Should I Retake the MCAT?


Should I retake the MCAT? This is a question a lot of folks wonder about.

First, be aware that there is a very significant risk that your score will go down.

You can see the full data here, but the basic idea it presents is this: up to a third OR MORE of test-takers who retake end up getting the same or lower score.

This emphasizes how important it is to Prepare thoroughly for a retake MCAT.

It's not enough to "just study harder"; when you take the exam again. You need to carefully analyze, often with outside help, what study patterns produced the results you got the first time. Then you've got to craft an approach that will build on past success, correct past failure, and lead to a strong performance on the next test.

The decision about whether or not to re-take is easy if your score is well below the average for the programs you're applying to - of course you retake it! Similarly, if your score is comfortably at or above the average range for your target schools, then you certainly don't retake the test.

The question becomes tough if you're on the edge. If your score is below your target by only a handful of points, it can be tricky to decide whether or not to risk a lower score on another test. The solution is to ask yourself a few fundamental questions:

First, do I have time to Prep for the test?

It's important to remember that when you sit for the MCAT a second time, you're not just brushing up quickly. You have to start over from scratch. All the study and practice you did months ago isn't stored up in a bank of MCAT points you can just withdraw from. You've got to Prep to get yourself back into shape. Then you've got to Prep even harder to push your performance beyond your first test.

So start by looking at your calendar. What other time commitments do you have? School? Job? Family? Volunteer work? If you're going to retake the MCAT, you'll need to allocate anywhere from 25 to 40 hours a week of Prep time for two to four months. It's a huge undertaking, but one that has huge payoffs.

Second, what will I change this time around?

Doing the same thing will get you the same results.

This is an incredibly simple idea, but it's so easy to lose sight of it.

Doing the same thing will get you the same results.

How did you Prepare the first time? Books? A classroom course? Online materials? Did you take any full practice exams under test-like conditions? If so, how many?

By far the most common mistake students make the first time around is simply not allocating enough time and resources to the MCAT. While classroom courses promise big results, you can be left flat if the instructor and materials didn't provide you with the kind of intensive and individualized feedback you need to succeed.

The second most common mistake students make is treating the MCAT as if it were just another science test. You can't study your way to a better MCAT score; you need to practice. Make sure you're practicing with full length exams as well as shorter tests and quizzes.

Finally, you may have found that you just weren't Prepared for the psychological pressure of the exam itself. When it comes to the MCAT, it's not what you know, it's what you show. And that ability to show your best performance can be hampered by test anxiety in a variety of shapes and forms. All of the books and classes in the world won't help if you don't have some expert guidance to diffuse all of that test anxiety.

Finally, how will the admissions committees view multiple scores?

When you submit your applications, all MCAT scores after April 2003 will be included. If you are going to be sending multiple scores to a medical school, the admissions committee will do one of the following:

• Take the most recent scores, regardless of which scores are the highest
• Average all scores to generate a single overall MCAT score
• Take the highest single test administration
• Take the highest section scores from each test administration

Each med school will have its own policies, so it's a good idea to contact each school directly to find out how they treat individual scores.

Ultimately, retaking the MCAT is only a good idea if you know you can work hard and see a significant improvement. Admissions committees see students with a low first score and a high second score all the time. The key is not to be one of those unfortunate folks whose second score is actually lower than the first one.

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