Why Is My MCAT Score Not Improving

June 25, 2024

minute read

A common thing that frustrates and demotivates pre-med students is not being able to see improved scores on their MCAT, even after studying hard and even after doing dozens of practice tests. If you’ve run into similar issues, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many MCAT test-takers struggle with improving their test scores. 

Here in this article, you will be able to find tons of tips, reasons why your MCAT scores are not improving, and what to do about it.

How does MCAT scoring work?

Back to basics first. The main thing is you should understand how MCAT scoring works. The MCAT score you receive is a scaled score. The scores are converted from a raw score into a scaled score. 

Raw scores are the number of questions you answer correctly and it is the actual sum of scores from all four sections.

Another point to remember regarding scoring is that scores above the 90th percentile are considered a good MCAT score. But one should always aim for highly competitive scores that range from 520 to 528.

Score Plateaus: What They Are and How to Break Through Them

A score plateau is something that is dreaded by almost every MCAT test-taker. It goes for every student, even those with the highest score of 520 or more. 

Candidates preparing for the MCAT tend to use practice exams provided by AAMC. Plateaus occur when the official AAMC practice scores are high but not close to their target score. Therefore, the score distribution in those tests is more or less similar.

To improve your scores, you can get a detailed test review. A thorough test review focuses on both major and minor mistakes. Hence, you can get a better insight into more minor errors.

Score Plateaus

Score plateaus are frustrating, but they are a natural part of MCAT preparation. The scores can plateau from the beginning or after the first full-length exam. There are two main causes behind the score plateau. 

First is the deficiency in content, which is quite common. No two exams will test the same topics. The best way to resolve this issue is to review and focus on the content. 

Second is critical thinking. This is widely related to the CARS section

The approach to resolving this issue differs from the former. The most feasible way to work out this plateau is dedicated practice.

Before you jump into resolving your plateau, first identify the root cause. To help you with this, we have provided a diagnosis checklist. 

This simple checklist can help you get an insight into the core problem: 

1. Can I identify the information I didn't know that would enable me to answer this question? 

If Yes, then the main reason is content.

2. Am I missing several questions that test the same concept?

If Yes, the problem lies in content.

3. Should I have used information from the passage to answer this question?

If Yes, the reason is critical thinking.

4. Did I misunderstand the questions? Or didn't know the right approach to the question? 

If Yes, the issue lies in critical thinking.

Should I Delay Taking the MCAT: The Misunderstood Cost of Doing So

You may have been working hard but still feel unprepared for the exam. In such cases, anyone would delay their MCAT exam and reschedule, because only you can know when you are ready. 

But whether it turns out to be a good decision or not, is something you need to ask yourself. To be able to judge that decision, there are some factors that one needs to consider when deciding to delay MCAT exams. 

Before jumping to any conclusion, two significant drawbacks arise because of exam delay: (i) the ability to retain content and (ii) burnout.



We are unable to retain information forever, as illustrated in Ebbinghaus Curve. But we can add and retain some and limit the forgetting part with the help of some learning principles. Even then, there is a limit to it, and after a certain point, both are balanced by each other.  

It has been observed that when students spend fewer hours of the day studying for a longer period, this can result in lower retention – and subsequently, scores are not the desired ones. 

On the other hand, students who gave more hours of the day to their studying for a shorter period, like 3 or 6 months, performed better. 


Another drawback is burnout. Even though burnout is a multi-factorial phenomenon, you must remember that you can not continue to keep on studying for MCAT indefinitely without getting burnout as a result. Thus, one must take this step carefully by keeping these drawbacks in mind. 

Now that you are aware of the drawback, there are other factors to consider if you are or are not planning on delaying your MCAT exam.

1. Your Preparation so Far

How much preparation you have done and the quality of your studying plays an important role here.

If you are not staying focused or able to go through your intended materials, or if you find yourself deviating from your initial plans too much – then there is a higher chance you will need to delay your exam.

2. Your Score

Another important factor is your practice test scores. Have you been taking tests regularly? If so, are your test performance and score matching your target score? Answering these questions can guide you to whether you need to delay or not. 

Note –  Only you know where you are mentally, but keep in mind that delaying the MCAT is not always good. And learning and taking a strategic approach guarantees reward. 

Top Ways to Avoid Low MCAT Scores

Test-takers wishing to improve their scores sometimes don't know of basic strategies that can help them avoid low scores on their tests. 

Here are some strategies and ways to help you avoid obtaining low scores on your MCAT exam.

1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Everyone is good at something, and in the same way, every med student is good at a particular section of the MCAT. For example, some breeze through the Physics section while others ace the CARS section. 

Thus, the strategy you need to apply here is to stop spending a fair amount of time on the subject or section that is uniquely easier for you. That is something that every other student is doing subconsciously. Getting out of your comfort zone and focusing on your weak areas is what the top scorers do to achieve their desired scores.

2. Stamina and Mental Endurance

Meditation and exercise are well-known and proven strategies for overall mental and physical health. Many top scorers suggest calming your mind and moving your body to increase your chances of doing well on the exams and avoid low scores. When these activities are incorporated during your study break, it gives maximum results. 

Another strategy to avoid low scores is to increase your exam-taking stamina by improving your practice test-taking abilities. Identify and correctly analyze your practice exam and try taking it regularly. This way, you will be able to do well on the test without feeling tired during the main exam.

Can you retake the MCAT?

MCAT can always be retaken. Therefore, there is nothing to be embarrassed about because it is common practice to retake your MCAT exams for improved scores. 

Many students retake exams at least once to see improvement. One can take an exam up to 7 times in a lifetime, but that does not mean you should. The important caveat is that you must score better on the retake. 

MCAT Preparation Resources to Help Improve Your Scores

Learning with the help of the best available resources is the only thing lacking that is hindering your score improvement. Thus, we have compiled some good resources to help you achieve an improved score.

  • MCAT Preparation Books — Princeton, Examcrakers, or Kaplan's textbooks are by far the best content material you can acquire.
  • Memorization Tools – Space repetition tool such as Memm reduces unnecessary fluff so you can memorize effectively. In the same way, Kaplan's flashcards are also very helpful.
  • Practice Materials – AAMC materials and practice tests are your best bet when your exam is nearing. And these are preferred because those tests are generated by official test makers, making them very similar to the real thing. 
  • Mobile Apps And if you are someone who wants all the material on the go and that too in a very compact physical form, then you can choose from different apps. Applications like Magoosh, Anki, UWorld, etc., are some very informative apps. 

Finally, improving your MCAT skills is like sharpening an ax before you are ready to cut the tree. That means it requires a good amount of energy and time, but you can get the desired predictable result in the end. So if your scores are not improving, try following these suggestions and some tips to see your score hit your desired number.

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