It’s not surprising that one of the questions we’re asked most frequently is, “When should I take my MCAT® exam?” Between classes, a job, and adapting to changes in normal life caused by the pandemic, it may seem hard to plan and find time to prepare for your MCAT exam.
Let’s start with how much time you may need to prepare. Based on our most recent survey, students reported preparing on average for three months for 20 hours per week.
“When is the right time?” is the next question you should ask yourself. The best advice we can give you is to take the exam when you feel well prepared; there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution that works for every examinee. But when making that decision, ask yourself three questions:
- When do I want to attend medical school? Whether you decide to go straight from your undergraduate program to medical school or take time off in between, it’s a good idea to think about when you want to matriculate to medical school and then work backwards. Often, students will choose to take their MCAT exam in the same year they are applying to medical school. For example, if you are thinking about attending medical school in fall 2022, you might consider taking your exam during 2021.
- Will I need to take my exam more than once? We don’t like to think about this either, but many examinees take the MCAT exam more than once. If you think you may retake the exam, and you want to leave yourself that option, you might want to think about taking the exam earlier in a testing year. This will give you the opportunity to receive your scores, decide whether to retest or not, and find another seat on a preferred date and location later in the year if you do.
- Have I mastered the content tested on the exam? The MCAT exam tests content found in introductory-level courses at most undergraduate institutions, including biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics, as well as first-semester biochemistry, psychology, and sociology. While there aren’t specific courses you have to take to be able to register and take the exam, it’s important to feel comfortable with the content and skills tested. If you feel that additional coursework or studying is needed to help you prepare, think about testing at a later point in the year to give yourself additional time. Consult your prehealth advisor or a faculty member to assist with course selection, as courses vary by institution.
The AAMC also offers a variety of free and low-cost study resources to help you master the content on the exam and create a study plan. Be sure to check out the MCAT Collection that was developed by the AAMC in collaboration with the Khan Academy, which includes over 1,100 free videos and 3,000 review questions to help you study.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- There are testing limits. You can take the exam three times in a single testing year, four times over two consecutive testing years, and seven times in your overall lifetime. Note: Choosing to void your exam or not showing up on test day will count toward your overall attempt limits.
- Medical schools see all of your exam scores. This isn’t to scare you! Taking the exam more than once does not put you at a disadvantage, but it’s important to remember as you prepare for your exam. Medical schools will see all of the exams you chose to score, and each program has their own policies and procedures for how they view and evaluate multiple scores.
As you think about your exam, remember to talk with your prehealth advisor or a faculty member to help you plan and prepare. Also, be sure to check out the FAQs and resources available from the AAMC, including the Fee Assistance Program.
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