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Kevin Wang, Dr. Parth Kothari, and Dr. Taylor Purvis 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 on to med school by maintaining a certain GPA.

Some post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs have a similar agreement with “linkage” medical schools, allowing students to glide into medical school the fall after they finish a post-bacc program—without having to take the MCAT.

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. 

How to Read Your MCAT Score Report

Your MCAT score report will have five scores: one for each of the four sections, and one combined total score. 

Remember too that the MCAT isn’t graded on a curve. It is scaled so that a 510 earned by one person on one test form is equivalent to a 510 earned by another person on a different test form. This evens out any differences due to, say, season or test date. Your score report will also contain a percentile rank that compares your score to those of other exam takers for the most recent three years.

According to a report published by the AAMC in 2019, the mean total MCAT score for all matriculants to medical school was 511.5, with a standard deviation of 6.5.

What is a good MCAT score? 

While there isn't a specific MCAT score that will guarantee your admission to the med school of your choice, a 515 puts you the 91st percentile, a 517 is in the 94th percentile, 520-521 are the 98th percentile, and 522-523 puts you in the 99th percentile.

What is the highest score I can get on the MCAT?

In case you’re curious, the highest possible MCAT score is 528. It is technically possible to achieve this score, putting you in the 100th percentile of examinees. MCAT scores between 524 and 528 put you in the 100th percentile.

Remember that any score higher than 521 puts you in the 99th percentile or greater.

2020-2021 MCAT Scores and Percentiles

 

MCAT Total Score MCAT Percentile
472 <1
473 <1
474 <1
475 <1
476 1
477 1
478 2
479 2
480 3
481 4
482 5
483 6
484 7
485 8
486 10
487 11
488 13
489 15
490 17
491 20
492 22
493 25
494 28
495 30
496 33
497 37
498 40
499 43
500 46
501 50
502 53
503 57
504 60
505 64
506 67
507 70
508 74
509 77
510 80
511 82
512 85
513 87
514 89
515 91
516 93
517 94
518 96
519 97
520 98
521 98
522 99
523 99
524 100
525 100
526 100
527 100
528 100

 

MCAT Scores and Percentiles by Section, 2020-2021

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

MCAT Section Score MCAT Section Percentile
118 1
119 3
120 6
121 12
122 21
123 31
124 43
125 53
126 65
127 76
128 85
129 91
130 97
131 99
132 100

 

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

MCAT Section Score MCAT Section Percentile
118 1
119 3
120 7
121 13
122 23
123 35
124 48
125 60
126 72
127 82
128 90
129 95
130 98
131 99
132 100

 

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

MCAT Section Score MCAT Section Percentile
118 1
119 2
120 6
121 11
122 18
123 28
124 39
125 50
126 62
127 73
128 83
129 90
130 96
131 99
132 100

 

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

MCAT Section Score  MCAT Section Percentile
118 1
119 2
120 5
121 10
122 17
123 25
124 35
125 45
126 57
127 68
128 79
129 87
130 94
131 98
132 100

 

So how do I decide what score I need to get on the MCAT?

The short answer to what score you should aim for on the MCAT 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 AAMC practice tests 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.

We often recommend against taking a practice test too close to your actual test date. It can be mentally exhausting sitting for full-length practice exams, and it’s important to preserve your stamina for the real thing. Aim to take your final practice test 7 or more days before the real MCAT.

How do I find my target MCAT score?

First, remember that the mean MCAT score of American allopathic school matriculants in 2019 was a 511.5. This score will vary from school to school with some having a mean as high as 521, and some with a mean as low as 504. The mean GPA was roughly a 3.73 (standard deviation 0.24), 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. 

There is no MCAT score that will GUARANTEE an admission.

While no specific MCAT score will guarantee you admission to the med school of your choice, 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 Summary of MCAT Total and Section Scores

AAMC MCAT Score Table

2018 AACOMAS Profile: Applicant and Matriculant Report

 

Additional MCAT Prep Resources:

When Should I Start Studying for the MCAT?

MST's Expanded Psych/Soc Outline

Free MCAT Study Schedule — 30 Days to Test Day


Photo by Senad Palic on Unsplash
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