When Should You Take the MCAT?

posted by Richard Li, M.D.

As if studying for the MCAT wasn’t enough of a headache, there’s also strategy and nuance to deciding when to take the MCAT. But don’t worry. Sit back, and we’ll walk you through the mechanics of the MCAT testing calendar, identify the factors to consider in choosing your optimal MCAT test date, and clear up any lingering questions you may have.

The 2021 MCAT Calendar

The MCAT is only offered on specific predetermined days each calendar year, set by the AAMC. In 2021, there are a total of 31 test dates across 8 months. This means the MCAT is not offered in February, October, November, or December each year. The latest you can generally take the MCAT each year is in around mid-September — this year it’s September 11, 2021.

Schedule of 2021 MCAT test dates and score release dates
Schedule of 2021 MCAT test dates and score release dates

Scores take approximately 30-35 days to be released after a test date.

If you’re in Canada, the test date calendar and score release date calendar are similar but slightly different.

Factors in Deciding Your Best MCAT Test Date

There are a variety of elements to consider when deciding on the best MCAT test date for you, and there is no single deciding factor. For each individual, the relative weighting and importance of each factor will vary based on your priorities, needs, and particular situation.

1 | Prerequisite Coursework

In most instances, it’s best to complete all prerequisite coursework related to the MCAT prior to taking the exam. In doing so, you’ll be able to approach your content review with a stronger foundation.

This is not a hard rule, and we have worked with students who have scored in the top percentiles with one or two classes missing. However, if you decide to proceed without all your prerequisite coursework, you should be a strong student, and should have no more than one or two classes missing.

None of these are strictly necessary, and you can learn any subject over the course of your MCAT prep. These are the prerequisites from most helpful (and therefore most difficult to self-study) to least helpful (and therefore easiest to self-study):

  1. Biochemistry
  2. General chemistry
  3. Organic chemistry
  4. Biology
  5. Psychology & Sociology

In order to have enough time to get through the prerequisites, you should aim to take the MCAT no sooner than the summer between your sophomore and junior year.

2 | Duration of Dedicated Studying

The time allotted to studying is one of the most underrated factors by premedical students, yet is one of the most important. It is important to plan a block of time where you will be able to dedicate significant time and focus to studying for the MCAT. Diluting your studying with outside commitments or a full course schedule will compromise your ability to reach your strongest score.

A 2015 survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University strikingly showed that almost 2/3 of their 90th percentile scorers had taken the MCAT in August or September — suggesting that there is real value to having a period with fewer academic obligations like the summer to study. However, each individual situation is different. Give careful thought to your own studying style, as well as your other obligations such as courses, extracurriculars, summer employment, etc to determine when you would be able to invest the most focus into your MCAT studying.

3 | Medical School Application Timeline

The AMCAS primary application, used in applying to US medical schools, opens for submission around the end of May to early June. The verification process takes at least two weeks, and medical school begin receiving completed and verified applications by the end of June.

As schools begin reviewing applications, they need a complete application to make a decision. That means if your application is missing an MCAT score, they won’t be able to decide on whether or not to proceed with an interview. To have your MCAT score back in time, this means you should take the MCAT no later than May 28th in ideal circumstances.

That being said, although being early does provide a small advantage in the rolling admissions scheme, being in the earliest wave is not an absolute necessity. There are successful applicants at various time points in the application cycle. If possible, you want to avoid submitting your application any later than August. For an August application, you should take your MCAT no later than July to avoid further delays in processing and further limitations in the rolling admissions process.

4 | Retake Opportunity

The final factor in your MCAT timing is whether it will offer the opportunity for a retake. You should plan to take the MCAT only once, rather than planning to door poorly and retake in the future. But having a contingency plan and considering all options is not a bad idea.

Remember that it takes 30-35 days to receive your score. If mid-July test dates are the latest you would want to take the MCAT without significantly adversely affecting your medical school application chances, maintaining a realistic option to retake for that application cycle requires taking the MCAT much earlier.

Working backwards, we need to leave ourselves enough cushion to receive our scores from the first MCAT exam (30-35 days), and add enough time for studying to move the needle and improve your score. Therefore, if you want to leave yourself room for a retake in the same cycle, we would recommend taking the MCAT at latest in early or mid-April. This would leave you over 2 months after receiving your score to dedicate yourself to studying for a retake in July.

For non-traditional applicants or those taking a gap year, taking the MCAT in September would leave you ample time to study before a retake in March, April, or May.

It is by no means required to retake and stick to the same application cycle. For many applicants this is not advisable, as the undue stress and pressure in preparing for the MCAT and compiling your AMCAS application is often not manageable.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the most recommended time to take the MCAT?

For traditional applicants planning to apply straight through (without a gap year between college and medical school), we recommend taking the MCAT in March to May of their junior year. This allows the flexibility to submit your MCAT score at the earliest wave for medical school application timelines. 

For traditional applicants who are comfortable taking it earlier based on their prerequisite coursework and comfort with the material, studying during the summer after sophomore year and taking the MCAT in September at the beginning of their junior year is a great option. This provides not only ample dedicated time to study during the summer, but also runway to retake without delaying their application if necessary.

For those planning a gap year, we generally recommend taking it in September of their senior year. This allows for more dedicated MCAT studying time during the summer, which is associated with elevated scores. The summer after junior year often provides ample dedicated time to study, without removing the student so far from their prerequisite coursework that they begin forgetting what they’ve previously learned. That being said, non-traditional applicants usually have the most unique demands on their time and schedule, particularly if they’re no longer enrolled in school, and therefore your particular case may substantially differ.

When is the latest date to take the MCAT for the current medical school application cycle?

In order to have your MCAT score for the first wave of AMCAS-verified applications being sent to medical schools in late June, the latest test date for the MCAT would be May 28th. 

Submitting at this time is ideal, but not critical. In order to submit your completed application without substantially reducing your medical school application chances, we recommend a test date no later than July. You can still submit your medical school application by this time, such that by the time the AMCAS verification process completes, your MCAT score will be released around the same time.

When is the earliest time to take the MCAT?

The earliest we recommend taking the MCAT is in August, at the end of the summer between sophomore and junior years of college. This would allow sufficient time to take some prerequisites that will be helpful for the MCAT and allow you to have dedicated study time during the summer, without needing to juggle coursework.

How do I register for the 2021 MCAT?

You will need to register through AAMC’s online registration system.

For 2021, registration for test dates is being opened in a staggered manner.

  • Registration for January and March 2021 test dates is currently open as of November 10th, 2020.
  • Registration for April, May, and June 2021 test dates will occur in February 2021.
  • Registration for July, August, and September 2021 test dates will occur in May 2021.

The exact opening of registration dates will be announced on AAMC’s registration and scheduling information page. It is important to be on top of this and register as soon as possible to secure your preferred testing center location.

Last edited on: January 11, 2021

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