First, the good news: You can’t actually fail the MCAT. You might have received a very low score, but the MCAT score report does not include a “pass/fail” designation. Still, one of the most helpless feelings a student applying to medical school can experience is bombing the MCAT—there’s no doubt about that. After months of hard work, you may feel like you’ve lost any chance at getting into medical school.
Although it is true that a low MCAT score will negatively impact your application, there are still many things you can do to make sure you can still be a competitive applicant. The first thing you should consider is if you really “failed” the MCAT.
In 2018, the average score of M.D. matriculants1 was roughly 511, while the average score of D.O. matriculants2 was roughly a 504. These scores will vary from school to school, with some schools having higher and some schools having lower averages, so it’s important to do your research to assess how competitive of an applicant you are.
If your MCAT is on the lower side, see how your GPA compares to the averages, and consider how the other aspects of your application make you look. Based on your application as a whole, if you believe that the best way to make yourself more appealing as an applicant is by raising your MCAT score, then it may be a good idea to consider a retake.
If you do decide to retake the MCAT, one thing you should think about is how that will affect your application timeline. You should try to take your MCAT by May of the year you apply, since that will allow you to receive your score by the time you submit your primaries. This is important because your MCAT should play a huge role in deciding which schools to apply to, and one of the easiest ways to boost your chances of acceptance is by applying as early as you can. Check out our free med school admissions timeline to help you plan the best time to take your MCAT.
You should not take your MCAT any later than August of the year you apply, because you wouldn’t receive your scores until very late in the cycle. However, you want to give yourself enough time to re-prepare. If that means you might have to delay your application for a year, don’t worry! A gap year is a tremendous way for students to take a year off from school and develop themselves as applicants in other ways. In recent years, the average age of a medical school matriculant is 24, with less than 1/3 of applicants entering directly from undergrad.
Once you decide the best time to retake your MCAT, it’s time to really think about why you didn’t get the score you wanted. Did you get too nervous? Did you burn out during your studies? Or were you simply not comprehensive enough?
In any case, reevaluate your mistakes and incorporate them into your studying. Make a cohesive study plan where you plan out exactly what you will do each day. This may seem like a lot, but it’s a lot easier to follow through with your studying when you have a plan for each day, rather than just “I will study CARS for 4 hours today.” Give yourself enough time and use all the resources you have available. If you have the time, use all of the AAMC practice material, but if not, be sure to take the full length tests and do the questions in the section banks. Also, download our free MCAT study guides to make sure you are reviewing the most tested material for each section of the exam.
Failing the MCAT isn’t the end of the world—even if you need to retake the exam, if you’re willing to put in the effort to improve your score, then there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to get the score you want. The worst case scenario is your application might be delayed a year, but many applicants believe that their gap year only helped them.