MCAT Scoring Process: Commonly Asked Questions

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Whether you’re getting antsy waiting for your MCAT score report to arrive or whether you’re just heading into the MCAT wondering how it all works, you probably have some questions about what goes into the process that provides you with your all-important MCAT score. Without further ado, here are our answers to pretty much any question you could ask about the MCAT scoring process.

 

What is a “Standardized Test” Anyway?

 

Simply put, a “standardized test” is a test that is developed, administered, and scored in a specific, consistent way to allow comparison of test-takers in a “standardized” way over time on the basis of their score. Standardization also confers a degree of objectivity in that performance is judged based on specific, consistent criteria. This affects the MCAT scoring process in that if an exam is harder one year than the next, that shouldn’t change the test-takers score too dramatically. This is a good thing for both MCAT test takers and medical schools!

 

What Are the Sections of the MCAT and How Are They Scored?

 

The MCAT consists of four, equally weighted sections that test your content knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. Possible scores on each of the four sections range from 118 to 132, centered around 125; possible composite scores thus range from 472 to 528, centered around 500. Scores for each section and for the exam as a whole follow a normal distribution: scores are distributed symmetrically around a common median, mean, and mode score. This means that the average (mean and median) premed student taking the MCAT will score around a 125 on each section for a total score of around 500; these are also the most common (mode) section and total scores. (Is your biostatistics class coming back to you yet?)

 

Why Are the MCAT Score Numbers So Weird?

 

Good question. There isn’t really a great answer to it besides that the section and total scores are centered around the neat numbers of 125 and 500. Scores on each section range 7 points up and down from 125 (118-132) and thus total scores range 28 points up and down from 500 (472-528). This number of gradations was chosen by the AAMC to allow sufficient differentiation of exam takers based on their numerical score. You might have heard about the pre-2015 MCAT exam, which was scored from 3 to 45. It’s also thought that the new score ranges were chosen to prevent confusion of “old” and “new” MCAT scores. Go figure!

 

Do Wrong Answers Count Against Me in the MCAT Scoring Process? Should I Guess if I Don’t Know the Answer?

 

Unlike some other standardized tests, the MCAT scoring process imposes no penalty for incorrect answers: questions with wrong answers are scored the same as unanswered questions. Again, your score is dependent only on the number of questions you answer correctly. For this reason, you should answer every question, even if it’s a complete guess. The more answer choices you can rule out, the greater the likelihood of getting it right, but even if it’s a blind guess you should still pick an answer choice.

 

Does the Mcat Scoring Process Weigh All Questions Equally?

 

Some reports online claim that MCAT questions are weighted based on their difficulty–for example, a “harder” question is worth more if you get it right, since it better “distinguishes” you from the other test takers who answered it incorrectly. In fact, each question of a given section is worth the same; your section score is based solely on the total number of correct answers on that section. As you will see when you take practice tests, this is how practice tests are scored as well.

 

I Heard About “Field Test” or “Experimental” Questions That Don’t Count Toward Your Raw Score. What’s the Deal With That Part of the MCAT Scoring Process?

 

Common lore among takers of standardized tests, the MCAT included, is that on test day you will encounter a certain number of “experimental” test questions being trialed by the test maker that don’t count towards your final score. Indeed, part of the development process for new test items for the MCAT includes so-called “field testing” of questions on real test takers. The AAMC can then examine how students performed on these new questions to determine whether they will be deployed as actual test items in future administrations of the MCAT. What this means in practice is that if you encounter questions that seem different, unique, or off in some way, they might be experimental questions that won’t be counted toward your final score. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, and the AAMC even specifically prohibits test takers from speculating with each other about which test items may have been experimental. But if you find yourself on test day getting caught up in anxiety about a certain question that threw you off, remembering that it may be an experimental question may help you get out of your head and move on productively.

 

How is a Raw MCAT Score Calculated?

 

As we discussed, all questions on a given section are worth the same, wrong answers don’t count against you, and some questions are experimental questions that are not scored. Thus, your raw score on a given section is calculated as the simple number of questions answered correctly, exclusive of any experimental questions.

 

Is the MCAT Graded on a Curve? Am I More Likely to Get a Lower Score if I Test on a “Harder” Exam Date?

 

When an exam is graded on a curve, a given student’s score is based on their performance relative to the students who took the exam on the same day or at the same time of the year as them. If the MCAT were graded this way, you might be worried that it would be harder to score well on the MCAT if you take it at a time when more people are taking it or when other people might be “better prepared.” The MCAT is not, however, graded on a curve–instead, the AAMC uses complex statistics to “equate” scores to ensure that a score of 508 means the same thing between students and over time. AAMC’s exact equating process is highly proprietary and will never be revealed to test takers, but you can rest assured that you can take the MCAT any time of the year without worry that you might score lower than if you took at a different time of the year.

 

What’s the Deal With “Voiding” My MCAT Score?

 

Upon the completion of your MCAT exam, the testing interface presents you with the option to have your exam scored or to have your exam voided. You might choose to void your exam if you believe something like illness or conditions in the testing room may have adversely impacted your performance, or perhaps if you feel that the exam didn’t go as well as you would have liked if you felt under-prepared. You should think carefully about this choice; your decision is final once submitted. Medical schools aren’t able to see whether you have voided an MCAT, but voided exams do count towards your lifetime MCAT testing limits, and you don’t receive a refund of your registration fee.

 

What Information Does My MCAT Score Report Contain?

 

Your MCAT score report is furnished as an image of a table that includes a number of different pieces of information. Your section score for each section is reported, as well as the sum of those section scores as your total score. For each section score and the total score, a “confidence band” and “percentile rank” are also reported. Additionally, for each section score but not for the total score, a “score profile” is reported. We’ll get into what all of these are.

 

How Do Score Percentiles Work?

 

We discussed how a score of 500 corresponds to approximately the median, or 50th percentile, score among all MCAT takers. What about other scores? Part of your score report is a percentile corresponding to each of your four section scores as well as your total MCAT score. Formally, this figure represents the percentage of test takers who receive the same score or lower than you. For example, a total score of 514 corresponds to the 94th percentile, which means that 94% of test takers scored a 514 or below while 6% of test takers scored between a 515 and 528. Percentiles thus allow for interpretation of a given section or total score within the context of all MCAT takers.

 

Each year, the AAMC updates the percentiles that correspond to each score based on the past three years of MCAT administrations. The percentile ranks were last updated in May 2022 to reflect the performance of all students who took the MCAT in the 2019, 2020, and 2021 testing years. Averaging performance over the past three testing years allows “smoothing” of any changes that might occur over time. That way, if the percentile that corresponds to a given score changes, it truly reflects a meaningful change rather than a simple fluctuation from year to year. For this reason, the percentiles don’t change much over time. You can review the most recent percentile ranks for the MCAT on an official AAMC document here

 

Because the percentiles are adjusted each year, this means the percentiles reported on your MCAT score report can change—this is the only part of your score report that might change over time.

 

What is a “Confidence Band”?

 

You can think of the confidence band on your MCAT score report as a confidence interval for your “true” MCAT score. If any given test taker were to take the MCAT multiple times, they would likely score slightly differently but within the range indicated with the confidence band; their “true” MCAT score thus lies somewhere in that confidence band. This helps emphasize to both you and medical schools that MCAT scores are not a perfectly precise and accurate measure. Another consequence of confidence bands is that comparisons between students with very similar scores are not likely to be meaningful, as those students’ “true scores” may in fact be identical.

 

What is the “Score Profile”?

 

The score profile is a visual component of the MCAT score report that allows for comparison of your scores on the different sections by displaying the respective confidence bands on a number line. This allows you (and medical schools) to assess your strengths and weaknesses across the sections. Overlapping confidence bands should be interpreted as a non-significant difference on those sections; non-overlapping confidence bands indicate a relative strength in the higher-scored section.

 

How Long Does It Take to Get My Mcat Score Back? What Time in the Day is It Released?

 

MCAT scores are released into the online score reporting system between 30 and 35 days after a given test date. Score release dates are set ahead of time and are available for the 2023 testing year here. The AAMC reports that scores are available on release day by 5:00 ET, but many students report them being available earlier in the day, often in the late morning.

 

The MCAT is a Multiple Choice Exam, So Why Does It Take a Month to Get My Scores Back?

 

After you take your MCAT, the four-week turnaround time for your score can feel like a long time—you might find yourself wondering what takes so long if the exam is multiple-choice. The AAMC, for its part, explains that this time is used to ensure accuracy of the scaling process, as well as to allow for submission and investigation of concerns about test items or testing center conditions or other test day anomalies. 

 

Do I Get to See My Raw Score? My Test Form?

 

Unlike some other standardized tests (the SAT’s Question and Answer Service is a notable example), the AAMC never allows test takers access to their test form or to see their raw score on an MCAT. Luckily, the official AAMC Full Length MCAT exams are extremely representative of actual test forms used in real MCAT administrations.

 

What is the Protocol for Requesting an MCAT Re-Score?

 

The AAMC goes to painstaking lengths to ensure the validity of MCAT scores, which includes accuracy in the scoring process. This means that errors in the scoring process are exceedingly rare. However, when you receive your score report, it’s possible that your score may be very different than you had anticipated based on your official practice scores or otherwise worse than you had expected. In this case you may wonder about requesting a rescore of your exam in case an error had been made in the scoring process. 

 

The AAMC does offer an avenue for this. You can make a formal rescore request in the MCAT registration system within 30 days of delivery of your score report. There is a non-refundable fee of $65 associated with a rescore request, and the AAMC will respond in writing within 3 weeks to either confirm your score as originally reported or to supply corrected scaled scores. You should think carefully about using this option, as the probability of your score changing as the result of a rescore request is very, very low. If you’re not happy with your score and are wondering about how you can improve the second time around, read more here.

 

Can I Refute or Challenge an MCAT Exam Question?

 

The AAMC invests a huge amount of time and money into developing and vetting MCAT test items. However, if you truly believe a test item on your MCAT exam was ambiguous, incorrect, or otherwise flawed, you have the option of filing a report with the AAMC through the MCAT Test Question Challenge process within 5 days of the testing date. This, too, is completed online through the MCAT registration system. The AAMC will respond to your challenge in writing.

 

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