Of course, we’d all love a perfect 528, but for most of us, that’s not a realistic goal. And that’s okay because you don’t need a 528 to get into a great medical school. So, in that case, what MCAT score should you aim for in your practice tests? How do you know when you’re where you want to be with your studying? If you’ve already taken the MCAT, should you take it again?
There are a few different factors to consider when deciding what score to aim for on the MCAT, including the average scores of recent matriculated students, which schools you’ll be applying to, and your GPA. In this post, we’ll take a look at all three of those deciding factors as well as how to know if you’re ready to take the test.
1 | Statistics of Matriculated Students
The statistics of recent matriculated medical school students can give you a general idea of where you currently stand and what you should aim for on both your GPA and MCAT score.
Most medical schools strongly suggest having a minimum GPA of 3.0 and an MCAT score of 500 (125 in each section). But to be competitive, you need to strive for higher. To give you an idea, here are the statistical averages for recent matriculated applicants:
Total MCAT: 511.9
(CPBS) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: 127.9
(CARS) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: 127.0
(BBLS) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: 128.2
(PSBB) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: 128.8
Overall GPA: 3.74
Non-science GPA: 3.83
Science GPA: 3.67
When you look at matriculated applicants, it’s apparent that an MCAT score of 500 isn’t going to be competitive. The previous year’s average is a good metric to follow, but keep in mind these are averages. Do you want to be middling amongst other successful applicants? Or do you want to be a leading applicant who has offers from multiple schools and scholarship opportunities?
It’s also very important to factor in which school you are applying to, as each school has a different level of competitiveness that depends on its prestige as well as how many applicants are interested in attending that school.
2 | The Schools You Apply To
AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database is the best way to find out where your stats (MCAT, GPA, and otherwise) fall compared to accepted students at each specific school; it can help you determine what you should aim for on the MCAT.
MSAR is great not only because it will give you an idea of what schools may be more or less of a reach, but you can also learn about schools you hadn’t considered but may be a great fit for. You can even sort schools by average GPA or MCAT and save a list of your favorites within the app.
It does have a paywall for a one or two year subscription, but it’s not much more than one cheap meal out, and it’s an incredibly valuable resource to have on hand as you make decisions about medical schools. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount you’ll likely spend on the medical school application process.
MSAR is an extremely useful resource in choosing your school application pool. For a more detailed breakdown of MSAR’s utility, check out our post How to Use the MSAR.
3 | Your GPA
Along with your MCAT score, your GPA is the most important indicator of your academic abilities. Together, they represent not only your ability to absorb, analyze, and recall information, but also your motivation, discipline, and dedication to becoming a physician.
If your GPA is lower than average for matriculated students at your target schools, you should aim for an above average MCAT score for those schools. A lot of students experience academic hiccups in college, whether due to health or personal complications or acclimation to the challenges that undergrad presents. So, if your GPA isn’t quite where you want it to be, don’t worry—that won’t necessarily prevent you from getting into medical school.
As long as it’s solidly above a 3.0 (even better if it’s closer to a 3.5), a great MCAT score (for example, 515 or above) can help offset that. If your GPA is lower than where it needs to be, put extra care into achieving an above average MCAT score.
How Do You Know When You’re Ready for the MCAT?
Once you have your target score in mind, how do you know when your studying is sufficient to get that score on the real test?
The AAMC Practice MCATs can help you predict your performance on the MCAT. (In fact, I got the exact same score on my last AAMC practice test as I did on the real thing!) They come at a small cost each, but as with MSAR, the value of the resources is well worth the cost.
It can be helpful to take other practice tests from third-party test preparation companies as well to widen your practice repertoire, especially since there are only five AAMC practice tests (there are four official tests and one sample test available.)
From my own experience and from what I’ve heard from other people who have used similar services, these third-party tests are often more challenging than the real thing, so it was a huge confidence boost when I switched from Princeton Review tests to AAMC practice tests and my score immediately went up by five points!
Additionally, you should assess how well your MCAT studying is going and your personal state of mind (your own timeline, mentality, confidence, etc.) Keep in mind that delaying your MCAT too long could do you more harm than good since the longer you spend studying, the more chances you have of forgetting previous material.
Learn more in our article: Should You Delay Your MCAT? How to Know If You’re Ready
So, What MCAT Score Should You Aim For?
In the end, there is no “right” target score. It depends on where you’re applying and how strong the rest of your application is. Begin by looking at matriculant averages, and then factor in other situational factors, including your GPA, the strengths of the rest of your application, and the competitiveness of the schools you are applying to.
A score between 510 and 515 will put you right in the mix with other average applicants, and a score between 515 and 520 will make you competitive at many medical schools. A score of 520 and above will almost certainly put you above the 95th percentile, which is competitive for just about any medical school.
For more MCAT studying resources, check out the AAMC Official MCAT Prep Hub, as well as our blog, which is filled with resources, including our MCAT Study Guide, MCAT CARS Section Guide, and Tips to Achieve Your Dream MCAT Score.