Top Tips for Retaking the MCAT

Unfortunately, even after months of preparation, students are sometimes faced with an MCAT score that lies below their goal. Though this certainly isn’t a situation anyone necessarily wants to be in, coming to grips with the reality of what caused this outcome is paramount in improving your score the second time you attempt the exam. Below are some questions that will help you narrow down what went wrong the first time and ensure improvement on your retake.

1. How much did you study?

The first thing you want to ensure is that you put in a sufficient amount of time preparing for the MCAT. Due to the vast volume of material covered on the exam, it takes approximately three to four months of dedicated study time to adequately prepare. Look back at your prep calendar and assess if you spent enough time. If not, create an appropriate study schedule now and stick to it for your second attempt. Since you’ve likely already done your fair share of reviewing, use the majority of your time to complete practice questions and exams as you move forward. 

2. What did you focus on?

A common problem many students have during MCAT prep is that they tend to focus on subjects they find easy, and hence enjoy, during the review process. You need to honestly assess your study period and recognize if you fell into this pattern. For instance, if you dread studying electricity and magnetism and consequently ended up spending less time reviewing that topic, that fact probably came through on your exam. In order to combat this, identify which topics you tend to avoid. While preparing for your retake, prioritize these topics and spend extra time on them, rather than shying away from them. If you’re having trouble understanding the concepts, review notes from your undergraduate classes and consider periodically working with a tutor to clear things up.

3. Did you practice correctly?

Completing practice question sets and practice exams are key to doing well on the MCAT. However, simply completing questions is not enough. Firstly, be sure that you are strictly timing all of your practice. Without time constraints, you may build bad habits that will be hard to reverse in the setting of an actual timed exam. Also, be sure that you are using practice as a method of review. When you go over question sets and exams, first look over which questions you answered incorrectly. Read the question explanations thoroughly and refer to your review materials. Fully understand why you missed the question and make note of which facts you need to know to ensure you don’t miss a similar question in the future. 

Most importantly for your second attempt, be sure to use your practice question sets and exams to focus your review. Spend more time on topics and subjects that you score poorly on during practice, because these are likely the types of questions that you answered incorrectly during your first exam. If you find yourself guessing on many questions of a certain topic but happen to get them correct, be honest with yourself and spend extra time reviewing these topics as well. Practice questions are crucial in identifying your weak areas, so complete as many as possible as you prepare for the MCAT a second time.

4. How was test day?

Think back to your test day and recall if there were any outside factors that may have affected your performance. Sometimes, especially if you had already addressed all of the factors above, anxiety can severely limit your focus and concentration. If you remember being excessively nervous, resolve to yourself that you will be calmer the second time. Now that you know exactly what to expect and will have additional preparation time under your belt, the kinks should be worked out.


Overall, after attending to all of the above factors appropriately, most students will see a corresponding increase in their MCAT score. So don’t be discouraged that you’re re-attempting the exam – rather, look at it as an opportunity to prove to yourself that you do, in fact, have what it takes to move on to medical school.