Over 53,000 aspiring students applied to medical school during the 2020-2021 cycle, and all of them took the MCAT exam as part of the application process. If you’re considering applying to medical school, you’ll also need to study and sit for your MCAT exam. But completing the test won’t necessarily get you into your target schools – the MCAT is a rigorous exam and many medical schools use your scores as a key decision factor when making admissions decisions.
So what is a good MCAT score? In short, it’s the score that gets you into your target schools. Competitive MCAT scores aren’t the only thing that can get you into medical school, but earning a high score on the MCAT can certainly help you during the application process.
Read on to learn more about how to earn a good MCAT score and how this can affect your chances for successful matriculation to med school.
MCAT Sections and Scores
Before you can learn how to get your best MCAT score, you first need to know what you will be tested on and how you will be scored.
The MCAT is broken into four separate sections that each cover a variety of material from undergraduate science courses.
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: This section tests content from introductory Biology, introductory general and organic chemistry, and biochemistry undergraduate courses. Students preparing for this section should study cells, bodily systems, genetics and reproduction, enzymes, biological materials such as peptides and proteins, and DNA/RNA.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: This section tests content from introductory general and organic chemistry, introductory physics, and biochemistry undergraduate courses. Students preparing for this section should study the periodic table, atomic structure, organic compounds, nomenclature, metabolism, thermodynamics, and other chemical processes. Students should also be prepared to calculate stoichiometric equations and perform basic chemical math calculations without the use of a calculator.
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section (CARS): This section is designed much like a traditional reading comprehension section of other standardized tests, but the content is more complex and the questions require a deeper level of critical reasoning combined with scientific knowledge. Although no specific background knowledge is required, students should study the format and structure of this section carefully to be prepared to perform well.
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: This section tests content from introductory psychology, introductory sociology, and introductory biology. Students preparing for this section should study neurobiology, language development, psychological disorders, social and behavioral processes, learning and memory, and consciousness.
Each of the four MCAT sections is scored on a scale from 118-132, and students are given individual section scores plus a comprehensive score on a scale from 472-528. Across all test takers, the mean and median for each section is a 125, while the overall mean and median are 500.
What is a Good MCAT Score?
For the 2020-2021 application cycle, the average MCAT scores among medical school applicants were 506.4 with a standard deviation of 9.2. In the same application cycle, the average MCAT scores among medical school matriculants were 511.5 with a standard deviation of 6.5.
These national averages aren’t necessarily the dividing line between good scores and bad scores, however. Averages are just that – an average of how everyone across the country performed on the MCAT. To determine what makes a good MCAT score, a better analysis metric is percentiles, or the percentage of test takers who performed within a given score range. For example, if you earn a top 10% score, you will have performed better than 90% of test takers across the country.
Highly Competitive Scores (Top 10%)
To be considered highly competitive, you should aim for a score in the top 10%. To earn this score, you’ll need to earn between 129-132 for each section, or between a 514-528 composite.
Scorers within this range are considered competitive for the top medical schools in the country, although this can still vary by the individual school. For example, Yale School of Medicine has an average MCAT score of 521, so applicants with scores in the 515-520 range are actually still below average for Yale’s applicant pool, even with a top 10% MCAT score. Many prestigious medical schools, including Dartmouth College, Emory University, Ohio State University, and Rutgers, all report a median MCAT of 514, so aiming for top 10% scores will put you in the most competitive position for these schools.
Competitive Scores (Top 25%)
Competitive scores are those within the range of 508-513. To hit this range, you’ll need to earn a score of 127-128 within each subsection.
There are 53 medical schools with average MCAT scores in this range, including some well recognized schools such as Loyola University, Michigan State University, Drexel University, Louisiana State University, and University of California – Davis. Additionally, scorers on the top end of this range (511-513) can still apply and be accepted at top tier medical schools if they have higher GPAs combined with experience or other application materials that demonstrate a high level of competency in the medical field.
Average Scores (Top 50%)
Average scores are those within the range of 500-507. To hit this range, you’ll need to earn a score of 125-126 within each subsection.
Although these scores will put you at or slightly above average, they aren’t looked as favorably at most well-recognized medical schools. There are 13 medical schools with median MCAT scores in this range, including Southern Illinois University, University of Houston, University of Mississippi, and University of New Mexico.
Below Average Scores (< 50%)
Below average scores are those of 499 or below. If you earn a score in this range, you will likely have a 124 or below in each subsection.
Below average scorers will have trouble being accepted to most U.S. medical schools without high GPAs or other application elements that help them stand out during the application process. Across all U.S. and Canadian medical schools reporting to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only San Juan Bautista School of Medicine has an average MCAT score below 499. However, schools with higher averages may still accept students with lower MCAT scores balanced with a higher GPA and other competitive application elements. Additionally, students with lower MCAT scores should consider medical schools with a holistic application process and no minimum MCAT score requirements, such as American University of Antigua (AUA).
Where to Apply to Medical School Based on Your Numbers
Getting into medical school is a highly competitive and time-intensive process, so you should apply to schools where your numbers make you a competitive candidate. This could mean you need to take steps to improve your numbers, adjust the schools you’re applying to, or both.
Nearly all medical school applicants have positive aspects to bring to the table, so one step you can take to improve your chances of acceptance is to apply to schools that consider your application holistically. For most medical schools, the first step in the evaluation process is to “weed out” candidates by automatically rejecting any applicants with GPAs or MCAT scores below a designated threshold. Unfortunately, this process can often eliminate many high-quality candidates who go on to make excellent medical professionals.
American University of Antigua (AUA) uses a holistic evaluation process that doesn’t apply arbitrary cutoffs or unfair weighting practices to numerical application metrics. Instead, we consider and evaluate each applicant’s entire profile before making an admissions decision of any kind. We believe there is no correlation between MCAT scores and your ability to become a licensed and high-quality physician. While MCAT scores are required on applications for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, we do not use them as part of the decision for admission. You can learn more about our admissions requirements here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I retake the MCAT?
The decision about whether to retake the MCAT is a personal one based on your target schools, self-efficacy, and educational goals. Each MCAT exam is a time-consuming and costly investment, so it is important to weigh the decision carefully before retaking the exam. You may want to retake the MCAT if:
- You believe you have the ability to score considerably higher on your next test and you have the time and resources to help you achieve a higher score.
- Your current MCAT score is significantly below average for most of the medical schools you are targeting.
- The other elements of your application, including GPA, letters of recommendation, and previous experience, are not as competitive as you would like in compensating for a lower MCAT score.
How many times can I take the MCAT exam?
Fortunately, even if you don’t score as highly as you would like on your first attempt, you can take the MCAT more than once. AAMC rules allow students to take the MCAT up to 3 times in a single year, 4 times in two consecutive years, or 7 times in a lifetime. Given these restrictions and how schools tend to view multiple test attempts, you should carefully consider your options for retaking the exam and use your retesting attempts wisely.
What is the most difficult section of the MCAT?
While the answer to this question is primarily an opinion, more students tend to have lower scores in the CARS and psychological/social sections of the test. This is likely because many medical school applicants come from science-based undergraduate programs and have higher levels of familiarity and efficacy in the more science-heavy sections of the test. The best approach to raising your MCAT score is to use practice tests to identify the section(s) that are most difficult for you personally, then study to raise your score on those sections.
MCAT Percentiles for Total and Section Scores Data
|Percentile Rank||MCAT Total Scores||MCAT Chem/Phys Scores||MCAT CARS Scores||MCAT Bio/Biochem Scores||MCAT Psych/Soc Scores|
|1||477 and below||118||118||118||118|