Are you planning to delay applying to med school? Many students take gap years after writing the MCAT. Hence, you won’t be the first or last to ask: how long do MCAT scores last?
You may also be unsure about the validity of your MCAT scores because some time has passed between your exam and your application dates. Perhaps you retook the MCAT and want to know if previous scores will affect your admission chances. No matter your case, we’ve got the answers you seek.
Most medical schools in the US and Canada will not accept MCAT scores older than three years. The Association of American Medical Colleges will always keep records of all your MCAT results, but their validity is determined by the school you apply to. Some med schools don’t accept scores older than two years, and others accept four-year-old MCAT scores.
This article will reveal how MCAT score validity works in the US. Not sure what the best time to take the MCAT is? Read on to see our expert suggestions.
How Long are MCAT Scores Valid?
As stated above, the AAMC keeps records of all your tests. It’s left for the schools to determine an expiry date.
However, as a general rule, scores older than three years before the date of matriculation are considered invalid. The reason is that colleges do not believe MCAT scores from three years ago accurately reflect an individual’s knowledge of the required coursework.
So, if you took the MCAT in 2023, your scores will remain valid until the same month and day in 2026 (exactly three years later).
That’s the general validity period based on the admission policies of regular med schools. However, the more competitive medical schools only consider MCAT scores valid if you wrote the exam within two years of your potential matriculation.
If you’re wondering when the countdown starts, you should know it begins on the MCAT test date and not when the scores are first available.
As for the date of matriculation, that’s heavily influenced by the college’s application and admission timeline.
You should ensure that your application doesn’t fall too close to your MCAT score expiry date. If it does, you may risk rejection from the school’s admission committee because you’ll never matriculate in time. Check out the AAMC’s list of all colleges’ admission timelines.
In essence, your MCAT score never becomes invalid, technically. Med schools will still have access to your MCAT scores, even if you got them five years ago. However, they may not always consider it a basis for granting you admission.
Because of the power schools have in determining MCAT validity, many students try to gain admission into med college within a year after their testing dates. The practice has its pros and cons, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
When to Take the MCAT
Is there a perfect time to take the MCAT? Not quite. However, there are ideal periods to take the test. There’s also a chance of taking it too early or too late.
This section will address this issue and help you pick a reasonable testing date.
The Ideal Time
The most important factor to consider when deciding when to take the MCAT is your level of preparation.
The exam is one of the most difficult in the world because it covers a broad range of topics, particularly science.
If you’re attending university, you can get a science background that would prove useful in the test.
For this reason, the ideal time to take the MCAT is right after you’ve completed the relevant coursework. These courses include Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The knowledge you’ve gained will remain fresh in your mind, thereby maximizing your chances of acing the test.
You still want to allow enough time between taking the test and your graduation year. Why? Well, things may not go as planned, and you may have to retake the test.
For most undergraduates, the period that ticks all boxes is during the start of their third university year.
What matters the most is that you’re ready for the MCAT. The best way to gauge your readiness is to take practice tests.
When It’s Probably Too Early
There are at least three possible cases in which taking the MCAT might be too early at the time. Let’s have a look at each of them.
- Deficit Coursework
Don’t be pressured into writing the exam before you’re ready. That’s the most important factor to consider.
Taking the MCAT before you’ve completed the necessary coursework will put you at a disadvantage. It may also weaken your application.
We don’t recommend that you take the MCAT in your first undergraduate year.
- Lack of Preparation
You should study for at least 300 hours before taking the MCAT. Part of that study time should be dedicated to solving at least five practice tests.
When you get a score in the 90th percentile on a practice test, you know you’re ready for the real deal.
If you haven’t achieved the above milestones, then this may not be the best time for you to take the MCAT.
Thankfully, you can always cancel or reschedule your MCAT, so long as you do it earlier than ten days before the test.
- No Time for Commitments
People tend to follow different paths to success. There may be other things you’ll like to do before you attend medical school. If these goals take several years to achieve, your MCAT score may expire before you’re gone.
Post-college goals include:
- Starting a business
- Learning a skill
- Gaining medical field experience
In such cases, it may be best to hold off on taking the MCAT until you’re done.
When It’s Probably Too Late
You shouldn’t be taking the MCAT during or too close to your dream school’s application cycle. The reason is that MCAT preparation and med school application are two grueling processes.
There’s a lot to do in both processes, and we’ll highlight them below:
Typical MCAT Preparation Tasks
- Planning and sticking to a study schedule
- Procuring reading material for the four MCAT sections
- Reading relevant subjects daily for weeks
- Taking practice tests
- Analyzing the results of the practice tests
- Enrolling in MCAT prep courses and classes
Typical Med School Application Tasks
- Writing a personal statement
- Gathering letters of recommendation
- Doing research on schools
- Attending interviews
Applying to med school will take a lot of your time. If you also have an MCAT to prepare for, you may end up burning out quickly. You’ll also have less time to study.
It’s possible to handle all of the tasks and still do well on your MCAT. However, don’t you think it’s better to focus on one goal at a time?
MCAT preparation timeline varies from a week to three months, depending on your level of knowledge.
Determine how much preparation time you need by taking a diagnostic test. It should reveal your current ability and show you a bit of what to expect.
Also, waiting until you have your MCAT score ready will allow you to approach the application process with confidence. And it helps the school’s admission committee make easier decisions on your application.
When to Submit Medical School Application
Now that we know when to take the MCAT, it’s time to find out the best time to submit your application to med school.
In terms of a specific period, you should start the application process by the first week of June and complete it before mid-August.
By “complete,” we mean that everything the school requires to consider your application should be with them. That includes transcripts, MCAT scores, ACT/SAT scores, statements, letters, etc.
Most med schools call candidates in for interviews between the middle of August and the end of October.
In Relation to MCAT
After you take the MCAT, you have to wait another month for your result to be ready. If you want to know your score before applying, that’s the minimum standby time before your application.
So, if you wrote the MCAT in early May, you can apply for admission in early June.
Perhaps you don’t mind applying before your score is ready. Although we don’t recommend it, you may be confident enough with what you did in the testing center.
You may submit an application within the same month of your exam. However, you should know that your results won’t be available until a month later. Ensure it doesn’t fall outside of mid-August.
In Relation to Your Senior Year
The senior or fourth year in an undergraduate program is a milestone for many pre-med students. They either apply to med school before or after that landmark.
So, should you apply early (before your fourth year) or take a gap year and apply late (after)?
Both strategies have their benefits.
Benefits of Applying BEFORE Senior Year
Still in Study Mode
However intense you think college is, med school is more intense. You have to do a lot of studying if you gain admission.
By applying before your junior year, you can leverage the momentum of your undergraduate years. This will help to maintain the required study habits needed in med school.
Easier to Get Good Recommendations
Getting good recommendation letters from your instructors is easier if you still have an active relationship with them.
You’ll have a stronger line of communication, and it will be easier to predict their schedule. If you return after graduation to get letters from former mentors, you may be disappointed at how difficult it is for you to reach them.
Also, having lecturers write the letters when you’re actively in their lives is the best way to get the glowing remarks you need. You don’t want to wait until they barely remember you.
No Wait Time
There are people who can’t wait for a second to kickstart their medical careers. Of course, not everyone feels the same way.
However, if you have dreamed of becoming a medical professional for years and you can’t wait to get there, it’s best to apply early.
Taking a gap year between college and medical school might be too much for you to bear. Hence, we recommend that you follow your heart and apply for med school as soon as you’re ready.
Benefits of Applying AFTER Senior Year
Chance to Improve Application
Earlier, we mentioned the application requirements for most medical schools in America. If you fall short in any of those, a gap year will give you the time to rectify the issues.
With the extra time, you can do any of the following activities:
- Prepare for the MCAT
- Retake the MCAT to improve your score
- Finish prerequisite coursework you missed
- Join a Master’s program to boost your GPA
- Gain experience by working in a lab
- Volunteer in the medical field
- Engage in a preceptorship
- Build key relationships that could lead to recommendations
All of the above activities will look good on your med school application.
You may have heard stories about how intense med school can get. If that’s the case, it’s not a bad idea to take a little break before you dive in.
How you spend your academic break is up to you. Getting a job, traveling, teaching, and starting a project are some smart options.
Opportunity to Consider All Options
You can also use the extra time to scout good schools and locations in the US. Perhaps you may realize that studying abroad is a more interesting idea.
You can also use this time to consider your objectives, including your aim of getting a medical degree.
There have been cases of people who decided to move away from medicine entirely after realizing their true dreams.
Applying late may open you up to a world filled with more opportunities than you realized.
How Medical Schools View MCAT Scores
Most med schools will tell you their application requirements. What they won’t say is how they view or consider each element of your application, particularly the MCAT.
You may find some info about the minimum MCAT score for admission; however, that’s never a guarantee.
It’s time to place yourself in the mind of the admission committee and see how they view the MCAT scores of prospective students.
Before we proceed, you should remember that med schools will have access to your full MCAT records. The way the view, sort, and process the scores is what determines your future with them.
Below are the six common ways that med colleges view MCAT scores:
- Latest Score
Some straight-up ignore every other score and only consider the latest MCAT score. This method favors students who did badly in previous exams but aced the test on the final try.
Be careful before retaking the MCAT if this is how the school views applications. You would be at a disadvantage if your previous score was better than your latest score.
- Highest Score
To be fair, many students hope the schools they apply to use this method. It allows them to try to get better results by retaking the MCAT.
However, you need to be careful. Taking the test more than three times is a sign of poor judgment on your part, and most admission committees don’t like that.
- Average Score
There are cases where the school takes the average of all your MCAT attempts. This strategy works because the MCAT is a standardized exam, and it’s extremely difficult to increase your score by more than a few points.
- Section Score
Many schools have minimum section score requirements along with their total score criteria. There’s no telling if the panel might overlook a deficit in section score if you have an impressive total score.
- Custom Super-Score
Many of these colleges use in-house software to view and sort scores. Some set up an algorithm that combines several factors in your MCAT results to generate a super-score.
If this is your case, there’s no telling what impact the method could have on your application. However, most algorithms will favor regular improvement and consistency.
- Score Trend
Think of your score trend as a graph of all your MCAT scores against the testing years. An upward trend means you’re improving.
For instance, if you scored 518 in 2020, 519 in 2021, and 522 in 2022, you have a positive trend. The school may consider your trend along with your latest score.
So, even if you’re a few points shy of the acceptable MCAT score, your upward trend could be enough to see you get called up for an interview.
It’s best not to count on an MCAT score that’s over two years old. If it meets the minimum requirement for your school, submit your application as soon as you can.
Retaking the MCAT helps, but only do so if you’re taking steps to get a better score. The last thing you want is to give the school a reason to think you’re declining academically.
We recommend that you thoroughly research all of the schools you like before making any decisions.