If you’re an aspiring physician, you will face the Medical College Admissions Test. Known by its acronym MCAT, this exam aids medical schools in assessing whether you are sufficiently prepared for a medical education and career. 

Naturally, you wonder what is a good MCAT score? Not one specific score answers that question. It depends upon factors, including the medical school to which you apply. If you approach or exceed the average MCAT score, chances are that you will find a medical school seat somewhere. Yet, as many applicants may find themselves with a what is a good MCAT score, your undergrad grade point average and experiences also contribute to your profile as a medical school candidate. 

What is On the MCAT?

Success in medical school and the profession turns on your command of scientific concepts and methods and the ability to research and turn data and observations into treatment plans and other conclusions. To that end, the MCAT seeks to evaluate your mastery of the science involved in medicine and reasoning. 

The 7.5 hours (450) minutes of multiple choice questions that comprise the MCAT are divided into four sections. The first three address the extent of your knowledge in biology, biochemistry, psychology, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics and sociology. Section Four tests you on logic and reasoning, as do standardized tests for other professions. The sections of the MCAT bear these titles:

  • “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems”
  • “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems”
  • “Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior”
  • “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills”

Throughout the first three sections come emphasis on ten “foundational concepts.” By way of summary, these building blocks for the study and practice of medicine touch upon the role of molecules, organization of cells, tissues and organs into systems; the relationship between human behavior and health; and the ties of social and other factors on health. In the fourth section, candidates for medical school display appreciation for scientific concepts, relationships between concepts, the scientific method of drawing hypotheses and conclusions and scientific research.

How Do You Get an MCAT Score?

MCAT Score Range: The MCAT score range runs from 472 to 528. For each of the four sections, scoring starts at 118 and climbs to a maximum of 132. The median (or center) score for each section stands at 125. 

Calculation: To arrive at your score, MCAT computes for each section a raw score based on the number of correct answers. You receive no deduction for wrong answers, as such are treated as if you had not answered the question at all. As such, MCAT encourages you to guess if you don’t have a sufficient comprehension of the question. For each section, your raw score will be transformed into a scaled score. MCAT scales the scores to account for changes in the degree of difficulty of tests from administration to administration. 

Each of the scaled section scores are summed into one total scaled score. 

Percentile Ranks: Determining what is a good MCAT score involves not only some absolute scaled MCAT score, but your score’s comparison to other test takers (i.e. those with whom you may compete for slots in a medical school). Your percentile measures how well you did in comparison with others. 

Based on data from 2017 to 2019, those in the 50th percentile had a score of 501. The 50th percentile is another way of expressing the median score. That is, among all test takers in these years, nearly half of the test scores fell below 501 and half rose above this figure. If your score rests in the 96th percentile, that means roughly four percent of the examinees achieved a better MCAT score than you. During this period, those in the 96th percentile scored 518 out of a maximum 528.

What is a Good MCAT Score?

The higher your percentile, it seems the better your score. Yet, there are other methods for determining what is a good MCAT score. 

Look at the Median or Average MCAT. In 2019-2020, out of 21,869 applicants who matriculated into medical schools, the average MCAT score was 511.5. This compares with an average MCAT score of 506.1 based on 53,371 medical school applicants.

Average MCAT Score for All Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges

The average MCAT score or median of admitted medical students will vary by the particular school.  Yale Medical School’s median stands at 518, while schools whose matriculating students scored 520 (on a median basis) include Harvard, Duke and Stanford. Knowing the median MCAT score also allows you learn the MCAT score range for schools, as the maximum score is 528. At schools where the median is high, the competition for medical school slots can prove intense.

Check online or at the admissions office of the particular medical school for the average MCAT score of those admitted to evaluate how your MCAT score compares with others. Through a subscription offered by the American Association of Medical Colleges, you can look at the average MCAT score of students who matriculate and other admissions standards for particular medical schools. 

Medical schools consider undergraduate GPA scores in medical school admissions. Theoretically, a high GPA might counter the potential negative effects of a low MCAT score. As a practical matter, though, a medical school applicant with a higher MCAT score usually had higher a GPA than an applicant with a lower GPA. 

What if You Don’t Have a Good MCAT Score?

Your MCAT score and GPA weigh considerably to medical school decision makers, as they represent relied-upon predictors of success. An MCAT Score below the average of those matriculating can make your admission more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. If you have concerns about whether you have a good MCAT score or grade-point average, your extra-curricular activities can help your application. In actuality, these factors outside of your grades and MCAT test play a significant role with medical schools considering prospective students. Many schools include certain extra-curricular activities among the minimum requirements for admission.

MCAT and GPA Grid for Applicants and Acceptees to U.S. Medical Schools, 2017-2018 through 2019-2020

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges

Here are the categories of extra-curricular activities that medical schools may seek in their candidates:

Shadowing: As a shadow, you observe physicians, nurses and other medical or health professionals in practical settings. You see the collection of vital statistics, hear the questions asked of patients and their answers and witness the diagnoses and treatments rendered. These experiences have the obvious benefit of placing you in the midst of the rigors and pressures of medical practice and the delivery of healthcare. Additionally, shadowing demonstrates to medical schools that you are committed to the medical field as a career even after having seen the hectic side of the practice.

When you choose to shadow, bear in mind these tips to reap the benefits:

  • Accept any invitation by a physician or professional to shadow.
  • Avoid interference with the provider as you shadow. This means don’t ask questions or offer suggestions in the presence of the patient. You should save your inquiries for times when just you and the physician meet.
  • Consider shadowing in multiple settings, such as a hospital, clinic or office, and across multiple specialties.
  • Make notes of you what you see, hear and learn.

Volunteer: Volunteering at clinics or hospitals yields some of the same benefits as shadowing. Whereas shadowing puts you primarily as an observer, volunteer experiences allow you to perform actual tasks. Depending upon the setting, you may be asked to accompany patients, greet families, deliver flowers or supplies, change bed linens, stock supplies and perform certain clerical duties.

If you volunteer in a hospice facility, you will be required to perform at least five hours of patient care in accordance with the regulations of Medicare and Medicaid.

In highlighting volunteering, do not ignore your participation with organizations that raise funds or provide more general public health and patient education. These organizations may include the American Heart Association or groups dedicated to cancer awareness and treatment. 

Research: When you conduct it under a credentialed supervisor, research experiences illustrate your respect for and skill with the scientific method. Ideally, you want to engage in research that involves health or medicine. Examples might include studying the causes of specific infections or diseases and testing potential medicines or other treatments. In research, you might collect data and record observations. These are the skills used especially by physicians who study the causes and effects of illnesses or conduct trials to develop revolutionary treatments.

Leadership: Your extracurricular activities should include those where you have demonstrated leadership. As an undergrad, you may have served as class president, a member of student government or the head of some student organization. Leadership roles in community or public service organizations may carry additional weight with admissions committees. Such experiences expose you to initiatives such as fundraising or public education that promote access to health and healthy lifestyles.

Internships: A summer or other pre-med or health internship places you in a structured setting to perform health or medical research or assist in rendering health services. You can find opportunities from hospitals, medical schools and nonprofits providing healthcare domestically and abroad). With many nonprofits or charities come internships to work in underserved or impoverished areas. 

When you undertake research or service-based internships or other extracurricular opportunities, expand your focus beyond merely accumulating hours or a list of agencies. Consider your career goals, learning about different areas of specialties of practice and the scope and range of duties you will undertake in any particular program. Those activities and projects should hone knowledge and skills you will employ in the medical profession. Simply listing organizations and dates without any true appreciation for what happens in the practice of medicine does not demonstrate your qualifications to medical schools. Further, with these extracurricular experiences come hands-on education and knowledge that may actually prepare you to achieve a competitive MCAT score.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in medicine? If so, then contact us today at admissions@medicalaid.org to learn how we can help you create a highly unique application that can get the attention of elite medical school admissions’ committees. Visit our website to learn more about our life-changing pre-medical internships abroad and our medical school admissions consulting services.