Retaking the MCAT? Everything To Know and Consider

June 17, 2024

minute read

So you got your MCAT score back, and maybe it’s not what you hoped for…

And now you might be asking yourself the golden question:

“Should I retake the MCAT?”

It can be a difficult and devastating decision - mentally, emotionally, financially. Retaking the MCAT is not the end of the world, it isn’t the end of the line. Many people retake the MCAT, end up successful, and get into the med school of their dreams.

But should you retake? Does retaking even make sense for you? And if you decide to retake...

What can you do differently this time around?

We'll be answering both questions - FROM experience!

In this article, we’ll cover how top scorers decided if the MCAT was even worth retaking, and if they chose to, how they approached retaking the MCAT. 

If you're retaking, we'll ensure your highest chances of hitting your target MCAT score this time. 🙌

Meet Renee: She Increased Her Score By 16 Points On Her MCAT Retake

Renee, one of our MCAT mentors, is has a lot insights on retaking the MCAT that she's covered in the video below.

In this video, she discusses if you should retake the MCAT, and if you do, how should you approach it this time!

For context:

Renee wrote the MCAT three times until she got to her goal score, jumping from a 506 to a 514 to a 522!

It was a journey two years in the making while juggling a full time job, keeping her personal life thriving, and trying to make sense of a life during a pandemic (like all of us).

Check out her video or keep reading below to figure out if you should retake yourself and how you can make sure your next attempt leads to that score increase you’re gunning for! 

Should I Retake The MCAT? How To Decide 

If you find yourself asking, should I retake the MCAT? You must follow two important rules to dominate the MCAT this time.

First, make sure you have a date in mind for what you want to be your MCAT retake day. Being completely ready by this date should be your goal.

A lot of students just start studying for the MCAT again on a daily basis, not knowing when they’re going to stop because they don’t have a date set. You don’t want MCAT studying to be part of your life’s daily routine. It needs to come to an end.

Never forget your aim – to get a competitive MCAT score so you can make progress into a med-school you’re ecstatic about!

Secondly, don’t make the test re-take date too soon! You need time. Not giving themselves time and rushing is a big mistake a lot of students make. Top scorers know that rushing is a bad idea because it takes time to get better at your weakest areas.

A month or two generally isn’t enough time for most people to significantly improve. It’s too soon. You’ll likely end up with a similar score.

Perhaps you feel like you have no choice but to rush because you want to get in within this application cycle…

Use your own judgement but generally, it’s not worth it to rush.

Top scorers are smart enough to know that it’s better getting in the following year than not getting in at all. The last thing you want is to have 2 or more low scores on your record.

If you’re extremely confident that you’ll be able to pull it off – maybe you just had a bad day on test day – then perhaps you can go for it. But you need to be honest with yourself.

The way to know if you’re ready to retake the MCAT is if you’ve taken a lot of practice exams and are consistently scoring near your target score on the AAMC exams…

The way to get to that level of scoring over 511+ consistently on your practice exams is to prepare in the right way this time…

Are You Ready To Retake the MCAT? What To Consider

Renee: The real question to ask yourself about retaking the MCAT is, are you able to create the same environment? Are you able to have the same time, energy, and resources that you can dedicate to at the same level, if not even higher for your retake?

If your answer is yes, then another risk you do have to take is potentially having the same score or even a lower score for your next MCAT retake. 

From what I personally heard from medical school advisors is that if you have the same score in your retake, it can have a neutral to slightly negative effect on your application as it can make them think that you are stuck at that specific level of score. 

And if you have a lower MCAT score that might show medical schools that your previous score that was higher was actually a fluke.

If you consider both of these factors and you think that, yes, I do want to retake the MCAT again, then for the one month that you're waiting for your MCAT score to come out, take a break. 

It's okay to take a break and have some personal time and recharge your own batteries.

However, I would say that during that one month, when you're awaiting your score, it's important not to completely let go of your studying because you can easily let go of a lot of progress that you've made leading up to the exam.

Perhaps try doing Anki every day, so it's low effort, you've already been doing it, and it's not super difficult and out of your ordinary routine, but you're still able to keep up with your previous knowledge as well.

How To Study For Your MCAT Retake

So you’ve decided to retake the MCAT…

The information from this point below is to help you study correctly this time.

Perhaps you didn’t hit your target score the first time. Perhaps you’re worried your score isn’t good enough to get into your dream med school…

Regardless, you’ve made a bold decision and we’re here to support it.

Reevaluating Your MCAT Retake Study Plan

Renee: The next question for you to answer would be whether you need a new study plan or not. If you are more than 10 or 15 points away from your ideal score, then I would say yes, it is important to reevaluate your current study strategy because there might be something that you're missing out on that can make a drastic change in your future score.

So number one, reevaluate whether you are studying for enough time. Typically, if you're a full-time study student, you should spend 40 hours a week studying every week like a full-time job. And if you are studying for this MCAT part-time, then around 20 hours a week or 25 hours a week is ideal.

Additionally, one quick tip is you don't need to do the same hours every single day. For example, when I was studying, I was also working full-time. So I did basically one hour a day on the weekdays, and I did 10 hours on the weekend. And that's what worked for me as I didn't have much time on the weekdays to study, it would just drain me too much.

So with that being said, it is possible to succeed if you are strict with yourself and able to stick to whatever schedule you make for yourself.

Should I Reuse Resources for My MCAT Retake?

Renee: I myself have also wondered, should I reuse resources? Especially for CARS, as we all know, resources are very scarce and highly valuable, especially the AAMC official CARS passages.

So, I would say definitely reuse that closer to your exam date. And at least I know most people, unfortunately, don't have that good of a memory. So give ourselves one or two months and most likely we will have forgotten about the exact passages at that point. 

Additionally, I know that Khan Academy has some great CARS material as well. And because they're developed in conjunction with AAMC, I would say definitely go for it. It's free, and it's available. 

Jack Westin is another good one as they have daily passages. If you subscribe to their newsletter, you're able to get access to them. I know Princeton Review sells the separate CARS workbook on its own as well. That's a great one. And not just for CARS, but for other subjects as well.

You can definitely try and get full-length practice exams from different major testing companies. If you sign up for Princeton Review, Kaplan, or Blueprint’s newsletter, you can get free practice exams.

Do as many questions as you can and don't be afraid of repeating them. As long as you are learning what you're getting wrong every time correctly when you redo them, you should be able to increase your accuracy significantly. 

The Importance of Consolidating Resources For Your Next MCAT Attempt

My next advice in terms of retaking the MCAT would be to really consolidate your resources. A lot of times I see people and even myself getting lost in the woods. There are many, many resources out there. Sometimes there's too much.

Think about what you should use that's going to maximize your own growth in terms of your own studying strategy. Are you more of an auditory learner? Are you more of a visual learner?

Really examine how you learn best and then center your resources around that and have a home base of resources you're going to utilize if you are at a loss. Don't try to add more. Try to cut back.

This way, you'll be able to maximize your efficiency, and you won't waste time navigating between different types of resources as well.

How Top Scorers Get In The Right Mental State To Retake the MCAT

One of the biggest mistakes MCAT retakers make is starting to study really soon after they get their scores back. If you want to hit your target score, we don't recommend doing this.

In fact, you should take a few weeks off to reflect on how you can improve from the first time you prepared for the MCAT. Reflecting while waiting to get your score back doesn’t count.

It’s your thought process AFTER you got your score back that matters.

When you get your score back, and it’s not a score you’re happy to see, it probably hits you like a ton of bricks. Especially if you were expecting a better result, you’ll be feeling shocked.

This is why you don’t want to start studying again right away. You won’t be in the right mental state to do so. You won’t be completely focused.

If you have strong negative emotions while you prep, overcoming difficult MCAT problems and passages will become even harder. You’ll likely not be able to study and will be prone to procrastinating. Even if you somehow push through, your progress will be mediocre compared to if you were to study with a clear mind.

The key is to first deal with the emotions, give yourself time to heal naturally, and restart studying when you’re feeling fresh, genuinely motivated, and clear-headed.

To deal with the negative emotions, besides just giving it time, you can do several things like practice meditation, exercise, eat healthy, go for walks. Give yourself permission to do your favorite activities for a full day or two.

You can also talk to someone about it. Someone who can appreciate your situation. Someone in med-school who rewrote the MCAT would be perfect to talk to. It’ll make you realize the FACT that retaking the MCAT is completely normal.

It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The MCAT is a brutal exam and med-schools realize that. They know it can take a little longer for even the best med-school candidates to adapt to the style of the MCAT. So it’s okay to feel bad and feel disappointed. Just give yourself time and space to get through it otherwise it’ll show itself when you’re studying and diminish your performance and score.

Finally, never self criticize. Catch yourself when you’re self-criticizing. Talk to yourself as your best friend, as your own mentor, or loving mother/father. You’re the only one who can be responsible for your emotions. Your goal is to feel confident.

One of the best ways to feel truly confident is preparing in the correct way specifically when it comes to retaking the MCAT, which we’ll cover now…

How Top Scorers Prepare (Correctly This Time) To Retake the MCAT

Sooner or later, every MCAT writer realizes that the MCAT is NOT like any other test they’ve ever written. It covers a huge range of topics that you have to know extremely well, PLUS it tests you on skills like reading comprehension, your test-taking stamina, your ability to perform under pressure, and so much more.

Yet, most MCAT writers who struggle on the MCAT don’t realize that they need to adapt a different approach to taking on the MCAT.

Albert Einstein said that the definition of ‘insanity’ is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

Truth is you don’t have the luxury of gambling with this next MCAT you’re going to write…

You can’t hope for a competitive score this time… You have to KNOW you’re going to get it before walking into the exam

When you prepare for the MCAT this time, you’re going to have to change your approach and do something differently.

Now you could do some research on the best approach to studying for the MCAT, especially when you're retaking it, but honestly you don’t have time to figure out the best approach on your own.

You don’t have the time to use trial and error to figure it out for yourself. If you look online, you’ll find hundreds of different approaches that different prep companies and forums will tell you. It’s going to get overwhelming really fast.

We believe the best approach is also the most credible approach. How do you know if it’s credible? If a lot of MCAT writers before you have used it, and it has gotten them all high MCAT scores (511+), we believe it doesn’t get any more credible than that. It’s been proven to work many times over…

And you can safely bet that if it’s worked for so many top scorers, it will work for you too. Using proven top scorer strategies will enable you to be confident that this time, you’re preparing for the MCAT in the RIGHT way. You’ll never doubt your MCAT studying approach again.

Key Insight: When you retake the MCAT this time, you MUST change your approach to preparing for the MCAT. The best and most credible approach is to do what other top scorers did to get their high MCAT scores, so you can get the same results.

So how do top scorers approach MCAT prep? With strategy.

Almost a third of the students in the MCAT Mastery Community are those who are retaking the MCAT. The problem most re-writers have is that they didn’t study strategically enough the first time.

Every top MCAT scorer knows that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to get a high MCAT score, you just need to be the most strategic.

What Is MCAT Strategy?

Getting a high MCAT score means you have to get as many questions right as you possibly can… And all questions are made up of passages.

Strategy allows you to analyze MCAT passages in the correct way that shows you how to find the correct answer. You need to know how to read the passages and answer the questions in a way that the AAMC wants you to. This requires strategy and techniques that only someone experienced can show you.

When you’re not approaching the MCAT with strategy, you easily lose focus. When you lose focus, you become anxious and your confidence falls, which destroys your scoring potential.

Strategy also allows you to understand why certain answers are wrong and why other are correct. Plus, applying the right strategies is the only way you’ll finish the exam on time without guessing on questions.

We can go on and on about the benefits of using MCAT strategy, but the real benefit is that over time, applying the correct strategies allows you to start naturally thinking like a top-scorer.

It's why all of our courses and tutoring is focused on MCAT strategy - it's the highest yield area to invest in, to get the most score improvement.

The long term benefit is that this skill stays with you when you get to med-school, so you can dominate there as well. The funny thing is, that’s the point of the MCAT – to identify the top scoring students who will be able to handle med-school.

Below Renee covers few key MCAT strategies to use for your MCAT retake.

The Three Main Aspects of Effective MCAT Studying

Renee: There are three main processes of the MCAT studying workflow. Number one, there is content review. Number two, there is familiarizing yourself with the actual test and getting used to how to answer questions in the MCAT logic. And number three is timing.

As for the content review aspect,  if you're scoring sub 500, I would say that you are probably missing out on some very important high-yield topics. So try and identify what this knowledge gap may be. 

You can achieve this by reviewing a premade Anki deck, or you can check out some MCAT videos at MCAT Mastery. Or other channels on YouTube as well such as Med School Coach, Science Simplified, and Leah4Sci. 

Through these resources, you’ll be able to see what you don't understand yet. From here, you can make sure you study a little bit extra on the side for that specific topic. 

In terms of familiarizing yourself with the testing strategy and getting used to the test a little bit better, definitely watch some videos.

Click on a video, see what the question is about, do it yourself first without watching the rest of the video, and then compare your own way of taking the test and approaching the question with the actual original creator's way and see if there are things that you can adapt from the new creator as well. 

I know that MCAT Mastery has some really great videos about how to approach a specific passage or how to approach a general topic. That's actually how I got into MCAT Mastery, through watching those free videos!

Lastly, in terms of timing, I myself use the alternating day strategy for CARS, but that works for all different subjects.

So, what I did was I did one day in which I didn't time myself, and I just gave myself as much time as I needed to get each question correct. And the next day I would do another set of questions, but I would time myself, and my goal was to finish the question within the time limit.

By coordinating, I'm then able to convert those two ideas in the end and be able to do questions both correctly and also efficiently.

How To Incorporate Strategies To Study Smarter for Your MCAT Retake

Renee: It is important to understand how to study smarter, not harder. One way is to really examine how you learn best and then center your resources around that and have a home base of resources you're going to utilize if you are at a loss. 

Don't try to add more. Try to cut back.

This way, you'll be able to maximize your efficiency, and you won't waste time navigating between different types of resources as well.

This is exactly why I also choose to work with MedLife Mastery because our mission of really utilizing smarter strategies and studying smarter, not harder is really central to being a medical student. 

Knowing what to do best, knowing where you should put more energy towards, and where you actually can afford to not put as much energy towards because it might not be as high yield or it might not just be worth it for you to spend the extra month on studying that one topic that confuses you just to maybe get a five-point increase.

I don't know if that is worth it or not for some people, and that is what MCAT Mastery is really about. So make sure you check some of our videos on our website and channel. 

Your Biggest MCAT Retake Lessons Will Come From This Key Action

When it comes to retaking the MCAT, all top scorers know that reflection is key. Make sure to spend some timer reflecting correctly. Kind of like doing an autopsy.

It’s the review that you do after that allows you to improve and learn. Top scorers will advise you that doing more passages isn’t going to help if you haven’t pinpointed the lessons you’ve learned and your areas for improvement.

During your reflection phase, ask yourself what went wrong. What were your study methods like? Did you follow a strategic roadmap or just study in the same way you normally study for any other exam? Maybe your practice scores were turning out good, but did you practice under test-day conditions?

Even though you might feel like you already reflected when you were waiting for your score, that doesn’t count. It’s the reflection that you do after you get your score back that really matters.

Making Sure Your Next MCAT Is Your Last!

Renee wanted to see an increase in her score and she found the right techniques to get her to that 522 and we know that you are just as determined. 

If you’re thinking of retaking or if you’re about to take the MCAT fir the first time, we know you stand a good chance to reach that coveted score you’ve dreamt of. It’s a matter of when and how and you finding the right techniques to get you there.

If you’re looking for the extra support that will help ensure that your next MCAT will be last one you’ll ever have to write, then one-on-one tutoring with an MCAT Mastery mentor might be the way to go!

You might not have gotten your score goal with this MCAT, but we know that it’s completely possible to make an increase in the next exam. Consider Renee’s advices, take that leap, and believe in yourself. 

Lastly, please remember to not be too hard on yourself. We know it can be shocking when you get back your MCAT score that shows average or below average, when you’ve been getting A’s your entire life…

As long as you learn from this experience, you’ve succeeded. Two years from now you’re going to look back at this time in your life and you won’t want to change anything because you’ll realize that these experiences have shaped who you are – it has strengthened you mentally, emotionally, and has made you a smarter and more strategic soon-to-be doctor.

You got this,

Renee and The MedLife Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors

Your MCAT Success Mentors

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