When should I take the MCAT? And how soon should I start prepping for it?When to take the MCAT?

Let’s just say, I hope your question is hypothetical. Because if you’re reading this answer, then you’re likely nearing the end of your pre-med career and you’ve been prepping for the MCAT for what, two or three years?

That said, you’ll first need to choose your ideal test date. Most pre-med students take the test in the calendar year leading up to the year when they plan to begin medical school. That gives you plenty of options…

If you take the test in January through April or May—and let’s say you don’t do as well as expected—you’ll still have time for a re-test if needed, and also for having your scores in hand before the time you’ll be expected to send in your medical school applications. In 2017, the new MCAT schedule is out, with dates from January through September!

Plan ahead

If you’re planning to take the MCAT in January you’ll want to purchase study materials and make your MCAT study plan (either independently or with an MCAT prep course) starting 3-4 months before the actual test date. If your plan is to take the test in April, same thing…you should begin your study prep at the beginning of winter semester. Give yourself months, not weeks, if you want to do your best.

That said, don’t rush to take the MCAT if you’re not ready. That’s a recipe for disaster. If you’re overwhelmed with your school schedule, adding MCAT prep to your schedule could put you over the top. If you’re truly not comfortable that you are ready, even though your test time is approaching, consider postponing it—even until June or July if necessary.

So when should I take the MCAT?when should I take the MCAT?

There’s a rumor floating around that if you take the MCAT earlier, you’ll do better against those taking it early with you, since they won’t be as prepared. This should be filed under the category of “urban legend.” The MCAT is graded against a strict set of standards and not on a curve, so there’s no advantage gained by taking it early, late or in between.

Sorry to be the one to burst that bubble.

What’s the cost for taking the MCAT?

The regular registration fee for the MCAT is $305, payable by Visa or Mastercard. Special circumstances can bring additional fees, such as late registration ($50), a rescheduled date ($135), change of test site ($135), or testing at a site outside the U.S. ($95). The MCAT registration fee covers the distribution of your score to your schools of choice.

Let me ask again: WHEN should I take the MCAT???

The best time to take the MCAT is in the calendar year leading up to the year when you plan to enter medical school. Tests are offered on a staggered schedule, so beginning in January you should be able to find one almost every month and several in some months, depending on the MCAT testing location you choose. If you wait until late in the year (late summer), you may not have your scores back by the time you submit your medical school applications, and you won’t have the option of re-taking the MCAT if you blow it (even though you won’t).

However, there’s quite a bit of speculation on the specifics of this question on pre-med blogs and forums out there. In short, the earlier you take it, the better. The reason people take it “early” is so they have their scores (it takes a month to get them after the test) before June 1st, which is the first day you can send in your application. For that reason, A LOT of people sign up to take the test in April and early May. If you’re trying to nab a spot during these months, good luck, my friend. Especially if you go to a school or live in an area with lots of pre-meds…you’ll have to sign up on the first day registration is open, and maybe at 1 in the morning. Hopefully this dysfunctional trend will be reversed, as AAMC has added new dates to accommodate pre-meds throughout the year. Strategically choose your MCAT date, then reserve your seat for this most entertaining event!

All of that said, getting your application in on June 1st (and by extension, taking the MCAT in April or May) is not really a “do or die” thing.  Some people you talk to definitely think of it that way—this is true for every pre-med advisor I ever talked to—but since medical schools take a few weeks to even get started looking at applications, whether or not adcoms see your application in the first wave of applications will have far more to do with your MCAT scores and GPA than whether or not you sent it in a day or two or a week or two after the first day of application season. That’s because adcoms typically look at the most “shiny” applications first.

So, while considering “when should I take the MCAT,” here’s my advice: if signing up for a slightly later MCAT date means taking some much needed extra time to study and score higher, that’s probably going to be your best option. But remember that turning in your application more than a month late will progressively hurt your chances of being accepted. That’s because most schools accept students on a rolling basis, so the longer you wait the more people there are competing for fewer spots. All that said, if you need to take the MCAT later, because you need to give yourself time to study after school’s out, by all means, do that. Scoring two or three points higher because you took the time to study is going to help you a lot more than having your application in a few weeks earlier.

Once you start talk about taking it for the first time in August, you’re on thin ice. If you take it that late, you’re planning on medical schools not seeing your application until September at the earliest, and probably not sending back, receiving, and then processing your secondaries until November or December. By that time, most schools will have been conducting interviews and sending out acceptances for three months, so your chances are pretty slim. Even taking it in mid- to late July is pushing your luck, unless you’re incredibly confident with your application.

You may also like these links:

Is the MCAT curved? How does MCAT scoring work?

What were the changes to the MCAT in 2015?

Best MCAT books in 2017?