For aspiring medical school students, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is one of the biggest roadblocks in the application process. It is a long, rigorous examination that gives medical school admissions committees an idea of your ability to succeed in their program.
MCAT scores are an important objective measure that admissions departments use to select students. As a result, it is important to get a good MCAT score to maximize your chances of getting accepted.
In general, a good MCAT score is 511 and above.
MCAT and GPA requirements vary depending on the school you are applying to. So do not worry too much if your score is lower than this. However, if you want to get accepted into a top medical school, you will probably need to aim for a score significantly higher than this.
A great score is 515 to 528 (the maximum possible score), while an average score is 502 to 508. In contrast, a poor score is 501 and below.
This guide will go over what a good MCAT score is and how medical schools use your score to make their decision.
How MCAT Scores Work
The MCAT is a 6-to-7-hour test consisting of 230 multiple-choice questions. It is broken down into 4 sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Science
- Critical Analysis and Reading Skills
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Each section has 59 questions, except Critical Analysis and Reading Skills, which has 53 questions. There are no penalties for incorrect answers.
Each section is scored from 118 to 132. The section scores are added together to make up your total score, which is a number from 472 to 528. This number is what people generally refer to when they discuss MCAT scores.
What is a Good MCAT Score?
A good MCAT score is typically 511 and above. Applicants who earn this score or better have at least a 65% chance of getting accepted into any medical school.
In addition to your overall score, your performance on the individual sections is also important. Many admissions committees like to see well-rounded applicants with similar scores across each section. You should aim to score no lower than 127 on any given section.
For example, if someone earns a perfect score on two sections, but scores poorly on the other two, that may work against them. Even though their total score may be fine, their section scores show glaring deficiencies in certain topics.
MCAT Score Percentiles
A percentile is a number that compares your performance with that of other test takers. A higher percentile is better.
For example, if you score at the 93rd percentile, then your score is better than 93% of people who took the MCAT.
Here are the most recent percentiles for exceptional, good, average, and below average MCAT scores:
When Will I Get My MCAT Score?
You will receive your MCAT scores 30 to 35 days after you take the exam at 5pm ET of the predetermined release date. You can check the release date for your exam here.
Chances of Being Accepted to Med School by MCAT Score
Here are the percentages of applicants admitted for the following score ranges, based on AAMC data from the 2017 to 2020 admissions cycles:
- Over 517: Over 80% of applicants admitted
- 514 to 517: About 75% of applicants admitted
- 510 to 513: About 65% of applicants admitted
- 506 to 509: 50% of applicants admitted
- 502 to 505: About 35% of applicants admitted
- 498 to 501: Over 20% of applicants admitted
- 494 to 497: About 10% of applicants admitted
- 486 to 489: About 5% of applicants admitted
- Less than 486: 0% of applicants admitted
Your score can help determine what type of medical schools (MD or DO programs) you should apply to for the greatest chance of acceptance.
This is assuming your GPA is also good (better than 3.5) and that the other parts of your application, such as your essays and interview, are strong. Note that it’s still possible to get into med school with a low GPA if you do well on the MCAT and have a lot of clinical experience.
If you score 511 or above, then you have a good MCAT score and should mostly be applying to MD programs. In contrast, if you have an average score like 505, then you should mostly be applying to DO programs.
For example, Harvard School of Medicine is one of the most competitive MD programs in the nation. Their average MCAT total score is 520. In contrast, the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine is one of the most competitive DO programs in the nation. Their average MCAT total score is 510.
In summary, MD programs tend to accept applicants with higher MCAT scores and GPAs than DO programs. Planning accordingly will maximize your odds of getting accepted.
How the MCAT is Scored
How It Works
For each section, you receive a raw score based on the number of questions you answer correctly. Unlike with other exams, incorrect answers are not penalized. This means that guessing is encouraged.
The exam graders then convert these raw scores into scaled scores, which takes into account any difficulties or differences in test administration. Overall, converting your scores into scaled scores ensures that MCAT scores can be consistently evaluated no matter when the test was taken.
Total Score and Percentile Ranks
The scaled score in each section is added together to calculate your total score. Based on your total score and section scores, you can determine what percentile rank you fall in. A percentile rank tells you the percentage of test takers you scored better than.
How Long Are Scores My Valid?
Each medical school has a different policy on how long scores remain valid. Generally, MCAT scores are valid for 2-3 years after you take the exam.
How Medical Schools Analyze Multiple MCAT Scores
Retaking the MCAT is possible and many students, in fact, choose to do so. Students often retake the MCAT to increase their score by a few points to boost their chances of getting into more competitive programs. You can take the MCAT a maximum of 7 times in your lifetime.
Many admissions departments will use your highest score when making their decisions. Other schools may take a more holistic view of your scores, valuing improvement. For example, if you took the MCAT 3 times and got a better score with each attempt, then the school will factor that into their evaluation.
However, be aware that some medical school admissions departments may count retakes against you. For example, they may use your most recent MCAT attempts to evaluate your performance. Make sure you double check the retake policy for each school you apply to so that you can plan accordingly.
The best ways to avoid having to retake the MCAT are to identify your target schools, take your preparation very seriously, and seek out the resources you need to succeed. That way, you can get your desired score the first time around.
It's worth noting that there are some medical schools that don't require the MCAT. Most of these are joint bachelor's degree/MD programs or early admissions programs for students who exceptionally excel academically.
How to Get a Good MCAT Score
Getting a good MCAT score is a challenging, but attainable goal. First, you will need to sharpen your studying habits and test-taking skills. Then you will need to bring your A-game on the day of the test by getting enough sleep, managing your energy, and controlling your test anxiety.
Here are the best things you can do to get a good MCAT score:
- Study, study, study. This should go without saying, but studying is key. You will be using all the good study habits you have developed during college to prepare for this exam. Focus on understanding concepts, making connections between topics, and critically thinking your way through information.
- Know how the MCAT works. Understanding the structure and content breakdown of the MCAT is important in being able to study for and take the exam. Ideally, you should not be surprised by anything the test writers throw at you.
- Take practice tests. You can take practice tests at different stages of your studying process. For example, you can take one when you start studying to get a baseline of how much you know. Then you can take another one midway to see if you have improved. When you have finished reviewing the test content, you should focus on taking as many practice tests as possible to get ready for the actual exam.
- Develop good test taking skills. Knowing the content on the test is one thing. Understanding how to take the test is another thing. You should spend some time practicing basic test taking strategies such as process of elimination, paying attention to keywords, and understanding the intent of the question.
- Follow a study plan. Creating a study plan will help you stay organized. There is a lot of content tested on the MCAT, so it is easy to quickly fall behind. You should plan for at least 3 months of studying for the exam. However, on average, students set aside 4 to 6 months to prepare.
- MCAT Question of the Day. There are several platforms that offer daily MCAT questions. Obviously, do not rely on these as your main source of studying. However, they are a convenient way to sprinkle in some review into your daily schedule. They can also help you hone in on topics you may be struggling with.
- Take a prep course. If you learn better when you have a structured schedule, then taking a prep course may be helpful. These courses vary in length and cost. Some of them may cost a couple thousand dollars. They are offered through a variety of formats, such as in-person, online, synchronous, and asynchronous.
- Get plenty of sleep the days leading up to it. Many college students get through their exams by pulling all-nighters. However, the MCAT is not a test you want to take while sleep deprived. A lack of sleep impairs your ability to think clearly, even more so considering the exam is usually around 7 hours long. Having good sleep hygiene on the days leading up the exam will ensure that your brain is working at an optimum level.
- Manage your test anxiety. Nerves during the exam is a common issue that stops students from scoring as well as they would like. There are many strategies to reduce test anxiety. The easiest way is to take a lot of practice tests in simulated conditions, so that you become more comfortable with the test environment. In addition, you can work with a therapist or other mental health professional to learn specific techniques to manage your test anxiety.
- Review concepts with other students. Discussing ideas and concepts with other students can be an effective study strategy. You will be able to identify gaps in your knowledge and also refine your understanding of the numerous topics on the exam. Not to mention, studying with friends can give you that extra boost of motivation you need to push through.
- Be familiar with the test center procedures. Be aware of what you can and cannot bring to the testing site. Make sure you have any required documents and identification. Finally, you should know how to get to the testing location and set aside enough time to commute, so that you arrive a little earlier than the start time.