How many times can you take the MCAT? The question we want you to ask is: “How many times should you take the MCAT?” Retaking the MCAT isn’t always the best path, and the decision depends on a number of other factors, including the time you have before applying, the schools you’re trying to get into, and the strength of the rest of your application.
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a grueling marathon of a test that can make or break your chances of acceptance. It’s 7.5 hours long and is widely regarded to be one of the most challenging tests a student can take. It’s not the kind of test you prepare for again on a whim.
In this post, we’ll share how many times you can technically take the MCAT, as well as how many times you should take the MCAT, including key factors you must take into consideration when making this big decision.
How Many Times Can You Take the MCAT?
The AAMC allows students to take the MCAT up to three times in a year, four times over two years, and seven times in a lifetime. Each scored attempt will appear on your record, which means each of your MCAT scores will be seen by admissions committees.
Since every medical school you apply to will see the results of all of your tests, it’s not recommended that you take the MCAT repeatedly.
How Many Times Should You Take the MCAT?
How many times should you take the MCAT? is a completely different question, and it’s the one we want you to ask. Just because you can take the MCAT three times in the same year or seven times in a lifetime doesn’t mean you should, and we absolutely advise against taking it that many times.
As you’ll know if you’ve taken the MCAT before, it’s not your average test, and if you’re not careful and don’t significantly update your study habits and methods, you could end up with a worse score than you got before.
Additionally, as a premed, time is an incredibly valuable resource—and you only have so much of it. While it is a big part of it, the MCAT is only one aspect of your medical school application. You still need to craft an engaging personal statement, foster relationships for strong letters of recommendation, and gain extracurricular experience, all while completing your prerequisites with stellar grades.
Whether or not you should retake the MCAT is a decision you must carefully consider. We’ve seen students put in hours of time studying for and retaking the MCAT only to receive a similar or only slightly higher score. With only so much time available for your application, you must ask yourself if you can actually significantly improve your previous score.
As you study and prepare for the MCAT the first time, aim to take it only once. Believing you can just retake it if you need to is a rookie mistake that will cost you. Even if you do improve your MCAT score, medical schools will still see each of your scores, and you are throwing away valuable time that could be spent gaining experience or working on other aspects of your application.
So, to answer the question plainly, you should only take the MCAT once. BUT if you dropped the ball the first time or nerves got the better of you, you may be considering a retake. Next, we’ll break down the three factors to consider before choosing to retake the MCAT.
Should You Retake the MCAT?
1 | Do You NEED a Higher Score?
Scoring in the 99th percentile on the MCAT is an incredible feeling—there’s no doubt about that. But if you’ve already taken the MCAT without achieving a score you’re proud of, it’s time to take a look at the scores you actually need for an acceptance at your top choice schools.
Many programs, especially the most selective ones, have GPA and MCAT cutoffs, but that’s not enough. Utilize the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirements) database to view the average scores of matriculants for the schools you hope to gain acceptance to. Make sure you are viewing matriculants, as this is the group of students who actually gained an acceptance based on their score (and other application materials.)
What does the data tell you? Do you need a higher score to remain competitive in this pack?
In determining whether or not you need a higher score, you must also factor in the rest of your application and GPA score. Do you have another weak area of your application? If you’re going in with an average or slightly below average MCAT score, the rest of your application must pick up the slack.
For example, if your GPA is below average and you do not have a chance to improve it at this point, getting an above average MCAT score will help offset your low GPA. Or maybe you’re not as confident with another area of your application, which means every other piece must be spectacular.
With how much time and energy the MCAT takes, carefully consider whether you actually need a higher MCAT score before automatically jumping into the retake process.
Is MCAT Tutoring Worth It? Learn more about MCAT tutoring, including whether it’s worth your investment and how other forms of study prep compare.
2 | Can You Improve Your Score?
Knowing you need a higher score and actually achieving a higher score are two different things. There is no point in retaking the MCAT if you can’t improve your score. Scoring lower when you retake the MCAT is a noticeable stain on your application and must be avoided at all costs.
If you use the same strategies and methods you used the previous time or only change a few small aspects of your approach, you will not be able to notably improve your score. Being able to improve depends on your ability to adjust and adapt your approach to the MCAT.
You can’t study in the exact same ways and expect different results on your next MCAT test. The key to an improved score is figuring out what prevented you from achieving your desired score and what you should do differently this time around. Was it your test day nerves that got the better of you? Did you completely flub the CARS section of the MCAT? Did you dedicate enough time to studying? Did you utilize your time wisely?
What can and will you do differently this time around if you decide to retake the MCAT?
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3 | Do You Have Time to Improve Your Score?
No amount of energy or strategy will improve your MCAT score if you do not have enough time to adequately prepare for the test.
We recommend about three months of full-time studying (40-50 hours per week) or five to six months of part-time studying (20-25 hours per week) when studying for the MCAT the first time. You need less study time when retaking the MCAT since you’re catching up on topics you’ve already studied, but you still need plenty of time. You’re not aiming for a bit of a higher score; you’re aiming for a significantly higher score, which means you must dedicate ample time to improving your studying.
The bottom line is there are only 24 hours in a day. Based on your class load, what you need to accomplish on your application, extracurricular pursuits, etc., do you have enough time to improve your MCAT score? Are you able to find the time and the energy within your already busy schedule?
Remember, studying for the MCAT doesn’t only take time—it requires energy and focus, which you won’t have if you’re not taking care of yourself with adequate sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. Productivity is a skill you can continue to hone in order to find more time, but that will only get you so far.
Many aspiring physicians face the common dilemma of deciding whether or not to retake the MCAT. In fact, over a quarter of medical school applicants have taken the MCAT more than once. But do not make this decision lightly. Retaking the MCAT is a draining process that will take place when premeds have very little time to spare.
We break down these factors in more detail in our article: Should I Retake the MCAT?
Smart Decisions That Lead to a Medical School Acceptance
Are you considering retaking the MCAT? Our team of one-on-one advisors can help you make the decisions that will best lead you to a medical school acceptance.
What most premeds don’t realize is that doing well on the MCAT isn’t a matter of how smart you are or how long you study. It’s the quality of your resources, your study strategies, and your personal life that contribute most to how you perform on the MCAT. After helping thousands of students approach the MCAT with this mindset, we created a brand new MCAT Course that distills these strategies into a streamlined and repeatable process. Try it risk-free; if you’re not fully satisfied, we’ll give you a 100% refund. That’s how much we believe in our process.
As you prepare for the MCAT, as well as the rest of your application, follow the Med School Insiders blog. We share new resources and guides every week, and we’re always updating our content to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date information surrounding the application process.
Read our comprehensive MCAT Study Guide and guide to Understanding the Medical School Application Process, and save our Medical School Application Timeline, which includes a month-by-month schedule of what you should be working on when.