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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?" 

We know it’s tough figuring out the new MCAT scoring, so we did the research for you. We went through the data on the old MCAT and personally spoke to 10 admissions officers from different schools to help you crack the MCAT2015's score code.

Let’s start by reviewing how the new MCAT is going to be scored:

The MCAT2015 is made up of 4 sections, each one scored between 118-132, with a total possible score ranging from 472-528.

 For comparison, the old MCAT was made up of 3 sections, each one scored between 1-15, with a total possible score of 3-45. 

You might say that the new system seems really random, and we'd be hard pressed to disagree. However, while we don’t know exactly why the AAMC decided to go with this system, it’s likely that it was done to make new MCAT scores easier to distinguish from the old ones.

The AAMC maintains that you can’t convert scores between the two exams given the significant differences in content for each. However, we’ve done so here just to give you an idea of the score ranges that will likely be relevant since there’s no data yet on the new MCAT. (The rough formula we used was 4/3*(old total MCAT score) + 468 = new total MCAT score.) The AAMC's full explanation on the new scoring system can be found here.

So why do you need to even pick an MCAT score to aim for?

 Why not just try to do as well as possible? First, you need to set concrete goals for yourself in order to motivate yourself and manage your expectations. This will keep you laser-focused while studying. Second, these goals also give your practice tests more value. You can more accurately see how you’re doing, and feel good about progress you’re making as you start to approach your target score. And finally, because the MCAT is the type of exam where you can’t be expected to get every question right, you’re looking more for the threshold that will be “good enough” for the admissions officers who review your application.

That leads to our main question:

Just what is that threshold or “sweet spot” that you’ll need to get into med school?

 Let’s start with what we learned from our discussions with admissions officers. They ALL said that there is no “cutoff” score for admission, but rather, each score would be judged in the context of the applicant’s entire portfolio. 

The officers stated that their advice for the MCAT generally is still the same: Applicants should try to do their best; a marginally higher score would not make a huge impact on the admissions decision. They're going to be cautious regarding the Psych/Soc section; it was viewed with some expected uncertainty to begin with, and there's no data on the new section just yet. 

Further, it’s important that the scores are balanced amongst the sections — i.e. a perfect physical sciences section but a poor CARS score is not better than doing average on both.

Looking at the data from the AAMC Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), we can make some more concrete score conclusions.

Let's start by looking at the applicants who got into medical school last year: In 2014, the national average was 31.4 (or what we've calculated to be around a 510 on the new MCAT), with a standard deviation (SD) of 3.9. 

The median MCAT 10th-90th percentile from schools tracked on MSAR was about 28-35. The range of 10th-90th percentile from the lowest out of the 141 schools tracked on MSAR was University of Missouri-Kansas City with 10th-90th percentile range of 22-33. The highest was the University of Pennsylvania with 34-40. 

With these benchmarks, we can conclude that you ideally want to be at least at or above the national average of 31.4. To put that into MCAT2015 terms, depending on the difficulty of the school you’re aiming for, a safe bet would be a 510-515 (32-35 on the old MCAT) to be in the top 50th percentile of a large range of schools.

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.

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.

There are also DO programs and medical schools in other countries that we should not overlook:

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 2014 was 27.2 with an SD of 3.13. As such, if you're targeting DO programs, by our calculations, a safe bet would be in the range of 505-509 (a 28-31 on the old MCAT).

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 512, 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
Osteopathic Medical College Applicant & Matriculant Profile (2014)

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