January of your application year. You don’t want to be studying for the MCAT right up until it’s time to apply.
What’s the latest I can take the MCAT in an application cycle?
Things happen and you may find yourself down to the wire. Or, you may choose to repeat the MCAT to raise your score and apply to more schools than you originally put on your application.
Whatever the case, your first course of action is to check the application deadline for all of the schools you’re applying to, which is listed in your AMCAS application. Deadlines range from September through December, so you may have a little wiggle room, or a lot. But remember, because med schools use a rolling admissions process, the later you apply, the less consideration your application gets.
In general, we recommend the absolute latest you should take the MCAT is mid-August, which would put your scores out Mid-September. Ideally, this is only for students that have already submitted their application and are retaking the MCAT to apply to additional schools. If you haven’t submitted your primary application by September, it may make more sense to wait until the next cycle.
What is the best time of year to take the MCAT?
AAMC offers more than 30 MCAT test dates throughout the year. There really is no ideal time of year to take the MCAT. It will depend on your preparedness level and when you plan to apply within the cycle.
How much time do I need to study for the MCAT?
Every student is different, but in general we recommend dedicating 3-6 months to study for the MCAT. You know your study habits, strengths, and weaknesses, so you’ll want to create a personalized MCAT study plan for yourself.
If you’re struggling with the material or just need some accountability, consider hiring a professional MCAT tutor. Once you dig into the material, take some diagnostics tests, and consider your current school and work schedule, you can work backwards to create a study plan. Many students find it helpful to go ahead and book their MCAT exam date so they have a hard line in the sand for when they need to master the material.
How many times can I take the MCAT?
You can take the MCAT 3 times in a single testing year, or up to 4 times in a two consecutive-year period. If you’re an anxious test taker, it’s a good idea to plan to take the MCAT earlier so you know you have time to retake the test if necessary.
That being said, your goal should be to take the MCAT as few times as possible. Students often worry that taking the MCAT twice will look bad to medical schools, but it really depends on your scores. If you show a significant improvement, schools will recognize the effort. If you had little change (or did worse), naturally that’s not going to reflect so well on your application.
How many years are MCAT scores valid?
Every school is different. Most accept MCAT scores from the last 2-3 years. However, some schools count that time from the student’s application date, and others count it from their matriculation date — which can be more than a year apart.
If you’re an early bird, you’ll want to check with individual schools for their requirements. However, if you take the MCAT between January and April of your application year, you’ll be safe.
When should I personally take the MCAT?
Only you can know when you’re ready! As you’ve seen, there are many factors that will go into your personal MCAT timeline.
If you know you’re committed to applying to medical school, you should start thinking about the MCAT toward the end of your sophmore year when you’ve completed your prerequisites. This gives you plenty of time to work on a study plan, hire a tutor if necessary, and prepare to do your best on the exam in the coming year.
Achieve Your Best MCAT Score with Help from MedSchoolCoach Tutors
If you could use some extra help preparing for the MCAT, the tutors at MedSchoolCoach are here for you. We create personalized study plans, work with you one-on-one, and have developed proprietary practice exams and an MCAT prep app to help you succeed. Our tutors all scored in the 99th percentile of their own MCAT, scoring 130-132 on the sections they tutor. They are masters of the material, and they can help you master it as well. Schedule your free MCAT tutoring consultation today.