When Should You Take The MCAT? (Simple Guide)

Student planning when to take the MCAT

Figuring out when to take the MCAT is an extremely important part of the process that many students struggle with.

They either don’t spend enough time planning this out (and regret it later) or drive themselves crazy trying to choose the “perfect” test date.

But choosing the best time to take the MCAT doesn’t have to be a struggle. In fact, it’s actually pretty straightforward once you understand what factors to consider.

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to consider when picking a test date. By the time you’re done reading it, making a decision will be a piece of cake!

Times You Can Choose From

Test dates for the MCAT are released yearly. In a single year, there are 30 test dates to choose from. Here are the months where test dates are available:

  • January
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

There are no test dates for the months of February, October, November or December. As a result, 25 of the 30 test dates fall between April and September.

This means you have a lot of options for when you can take the MCAT. While some find this overwhelming, it’s actually a good thing!

When Do Most People Take the MCAT?

Most students looking to matriculate will take the MCAT in March, April, and May. Test dates in these months fill up very fast! In some areas, spots can be filled up in as little as 24 hours.

In the following section, we’ll go over why those times are usually considered to be the best times to take the MCAT. However, you shouldn’t feel obligated to take the test in this window if it doesn’t work for you (more on that later).

Why Those Are Generally Considered The Best Times To Take It

There are a few reasons why these months are considered the best times to take the MCAT, with timing being at the top of the list.

If you’re someone who followed a strict education plan during your undergraduate studies, these months are probably when you should take the MCAT. They’ll likely fit in seamlessly with how you see you intend on proceeding into medical school.

You see, the lengthy application cycle for most medical schools opens up in June.

This is a multi-step process that will require you to submit a number of different applications. Not only do you need to file an application with AMCAS or AACOMAS, but most medical schools have their own secondary applications to deal with as well.

On top of all that, you also need to finish off personal statements, essays, and more. All this has to be done while you’re still completing your undergraduate degree!

March, April, and May are when most people take the MCAT because it provides ample time to take care of the essentials and any unexpected hurdles that might come up.

Before you can take the MCAT, you must complete all of your medical prerequisites. When this happens depends entirely on your schedule thus far in your undergraduate career. There are nine semesters of prerequisites in total.

At the earliest, some students can complete those courses during the summer between their sophomore and junior years.

However, most will take the final courses in the fall of their junior year. Thus, they’ll be completed with all the prerequisites by December.

When you consider how much time it takes to prepare for the MCAT, it starts to become clear why the popular months are generally considered to be the best times to take it. Students can prepare for the test during the early months of their junior year and choose a testing date in March, April, and May.

MCAT results do take some time to get released as well, so this plays an important role for premed students trying to decide when they want to take the test. Typically, it takes about a month for scores to be released.

This matters because the admissions cycle opens up in June. Taking the test in March, April, or May ensures that you can have your scores ready for the admissions panel.

Many schools have a rolling admission where seats fill up fast. Having every part of your application ready when you submit may increase your chances of acceptance.

How Late Can You Take It Without Delaying Your Applications?

The absolute latest that you can take the MCAT and avoid delays is May of your application year.

The window of time to adequately prepare, take the MCAT, and submit applications is much smaller than most people think.

As we mentioned earlier, the application cycle for medical schools is not short by any means. Students must apply a full year before they want to matriculate.

So, if you plan on attending medical school in the fall, you must take the MCAT by May.

With all that said, we don’t recommend waiting this long unless you have a good reason. Taking the test a bit earlier (only if you’re ready of course) is usually the better approach.

Here’s why:

First, you may end up wanting to take the test again. Many students attempt the MCAT multiple times to get the best score possible. You’re allowed to take it three times during a testing year. If you wait until May to take your first test, there’s no way to take a retest before you need to submit applications.

Keep in mind the time it takes to get your score back, too. This means you should factor the score dates into your long-term plans.

Most schools won’t even look at your application unless you have submitted the institute’s secondary application as well. So, you need your score pretty early on to submit the secondary application in time.

Personal Factors That Will Influence The Best Test Date For You

While taking the MCAT is a huge step towards your professional career, everyone is different. Even though many people choose to take the MCAT in March, April, or May, that doesn’t mean you have to if you’re not ready.

Being adequately prepared is always the most important thing.

The truth is, there’s no perfect formula that will tell you when to take the MCAT. Personal factors can play a part in your when you decide to take the test as well.

The following sections will cover the most common ones.

Do You Want To Take Any Time Off?

The biggest factor to consider is whether or not you want to start attending medical straight after graduating. This is a decision that many premed students struggle to make at first.

For many, completing their undergraduate education and preparing for medical school is such a fast-paced cycle. Students focus so much on getting into medical school that they just want to take a breather for a bit.

That’s perfectly normal. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take some time off.

The great thing about taking some time off is that you can still plan ahead. If you know that you want to take a year or two away from school before starting med school, you can craft your entire undergraduate education around it.

Instead of working hard to complete your prerequisites as early as possible, why not spread them out? This often helps students get a better understanding of the subject material (with way less stress).

Not only that, but it makes preparing for the MCAT much easier.

If you want to take one year off after undergraduate school, you can push when you take the MCAT back to your final year of undergraduate studies. Instead of taking it by May of your junior year, aim for May of your senior year. This will still provide plenty of time to get through the application cycle while taking some time off.

You can also push your test back to the summer after you graduate. Doing so would provide you with two years off.

Both of these options fall within the accepted parameters of MCAT scores. Most schools will view scores as valid two or three years after testing.

Are There Obligations Or Events That Will Inhibit Your Studying?

Don’t forget about your personal life! The MCAT is important, but you still have obligations outside of your future career and education.

Things like big family vacations, weddings, and more can have a huge effect on when you should take the MCAT.

Unfortunately, it’s far too common for premed students to think that they can handle a lot of personal obligations while preparing for the test. But doing so is a lot harder than you would think!

It’s usually recommended that students study for three to five months for the MCAT (this depends on the student of course). This time should be spent focusing on coursework and taking practice tests.

Taking a week or two off to handle personal obligations can sometimes set you back and throw off your rhythm. For this reason, it’s usually best to choose a test date around those important events. You’ll be far better off choosing a later date that allows you to get all the studying you need than rushing into the MCAT.

Remember, medical schools will have access to all of your MCAT scores. While it’s fine to take the test more than once, you need to prepare as much as possible for your first one.

The Location Of Your Ideal Testing Center

Another big thing to think about is where you want to take the test. This is commonly overlooked and can end up being a huge hassle later on.

You see, there are hundreds of testing center locations around the country. However, not all of them are going to be able to accommodate a large number of students at once.

The reason that testing dates fill up so fast is because of limited seats! If you live in a heavily populated area, your preferred location could be at capacity pretty quickly.

This is especially true in cities with a strong medical school presence.

To ensure that you’re getting your preferred location, you need to apply as early as possible. Once you’ve decided on when to take the MCAT, start investigating testing centers and choose one that’s right for you (don’t procrastinate).

Here’s the nightmare scenario:

If your chosen center does end up being filled, you may need to travel to take the MCAT. Not only is this a hassle, but the logistical details of traveling to a new city to take a test can hinder any last-minute prep you’re doing and throw you off your game.

To avoid this simply register early, pay your fees, and choose a date that’s right for you..            

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, planning when to take the MCAT doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it’s one of the easier parts of the whole MCAT process!

The most important takeaway from this guide is to choose a date that’s best for YOU. Just because your friends might be taking it earlier (or later), that shouldn’t impact your decision.

Assess what you want, factor in personal obligations, and pick a date that works. It really is that simple.

Good luck!

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