Should I Retake the MCAT?

posted by Memm Team

The MCAT is expensive, stressful, time-consuming, and incredibly difficult. Ideally, you take the test once, earn your desired score, and leave the test in your past. However, it’s not always black and white. There are circumstances that may warrant retaking the MCAT. 

Below, learn how to tell when you should retake the MCAT as well as how a retake may affect your medical school application. 

Retake the MCAT If You Need a Higher MCAT Score 

When determining a good MCAT score, it makes the most sense to look at data from the medical schools you plan on applying to. To do this, you can use The Medical School Admission Requirements™ (MSAR®), which shows you the average MCAT score of matriculants for each medical school. 

If your MCAT score is beyond a few points below the average matriculant’s score, you probably need to retake the test. This can also be a good time to reevaluate what school you want to attend. You may find other schools that more align with your score without the need to retest. 

When examining average scores, don’t forget to weigh other parts of your application as well, particularly your GPA. Remember that your MCAT score is not the only part of your application. Even if your MCAT score lines up with the average matriculant, you should still consider your GPA. If it’s lower than the average matriculant, you may need to aim for a higher than average MCAT score. 

The last factor to look at when determining if your score is high enough is your score breakdown for each section. If your overall score is as high as the average matriculant but you scored disproportionately low on any given section, you may want to consider a retake. Some schools only consider applicants who meet a certain score on each section, regardless of their overall score. 

Retake the MCAT If You Have the Ability to Improve Your Score

Once you’ve determined that you need a higher MCAT score, you next need to determine if you actually have the ability to improve upon your score. Retaking the MCAT is not worth it if you cannot devote the time and energy to actually improve your score. You need to have a clear plan and know that you will be able to perform better. 

Assuming your previous score was not the result of an off day caused by something like an illness or tragic news, you need to be able to commit two to three months of your life to dedicated studying. If your lower score wasn’t due to lack of knowledge but due to an off day as mentioned above, then you may only need about a month. During this time, you can regroup, review information, and come into the test again with a clear head.  

If you determine that you have the time to study and retake the MCAT, you then need to figure out if you’re truly motivated. Are you motivated to continue studying, taking practice tests, and doing the whole process all over again? It’s natural for motivation to wax and wane, but overall, you need to have that baseline motivation to keep you going. It’s very possible that you will only improve your score by two to three points, so consider if that is worth it to you or if something else would be a better use of your time.  

Additionally, consider your baseline score. According to AAMC, most retesters do get a higher score on their second attempt. The average gain during the 2018-2020 testing years was three to four points for people who originally scored 472-517. Those who scored higher initially tended not to increase their score on a second attempt. Of course, these are averages, but it’s worth considering if a retake is worth it, particularly if you scored 518+ on your first attempt. In these instances, not only is it less likely that you will improve your score on a second attempt, but with an already very strong score, a minor score improvement may not offer a substantial advantage to your application.

If you have the time and motivation to retake the MCAT, the final thing you need is a better study strategy than you had the first time. To improve your score, you need to work harder and smarter. Start by looking at your past performance, both on the actual exam and on your previous practice tests. Spend time finding your weak points and then tailoring a study strategy around what you need. Memm can help you prepare to retake the MCAT with scientifically proven, evidence-based study strategies

Retake the MCAT If You Had to Void During Your Previous Attempt 

A previous void is a very straightforward reason to retake the MCAT. If you previously took the MCAT and had to void your test, you definitely need to retake the test. Voided tests don’t get scored, so to an admissions committee, it looks like you didn’t take the test. While we don’t recommend voiding in most cases, we understand that sometimes it happens, and when it does, you’ll need a retake. 

Does It Look Bad to Retake the MCAT?

In most cases, it looks better if you only take the MCAT once, but taking the MCAT twice isn’t going to ruin your chances of getting into medical school. 

You are allowed to take the test up to three times in one year, up to four times in a two-year period, and up to seven times over your lifetime. However, we recommend only taking the test a maximum of two times, although there are exceptions to this guideline. If you’re taking the test three, four, five times, the admissions committee may wonder why you’ve had to take it so many times. They may also question your knowledge, competence, and test-taking ability.

Ideally, you’ll only take the test once, but if you need to take it again, make that second time count. It definitely looks bad if you retake the MCAT and perform worse the second time. 

Also remember that retaking the test does not delete your old scores, so schools will be able to see both results. According to the AAMC, different schools evaluate retakes differently: 

Admissions officers use different strategies for examining retesters’ scores. For example, some admissions committees use all exam scores in conjunction with other information about academic preparation that may explain any score changes. Other admissions committees use applicants’ most recent exam scores in the admissions process or use the applicants’ “best score” as represented by their highest reported total score. Other committees compute the average total score across the multiple attempts.

In most cases, you don’t have any way of knowing how an admissions committee will evaluate your retake. The bottom line is that if you really need to retake the MCAT, you can, but it’s a decision that you need to carefully evaluate for your situation.

In addition to considering how an admissions committee may evaluate an MCAT retake, remember to also consider the time, effort, and cost of each test attempt. The opportunity cost in this case is substantial. Consider how you could use the time you would have spent on a retake to strengthen other areas of your application in meaningful ways. 

Preparing for an MCAT Retake

If you’ve decided that retaking the MCAT is the right decision for you, you need a study strategy that will work. Memm is designed to help you save time and accelerate your learning — exactly what you need when you’re gearing up to retake this monster of a test. 

We’ll provide an organized schedule, comprehensive sheets that eliminate fluff and facilitate active recall, and high quality-cards that make the information stick. 

Last edited on: July 27, 2021

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