“To retake or not retake” – Should You Retake the MCAT?

Let’s just all agree – the MCAT test is HARD. Not everyone reaches their target score the first time around. Hence, the retake. However, the thing that pre-meds fear the most about re-taking the MCAT is if they score LOWER than their first time around, and therefore risk looking like a weak applicant.

Deciding whether or not to retake the MCAT depends on the situation. For example, if you scored a 33, but your target score was a 35…(because I would have killed for a 33)…I would say keep it!! A 33 puts you over the average of most medical schools. However, if you’re super crazy confident that you can pull a 35, then I guess you can retake, but is it really worth risking? Truthfully, a 35 would obviously look better, but by how MUCH more? Considering there are people struggling to break the 30 mark, I think a 33 is fine. Let’s say you retake and score a 34. In the context of where you are scoring (in mid-30s), the difference is not that much greater to garner some nods. Yet, there are people who pull low-30’s, retake the MCAT and end up scoring 36/37!

However, if you scored low the first time around (below 30’s), I would strongly recommend to retake to try to break the 30 mark. But this is also in the context of where you are applying to. If you are looking to get into to D.O. schools, MCAT scores aren’t as competitive so maybe you don’t have to retake it (28/29 is okay). However, if you’re looking to get into M.D. schools, then I would say a 32 is a very good comfortable score. And if you’re somewhere in between high 20’s to low 30’s, then maybe you should apply to both types of schools, OR if you’re just gunning for M.D. schools, then apply to more lower-tier schools and make sure everything else in your application is strong.

What if I do worse when I re-take the MCAT? This is a legitimate fear, and one that holds many people back when deciding to re-take the MCAT. First of all, it is possible, and it happened to me (more about that later in another post). That is why the risk of retaking is great, but the reward of doing better can be greater. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that maybe the first time was just a fluke, or you just weren’t feeling 100% that day, and that the second time should be much better because you already know what it’s like, etc. etc. While these things may be true, the greatest predictor of whether you will do better is if you are scoring consistently better. As pre-meds, we might be rushed into following this “pre-med timeline” and cross things off our list by a certain time. If you are planning to retake the MCAT and are not scoring consistently better than before, then taking the MCAT the second time and hoping to score better is very risky. That was the biggest mistake that I made. I was probably scoring around the same or only +1 to 2 points higher than my original score. Yet I was going in to my re-take test hoping I would score in my upper range, but did quite the opposite. So, don’t re-take unless you are confident you can do better. It’s okay to delay applying another year if you need more time to study for your MCAT. Otherwise, if you end up scoring worse, you would need to re-take and delay another year anyways. At least with the first option, you don’t have the blemish of a bad re-take on your application.

The MCAT is undoubtedly an important part of your application, but with the holistic approach that medical schools are now taking to evaluate applicants, it’s not the end-all be-all of your application. However, if everything else on your application looks good, except your MCAT score, you might have to answer during the interview why you didn’t try to re-take the MCAT for a better score.


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