2021 Complete Guide to Interpreting Your MCAT Practice Test Scores
Types of MCAT Practice Scores and What to Expect
So, you’ve taken a few MCAT practice exams, and you’re curious to know how your score will correlate to the real thing…
But before we get into actually interpreting exams and their scores, we need to be aware of the different types of exams available to students. In general, there are two types of practice exams: third-party practice exams and official AAMC practice exams. For third-party exams, there are multiple different companies, and each company’s exam comes with its own score caveats. For official AAMC exams, each of the 4 available full-length practice exams will have its own score interpretation. In addition, with third-party exams, the closer to each extreme you score (i.e., a very low or very high score), the less predictive power your practice exam score holds. What this means is that if you have a very high score (515+) on your practice exam, it may correlate poorly to your score on a real MCAT, as there are fewer students on the real test with such scores and therefore less data to base predictions on.
One thing to keep in mind for all third-party practice exams is that official scoring for the MCAT is done with an unknown AAMC algorithm. This means that companies must create their own scoring algorithm, and all scores, even representative ones, must be taken with a grain of salt. The only thing that is guaranteed to be representative of the real MCAT exam is a practice exam from the company responsible for designing the real test—the AAMC.
Kaplan Practice Scores
The general trend for Kaplan practice exams is that they are based heavily on content and may present as much more difficult than the real MCAT. Many students claim that Kaplan practice exams are not representative of the official MCAT exam. As they are generally based on content, the questions asked on the exam might be more detail-oriented and lower-yield, as they do not test reasoning or critical thinking as the official exam will.
The majority of students report receiving higher scores on official AAMC practice MCAT material. From user submitted scores of both their Kaplan and official MCAT exams, the general trend is that Kaplan practice exams are generally scored ~10 points below what you can expect to receive on an official MCAT, were you to take one. This might seem very off and imply that Kaplan exams are poor predictors of the MCAT. However, they are great resources for finding content gaps, developing stamina with increased practice, and learning how to approach the MCAT as a stronger test-taker. This is arguably one of the largest gains in taking a practice exam, as stamina and content gaps are important to keep in check while preparing for real thing. Practicing will therefore always be beneficial. Additionally, the increased difficulty of these practice exams may improve your ability to think quickly given time restrictions—a skill which is valuable in any exam setting. Practicing with Kaplan’s more difficult practice tests may prepare you well for official AAMC material through rigorous practice.
Blueprint (formerly NextStep) Practice Scores
Blueprint exams generally suffer from the same issues as Kaplan’s: they are content based, and a Blueprint practice score will generally correlate to a ~7 point score increase on the real MCAT. However, their layout and formatting are superior to Kaplan, and their questions are more representative of official AAMC material and logic. After your exam, they offer full analytics on interpreting your score, from percentages of students that chose each answer, the types of questions you generally get wrong or right, and even point out specific content gaps for you to study further. In addition, they are a smaller company – allowing them to focus more on MCAT materials, and their scores and exams will correlate closer to the official AAMC material.
Altius Practice Scores
There are a few issues that come with understanding an Altius practice score. The chief complaint among Altius practice exam takers is the CARS section. It tends to be over-the-top and generally does not follow AAMC logic, so much so that a few students tend to “skip” that section on practice exams and only take the other 3 sections. Their Psychology/Sociology section may also include terms and concepts that are not included on AAMC concepts for this section, and thus are not very representative and might lead you to spend time learning material that is not helpful. The Chemistry/Physics and Biology/Biochemistry sections, however, are fairly good practice for the real thing, and their specific section scores should be taken as quite representative for what one would score on the actual MCAT test day. In addition, Altius offers video and text explanations for every question on their exams, which may be beneficial to some. One should expect about a ~5 point increase to their score on the real exam from their Altius scores.
Official AAMC Practice Scores
The AAMC’s official practice exams are the practice exams that most accurately represent what you would find on the real exam. As long as you imitated test-day conditions as closely as possible, your actual MCAT score will approximate the average of your 5 full-length AAMC practice test scores. One thing to note is that the practice exams generally tend to increase in their accuracy of the actual MCAT, starting from the sample and becoming most representative towards the last practice exam (AAMC Full-Length Practice Exam 4). This is due to the fact that they were released over time, meaning that the last practice exam (4) is the latest. As it is the most recent exam to be added to the available practice exams, it will contain the most pertinent material. The first and second exams’ Psychology/Sociology sections are generally reported to be too content heavy with short and easy questions, a practice which is no longer used in current official exams. However, any official AAMC practice exam is an excellent resource and should be completed when preparing for the MCAT.
In the end, you should expect that your official full length AAMC practice exams will most accurately reflect your MCAT preparedness and reflect what the real exam will be like. As for how to assess your preparedness for the real MCAT, there are a few baselines for official AAMC practice scores. The average medical school matriculant’s MCAT score is a 510. This is not to say that a score 1-2 points below this significantly impacts your application, or that a score 1-2 points above this guarantees matriculation. For knowing a specific medical school’s MCAT averages and medians, it is best to consult AAMC’s MSAR service, which will show these details. One important thing to note while looking at your subsection scores is that some medical schools have MCAT subsection cutoffs. These schools will not, for example, accept an application with a CARS subsection score of less than 123-124, regardless of how high the other 3 subsection scores or overall score might be.
Most importantly, do not let low practice scores bring you down! Remember that all students’ practice scores will be lower early on and will increase over time as you continue to learn material and take practice exams to build your stamina and your familiarity with the MCAT. In general, the more practice you have prior to the test the better- so whatever materials you choose to use, keep studying.
Good luck and if you need help boosting your practice scores, don’t hesitate to contact us about our professional MD level MCAT tutoring!