MCAT Test Dates: How to Know When You’re Ready
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a 7.5 hour long, computer-based standardized examination that tests a prospective medical student’s critical thinking, problem solving abilities, and fundamental knowledge of scientific concepts. Your MCAT score is one of the most critical aspects of your application to medical school, and as such it is crucial to prepare for it– and to prepare well. But how do you know when you’re well enough prepared and ready to choose when to take your exam from the available MCAT test dates?
How Do I Decide on an MCAT Test Date?
Firstly, it is important to consider when you will be ready to look at the available MCAT test dates and set your target. As pre-med students, we work hard to meet lists of requirements such as volunteer hours, high GPAs, research experiences, and more. Although the only official requirement for eligibility to register for the MCAT exam is that you intend to apply for and join a health professions program, this can make it difficult for students to decide when in their academic career they should sit for the MCAT. In general, it is recommended that students consider two important factors when looking at available MCAT test dates: your completion of relevant coursework and your ability to set aside time to thoroughly prepare.
1. Completed Coursework
The MCAT is divided into four sections, each testing different areas of comprehension and scientific principles: 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.
For STEM and non-STEM majors alike, it is recommended that students choose from the available MCAT test dates only after they complete introductory-level courses in general and organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry. These courses build up a foundational understanding of the scientific principles that the MCAT will be based on. For example, studying for an undergraduate biochemistry course will often require that you become familiar with the 20 amino acids and memorize their names, structures, and chemical properties–a task that any student preparing for the MCAT will have to undertake. If you’ve already put in the work for your biochemistry class, that’s one less thing to worry about during your MCAT preparation!
Along with the relevant scientific coursework, it is also suggested that students take introductory-level courses in psychology and sociology before choosing from the available MCAT test dates. Although these courses are not typically required for an undergraduate STEM degree or a requirement for application to most medical schools, they are often recommended as they introduce students to a variety of new concepts and terms that will be tested on the MCAT (and can even serve to boost your GPA!).
2. Clearing Your Study Schedule
Between keeping up with difficult coursework, maintaining social or familial obligations, and still managing to get some sleep, it can seem impossible to squeeze in some dedicated MCAT study time. Medical students preparing for their USMLE Step 1 board exam are granted 4-8 week dedicated study periods where they can devote the majority of the time leading up to their exam to studying. This is an excellent model to consider when preparing for the equally important MCAT exam. However, keep in mind that 4-8 weeks might be too much or too little time for you to achieve your individual score goal.
Although every student’s timeline is different– some may achieve their MCAT score goal after 6 months of studying while others will successfully prepare in 3. It is generally advised that each student should aim to spend about 200-300 hours studying for the MCAT, resulting in about 10-15 hours of studying per week over the course of 4-6 months. Thus, it is vital to ensure that you can set aside this study time in the weeks leading up to the date you have selected from the available MCAT test dates. Some optimal MCAT test date recommendations include taking it the summer after you complete your biochemistry coursework, so you have a break from your classes and can focus on studying, or during the spring before your undergraduate graduation, if you have a lighter course load and can allot the necessary time towards dedicated MCAT preparation.
When are MCAT Test Dates Available?
Okay, you’ve excelled in the recommended courses and now you know all of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and can recite the 3-letter and 1-letter codes for any amino acid in your sleep. Now what? For many students, the daunting task of dedicated preparation for the MCAT becomes a reality once you’ve officially registered for your decided MCAT test date.
MCAT test dates span throughout the month of January and subsequent MCAT test dates are available between the months of March-September. The MCAT registration for upcoming July-September test dates opens on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 at 12:00pm Eastern Standard Time. The official calendar for the upcoming 2021 MCAT test dates, score release dates, and registration/cancellation deadlines can be found here.
How Do I Know I’m Ready to take the MCAT?
Congratulations on securing your MCAT test date! Whether you are just beginning to work on your content review or have completed 99% of your UWorld question bank, it is essential to keep track of your progress throughout the course of your study period. The progress you make over time is the best indicator of your readiness to sit for the exam on your registered MCAT test date, and can help inform your decisions about changing or rescheduling your exam.
When working towards something as important as the MCAT exam, it is important to set goals for yourself. Your score goal can reflect the acceptance statistics of your dream medical school or simply be a “528,” but it should be a realistic representation of your abilities. It is recommended that you start your study period with a baseline exam, like an official AAMC full length practice exam, to help you assess and understand your starting point and identify areas for improvement. From there, you can target your weaknesses over the course of your study period and monitor your progress. Your readiness for your MCAT test date is a reflection of your progress through your study period, which can be measured in a number of ways: your familiarity with the content, your stamina for sitting through the 7.5 hour exam, and your confidence in your ability to succeed. All of these factors are reflected in your practice test scores!
Trust Your Practice Scores!
A great habit is to keep track of your scores when you are working through question banks and similarly to observe trends in your practice exam score reports. Make a list of the practice tests you’ve taken and the dates that you’ve taken them, and keep adding to the list! Over time, as your MCAT test date approaches, you want your practice scores to get closer and closer to your target score. The closer your practice test scores approximate your desired score goal, the readier you are to sit for your MCAT exam!
In fact, we have found that the official AAMC full length practice tests are the greatest indicator of your projected performance on your actual MCAT test day, as long as you imitate test day conditions (my own MCAT score came out to be the perfect average of my 4 AAMC full length practice exams!). So, be sure to take these exams as you study for your MCAT and monitor your scores, as they will help you predict your actual score. If you are faithfully simulating test day conditions and your practice scores are within range of your target goal, trust your practice scores–you’re ready for your MCAT test date!
If you feel you have plateaued in your preparation and your score trackers indicate that your practice scores are not improving or are on a decline, this may be an indication that you need to re-think your studying. Adjusting your preparation accordingly could include changing your study habits, scheduling a meeting with a tutor, or pushing back your MCAT test date to allow for more content review or give you the chance to complete your AAMC practice question banks. Regardless of the trajectory your MCAT studying takes, the greatest indicator of your performance and your readiness is the collection of AAMC full length practice exams. Your study period may consist of 6 weeks or 6 months, but it should include at least one pass through each available AAMC practice exam and a thorough review of your score report.
In any event, trusting your practice scores will help you make an informed decision about your MCAT preparedness and ensure that you take your MCAT when you are truly ready for it–whether this means you have to change your MCAT test date or not.