What happens if you don’t do well on your MCAT? All is not lost. You can retake the test. Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how often you can do this and how many tries you get. So, how many times can you take the MCAT in a lifetime?
You can take the MCAT up to seven times. However, you cannot take it more than three times in a single testing year. The only way to use all seven attempts is to spread them out over several years.
In this post, we’ll tell you all you need to know about retaking the MCAT, so you can approach the exam with the right mindset. The info here will also prepare you for the difficulty of the test and improve your chances of doing well.
We’ll cover the following:
- test-taking limits
- how to know when to retake
- retaking tips
- and lots more
Let’s get started.
MCAT Test-Taking Limits
Like most association-administered exams, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) has both a validity period and testing limit.
The rules can get a little complex, but we’ve broken them down to make them easy to understand. Here are the testing limits for the MCAT:
In a single calendar year, MCAT testing occurs over 30 times. However, you can only take the test three times a year.
It’s safe to say while there are no restrictions on how much time you have to wait in-between tests, you should allow enough time to see your results before you make the decision to retake.
Even if you feel you performed poorly, it’s best to wait for your MCAT scores, which are released roughly a month after the test.
You can take the MCAT test up to four times within two consecutive years. This means that if you reached your max limit of three years in 2022, you could only take the MCAT one more time in 2023. After that, you’ll need to wait until another year has passed before you can retake it, provided you haven’t reached your lifetime limit.
The maximum number of times you can take the MCAT in a lifetime is seven. Once you have registered and sat for the test seven times, you’ll be unable to register for another one.
What if you didn’t show up to one of your tests, or it was voided? That would still count as one of your allowable takes/retakes. The best thing for you to do is reschedule your test if you believe you’ll be unable to make it.
Should You Retake an MCAT Exam?
There’s no such thing as a pass or fail when it comes to your MCAT score. Canadian and American medical colleges have a full say on what they consider a good score. However, certain situations will warrant a retake.
Below are all of the factors that should influence your decision on whether or not to retake the MCAT.
How High Was Your MCAT Score?
Knowing if you scored well on your MCAT is not as straightforward as in other tests. Thankfully, the system offers a percentile system to help with this issue.
The MCAT score percentile tells you how many test-takers scored up to or lower than your total score. Hence, the higher your percentile rank, the better you perform.
Anything above the 80th percentile is good enough for most reputable med schools. If you score above the 50th percentile, you can still kickstart your career in the medical field, although your choices will be limited.
If your MCAT score is too low for your university of choice, you have three options:
- Wait to see if they’ll still consider you based on other factors (GPA, personal statement, extracurricular activities, etc.)
- Search for other schools that will grant you admission with the “low” score
- Retake the exam and try to score higher
You can find official info on the MCAT requirements of medical schools in the country by accessing the MSAR online database.
Are You Convinced You Can Do Better?
To be fair, we can all do better if we put in a bit more effort. Chances are, you could score higher on a retake; however, this is not a given.
Feeling like you could perform better doesn’t only become a valid point when your scores are low. You can also feel that way with a high score. Something could have happened during the exam to put you at a disadvantage. That’s one of the best reasons to retake the MCAT as soon as possible.
So, if you feel your score doesn’t truly reflect your capabilities because of unforeseen issues that happened before or during the test, you should consider retaking it. Such events include the following:
- Ill health
- Starting late
- Technical difficulties
- Feeling overwhelmed after seeing the questions
- Panic attack
Some of these issues pop out of nowhere and leave you no room to navigate them. However, if you’re lucky enough to detect them on time, it’s okay to reschedule the exam until you’re ready to take it.
Note that you cannot reschedule an MCAT once it’s less than ten days before the test. If the rescheduling deadline has passed, you may try to make the best of the situation by prepping extra hard. The experience you gain from one exam could help you perform better in the next.
Can You Get Better Prep Resources?
Many people consider the act of exam preparation to be more tasking than actual test-taking, and we agree.
It takes a lot of discipline and focus to study hard in preparation for an MCAT. You don’t know what questions will come up or which specific topics they will focus on. Yet, you have to dedicate hours of your day to learning as much as you can.
It takes a toll, and it’s worse if you don’t have all of the resources you need. “Resources” is the keyword here. Believing you can will yourself to study harder is a good mindset, but having additional resources is a more effective strategy.
Some of the resources you should procure to help you prepare better for an MCAT retake include the following:
- Better study routine
- Practice tests
- Reliable MCAT prep classes
- Private tutor
- Prep courses
Do You Have a Section Score Deficit?
Most schools have minimum requirements for section scores. If you did well overall but fell short on one of the four section scores, a retake may be perfectly justifiable.
However, preparation is key, and you should focus more on getting better at that part of the test before your due date.
Be careful not to neglect the other sections when you do this. It will look really bad if you end up scoring lower overall in an attempt to boost a section score.
If you’re certain you can’t do better, you may want to look for a school where the low section score isn’t a deal-breaker to the admission panel.
Pros and Cons of Retaking the MCAT
It’s not always a good idea to retake the MCAT, even when you don’t like your final scores. The process has its good and bad sides. Hence, you need to weigh both before you finalize your decision to retake the exam.
- Better preparation improves your chances of scoring higher.
- You will go into the next exam with more experience.
- It serves as a second or third chance to get into your dream school.
- Significant improvement on your score signals to admission committees that you’re willing to improve even if you don’t currently meet their requirement.
- It helps to fix section score deficits quickly.
- There’s always a chance that you end up with a lower score.
- Med schools can see all of your scoring history, so multiple low scores could look bad.
- Too many unsuccessful attempts could negatively impact your self-confidence.
- MCAT scores hardly fluctuate, so the slight increase you get on the retake may not be worth the cost in time, effort, money, and resources.
How Hard is the MCAT?
We apologize if, so far, we’ve accidentally made the MCAT seem like the hardest test in the world. It’s not. However, it’s no cakewalk either.
Gauging the MCAT’s difficulty level is nearly impossible because people have different capabilities and affinities. What comes easy to you may be extremely difficult for another person and vice versa.
However, we can analyze some of the reasons participants consider the MCAT to be hard. Check them out below.
Test Takes a Long Time
The MCAT requires you to answer 230 questions in 7 hours and 30 minutes. That’s a lot of questions and a lot of time to answer them. These high numbers indicate that the test may be difficult for the average participant.
You won’t be on the hot seat every minute of the entire duration. Part of the time is allocated for three breaks. Two of the breaks last for 10 minutes and one for 30 minutes. That means that you really only work on your questions for 6 hours 40 minutes.
Nevertheless, other tests such as the LSAT (over 4 hours) and GRE (3 hours 45 minutes) don’t take nearly as long. Having to spend so much time in the testing room can be stressful and draining for some people, even if the questions aren’t too difficult.
Questions Can be Tricky
The MCAT doesn’t just test your knowledge of the topics – it also tests your critical thinking. The examiners phrase questions in ways that will force you to think before answering them.
So, you shouldn’t expect to see straightforward questions that have more to do with your memory-retention abilities than your actual knowledge of medical-related facts and their applications.
Not reading each question carefully could cause you to miss a vital piece of info that’s key to answering the question correctly.
In essence, this extra layer of testing makes the MCAT harder than some of the tests you’ve taken in the past.
Test Covers Multiple Fields
The exam covers a wide range of topics, according to its four sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
These sections cover subjects such as Chemistry, Psychology, Biology, Verbal Reasoning, Sociology, and Physics.
You can refer to your practice tests and courses to confirm what topics you need. The key point is that setting questions from such a wide range of disciplines makes the exam harder to prepare for.
Tips for Retaking the MCAT
So, you’ve considered your situation along with all the pros and cons, and you’ve decided to retake the MCAT. What can you do to maximize your chances of success next time?
We’ll answer all that and more in this section. Here are our top MCAT retaking tips:
- Set Clear Goals
You shouldn’t be retaking the exam for the sake of it. Get a piece of paper and write down your goals for what is hopefully your last dance with the MCAT.
The most common goal for a retake is to improve scores. However, try to be as realistic as you can about your target score. MCAT scores don’t change too much after a retake unless something went horribly wrong with the first exam.
So, if you did your best in the first test, getting 2-4 points higher on your result is the most likely outcome.
Another goal could be scoring higher on a specific section. In that case, you should focus your studies on related subjects.
Whatever your goals, write them down on paper and create a column beside each to list actionable steps you need to take to achieve them.
- Seek Advice
You can seek advice from people you know who recently did well on the MCAT after retaking it. Ask them what they did differently. You may find their experiences helpful.
You may also get some helpful info about MCAT scores and how they affect your admission chances by speaking to people who hold official positions in your target schools.
Someone on the admission panel will be an ideal source. What you learn may reveal that you don’t even need a retake to get accepted after all.
Some schools won’t make it easy for you to reach their staff members, and some people may not give you the info you need. However, the potential value of this strategy is worth the rejection.
- Give Yourself Time to Study
Don’t just register for the next available MCAT test after you decide to try again. You need to give yourself enough time to prepare. And this time, your preparation has to be better than the last time – not necessarily in quantity but in quality.
We recommend that you allow for 5 to 14 days before you have to take another MCAT exam. That should give you enough time to change your study routine, get help, and even explore topics you missed the first time.
The time gap will also allow you to prepare emotionally. This is not an excuse for you to spend days feeling sorry for yourself. Rather, it’s a way to allow yourself to come to terms with the disappointment and look forward to the future.
You can also use the extra time to gather more helpful resources. In fact, if you’re waiting on some material that you’re certain will boost your chances, you may extend the time in-between tests while you wait.
- Eliminate Bad Study Habits
Think back to the weeks before your previous MCAT test – what habits do you feel hampered your productivity and study effectiveness? This could be procrastination, poor feeding, or lack of relaxation. Do your research to discover the common bad study habits and which of them affect you.
Whatever your habits, they could be a lot more damaging on the second run. That is why you must find ways to lose these bad habits if you hope to get a better MCAT result.
Some of them can be fixed with a change in attitude, while others will require an external contribution.
One of the best ways to build better study habits in a short time is to join a study group. One group could consist of as little as three people who will help you to:
- Learn and imitate more healthy study habits
- Get insights into topics you find too difficult
- Get alternative perspectives
Members of your study group don’t have to be physically close to you. There are online platforms like Facebook, Zoom, and Skype that allow you to communicate remotely.
- Use Practice Tests Correctly
Going through more prep courses and practice exams will not guarantee better performance. Consider changing the way you use these resources.
The first thing to do is to ensure that you’re taking enough of these practice tests. The key is to familiarize yourself with the MCAT system before facing the real deal.
Another mistake people make is taking practice tests without analyzing the results. You need to spend hours, if not days, reviewing the questions and answers. The takeaways you get will help you to understand how MCAT questions are set and the best way to find their answers quickly.
You can also attend several free classes until you find a tutor you like. A private tutor will help you to analyze questions and answers faster.
Reasons to Delay Going to Medical School
If you’re considering waiting for a few more months or a year before you retake the MCAT, it could mean you won’t get into medical school any time soon. Is that a bad thing? Not quite, and we’ll explain why in this section.
However, note that your MCAT scores are only valid for three years after the exam. So, if there’s a chance you’ll use your current result, don’t wait too long.
Here are four reasons to wait before your next MCAT:
To Fix Personal Problems
Life throws curve balls at us all the time. How we react is what matters the most. If you’re facing some personal problems such as illness, mental health issues, or financial limitations, this may not be the best time to try to get into med school.
You can delay applying and registering for the exam until you have things sorted.
To Research More Medical Schools
Your scores may not have been good enough to get into any of your target schools, but they could be sufficient for other colleges.
It’s okay to take some time to research good schools with lower requirements or even some that don’t prioritize MCAT scores.
To Gain Experience
If you have volunteer opportunities you haven’t taken, this may be a good time to consider them. By gaining experience in the medical field, you’ll strengthen your medical school application and improve your chances of acceptance.
To Explore Other Career Options
If you’re having second thoughts about pursuing a career in medicine, you can take a step back and consider other options. If you have your heart set on the healthcare industry, there are many careers there that don’t require you to attend medical school, including:
- Medical assistant
- Nursing assistant
- Records coder
Frequently Asked Questions
How many MCAT attempts is too many?
Taking the test up to four times in a lifetime is not a good look where medical schools are concerned. The admission officials could see the situation as a sign that you have a problem grasping the topics in the field. However, some schools don’t mind.
Can you take the MCAT more than 7 times?
Based on the current MCAT rules, you cannot take the test more than seven times in a lifetime. Not showing up to one of the tests will still count. So will void tests.
Does it matter how many times I take the MCAT?
The school will see all your attempts. The question is: how are multiple MCAT scores viewed? They may decide to consider your latest or highest score. Others may look at your average MCAT score and some use all your MCAT scores. Most won’t find fault with having multiple MCAT scores, provided they are not more than three. So, yes, it does matter to some degree, but it doesn’t have much impact on admission decisions.
You should always aim to ace every MCAT. However, it feels good to know that you can get another crack at it if things don’t go your way.
We recommend that you find out the score you need to get into med school and focus all of your preparation, and practice around that. We wish you the best of luck!
Author at OnlineCourseing