On the odyssey to becoming a physician, you’ll have to make countless pivotal decisions. One of the most important ones is determining when to take the MCAT. The MCAT is a crucial step in your career as a physician, carrying potential implications that can affect your future aspirations. So, navigating the optimal time to take the exam can be both daunting and overwhelming.

This blog provides insights to help you make informed decisions regarding the MCAT timeline. Join us as we delve deeper into the intricacies of the MCAT, factors to consider, how to make the most out of your studying schedule, and mistakes to avoid.

What Is The MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, computer-based, multiple-choice assessment required for admission to medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. The MCAT, which is developed and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), functions as a standardized metric for medical schools to evaluate the applicants’ understanding of foundational concepts in the natural and social sciences, their analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, and readiness for medical education. Therefore, a high MCAT score gives aspiring physicians a competitive advantage in the medical school admissions process.

When Should You Take the MCAT?

The AAMC provides multiple testing dates each month, from January to October. The most popular months are March, April, and May due to their alignment with the start of medical school applications in June. As for your preparations, we recommend spreading your study schedule over three to six months. So, if you plan on taking the exam in May, you should start prepping in January or February. 

We also recommend taking the MCAT only after completing most, if not all, prerequisite courses for medical school, as these courses will give you a comprehensive understanding of the concepts included in the exam. Consequently, you can take the exam as early as late sophomore year or during the summer between junior and sophomore years. 

Finally, keep in mind that you’ll receive your MCAT scores 30-35 days after your exam date. Ensure that your score is available by the time you plan on submitting your medical school application. 

What You Should Consider Before Taking the MCAT:

What You Should Consider Before Taking the MCAT

1. Understanding the exam structure

The MCAT consists of 230 questions, encompassing both passage-based and discrete formats, distributed across four sections, which are:

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: Containing 59 questions on the foundational concepts of biochemistry, general chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry, this section assesses your understanding of the chemical and physical principles underlying the functioning of living organisms. 
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: Part of the exam’s second section are 59 questions related to the principles of biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, and how they apply to biological systems.
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: The third section contains 59 questions exploring how biological, psychological, and sociological factors influence the behavior, health, and well-being of organisms.
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Lastly, the exam contains 53 questions that test your ability to understand, analyze, evaluate, and apply information from written texts related to social sciences and humanities disciplines, such as ethics and philosophy, population health, and studies of diverse cultures.  

2. Creating a study plan

The most critical thing to consider before taking the MCAT is developing an effective study plan. To build a successful study plan, you should:

  • Plan your studying schedule by determining the amount of time you can dedicate to studying;
  • Allocate time to review content and practice questions for each section of the MCAT;
  • Review your answers to practice tests to learn from your mistakes and identify opportunities for improvement;
  • Monitor your progress and adjust your MCAT study schedule accordingly. 

3. Taking practice tests

Practice tests are an important component of your MCAT preparation process because they help you:

  • Assess your understanding of the MCAT content, identify the areas you need to pay more attention to, and tailor your study plan accordingly;
  • Build endurance and concentration, which are crucial for the MCAT’s lengthy testing time of 6 hours and 15 minutes;
  • Refine your test-taking strategy by enhancing your skills in time management and eliminating incorrect answers methodically.

4. Reviewing the official AAMC materials

We strongly recommend incorporating the official AAMC materials when preparing for the MCAT since they accurately represent the exam’s content and format. By utilizing resources such as practice exams, study guides, premed webinars, official prep bundles, and more, you can acquaint yourself with the types of questions you’ll encounter and enhance your overall readiness for the exam. 

5. Staying updated on test changes

The MCAT may undergo modifications in its structure, content, scoring, or other important aspects. You don’t want to be caught off guard by these changes or updates. Therefore, it is crucial that you remain vigilant and informed, which consequently leads to you feeling more confident and prepared on your test day. Moreover, this allows you to make changes in your study plan in advance and have a clear understanding of what to expect on test day. You can utilize information provided by the AAMC on the MCAT to find out if there are any changes or updates for the 2024 testing year.

6. Registering in advance

Another critical thing to consider is registering early for the MCAT. Early registration enables you to choose your preferred test dates and locations before they reach full capacity. Moreover, it gives you ample time for thorough preparation, including practice tests, content reviews, and improvement in weaker areas. Most importantly, knowing that you’ve secured your test date early can help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with the MCAT and channel your energy into preparing effectively for the exam. 

7. Retaking the exam

While you may not like thinking about retaking the MCAT, considering its rigorous nature, there’s a possibility you might need to take it more than once. Retaking the exam provides an opportunity to get a good MCAT score, especially if the first attempt didn’t yield your desired results. Therefore, it’s crucial to schedule your MCAT as early as possible, allowing ample time to retake the exam before medical school applications close. 

Smart Strategies and Pitfalls to Avoid

One thing to remember is that your studying habits significantly impact how well you’ll do in the MCAT. To foster healthy studying habits and enhance your performance, it’s crucial to:

  • Dedicate time to completing practice problems and focus on getting the correct answer;
  • Monitor and evaluate your progress constantly and identify areas that may be hindering your studying efficiency;
  • Simulate the real MCAT experience by incorporating breaks between sections, staying in the testing zone, and refraining from snacking during the test;
  • Prioritize stress management by practicing self-care routines, including relaxation techniques (meditation and breathing exercises) and light exercises (such as walking or yoga).

Bottom Line

One of the most important factors that will impact your MCAT score is determining the right time to take the exam and understanding the key factors you should consider before doing so. Creating a strategic study plan, utilizing different resources to thoroughly prepare for the test, staying informed on potential test changes, and considering options for retaking the test are all essential in selecting the optimal exam date. By doing so, you can increase your chances of getting a high MCAT score and securing admission to the top medical school on your list.

As you begin preparations for taking the MCAT, it’s important that you explore both local and international medical schools. We warmly encourage you to check out our carefully curated M.D. program, which will provide you with important knowledge and skills you need to succeed in the medical field.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What year of college should I take the MCAT?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer that works for everyone. However, we recommend taking the MCAT after completing most prerequisite courses and gaining the knowledge needed to perform well on the exam. You can take the MCAT as early as your sophomore year of college or the summer between your sophomore and junior years. 

At what age do most people take the MCAT?

The age at which students take the MCAT varies, depending on whether they plan to take a gap year after completing undergraduate studies or intend to enter medical school immediately afterward. The average age of medical students entering medical school is over 23, with the age range typically falling between 20 and 25 years old. 

How much does the MCAT cost?

The standard registration fee for taking the MCAT is $335. However, if you need financial assistance to take the MCAT or to apply to medical schools that use the AMCAS application, you can apply for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program. The Fee Assistance Program Registration for the MCAT costs $140. Lastly, if you’re testing outside the United States, Canada, or US Territories, you’ll have to pay an additional $120 international fee.

How many times do med students take the MCAT?

According to AAMC data, only 39% of the examinees who tested from 2020 to 2022 took the current version of the MCAT more than once. Even though you can take the MCAT up to seven times during your lifetime, it is advisable not to enter the exam more than three times.