2023 Guide to Choosing an MCAT Test Date
As a premedical student, you’re probably a master scheduler, squeezing in time for clinical volunteering and sleep between four-hour organic chemistry labs and studying for midterms. All along, you’ve been checking things off your premed checklist: shadowing, required coursework, and research. Now the MCAT is coming up on your list to tackle, and the first step to getting that done is picking a day to take the exam.
The MCAT is one of the most important components of the medical school application. Some people say it’s one of the most important exams you’ll take in your life. Your chances of being admitted to medical school rise with each additional point you score on the MCAT—your score matters. And when you take the exam matters in terms of your timeline for submitting applications, your preparation for the exam, and how your study plan will work. Without further ado, let’s help you choose a test date. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step!
First: When Do You Plan to Start Medical School?
Maybe you’re considering taking a gap year (or two) before starting medical school, or maybe you’re planning on continuing on from your undergraduate studies without interruption. This makes a difference in terms of when you’ll need to take the MCAT.
Although technically you can submit your application to medical school before you have an MCAT score, generally you’d want to know what your score is before starting the process. MCAT scores take about a month to return, and AMCAS opens for submission in late May or early June.
That means it’s a good idea to take the MCAT by March or April of the year before you plan to start medical school. If you don’t plan on taking a gap year, that’d be the spring of your junior year; if the plan is one gap year, that’d be the spring of your senior year, before the gap year starts. If you’re planning on more than one gap year, you can use part of this time to study for and take the MCAT.
Second: When Will You Be Done With Your Premedical Coursework?
In addition to assessing your problem solving and critical thinking skills, the MCAT also tests content knowledge from premedical coursework. Across three of the four sections of the MCAT, the test makers are evaluating your mastery of content from biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology.
For this reason, most students plan to take the MCAT after they’ve completed all of these premedical course requirements. Some students may take the MCAT after they’ve had just one of the two courses required for disciplines like biology and physics. This is doable, but you would need to factor in time for self-study of new material into your overall study plan.
You also don’t want to take the MCAT too long after you finish your premedical coursework. The more fresh the material is in your head, the less time you can spend on content review and the more time you can spend on the all-important, score-boosting practice questions during your MCAT study period.
We’ve discussed how you’ll want to take the MCAT by the spring of the year before you plan to start medical school and once you’ve completed all (or almost all) your required premedical coursework. There’s one other important factor to consider before choosing a date.
Finally: When Will Be a Good Time for You to Study for the MCAT?
Studying for the MCAT is a serious undertaking, so you will want to schedule your test date accordingly to allow for appropriate preparation. As a general rule of thumb, you should be thinking about studying over the course of 3-6 months. Given your school and extracurricular schedule, when will be a good time for you to do this? Maybe the summer will be perfect because you can focus your energy into studying for the MCAT. On the other hand, maybe you’ll find yourself too distracted during the summer, and that you need the structure of the academic year. You know yourself best, and being honest with yourself about what will be realistic for you in terms of a study schedule will help you make the best decision.
By now you’ve been able to identify a general timeframe for scheduling your MCAT. Maybe it’s over the winter break of your junior year if you plan to enter medical school directly after graduating. Maybe it’s the summer after junior year if you plan on taking a gap year. What are the last pieces to consider before you nail down a specific date?
Smaller Details for Choosing an MCAT Test Date
Weekday or weekend exam: the MCAT is offered on both weekdays and weekends. Which will fit best in your schedule and allow you to perform your best?
Test center location: which dates are available at the testing centers closest to you? Remember that you have to be there bright and early, so you probably won’t want to have to travel far if you don’t have to.
(And if you have a lucky number that happens to be one of the dates the MCAT is offered, we don’t blame you for picking that!)
Some Other Nuts and Bolts
You might be wondering if there’s any strategy to picking one test date over another: are some test dates “easier” than others? The answer is no—scores are normalized to the group of examinees on your test date. Schedule your exam for the date that works best for you without worrying about whether it’s an “easier” or “harder” test date.
With all these moving parts, you might also be wondering whether it’s advisable to register for a few different dates and just decide later. Unfortunately, the AAMC only lets you hold one MCAT registration at a time, although it does allow you to reschedule for a fee that varies based on how far out you are from your currently scheduled test date.
Some Final Tips
Register early! Some MCAT test dates are more popular than others, and testing centers can fill up quickly. The earlier you decide on a date, the more likely you are to secure your desired date.
Trust yourself—take a pause and look back on what you’ve accomplished so far, the hours and hard work you’ve put in. Studying for the MCAT is another challenge that lies ahead, but it’s nothing you can’t conquer.
Use your upcoming test date to motivate yourself. Preparing to apply for medical school is a marathon, not a sprint!
Remember, this is exciting! The MCAT is a major part of the medical school application process, and you just made a huge step towards knocking it out. Now you’re ready to start thinking about building a study schedule. You’ve got this!
For any additional help with creating an MCAT schedule, choosing the best MCAT resources for you and creating a customized study program, Elite Medical Prep is here to help! Get prepared today!