(Medical School Admissions)
The Medical College Admission Test or MCAT has been in existence for over 50 years, and has played an important role in the medical school admissions process. As a standardized exam, it is considered a relatively objective tool to evaluate an applicant's readiness for medical school. In this section, we review reasons why medical schools place significant emphasis on the MCAT in the admissions process, and how it is used to make admissions decisions. We end with some important tips for applicants concerned about their MCAT score.
Up until 2015, the test consisted of several subtests (verbal reasoning, biological sciences, and physical sciences) scored on a scale of 1 to 15 (top score) with a maximum score of 45. In 2015, the MCAT underwent significant changes. Material from courses such as biochemistry, psychology, and sociology was incorporated, and much more emphasis was placed on the integration of topics.
Did You Know?
The arrival of the new MCAT in 2015 also brought a change in the scoring system. Each of the four sections is scored on a scale between 118 and 132. The mean score for each section is 125, yielding a total mean score of 500.
For decades, the MCAT has been the focus of intense research. Researchers have sought to determine whether the MCAT is predictive of medical school success. Numerous studies have shown that the MCAT is a better predictive measure of medical school success than other factors, including GPA.
To practice medicine in the U.S., medical students must pass a series of licensing examinations (USMLE). There is tremendous evidence that shows that the MCAT is a strong predictor of performance on the USMLE Step 1 and 2 exams (Note that much of this research was performed on the MCAT version released in 1991). The MCAT score has also been found to be predictive of uninterrupted progress through medical school to the point of graduation.
Did You Know?
Since every applicant to medical school must take the MCAT, it provides medical school admissions committee with a useful tool to compare applicants from different undergraduate institutions.
A particularly useful tool is the MCAT and GPA grid available at the AAMC website. This grid provides applicants with acceptance rates for varying combinations of MCAT and GPA scores. There are separate grids for Hispanic or Latino, Black of African American, Asian, and White medical school applicants.
Did You Know?
In an AAMC survey, 8% of applicants with a GPA of at least 3.8 and MCAT scores of 39 were not accepted by any of the medical schools to which they applied. Although you may expect that sky high scores would guarantee admissions, these statistics clearly indicate otherwise. This should serve as a reminder that every component of your application is important to medical schools.
Tips To Help Medical School Applicants Overcome a Low MCAT
1. The most common advice that applicants receive is to retake the MCAT and achieve a higher score. Although that's good advice, it can be difficult for students to accurately identify the factor or factors that are preventing them from achieving the score that they seek. Too often, students rely completely on themselves to make this determination. And while this approach may allow you to recognize the obvious factors, failure to identify other factors places you at risk for suboptimal exam performance. We encourage you to speak with your school's Academic Advising Office as they often have staff that are experienced in these matters. By analyzing your study habits and strategies, they will be able to give you an objective view of your situation, allowing you to create a more well informed plan for MCAT preparation.
2. Some applicants have struggled on the MCAT because of personal or family illness. Medical schools understand that adverse life situations can affect applicants at any point in their lives. Consider explaining the cirumstances that led to the score in your application.
3. Although it can be difficult to discuss your academic struggles with your advisors or professors, this can be a very useful approach, especially if you know them well. By informing them of the reasons for your struggles, you give them an opportunity to include the information in their letters of recommendation. When others advocate for you in this manner, it can have a powerful effect on the medical school admissions committee. These letters can reassure schools that your previous struggles should not be a concern moving forward.
4. Applicants with low MCAT scores can improve their chances of medical school admission by achieving a high cumulative and science undergraduate GPA. If your GPA needs a lift, consider taking extra courses, a special master's program, or postbaccalaureate program. Applicants who have a discrepancy between their MCAT and GPA should be ready to discuss this during the medical school interview.
5. You are more likely to persuade medical schools to invite you for an interview if you have a strong record of community service and extracurricular involvement. Get involved in different endeavors and make the most of these opportunities.
6. Leadership is important to medical schools, and will be seen as a plus in the application. Run for positions, and put in the time to advance the organization's mission or initiatives once elected.
7. Medical schools prefer to interview applicants that have had significant clinical experience. In fact, motivation for a career in medicine is an important factor used to make admissions decisions. It's difficult to stand out in this area unless you have substantial experiences in medicine. These include, but are not limited to, volunteering in hospitals, shadowing physicians, serving as a nurse's aide, and working in a free health clinic.
8. Some medical schools seek applicants dedicated to their own mission. A medical school which was established to meet the primary care needs of a rural population would understandably be interested in an applicant with substantial experiences serving the rural underserved population. If the applicant's track record in this area was robust, then the school may be willing to extend an interview offer even for applicants with lower MCATs. As you read over the descriptions of different schools, look for schools where you may be an excellent fit.
9. Although every applicant must submit a compelling medical school application, applicants with lower MCAT scores cannot afford to make mistakes in content, grammar, or flow in their AMCAS or secondary applications. Superbly written applications are a must.
10. Some applicants will be best served by completing courses after graduation as a post-baccalaureate or graduate student. Many students who were unsuccessful in securing spots in medical schools were accepted after completing and excelling in coursework following graduation.