MCAT + MCAT = x: Should I retake the MCAT?

Maybe you had a feeling it didn’t go well on the test day.  You were sick.  Pressed for time.  Off your game.  Or, you thought it went well and are completely shocked.  The scores on the practice tests…never this low!  Oh, oh, oh…the verbal.  Preparing for the MCAT is hard work and taking the test is stressful.  I’ve had oodles of advisees tell me they loved organic chemistry or thrived on harvesting mouse spines in the lab, but I’ve never had a single one tell me he or she loved the MCAT.  Even people with very high scores.  And to receive a disappointing score is especially tough.

The question, then, is should one take the MCAT again?  Yes, the schools will see all of the scores.  They may use them in different ways to evaluate candidates, using either the most recent score, all scores, the better score, or an average.  If you ask, a school may tell you how they use the scores…or not.  The bottom line is that you will want to avoid retaking the MCAT if at all possible.  It takes a lot of time and effort that might be used elsewhere in your life more productively.  You could receive the same or, most unfortunately, lower scores the second time.  Your MCAT score is one piece of information in your application.  It’s an important piece of information, but not the only one.  So, it’s worthwhile to think about whether you are personally disappointed in your score, or if the score is really going to hold you back or does not nearly reflect your abilities.

The AAMC has gathered some useful information on the admission rates for applicants that correlates MCAT with GPA.  Additionally, you can refer to the AAMC’s statistics on the changes in MCAT scores for retesters according to their initial score in verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences, and writing sample.  Will these statistics tell you, as an individual, how you will do if you take the MCAT a second time?  No.  Do they tell you how likely it is you will get into medical school?  Not really.  But, they help.  And, they do show what we’ve observed to be generally true  — that a slight increase in your MCAT score doesn’t necessarily make a big difference in the strength of an application and that many people retake the MCAT without a huge change in results.

All the same, retaking the MCAT is not a bad idea in some instances.  If you clearly underperformed or were not well prepared and know your score is going to improve more than a point or two, then it might not be a bad decision.  Some people receive scores that are just not competitive, which also merits renewed effort.  The main points to consider are your certainty that a second score truly will be an improvement and how much time you need to prepare for a second test.  Sometimes applicants want to give the MCAT another go right away when they really need more time to prepare.  Occasionally, it makes sense to forgo applying during a cycle so as not to rush the exam.  Also, compulsive retaking of the MCAT can happen, with applicants rounding up three sets of scores that aren’t very different.  This can raise questions about common sense, patience, and an ability to accept less than perfect results…all qualities of value.

Deciding to retake the MCAT is an individual decision, but many applicants find it helpful to talk about it with a pre-health advisor, if only to vent or give voice to all of the considerations.  Think your decision through before taking action and keep in mind that a “good enough” score may be what you need, rather than your “personal best.”

Author: Carol Hagan

Carol Hagan is a pre-health and pre-grad advisor in Career Services. She has a Ph.D. in art history from Penn and did her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University.