Today a large round of MCAT scores were released for pre-med hopefuls across the world. If you are happy with your score, congrats! A good to great MCAT score can do wonders for your application and is certainly the result of hard work. If you aren’t happy with your score, hope is not lost – there are many, many people just like you out there, including me (in 2007). Yes that’s correct. One August day in 2007, after I had spent the whole summer studying for the damn test, I was also very unhappy about the MCAT score I received back. Yes, the same me – getting into and graduating the med school of my choice in the upper half of my class, getting my first choice in residency, excelling in residency, and now 10 months from finishing with my first choice for a job already contract signed in hand. The MCAT does not make you. Does not define you. The MCAT is nothing but a hurdle. If you are unhappy with your score, and wondering “what do I do next,” you aren’t alone. Let me tell you my story and how I handled it.
When I took my first MCAT, the scoring was different from what it is today. I scored a 27. A 27 that year was right at the average of all test takers that year. Average is ok right? Well not really. There are a fair number of people who take the MCAT that either aren’t serious about going to medical school or really haven’t prepared at all. These people weigh the numbers down a bit, making you, the dedicated pre-med actually feel worse if your score is fair. What you want to do is aim for the average of all applicants who were ACCEPTED into medical school. My year that number was 30. 3 points may not seem like much, but then it was likely placing me in the bottom quarter of people accepted – meaning the rest of my application was going to have to really shine to outweigh the 75% of people who were going to get accepted with better MCAT scores than I had. With a 4.0 GPA out of highschool, and a 4.0 GPA finishing my sophomore year of college, the idea of my medical school application having such an uncompetitive MCAT score was truly upsetting.
At that point, the options were simple – to retake or not. But making that choice is very complex. I’m serious about going to medical school, and my score is just good enough to consider marching ahead without retaking it. But my score is just bad enough, that it really makes a pretty decent application, a little worrisome. Otherwise complicating my decision, I was enrolled in a pre-med program that would fairly automatically matriculate you into the same medical school, on the condition that you get the average MCAT of the class before you (and a few other hurdles). In this case that was also a score of 30. Because of that program, and my success in it, I likely would have gotten in with a score of 27. It would have been far from the “guaranteed” route I had if I’d score a 30+, however.
The drawbacks to re-taking the exam became pretty obvious. I “probably” will get in with the 27. If I retake it and do worse, I would definitely hurt those chances. Even getting the same score, I felt would slightly hurt my chances. With my very high GPA, I could write the 27 off as a one time error, but taking it again and again doing poorly would be harder to explain. I would also have to dedicate some serious study time to the retake. This is time I could spend otherwise improving my application and further limiting the effect of my not-so-stellar MCAT score.
The benefit to retaking the exam was singular. Get the 30 score I wanted, so I could be positive I’d accomplish my dream of getting into medical school.
Which do you think I did? Well I asked myself one, simple question: “Was that my best effort?” I had spent the summer after my sophomore year studying for the test. But I went back and actually counted the days. Ok, I started noticing a was actually gone a lot of them up at our lake house. Hmm.. I turned age 21 the same summer too… how many of those early mornings was my studying at it’s “peak.” I basically realized, I had only pretended to study. I had figured I’d get by or even excel like I did on most college exams, studying a little here and there and simply showing up (this bad habit would bite me in the butt early in med school too, but that’s another post for another day).
So I made a deal with myself. I decided I’d take the exam again, but I wouldn’t let anything but my best show up. I studied intermittently throughout my junior year, but that next summer I got really serious. Multiple hours per day serious. Only breaks on weekends serious. I had a study plan. I had thousands of practice questions. Sure, I had some fun living life here and there that summer, but for the most part, it was study time and no excuses about it.
How’s the story end? Well I stuck to my deal and gave it my true best effort. The MCAT was released a month later, and I was finally one of the people happy to get their results – a 31! Not anything spectacular, but above average and beat the 30 I wanted. I was ecstatic! And later I was quickly accepted into the medical school I had planned for and the rest is history.
If you aren’t happy with your score, it is possible to retake it and achieve greater success. Should you retake it? You have to decide what score you want and how far off you are. You have to weigh the same options I did. You can read online a hundred different “Should I retake the MCAT” lists. But I felt it came down to that same simple question: “Was that my best effort?” If you can think to yourself that you tried your hardest and still weren’t happy – I’d stick with the score you have. Work on making the rest of your application even better. But if you were like me, and could see clear flaws in your effort or study habits – I suggest go for the retake. BUT do so only if you are also dedicated enough to make changes – REAL changes. Find a new way to study. Carve out more study time. Do more practice questions. Take a review course if you must. But do something different. Then lay it on the line, and go for it!
What do you think? Is retaking it smart? How would you do things different? Give us your thoughts in the comment section!
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