Editors note: This article was updated in April of 2018. All information in it is current as to my knowledge.
If you’re reading this article, then you may have recently received some pretty bad news about your MCAT score. Hopefully, the bad news you received was a low score on a practice MCAT test. But, you may have also gotten the worst news that any premed receives — your MCAT score has come back, and it is far below the number that you feel they should have been at based upon all your hard work, study and practice.
Let me empathize and tell you how sorry I am that your MCAT score has dropped below where you wanted it to be, and all that work that you’ve put into studying for the MCAT feels like it hasn’t paid off, and you feel as though you’ve done all of this basically for nothing. I’m very sorry about this, and and I know that, right now, you pretty much feel like hammered crap.
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Your family and your friends are already at work trying really hard to cheer you up, and make you feel better, so you don’t need me to give you more pats on the back.
But what your family and friends don’t realize is that you have already worked very hard to get the score you wanted. You have already given this test everything you had. You’ve already tried your hardest and now here you are, feeling like your dreams of medicine are deeply, deeply in jeopardy.
In this article, I will share with you several suggestions about what to do to improve your chances of acceptance to medical school if your MCAT is too low. Let’s get started.
Strategy #1: Should You Retake the MCAT?
The first, and most obvious, step is to backup and prepare to study for and take the MCAT over again. While this is the most obvious advice, it’s also the most difficult to hear, especially in the hours and days after you have received a discouraging, disappointing score.
Nobody wants to face the prospect of “starting over.” Studying from scratch and taking another three to six months to prepare for the MCAT. This feels so much like you are spinning your wheels, and you feel like you’re not making any meaningful progress.
However, I have some thoughts and insights that may have a significant, positive effect on determining whether or not you actually need to start over and prepare for the MCAT all over again from the very beginning.
It is very likely that you may have experienced something I call “MCAT panic.” MCAT panic is the cause of more worry, anxiety, apprehension and doubt around your test-taking ability than anything else when it comes to a standardized test like the MCAT. So, carefully review the last two weeks prior to taking the MCAT and see if you recognize any of the symptoms and signs of MCAT Panic. If you do, that’s very good news, because the problem that your having to solve has nothing to do with your knowledge and understanding of the material and the content of the MCAT, and much more to do with a shock to your confidence, and a momentary, short-term doubt that got introduced just prior to your sitting for the test.
The other probable solution to the problem of a low MCAT score is recognizing an incomplete use of the process of elimination. This tried-and-true test-taking technique is the holy grail for all standardized testing strategies. It is more common than you realize for students to only partially utilize the process of elimination, and, as a result, they and up guessing between two answer choices and are frequently dragged into guessing the answer choice that sounds better or that feels better, but is flawed in its logic and how it answers the test question.
Check your test-taking technique, and make sure that you are not a victim of a partially-implemented approach. Learn advanced test-taking strategies with “Don’s Tactical Nuclear Test-Taking Techniques.”
Strategy #2: Applying? Adjust Your List of Schools
Ideally, you would be able to set aside your MCAT score and simply move forward with your application, ignoring the bad score and hoping that medical school admissions committees will ignore your bad score too. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to do that. But, if you’re MCAT score is only slightly below the average score for acceptance among the medical schools you are applying to, then there are a couple things that you can do to help relieve the problem of a lower-end MCAT.
First, check to see if your GPA especially your science GPA, is higher than the schools’ requirements. If it is, then a two or three point difference in MCAT score probably won’t make much difference when medical schools evaluate your application and consider you for admission. If, however, your GPA is below the cut off for your med schools, then your best approach is going to be to rewrite your list of medical schools that you will apply to. By lowering your expectations, and applying to medical schools with MCAT and GPA closer to your own, you improve your odds of acceptance dramatically, without having to retake the MCAT.
You also can consider applying to lower-tier DO and Caribbean medical programs as part of a larger backup, “Plan B strategy.” While you are preparing to retake the MCAT, you can apply to these schools as part of a two-pronged strategy for admissions. Just because you apply to a Caribbean or osteopathic medical school, doesn’t mean that you have to attend one of those programs, but it can be very, very reassuring to have an acceptance from a medical school in your back pocket as you pursue retaking the MCAT.
Strategy #3: If You Were Rejected – Did You Apply Late?
It’s possible that you have applied to medical school and been rejected, and that rejection makes you think that your MCAT score is to blame and that’s what brought you to this article. Remember that medical school admissions are very much a race. Be careful blaming your MCAT score for your rejection.
Consider the timing of your application as a possible additional reason why medical schools did not send you an acceptance. If your application was delayed, if any part of your application was delayed – a late or lost letter of recommendation, a lost transcript, or delayed secondary application – then this is much more likely to be the reason why you did not receive an interview or acceptance. Don’t blame your MCAT score if you had one of these issues.
If your MCAT score is competitive, then it is more likely that the medical schools you applied to simply had too many other candidates who were highly qualified, just like you, and whose applications were completed before yours, and they simply went with the completed applicant pool at hand. This is most probably a case of convenience and simplicity for the medical schools, and it had very little to do with you, your application or your MCAT score. In this case, you’re better off just continuing forward, making sure that when you reapply that you do everything in your power to verify that all of your materials are submitted to medical schools as early as possible.
Strategy #4: Should You Consider Early Decision Program?
It’s tempting to consider an early decision program option if your MCAT score is low. Some applicants hope that an early application sent through EDP is more attractive to medical schools and it might give you an advantage. I don’t recommend this option; it’s not a good strategy for you when your MCAT is a bit low. The early decision program is useful only when you have a special circumstance, and you feel that you need to stay in a particular location; otherwise, it’s too restrictive.
You already know that medical school admissions are very competitive, and applying to medical schools when your MCAT score is a bit low presents additional problems for you to overcome. Your best strategy is to apply as early as possible with your best possible application, and highlighting the very best aspects of your candidacy in your personal statement, secondary essays and hopefully the interview.
If you haven’t taken the MCAT yet, don’t panic. You may want to make sure that you take it very soon in case you need to retake it. I recommend you take the MCAT in April so that you can take it again in May. That will take a lot of the pressure off of you.
I recommend you compare your application with other successful applicants’ materials to see if there are other gaps that you can fill to help buoy your application and overcome a low MCAT. I built a free admissions assessment to help you.