The MCAT 99th Percentile Club: How to Get In
Many students dream of a 99th percentile MCAT score, which can often be the ticket to a medical school acceptance. As of November 2021, the 99th percentile MCAT score is 522, a score that will certainly impress admissions committees— but how can you join this elite population of students? In this article, I describe the key strategies and behaviors of students who earn a coveted 99th percentile MCAT score. From MCAT tutoring to approaching the exam day itself, how can you achieve your score goal?
Build a Well-Rounded Section Score Profile
It’s important that you excel in all four sections of the MCAT to have a solid chance at a 99th percentile score. Mathematically, even if you score a perfect score on three sections (132), you would still need a minimum of 126 (which is roughly a 67th percentile score in most sections) on the fourth section to score in the 99th percentile overall. So, if you have a particular weak section; target that section for focused improvement by remediating weak content areas, engaging in more intense, focused practice, or seeking section-specific MCAT tutoring.
Use Proven Active Learning Strategies to Maximize MCAT Score Improvement
To score in the 99th percentile, you’ll need to make sure that you optimize your study time so that you integrate content knowledge and build your test-taking skills. To do so, it’s important to use active learning strategies (such as taking practice questions and doing flashcards) rather than relying on passive learning (such as reading textbooks and watching videos). This is a good idea for score improvement at any score range, but it’s particularly essential for scoring in the top echelons of the MCAT.
Make Full Use of AAMC Practice Exams
The margin of error at top-scoring percentiles is razor-thin. It’s crucial that you extract every bit of learning you can from all of your practice exams, especially the most important exam preparation materials, the AAMC official practice exams. Make sure to take them in as close to real-world testing conditions as possible, and thoroughly review the exams. Make a journal and record why you missed any questions you got wrong—be introspective, and try to identify strategies that will translate to getting other questions right in the future. An MCAT tutor may be useful in helping you evaluate your score report, and provide effective techniques to help you increase your score.
Develop a Well-Rehearsed Test-day Game Plan
You need to be mentally and physically ready to excel to score in the 99th percentile on the MCAT. You should have every aspect of your test day planned out in advance so you can avoid decision fatigue on test day. Make sure to have a plan for common issues, like transportation to the testing center, food and drink on test day, etc. Try to align your sleep schedule to the schedule for the MCAT for several weeks leading up to the exam if possible. If you have major issues with insomnia, get the help of a medical professional well in advance of your test date.
Conquer Test Anxiety
Scoring in the top percentiles for the MCAT requires excellent mental focus. Panic during your test will limit your efficiency in answering questions and will make it harder to recall the knowledge you’ve spent weeks or months building. The best way to deal with test anxiety is to practice under real-world testing conditions and utilize proven strategies, such as mindfulness relaxation, to calm yourself while you’re taking your test. When you’re taking practice exams in advance of your MCAT, make sure that you pay attention to key physiological markers of anxiety: pounding heart, shortness of breath, and sweatiness are all common indicators that you are stressed. Take the time in your practice exams and throughout your studying to use mindfulness techniques like diaphragmatic breathing to calm your nerves and keep yourself focused and calm while testing. Consider enlisting the help of an MCAT tutor to help you with test-taking techniques and help you overcome your test anxiety.
Be Honest With Yourself—Work on Your Weaknesses Instead of Re-enforcing Your Strengths
We all love it when we know something cold. It can be really tempting to constantly keep refreshing ourselves on the content we are already comfortable with. However, if you want to crack the MCAT 99th percentile, you need to prioritize rigorously addressing your weak points. If there’s a topic you consistently struggle with, do targeted practice (e.g. a focused group of challenging questions) until you improve. Don’t deceive yourself into avoiding your weak areas: confront them head-on.
Having an outside opinion, such as that of an MCAT tutor or a fellow student may help you in assessing your flaws and detecting your weak points. Consider asking for help if you’re not sure where you are going wrong.
Final Thoughts on Reaching the MCAT 99th Percentile
Overall, achieving an MCAT 99th percentile score is challenging, but can be achieved with dedication and strong preparation. In the end, you can always have a great exam day and exceed your MCAT score goal, or you can have an off day and miss it by a hair. Regardless, if you build the foundation to score in the 99th percentile, your eventual score will still be excellent. If you’re having trouble breaking through a score plateau, consider changing up your study strategy or enlisting the help of an MCAT tutor: don’t let yourself stagnate when you have an ambitious goal.