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When to Retake the MCAT

Congrats on finishing the MCAT, that is a huge milestone, regardless of how pleased you are with your score. You studied your ass off and fought through that beast for 7 plus hours. Now what though? Not everyone triumphantly prevails on their first go round. Actually, most people don’t, myself included. If you watched my previous video on how to study for the MCAT, you know that I only scored in the 50th percentile initially, which is certainly not enough to land you a medical school matriculation. While there is a lot of gray involved in deciding whether or not to take the MCAT again, I did my best to make it as objective as possible, as that is what will be most valuable to you.

With that in mind, there are two things to consider when you think a second attempt may be in your future. First, what does your overall application look like? By this, I am referring to literally everything: your GPA and myriad of extracurriculars, including medically oriented ones, research experience, volunteer experience, and so on. Second, which is pretty obvious, is what percentile you scored in on your first MCAT attempt. I created this blog to provide very specific details about every element of the premed and at some point, medical school journey, so it kills me to be vague right now, but I promise I have a whole series of videos and blogs planned on extracurricular activities. So, for the time being we are simply going to characterize your application, again your GPA and extracurriculars, as strong, average, or weak. We tend to overinflate our accomplishments, but being hard on yourself is in your best interest here. So be critical!

Alright, so if you would describe your application as weak and you scored in the bottom quartile, below the 25thpercentile, of the schools you are interested in, then you just bought yourself a retake. When I say the schools you are interested in, I am referring to the statistics provided to you by the Medical School Admission Requirements or MSAR. Basically, it is a catalogue, available at an incredibly cheap subscription, that gives you access to endless statistics for every medical school in the country. Again though, if you find yourself in the bottom quartile of your schools of interest and your application is weak, I strongly recommend you retake the MCAT. You don’t have to heed this advice, but will more than likely waste money on the expensive application process.

Moving on, if your application is weak, but you are between the 25th and 75th percentiles at your desired schools, then you could take a stab at applying. Truthfully though, you will not be a very competitive applicant, so I would not apply broadly, perhaps to just a handful of schools, if at all. Last, if you are a weak applicant who crushed the MCAT, being in the highest quartile, or above the 75th percentile, for your schools, again you could apply, but do not want to do so very broadly. You are more competitive, but a single stellar MCAT score cannot overshadow an entire application that you were supposed to spend four plus years building.

Now, what if you are able to describe your application as average? This is a bit simpler. If you are in the bottom quartile for schools on your list, I’d recommend retaking. However, if you are beyond the 25th percentile, then you can apply increasingly broadly with respect to how much you annihilated the MCAT.

Last, if you have what you would coin a strong application, congrats! Even if you scored in the bottom quartile for your medical schools, you could give it a go and apply to just a few. I would not be too optimistic though, which is why I would suggest not spending a ton of money on the application cycle. Now, if you are above the 25th percentile, you are off to the races and can apply as broadly as your heart desires. Again though, the degree of broadness will reflect how much you rocked the MCAT.

The second topic to cover in this piece is potential reasons you didn’t perform as you desired or thought capable on test day. First, and honestly the most common, is you didn’t spend enough time with practice questions. Simply knowing the content behind the MCAT isn’t sufficient. That’s because it tests your application of it in unreal ways. The only way to really get a taste for this is through practice questions. Believe it or not, this is a learned skill. If you don’t believe me, check on my video on how I went from the 50th percentile to the 90th.

Second, maybe you didn’t cover all of the content. Perhaps you blew some of it off or merely ran out of time. Whatever the reason, everything, unless you are incredibly strong in that area, needs a once over. Third, nerves could have hampered you on test day. I fell victim to this on my first attempt, but also thereafter. I don’t generally share this out of embarrassment, but I believe transparency and a feeling of solidarity are important in medicine, so I am not holding back here. I actually voided two sittings because I had full blown panic attacks. My solution to this was to see a psychologist who went over test tacking tactics and psychology with me. I will certainly have a video and blog on this in the future. Additionally, I saw my primary care physician who prescribed a beta blocker, specifically propranolol. A panic attack is basically over activity of your sympathetic nervous system. Think about the symptoms that accompany it: racing thoughts, a quickened heart rate, and perspiration to name a few. This was helpful to our ancestors trying to escape lions, but definitely not in the setting of a test. I even struggled with this partway into my first year of medical school. However, both the psychologist and my primary care physician helped me develop a plan to conquer it and I could not be more grateful. So, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you find yourself in this situation. I can assure you there is a solution!

Last, my favorite category, the I don’t really know what the hell happened category. Maybe the distribution of content on test day was heavy on your weaknesses. Or, have you ever thought about the fact that answering only three questions wrong or right could impact your score by three points. Pretty crazy, huh?

So, now you know whether or not you need to buckle down and retake the MCAT, as well as what your Achilles heel may have been. If you are still stumped though, I’m simply a tweet or email away!

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