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Retaking the MCAT

Retaking the MCAT

Published on October 13, 2014 in MCAT

Why are you retaking the MCAT?

You scheduled, you prepped, you stressed, and finally, you went through with it. Test day came and went. And then there was the waiting... Well, the results are in, and you now know your MCAT score. And you're thinking it's not good enough.

After that deep breath, the first thing you need to consider about a retake is how does this score fit into your medical school application as a whole. Remember that your MCAT score is a part of a whole package, and it is that package, the complete representation of yourself as a med school candidate that matters. Retaking the MCAT will take time and focus. Will your overall application be more significantly improved by a marginal increase in your MCAT score or by spending the equivalent of study hours in a shadowing experience that could not only inform a more full-bodied personal statement but also lead to a strong letter of recommendation from a practicing physician?

If you are feeling adequately well-rounded as an applicant, save for a lower than expected MCAT score, and conclude the time, effort, and resources (read: money) needed to boost that score are well spent, then it's time to think about how this retake is going to be different.

What makes a successful MCAT prep strategy?

Within the context of a high amount of content, testing your knowledge of Physical and Biological Sciences, the MCAT is a test of three key performance ingredients:

  • — critical thinking
  • — speed
  • — stamina

Take some time to reflect on your previous MCAT test day experience. What did you perceive as your weaknesses? You'll need to address these issues specifically as you prepare to retake. Consider these possibilities:

  • — Did you feel underprepared for a particular section and the score matched your expectations?
  • — Were you surprised by a low score in a section you felt very confident in?
  • — How did test day go? Were there distractions or irregularities?
  • — Did you finish each section with time to spare or did you run out of time?
  • — Did you truly feel prepared on test day or were you hoping for a miracle?
  • — Did you follow your testing strategy, annotating and reviewing as you had practiced?
  • — How did the actual test compare to your history of practice tests?

You may begin to see some patterns in your performance on test day as compared to your prep. You'll want to focus your new prep strategy on these patterns.

Critical Thinking

One way to buffer your MCAT performance in relation to the critical thinking aspect of the test is to be well prepared and comfortable with the knowledge base of covered topics. With easier recall, you'll be spending more time considering the complexity of the questions rather that just trying to remember basic facts.

Tackle a portion of your MCAT prep with slow meticulous review of practice passages to hone your critical thinking skills. Especially early on in your study schedule, do not time your review or practice problems, allowing as much time as it takes to understand the logic and craft a path to the correct answer.


Of course, you have a lot of ground to cover on test day, and you'll want to move efficiently through each section. Often students report finding easier questions at the end of a section. If you were slowed down you may be fatigued by the end and make mistakes on question you otherwise would have easily answered correctly, or you may not even have a chance to read them altogether.

Include in your new study schedule study sessions that focus on moving through a series of practice question in succession. Learn how you respond to different tactics of reading versus skimming the question and forming potential correct answers in your head before reading the answer choices versus previewing the options. Find the approach that succeeds for you most often and optimize your approach with more practice.


Lastly, the MCAT is, well, the MCAT after all, and you'll need to not only focus for each question but have the stamina to perform efficiently and effectively across all sections, beginning to end. You can practice this aspect of the test by extending the length of your study sessions and observing how your body and mind react. When do you begin to lose focus and what techniques help you through an extended period of focused time without needing a break or distraction?

Keep in mind that on test day, with breaks between sections, you'll need to maintain that stamina across break time. Practice taking the schedule breaks and bringing your mind quickly back into focus.

Doing things differently. Doing things consistently.

Since you are expecting different results on your retake (a higher score!), it will be necessary to approach your prep a little differently this time. Maybe it's just that little extra effort that you opted out of before, or maybe you need an entirely restructured, comprehensive study schedule, something missing on the first attempt.

Whatever your unique situation, the bottom line is that you need to honestly and objectively review your performance and commit to a plan that will help you to reach your goal.

Good luck!

photo credit: an untrained eye via photopin cc

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