How do I Interpret my MCAT&Reg; Scores?

Brandi L. Brown

The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), the standardized testing tool for getting into medical school in the United States, consists of four sections: physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning and writing skills. Each U.S. medical school has a minimum score it will accept from prospective students, while some medical schools outside the United States also accept MCAT® scores but have their own scoring standards. Scoring on the first three sections is based on a straight-forward system of points per correctly answer question. Each section’s points are combined to create the overall score.

There are three multiple choice sections on a MCAT.
There are three multiple choice sections on a MCAT.

Questions on the first three sections — physical sciences, biological sciences and verbal reasoning — tend to be straightforward and objective. The physical sciences section of the test includes questions on physics and organic and inorganic. On the biological sciences portion of the MCAT®, the questions focus on biology and physiology. Verbal reasoning measures how well the test taker can understand what he or she reads.

Most students take the MCAT exam in their junior or senior year of college.
Most students take the MCAT exam in their junior or senior year of college.

On these three sections, students will receive a numerical score from 1 to 15. A score of 3 — 1 point per each of the three sections — is the lowest cumulative score someone can receive on these portions, while a 45 is the highest. The highest-ranked medical schools look for students with a score of 30 or above. A section score of 8 is the average score of all students who take the exam, meaning a student with a cumulative score higher than 24 is above average. Most schools release the average scores and the ranges of scores of the students they accept each year.

Becoming a physician in the U.S. typically requires attending medical school.
Becoming a physician in the U.S. typically requires attending medical school.

The fourth section is the essay portion, which has a different scoring system than the three multiple choice sections. This section requires students to produce an original piece of writing. The essays are analytical in nature, and scorers look for good grammar and solid content. For this section, two scorers each read an essay and give it scores using the alphabet range of J through T, scores that translate into a range from 1 to 6. The final MCAT® scores simply add the two essay scores together.

Students will receive their MCAT® scores with a listing for each section so they will know how they did on each section. The MCAT® governing board allows students to retake the exam as many times as they want, but schools handle multiple test-taking in different ways. Some schools take a student’s top score earned from several tests taken while others take only the last score earned. Still other schools will average the various MCAT® scores while others examine all of the student’s scores to determine how he did over time.

A student must pass the MCAT before attending medical school.
A student must pass the MCAT before attending medical school.

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