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Kevin Wang and Dr. Parth Kothari contributed to this post.

Aside from the AMCAS, the MCAT is one of the biggest pre-med hurdles to tackle. Some students in combined BS/MD programs can avoid taking the MCAT, as they move onto med school by maintaining a certain GPA.

However, the vast majority of us spend days to months (to years?) of our lives agonizing over the MCAT and wondering, "What score do I need to get to be competitive?"

The MCAT’s scoring system might seem confusing, and at first glance, it is. Why in the world would it range from 472 to 528? Each section is scored from 118 to 132. Still confusing. We know. However, these wonky numbers bring the median score to a 500, which is an easy number to look at to see how well you scored relative to other applicants. 

So how do I decide what score I need to get?

The short answer to what score you should aim for is: “As high as possible.” Going into your studying, you shouldn’t set a ceiling for what score you want. There isn’t some score that will guarantee you an acceptance into your medical school of choice, so you should always aim to score as well as you can. With that being said, it’s still important to have a target score in mind so you know when you’re ready for the MCAT.

What does that mean? Well, there’s only one way to really know how well you will do on the actual MCAT, and that is by taking the official AAMC practice tests available online. These are all real MCAT exams that were offered to students, so your score is an accurate reflection of how you would score on the real exam. You should save these for the last stretch of your studying in order to assess how you will score—typically, students score within 3 points of the average of their practice tests. So, if you set your target score and aren’t reaching it, then it would be a good idea to reschedule your exam.

How, then, do you find your target score? First, remember that the average MCAT score of American allopathic school matriculants in 2018 was a 511. This score will vary from school to school with some being as high as 521, and some being as low as 504. The average GPA was roughly a 3.7, so based on your individual stats, you might need a higher or lower score in order to be competitive.

If you have not done so already, it's a good idea to subscribe to the AAMC's MSAR tool yourself and look at the MCAT ranges for the schools you are interested in. The more competitive schools have higher MCAT ranges and thus, you’ll want to adjust your goal accordingly if that’s where you want to get in. The MSAR also shows percentiles for each school’s GPA and MCAT scores, so you can determine what you need to be competitive. The MSAR is also useful in determining which schools prefer in-state applicants.

In addition, the admissions officers we spoke with noted that the other parts of your application are vital to determining your MCAT goal.

If you have a great GPA, are an outstanding leader within your student groups, and are publishing papers in journals, then you may get away with a score that is on the weaker side of the ranges presented above. If you lack in these areas, it’s always wise to aim higher on the MCAT. Though a good MCAT score will not “make up” for these other areas of your application, you want to have the best possible score to give yourself the best possible chance in admissions.

If DO programs or certain international med schools are a good fit for you, your MCAT goal may be different.

The average MCAT score for DO program matriculants in 2018 was roughly a 504, which means if you are aiming for a DO school, you would want to try and score at least a 504 (but as always, as high as you can to be safe!).

Additionally, there are some schools outside of the U.S., such as the popular Caribbean schools St. George’s and Ross University, that also accept students with less competitive MCAT scores. With that said, there is a large range in the quality of education outside the U.S., so if you're considering international medical programs, we strongly recommend that you do thorough research before proceeding as this is not a decision you want to take lightly. 

At the end of the day, there is no score that will GUARANTEE an admission.

However, the admissions officers we spoke with said that the numbers we're telling you to shoot for are good enough that if you hit them, they'll move on to the next component of your application. This means that for the average school, if you get a 511, you won't necessarily be accepted, but you certainly wouldn't be rejected on the basis of your score, which is good enough.

Where you go to med school still impacts your future in terms of your residency and general success as a physician. Hence, we recommend that you aim to meet the highest set of standards — those of U.S. MD schools. If you fail to do so, you have other options, and that's the time to consider them. But when you're still in the stage of studying for the MCAT, you should aim for a competitive score at a competitive school.

Always remember: If absolutely necessary, you can take the MCAT again, so definitely go into it with challenging goals, but don’t let those goals intimidate you. Give the exam the respect it needs, and put in the necessary time and hard work to prepare. Good luck!

Sources:
AAMC MSAR 
AAMC MCAT Score Table
2018 AACOMAS Profile: Applicant and Matriculant Report


Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay 

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