The Medical College Admissions Test (more commonly known as MCAT) is an exam required by virtually all US and Canadian medical schools.
Put simply, if you want to pursue a career in medicine within America or Canada, a good MCAT score is an essential first step.
Understanding how the MCAT is graded, as well as what makes a good MCAT score is crucial when you’re thinking about med school applications. Knowing what results are required for each college (and how close you are to these scores!) will make sure you’re preparing effectively.
With this in mind, we explain the key MCAT sections and scoring as well as common MCAT admissions requirements.
From the lowest accepted MCAT score for medical school to an explanation of score ranges and percentiles – you can assess your own performance with confidence.
1. Who uses the MCAT?
Developed and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the MCAT is widely used by medical schools across America and Canada. Despite this, it isn't that common in other English-speaking countries.
The MCAT is accepted by some Australian medical schools, but it isn’t a requirement in British or New Zealand universities.
Generally speaking, each country will have their own slightly different version of the test. For instance, English medical schools use the UCAT, Irish establishments look at HPAT scores and universities in New Zealand commonly use the UCAT ANZ (although this criterion may be waived for international applicants).
It’s always best to check with individual college admissions pages, as these will specify in detail the requirements for international students.
2. MCAT sections and scores
The MCAT is a multiple choice exam that takes over seven hours to complete. Whilst this does include a half-hour break and two 10 minute breaks, it is certainly a gruelling prospect for any medical school candidate.
We’ve already taken a look at key tips to prepare for the MCAT exam, but here’s a bit more information on the test format and scoring.
In April 2015, the AAMC launched a revised version of the MCAT exam. There are four main sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPBS)
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBLS)
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour (PSBB)
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
The total MCAT score range is between 472 and 528.
Each of the four sections is scored between 118 and 132.
Whilst the first three sections are designed to test your subject knowledge, the fourth is aimed at assessing your ability to actively analyse and comprehend information.
For a great MCAT score for medical school, you need to perform consistently across all four sections. Questions are also scaled for difficulty, which means that you will gain more points for correctly answering difficult questions.
This does also mean that you’ll be penalised for missing easier answers relative to more difficult ones – so watch out for this!
3. MCAT score range 2021
The average MCAT score range 2021 sits between 506 and 511.
The average MCAT score for each section is 125.
These scores would place you within the 50th percentile of MCAT test-takers. Understanding your relation to MCAT score percentiles is important for assessing your competitiveness in applications.
Generally speaking, you want to be close to (or exceeding) the 75th percentile. Look at data from a school’s incoming class to ascertain where you sit on this scale, and use it to set goals and select colleges.
Remember that admissions staff are looking at more than just your MCAT score for medical school however.
Colleges will all have individual requirements regarding your undergraduate GPA, extra-curricular achievements, letters of recommendation, personal statement and your MCAT score.
Of course, if your GPA is incredibly high (or other achievements particularly impressive!), a lower MCAT score range may not mean the end of your application.
4. What is the lowest accepted MCAT score for medical school?
The lowest accepted MCAT score for medical school depends on a number of factors. As we’ve already seen, depending on your GPA and a school’s additional admissions requirements – what’s considered a low MCAT score for one student might not be for someone else!
If we’re going on MCAT score percentiles, a score of around 500 will put you under the 50th percentile. As a rule of thumb, anything less than 507 is considered a low MCAT score for medical school.
Whilst it’s certainly possible to get into a medical school with a 507 or below (and there have been cases of students accepted with sub-500 scores), it’s unlikely – especially if you’re applying for a more competitive college.
In general, it’s difficult to get accepted with an MCAT score below 500. For more detailed information, here’s a handy table with average MCAT scores as well as minimum MCAT requirements at every US medical school.
If you’re looking at med schools in either Australia or Canada, here’s the admission requirements for Australian universities and Canadian universities. The conditions are roughly similar to American med schools, including the MCAT score range (generally of 500 or above) combined with grade point averages.
5. What is a good MCAT score?
Put simply, a brilliant MCAT score for medical school is achieving the score that you need.
MCAT scores are assessed holistically alongside your other achievements, and what may be incredibly competitive for one candidate may be insufficient for another.
Generally speaking however, the average MCAT score admission for a college is a good indicator of the MCAT score range you need.
The US average MCAT score for medical school applicants in 2020-21 was 506. The matriculant average was 511. This tells us that in order to be accepted at your medical school of choice, you should aim for at least a 511.
Given this would put you in the middle bracket for MCAT score percentiles (and especially if you’re aiming for an Ivy League College), it’s wise to aim higher than this.
The average MCAT score of Ivy League medical school matriculants is commonly in the 98th percentile. So for applications to colleges such as Harvard, Yale or Brown – a good MCAT score would be 520 or more.
With a firm understanding of MCAT score percentiles and the results you need, your medical journey will be off to the best possible start.
To ensure you ace the test and achieve a brilliant MCAT score for medical school, we’ve also compiled our guide to the ultimate MCAT prep books.
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