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Losing sleep about whether to retake the new MCAT? You’re not alone. Retaking the MCAT can be a big commitment — in terms of money and time, so it’s important to think carefully about whether it’s worthwhile. To help you make the decision, we’ve compiled a number of things to consider.
MCAT2015 scores are an admissions wildcard.
This is the first year admissions committees are evaluating the new MCAT scores. Because the exam has a completely new section and scoring scheme, the only standard schools can rely on is the percentiles. Specifically, most admissions committees are focusing on the overall score and percentile rather than the individual subscores. To get a sense of the scores schools might look for this year, take a look at the percentiles they’ve accepted in recent years.
It’s more of a commitment than ever.
Admissions committees are likely going to be de-emphasizing the importance of the MCAT overall this year, so a retake might not pay off as much as it has in the past. Since you’re being evaluated more on things like your GPA and your extracurriculars, it might not be worth your precious time focusing on restudying for the MCAT when you could be spending that time volunteering, participating in other extracurriculars, or studying for midterms/finals.
You (probably) don’t need a 520.
Based on AAMC data, above a 33 (~512 on the new exam) you get rapidly diminishing returns on a higher score in terms of admissions; above a 38 (~519 on the new exam) you get almost no benefit at all. A comfortable range for competitive MD programs will likely end up being ~508+. Remember that the average scores schools report are averages. That means a lot of people they accept scored below that number. Premeds have a tendency to be hypercompetitive and want to beat the average. Truthfully it might not be worth your time and energy to retake if that’s your goal.
Raising your score is tough, depending on your first score.
For this we’ll have to examine some of the old AAMC data and make some assumptions. First, we’ll have to assume that it’s just as hard to raise your score on the new MCAT as it was on the old MCAT. Is that actually true? Nobody knows yet. But it’s probably relatively safe to assume.
It will help to have a rough score conversion chart. Now, I’ll be very unpopular for providing this, because the two exams are not meant to be comparable, but the numbers won’t make sense otherwise. Let’s also assume that percentiles from the two exams are comparable.
Table 1. Rough score conversion chart between old and new MCAT.
As much as the MCAT alone matters, the MCAT-GPA combination matters more. Thankfully the AAMC published aggregate data from the 2012 – 2014 admissions cycles that give us all the info we need to correlate MCAT-GPA to acceptance rates. The thing to note is that we’re looking at data from tens of thousands of applicants. Everyone is different, so take this with a grain of salt for evaluating your own situation.
Looking at the red region, we see the top-left corner has generally lower acceptance rates than the bottom-right corner. This means there’s a GPA bias in admissions; it’s better to have a high GPA with a low MCAT score than to have a low GPA with a high MCAT score. No GPA-MCAT combination will guarantee admission, but you can triangulate the scores you’ll need based on your GPA.
How does this affect a retake? Well, the AAMC published data on that as well. Unfortunately the data are much harder to parse for retakes because your chances of score improvements vary depending on your past score, and this all impacts your chances of admission along with your GPA. Your best bet is to plug in your GPA/MCAT combo (converted from the new MCAT scoring scale) into our MCAT retake calculator.
For example, students with a 3.5 GPA and an MCAT score of 24 (~500 on the new MCAT) had a 22% chance of admission.
Students with that GPA-MCAT combination more than doubled their chances of admission by raising their MCAT score to 30-32, but their chances of achieving that score range on a retake were 8%. Still, there’s almost at 50% bump in chance of admission by just raising the score to a 27-29 range, and 39% of students achieved that increase. For a student like this, it would be worth considering a retake.
The story looks very different for someone with a 3.7 GPA and MCAT score of 30 (~508 on the new MCAT):
These students benefit much less from a retake even though their MCAT score isn’t stellar. There is less than a 20% boost to their chances of admission with the next score range. Just over 1 in 3 students are able to achieve that boost. Again, you probably don’t need a 520.
Making the decision to retake the MCAT should be based on the scores you need and not the scores you want. At the end of the day, the opportunity cost can be greater than the return.
Alec Lee is the Co-Founder of M Prep, an online MCAT test prep company. He is an experienced MCAT coach, having logged 2000+ hours of working with premeds since 2008.
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