If you have decided to apply for medical school, you will have to plan a timeline for one of the important requirements you will have to fulfill, which is getting an adequate score on the MCAT, which is administered by AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). The AAMC is dedicated to lead and serve the academic medicine community. They provide all the necessary guidelines for you to take the MCAT.

All pre-medical students have to submit their MCAT scores along with other requirements including an excellent GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, personal interview, and other factors depending on which medical schools for which they apply.

Students have many questions about the MCAT, one of the major ones is when should they take it.  

Question to Ask Yourself

On the AAMC website, there are three questions listed that you should ask yourself to figure out when it is the right time for you to take the MCAT. They discuss a 2016 Post-MCAT Questionnaire that reports that students who took the MCAT needed an average of 20 hours each week for three months to prepare for the exam. This is a considerable amount of weekly time devoted to preparation. This means the student has to engage in careful planning in order to juggle all other activities that are required of a pre-med student.

Not only do undergraduate students have to do well in their classes, but many of them also hold jobs that are related to the medical field and will make them better candidates for admission. Plus, there are other pressures of meeting the extensive requirements held by medical schools. It is certainly a demanding time in a student’s life, but these challenging demands help to prepare people for the even more demanding feat of getting through medical school and starting their career as physicians.

There is no magic formula to apply to everyone, each person has a unique set of skills and needs when it comes to taking the MCAT. Thus, a student should take the MCAT when they are ready. However, there are some suggestions that can help one navigate through the planning of this step.  

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When am I looking to attend medical school?
  • How many times will I need to take the MCAT?
  • Do I know the content well and feel prepared?

Typical Timeline For Taking the MCAT

In general, pre-med students take the MCAT upon completion of their prerequisite classes to get into medical school. In fact, those classes teach the knowledge that will be necessary to know for the exam. Those are the very classes that prepare a student for medical school, which is why a person doesn’t need to select a medical major for their undergraduate degree. Someone can be an art major during their four-year college career, and with the information covered in their medical school prerequisite coursework and the MCAT, they will be prepared to handle the classes that are to come in medical school. 

All of this means that often times, students are ready to take the MCAT after sophomore or junior year of undergrad. With the help of their pre-med advisor, students have to diligently plan the timeline for this to happen from the very start. Together, they also have to select the schools that are appropriate for the student’s skills and interests. Once the medical schools are determined, students will find out each school’s guidelines regarding the MCAT. There are schools that want the MCAT scores to be no older than two to three years before the admissions application is submitted. Therefore, the pre-med student should plan accordingly.

As a general guideline, the MCAT should be taken with an acceptable score one year before the student applies to medical school. For instance, if you plan to apply to medical school after completing your junior year of undergrad, then you should complete the MCAT with a desired score during the summer after sophomore year.

Taking the exam during the summer is ideal because you won’t have to take it during your semesters when you have a full load of classes. You must not compromise achieving a high GPA, which makes it very important to not get distracted from your classes. It is a delicate balancing act, thus it is very helpful that your pre-med advisor guides you at every step of the way. Ideally, you will connect to an advisor from the very start of your freshman year. The early bird gets the worm!

Another consideration is if you have to retake the MCAT because of a low score. For the majority of medical schools, your goal should be to achieve a minimum score of 508 to be admitted to an MD program. Depending on the school, a higher score might be required. Set your mind to earn the highest possible score on the MCAT. It is better to aim higher than to think about the “minimum requirement”. It was reported that for the 2018-2019 application cycle, students achieved an average of 511.

One more factor to consider is applying to medical school early since they accept students on what they call a “rolling basis.” The earlier you apply, the higher your chance of getting into the schools you most desire.  

Factors to Consider About the MCAT

There are a couple of considerations to keep in mind about the MCAT that will help you plan in a more effective way. These considerations include:

  • The MCAT implements testing limits. After the launch of the new version of the MCAT in the spring of 2015, new limits are now implemented for all pre-med students. You are able to take the MCAT up to three times in one single testing year. Moreover, you may be able to take the MCAT up to four times over the course of two consecutive testing years. Finally, over the course of your lifetime, you may only take the exam up to seven times. This means you only have seven attempts in total to get the desired MCAT score you want. The limit applies even if you don’t show up on exam day or cancel your test date. It is important that you prepare yourself for the MCAT as if you were only going to take one time. It is better to be over-prepared than to think you’ll be able to try again to achieve a higher score. It is not advisable to take the exam as a practice run. Being in the mindset that you will achieve the highest score possible the first time will give you better results. Aim high and take it as seriously as possible right from the start.

  • All your MCAT scores are seen by medical schools. Medical schools have access to scores achieved by all students who have taken the MCAT. They are able to see these records with details, which means they will know not only your score but how many times you have attempted the exam. They will also be able to see if you canceled the test date or didn’t show up for some reason. This is not something that should alarm you. Multiple MCAT attempts don’t count against you, it won’t be seen as a disadvantage. However, it is advisable to keep this fact in mind as you do research about different medical schools and their guidelines. Some schools have policies in place regarding multiple scores. You’ll have to find out how they perceive it and evaluate these types of cases. The more you know about the school’s admission process, the better.

As you evaluate the guidelines of the medical schools of your choice, be sure to stay in close contact with your pre-med advisor who will be able to guide you about all of these details. They will have many resources for you to implement regarding the school’s policies and how to successfully prepare for the MCAT. Pre-med advisors work with a network of admission committees at various medical schools and know first hand what to expect from each one of them. Take advantage of this connection and get the help necessary to make your life as easy as possible. Besides, you already have enough on your plate as you navigate through undergraduate school and achieve all the other requirements aside from the MCAT to get into the medical school of your choice.

What is the Earliest Time One Should Take the MCAT?

A pre-med student should take the MCAT no earlier than the second semester of sophomore year of undergrad. The ideal time is over the summer after sophomore year and before the beginning of your junior year. The reasoning is that on that schedule, you will have the opportunity to complete most medical school prerequisite work and you will decrease the load of content review to be completed that is covered in MCAT review materials including prep books and online prep courses.

If you want to take the MCAT as early as you are able to, you will most certainly have many options because exam dates happen between the months of April and September. There are as many as 25 to 30 test dates during those months that are available for you to schedule your MCAT. You will want to ensure you engage in plenty of prep work for the MCAT, which can last anywhere from two to four months. It is better to be very dedicated to preparing for the MCAT and get the highest score possible the first time.

What is the Latest Time One Should Take the MCAT?

Now, if you’re wondering how much you can push off the MCAT, you should be aware that the very final time to take it should be between January and April of the year you apply for medical school. For example, if you plan to start medical school in the fall of 2021, you should schedule to take your MCAT in the first four months of 2020, in other words, at the very latest in April 2020.

Many students wonder about the reason why this timeline is required considering AMCAS doesn’t even allow people to submit primary applications until the later part of May.

One reason is that you will have to devote a whole lot of time to writing application essays. If you decide to postpone taking the MCAT for too long, chances are you will not be able to have enough focus on your medical school personal statement, and other requirements by AMCAS like work and activities in addition to all the other items needed to be completed for admission. Another consideration is that you will want to know your MCAT score as soon as possible so that you know where to apply to.

Since the MCAT score is provided about one month after taking the test, you should take your MCAT early so that you give plenty of time to adcoms to examine your application packet that hopefully includes your full requirements. Plus, keep in mind that if you don’t achieve the desired score, you’ll want to retake the MCAT, which is why it is highly advised to take it as early as you can.

Final Thoughts

Siting with your pre-med advisor is the best way to create a timeline that will work best for you. The more you know about the schools you have in mind the better you’ll prepare to fulfill their requirements. Get your medical school prerequisite coursework done early to help you prepare for the MCAT, and go into your first attempt as if it were going to be the only one. With strong determination, you’ll be able to fulfill your timeline and be completely prepared by the time the MCAT rolls around.  

Consider applying for a Pre-Med Internship or Pre-PA Internship to attain extensive experience in the medical field. International Medical Aid offers pre-med internships abroad in a variety of disciplines that will help you choose the best path for your future. Contact one of our admissions consultants and apply to our internship program. It is a great way to prepare for the MCAT and have a successful admission to the medical school of your choice.