Should I Retake the MCAT? (A Guide to your MCAT Score)
After every year’s MCAT score release date, the question of whether one should rewrite the MCAT comes up or what can I do with this (insert number+letter here). This question is so common that several forums are dedicated to answering this question including one for Canadian Students and one for American Students. I have decided to write a guide to help people who are in this situation figure out what their next steps should be. I will be writing this for Canadian audiences, but the ideas and principles should work the same with American Schools. I will update this in the future to provide examples from both countries.
What is your Score?
This step should be pretty self-explanatory for all test-writers. Your score should be a number ranging anywhere from 8-43 (I’ve never heard of any score <8 or similarly the other extreme >43) and a letter from J-T. A key fact about the MCAT is it is a curved test. That means that your grade is a reflection on how well you did on the test relative to other students who took the same test. The median of the test will always be 24 because AAMC sets it up this way. In other words, what really matters is your percentile score and how well you did compared to other test-takers. It’s set up this way to ensure that all the tests are standardized so even if you find one sitting of the MCAT harder than another sitting, you won’t be punished for answering less questions correct because your fellow test takers will have found it just as hard. Regarding the letter score, it is sometimes looked at by schools and sometimes totally disregarded by other schools.
Most medical schools require their students to be above average. A score of 24 will not cut it for almost all schools. A standing in the 80th percentile is a solid score, but there are more factors to consider than just the percentile, which brings us to the next point.
Which medical schools do you want to apply to?
The next step is to see if your score is compatible with the schools you want to apply to. Make a list of which schools you will be applying to. Take into consideration factors such as location, expenses, curriculum, etc. Ideally you want to apply only to schools you would be willing to go to if accepted. Nothing is harder to explain to future admissions committees than being accepted into a medical school and declining their offer without having another acceptance in hand. It will make re-applying to medical schools that much harder.
Determining the school’s statistics and cut-offs for admitted students.
The next step is some basic information collection. After all, you want to know what it takes to be admitted to these schools so what better place to find out than through the previous year’s numbers. A good source would be the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) published by AAMC each year [For Americans]. This usually includes the statistics of accepted students from previous years, including the average/median GPA and MCAT for admitted applicants. You’ll soon realize that top-tiered schools usually require higher MCAT scores, an example being Washington University in St.Louis which has been notorious for admitting students just because of high MCAT scores.
Another good place to look for data is on the school’s own website. Usually if you look up [school name] + [faculty of medicine] + [admissions] + [statistics] into a search engine, it’ll bring you to the right site. For example, the University of Toronto website had GPA stats for the previous 8 years. At the bottom they list that the previous year’s class of 2007 had the following MCAT scores.
From this we can tell that half the class got an MCAT of better than 33Q which is quite impressive. The max/min data is a bit unclear whether it belonged to one student or whether that was the max/mim of each of the MCAT sections. My gut instinct is that there was a 42T student because if it was the latter case of individual sections, I am certain it would have been 15 for the PS and BS sections as there are students who score full marks in these sections each year. However, I am doubtful if UofT let a student with a 24M into the class, so I would assume that this would be the minimum for each section. However, whenever things are ambigious, it would be best to call the school directly to clarify.
The internet is also a powerful tool you can use to gather information. I have already listed two forums with pre-med users that know a lot about the admissions process. Similarly, there is a website called MD Applicants where applicants put up their stats, which schools they applied to, were rejected from, waitlisted, or accepted to. (Warning: Take the stats you see with a grain of salt as they do not represent the average applicant pool. The whole website is self selecting as usually only people with good grades will be posting them up on the Internet)
Matching Your Stats and MCAT score with the School’s Cutoffs (Include Special Conditions)
The next step after you have gathered the necessary information is to see if your profile fits these schools. It’s absolutely necessary to read over the school’s website carefully as there are often many different statuses/special rules that will affect how your score will be viewed.
A classic example is the case of being an Out-of-Province (OOP) applicant. For instance, all Albertan medical schools reserve the majority of their class (85%) for Albertan residents. This ensures that graduating medical students will most likely end up staying and serving the Albertan community. The other 15% of the seats is alloted for OOP applicants. This in turn creates two different applicant pools. As seen on their Applicant Guide, the University of Calgary uses a different formula for calculating these two pool’s GPA and MCAT, with OOP applicants requiring much higher stats to meet the cutoff.
Similarly, The University of Western Ontario Admissions has a different status for people who are from an area classified as SWOMEN (South Western Ontario). As shown from their 2008 data cut-offs, SWOMEN applicants have a much lower MCAT minimum allowance (PS 8, VR 8, BS 8 ) than non-SWOMEN applicants, who need a (PS 9, VR 10, BS 11) in order to get an interview.
The point is to make sure you get all the information from the schools about the CUT OFF Marks and to see that Your stats are above the cutoffs. Most schools do their admissions in several steps. When you submit an application into a school, they take your most quantifiable data (GPA + MCAT), run it through a computer algorith and then remove applicants below the cutoffs. You want to be above the cutoff. You shouldn’t waste your time and money on schools you know which you have no shot at because they will just toss out your application before they even review it.
I have a good overall MCAT score but an UNBALANCED MCAT Score
I will get into the different scenarios that most often come up. Perhaps the most common type of question I hear is the unbalanced score. This score is generally a “high” score of above 30, usually in the mid-30′s and above. However, the student performed poorly in one section of the MCAT. Most often students who are good at numbers do terribly on the verbal section and may end up with a score of 32Q (12PS, 7VR, 11BS) or a 37S (15 PS, 9VR, 13BS). Or it may be they bombed the PS section and only got a 7 on it.
The verbal section is the most tricky because it is often the section that ALL schools look at. Some schools such as Queen’s and UWO have “hard” cutoffs. What I mean by hard is that if the numbers are below that “set” number, you won’t be getting an interview. Both Queens and UWO have been known to have a strict (10, 10, 10 Q) cutoff. This becomes problematic for people who have performed overall well, but lack in one area.
The University of Calgary on the other hand, if you’re an OOP applicant, they will only look at three parts of your MCAT score (VR, BS + Writing). This is why it pays to do your research and information collection. You will find schools where your marks will make you competitive.
Other schools such as University of Toronto and University of Alberta have “soft” cutoffs. What that means is that they will give interviews on a case-by-case basis and that you won’t be automatically sifted out if you did poorly in one section. Granted, they still have a formula that looks at your MCAT score. For instance, they may want applicants who have a total score greater than 30, with a minimum of 7 in each. This allows for people with “unbalanced” scores to apply and still have a shot.
I did poorly on the Writing Section, what options do I have?
This technically falls under an unbalanced score but since this is such a common occurence, I will address this question separately. The writing sections works like any other section of the MCAT. Some schools will have “hard” cutoffs for it (UWO, Queens) and others will have “soft” cutoffs.
An interesting situation is that most American schools do not consider the writing section at all. So often time, if you have a high MCAT score but a poor writing section (37O) you might consider applying to state schools as your numbers will be very competitive.
Another consideration is to get your essay regraded. You pay a small fee to the AAMC but they will look at your written section again. This is beneficial if you just sit on the border of a cut-off and your other sections are good.
My MCAT score sits on the border of the CUTOFFS
This is an agonizing situation to be stuck in. You may have a balanced 36 with 12′s in each section but be stuck with a P or similarly, you have a 29Q (PS 10, VR 9, BS 10, Q). In each case you are so close to the “ideal” mark you want.
If you want to bump your P up to a Q, one method you can try is for them to regrade your test. There has been stories where score were bumped up enough to make it worth applying to some schools. However, there is also a chance that the score will go down when they regrade, so it’s a risk you should consider. If you’re really dieing to apply to a certain school though, by all means request for the regrade and hope for the best.
The other best option you have is to call the admissions committee and ask if your score would be cut-off. Each year the cutoffs fluctuate a bit due to the competitiveness of the applicant pool changing. You might get lucky and they might drop enough for your score to be in the clear.
And if it’s really too close to call, I would suggest that you apply anyways. The worst they can do is reject your application and you’ll be out a hundred bucks. However, if you do clear the cutoff and get an interview invitation, it will definitely outweigh the risk.
I have not written the MCAT
You would think this is a problem, considering the MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test, but there are actually two schools in Canada that don’t require an MCAT score. The two are McMaster University and The University of Ottawa However, just because these two schools do not require an MCAT score does NOT make these schools any easier to get into. In fact, they have more applicants than other schools and their GPA cutoffs are even higher. They usually require higher quality extracurriculars and reference letters too.
Update 2009: McMaster now looks only at the VR of the MCAT.
Should I Retake / Rewrite the MCAT?
Now, it’s very common for your scores to not be up to par with medical school cutoffs. That’s reality, it sucks. The only way to get to medical school is to improve your scores and that means the dreaded rewrite. That means studying for the MCAT all over again, running through practice tests and sitting down to write the beast again. It is a lot of work. You should only rewrite the MCAT after you’ve given some thought into these next few points.
- Is Medicine still something you want to pursue? – Taking another semester or summer to study for this test is a big commitment. Is it worth the sacrifice or is medicine just something you’re aiming for because of peer pressure or you have nothing better to do. Think about this one clearly, as this question will follow you when you write your application, into the interview, and into medical school.
- When do you plan on Applying? - Most applications begin in the summer (USA) or fall (Canada) so finding “When You Should Write Your MCAT” is an important question to ask. Can you rewrite before the next application cycle? For instance, you may have taken the MCAT in April and received your scores at the beginning of the summer. If you decide to rewrite, you could make it in time for August’s test date and your new scores would be ready for the upcoming application cycle. If this isn’t the case, will you be willing to wait another cycle to write your MCAT and then apply?
- How will you improve your score? - The whole point of rewriting is to better your score. What makes you think you will get a better score this time? Will you take a PREP course or will you study alone? How will you change your strategy and what will you do differently. Most students I see who retake the test just go about it the same way as they did before, read books, make notes, do practice questions. But perhaps their problem lies with their test taking abilities and not their knowledge. Before you begin to restudy, you must first evaluate what you did right the first time and what you could have done better.
- Was this score representative of your ability? - This is the final question you should ask to see if you should rewrite. Did the score I received back reflect my true abilities. If the answer is yes, then perhaps a rewrite is not for you. You have reached your limit. However, if you believe you did poorly on test day for whatever reason, you were sick, you couldn’t sleep the night before, you didn’t take organic chemistry, and you believe you can do better, then a rewrite is for you.
How Many Times should I write the MCAT?
The best answer to this question is just once. However, the real answer to this question is as many times as necessary. If medicine is the field you want to go into, the MCAT is just of the hurdles you will have to overcome. The MCAT is not the end goal nor is it the biggest hurdle. Medicine requires dedication and it is not always the smartest students who can get pass the MCAT but the dedicated and persistent. The people who are willing to sit their butts down to study during the summer and the people who are willing to give it another go even after failure. Best of luck to all the pre-med, students, MCAT writers, applicants out there.