Preparing for the MCAT takes time, and you’ll want to have plenty of studying done before you go into the test. Check our full post here on How Long Does It Take to Study for the MCAT.
But when should you take the MCAT? What is necessary to be on track and perform well? We’re here to help answer this commonly asked question so that you can make a plan that works best for you.
See also our post here for the Best MCAT Prep Courses.
Can You Take the MCAT Sophomore, Junior, or Senior Year?
The MCAT tests students on four areas of material covered in pre-med undergraduate courses. Because you’ll learn about the material for these sections in your undergraduate courses, you don’t want to take the MCAT too soon. For example, taking the test your freshman year load would not allow you to prepare adequately.
For this reason, students are more likely to take the exam in their sophomore or junior year. At this point, you’ve had an introduction to the material, the information is still fresh, and you’ve had time to study.
The MCAT is available from January through September. So consider that it won’t be available for testing later during the fall semester. The most popular time to take the MCAT is in March, April, and May before applications to medical school are due in June.
What If You Take a Gap Year?
Understanding the medical school application timeline is essential in deciding when you take the MCAT. Applications are usually due June of the year before you would enter school. So if you want to start medical school fall of 2022, you would need to submit your application in June 2021.
Some students choose to take a gap year between the end of undergraduate studies and medical school. It means that instead of needing to take the MCAT sophomore or junior year, you can take it your senior year.
If you take the MCAT your senior year and apply the June after you graduate, you could enter medical school after a gap year. This option may be best for those who want to take their time to study and prepare for the exam but want to save money before medical school.
Some question if taking a gap year could affect your likelihood of getting into the top medical schools. However, if you handle your gap year responsibly, you can increase your opportunities in the future.
Volunteer work, research opportunities, and public health work are just some examples of options students have for their gap year.
Retaking the MCAT
Different medical schools have different MCAT score requirements. The MCAT scores are on a scale of 478-528, with 500 being the average score. You want the best score possible to get into your top choice of medical school. That’s when retaking the MCAT could be beneficial. See also our How Long Are MCAT Scores Valid here.
If you take the MCAT in May of your junior intending to go straight through to medical school, you won’t have the time to reflect on your scores and retake the test.
However, taking the MCAT earlier gives you the chance to receive your scores, reflect on improving, and retake the test. The higher the score you get, your likelihood of success in the application process increases.
The number of times you can take the MCAT is limited. You can only take the MCAT 7 times in your lifetime and 3 times in a year. Unlike the SAT, the number of times you take the MCAT does matter. It is also very stressful, so retaking the test may not always help.
However, taking the test early enough to allow for a retake can be a great weight off your shoulders. If the first try doesn’t work out the way you need it to, take time to study the areas where you struggled. After taking the exam, you may better understand the test and how you can improve.
For that reason, many people may have a first try toward the end of the testing cycle in the fall of their sophomore year. After getting their scores, they study and prepare to retake it in the spring of their junior year.
The MCAT is an integral part of your application for medical school. So planning out when to take it can help you get in the right mindset.
Decide when you are going to take it, so you know how long you have to prepare. Try to take it early enough so you can retake it if needed. For many, that looks like their sophomore or junior year. For those taking a gap year, you can take it at the end of your senior year.
While the MCAT can seem intimidating, the sooner you set a date and work towards your goal, the more confident you will be when it’s time for your test.