You might be aware that when you take the MCAT, the score you see is your scaled score, not your raw score. You might not, however, truly understand what your scaled score means or how it relates to your raw score. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) designed MCAT scaled scores to accurately reflect a test-taker’s knowledge regardless of when they took the test and which version of the test they received. They also release percentiles to give test-takers and medical schools an idea of how their results compare to other students.
What is a Raw Score?
Any time you take a test, your raw score is simply the number of questions you got correct on the test. Because the MCAT has 230 questions, your raw score might be 201, for example. On many tests in high school and college, you probably knew your raw score—you were able to see exactly how many questions you answered correctly. You can also see your raw score on most MCAT practice tests because the practice tests allow you to look back and review right and wrong answers.
In many ways, the actual MCAT is different from any test you’ve ever taken, and the scoring is no different. The AAMC does not release raw MCAT scores, so you won’t be able to truly know how many questions you answered correctly. Instead, you’ll see your scaled score.
What is a Scaled Score?
A scaled score is a standardized representation of your raw score. A predetermined number of correct answers in each section on the MCAT equates to a specific scaled score. Each section is then added up to equal your total MCAT score. The total scaled score for each section ranges from 118-132, and the total overall scaled score for the MCAT ranges from 472-528. What are these predetermined raw numbers that equate to the scaled numbers, you’re probably wondering? It’s impossible to know because AAMC does not release their raw to scaled score conversion charts, and for good reason.
Not every MCAT test is exactly the same; there are multiple versions of the MCAT. Each version is designed to test the same concepts, but they do so with different questions. Thus, each MCAT test has a slightly different difficulty level, so there is a different raw to scaled conversion for each test. This helps scores be standardized. This also ensures that your score has the same meaning no matter when you take the test. Although the conversion is standardized, it is not constant. According to the AAMC, “The conversion of number correct scores to scaled scores, through a process called equating, compensates for small variations in difficulty between sets of questions.” Different question sets are continually swapped and changed, which is why the conversion needs to change along with each iteration.
Note that a scaled score is not the same as a curved score. When students hear that the MCAT is scaled, they sometimes mistakenly believe scaled means the same thing as curved, and they think they need to do better than other test takers to get a good score.
If the test were curved, your score would be based on how well your score compares to other students who took the test on the same day. This is not the case and would not be equitable. AAMC specifies, “One of the most important things to note about the scoring process is that the MCAT exam is NOT graded on a curve. Instead, the MCAT exam is scaled and equated so that scores have the same meaning no matter when you take your exam.”
If the exam were curved, this would mean that if a bunch of really well prepared students took the test on the same day, some of them would score lower than less-well prepared students who took the test on a different day. If you want to see how well your score compares to other students, you should look at your percentile rank, not your scaled score.
What is Percentile Rank?
A percentile rank is a number from one to 100 that tells you what percent of students did worse than you. For example, if you scored in the 75th percentile, you scored as well or better than 75% of students who took the exam. Percentile ranks might change slightly from year to year, but they don’t typically change much, and the 50th percentile stays around a scaled score of 500.
The AAMC updates percentiles yearly on May 1st. The updates take into account score information from the past three years so that test takers and med schools have up-to-date information on current score trends. They use data from three years to ensure any change in percentile ranks is meaningful.
Benefits of Scaled Scores
Using scaled scores rather than raw or curved scores makes MCAT scores more accurate. Two equally prepared students could take different tests and come away with different raw scores: the student with the easier test would theoretically answer more questions correctly and vice versa. Using the scale, however, both students should come away with the same score.
Another advantage of the scaled score is that you don’t need to get every single question correct to score a 528. Some estimates suggest you could get up to eight questions wrong and still score a 528. The MCAT does not penalize you for wrong or unanswered questions, rather you gain points for every correct question. This is why you should never leave a question unanswered on the MCAT. On a test that is extremely difficult, knowing this fact can take some of the pressure off.
Drawbacks of Scaled Scores
One of the biggest drawbacks of scaled scores is that many people don’t understand how they work. In traditional education, we tend to be more familiar with raw and curved scores. Where a difference in one point on a raw score might not be a big deal, a difference in one point on the MCAT scaled score has a different meaning. For example, you might need to answer five more questions correctly to bump your scaled score from 509 to 510.
There is also (understandably) some lack of transparency with the MCAT scaled scores. Many students want to know the conversions between raw and scaled scores so they can get a better idea of how many questions they need to get correct to achieve their desired scaled score.
While many students wish they could see their raw score, AAMC decided not to release that information. Although it may be frustrating to be left in the dark regarding your raw score, you can feel comforted knowing your scaled score will be standardized and representative of your knowledge. Taking AAMC practice tests as you near your test date is one of the best ways to get an idea of how you will score on the MCAT.
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