How Many Times Should I Take the MCAT?

A group of medical students smiling

Created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the MCAT exam is designed to help medical school admissions committees evaluate applicants. It is not an easy exam and many students struggle to attain their target scores. It is quite common for students to retake the MCAT. These students aren’t happy with their scores and believe they can do better. That being said, you don’t want to take the MCAT too many times. Let’s find out more.

How Many Times Can I Take the MCAT?

First, you should know that it is not bad to take the MCAT again. There are thousands of students that retake the exam each year and many go on to attend medical school. That being said, the AAMC has set limits on the number of times you can take the exam but the limitations are quite generous. You can take the MCAT up to three times in one year, four times in a two-year span, and seven times in a lifetime, according to AAMC

How Many Times Should I Take the MCAT?

Students that find the AAMC’s limits problematic generally need to take some time to think about what they are doing before rushing to sign up for another test date. This is because taking the MCAT too many times does not reflect well on your medical school application. If you’re looking for additional material to help study and avoid taking the test again, consider Magoosh’s MCAT prep!

Basically, you should take the MCAT no more than three times. It’s not that students have not been accepted after taking the exam four or five times. Instead, it’s that your chances of admissions just start to drop considerably after taking the exam more than three times. One reason for this is the even more strict limitations placed on the USMLE exams that you take in medical school. If you get a passing score, you cannot retake the exam no matter how low the passing score is. If you retake the MCAT many times, admissions committee members start to wonder how many times you will have to take the USMLE exams. Your goal with the MCAT then is to take it as few times as possible. Three times is considered reasonable by most medical school admissions committees.

Click here for Magoosh's free MCAT practice test

When to Consider an MCAT Retake

A friend and advisor once told me regarding standardized exams that one should “do it once, and do it right.” In an ideal world, you would hit your MCAT score target on one try and be extremely happy with how you did. This is unfortunately not the case for everyone. Sometimes, people bomb the MCAT and do much worse than they ever thought they would. Sometimes, people just miss their goal score by one point. In many of these situations, test-takers are wondering, “should I retake the MCAT?”

When addressing this question, there are two questions to answer honestly about yourself and your performance.

Can you improve significantly? If you are planning to retake the MCAT, you should feel fairly confident that you can improve significantly. The definition of significantly is a bit gray, but it certainly does not mean just one point. The MCAT takes a lot of time, emotional energy, and money. If you are planning to invest all of that again, it should be for a worthwhile improvement. Perhaps you were ill the day of your exam and know that you can do a lot better. Perhaps you know you did not study to the best of your potential. If this is the case, taking the MCAT again and getting a significantly better score will be to your advantage. Make sure you don’t take the MCAT again and get the same score or—even worse—score lower.

Are you in a good position already? We discussed the merits of getting a perfect score in a previous post. The bottom line is that if you already have a high score that just didn’t happen to reach a goal you set for yourself, it may not be worth it to take it again. Perhaps your goal for a score was a perfect 528. If you got a 527, it’s my humble opinion that you do not retake the exam. “What is a good MCAT score?” talks about some score milestones you can use to assess your performance.

Retaking the MCAT is not always a bad thing. However, as my advisor said to me, it is something that is best done once and done right. You can set yourself up for success and do well on your first try by following some good strategies and having a solid study plan.

Does retaking the MCAT look bad?

MCAT test-takers prepare for the exam for weeks and months, hoping to achieve their goal score and have a competitive application to medical school. Sometimes, however, the exam score doesn’t go quite the way as anticipated. Students are then wondering if they should retake the MCAT, or if it is bad to retake the MCAT.

Admissions officers understand that bad days happen and sometimes it takes people an extra try (or two) to get the score that they like. If you can improve your score, especially if you can improve it significantly, then retaking the MCAT does not look bad and actually can demonstrate that you have improved and can perform at a higher level after taking some extra time to study. Medical schools will see all your scores, but if they can note an upward trend, then retaking the MCAT does not look bad.

When Does Retaking the MCAT Look Bad?

Retaking the MCAT can look bad if you get a less than ideal score and then on your second attempt, get the same or, even worse, get a lower score. By staying the same or getting a lower score, it signals to medical schools that this is probably where you fall in terms of MCAT performance. It can suggest that even with additional study time, you were still not able to improve. This can potentially look bad. When thinking about retaking the MCAT, make sure you are confident you can improve. One way to build that confidence is to take a diagnostic test.

Click here for Magoosh's free MCAT practice test

Retaking the MCAT does not necessarily look bad. Doing the same or worse a second time can be potentially bad for an application. An improvement, especially one where there is a clear reason for the original poor performance (illness, family emergency leading up to the exam, etc.) can be a positive on an application. Ideally, take the MCAT once and rock it–but it’s good to consider options in case you don’t get the score you want.

Final Thoughts on Retaking the MCAT

If you have not taken the MCAT yet, what you should focus on instead is when you should take the exam. This step is important because if done correctly, you might not have to even retake the MCAT.

If you have taken the MCAT, your situation is much different. First of all, you need to decide whether or not you need to retake the exam. To help with this decision, you will want to learn how much of a score increase is possible on the MCAT. Not everyone that gets into medical school has a great MCAT score. However, if you feel strongly that your MCAT score is not high enough, then you need to devise a plan of attack for your retake. Start first by evaluating why you did not achieve your target score and determine what you need to do to improve your score. If you have friends that have excelled on the MCAT, ask them for advice on how you could improve. Second, create an effective study plan that will cover all of your weaknesses from before. Remember too that Magoosh also offers our own MCAT prep to help you prepare. Finally, open up your books and get studying!


  • Ken

    Ken is a former blog writer for Magoosh who left to focus on developing novel and effective ways to help students achieve success on the MCAT exam.

More from Magoosh