MCAT Scores: Understanding Percentiles and Determining a Good Score

At first glance, it can be difficult to determine what a good MCAT score is. This post will give a breakdown of the difference between raw scores, scaled scores, and percentiles for the MCAT. It will also compare the difference between an average score, a good score, and a high score to help you determine which schools to apply to or if you should consider retaking your test.

What is a Scaled MCAT Score?

Like many standardized tests, the MCAT will not release your raw score (the percentage of questions you got right in each section). Since the difficulty of the test may slightly vary depending on what day you wrote it, your score must be adjusted for difficulty so that it can be compared with tests taken on any day. The exact adjustments made during this standardization process are unknown. Instead of a raw score, you will be provided with a scaled MCAT score which ranges from 472, on the low end, to 528, on the high end. Your scaled score can further be broken down into the mark you received on each of the 4 sections of the MCAT. Each section is equally weighted and will range from 118, on the low end, to 132, on the high end.

Below is an example of an MCAT Score report that you will receive upon completion of the MCAT. Outlined in red is your scaled score. The score for each individual section of the MCAT is highlighted in yellow and your total score is highlighted in green.

From: aamc.org

MCAT Score Percentiles

It can be hard to understand if the score you received was good or not using just your scaled score. This is where your MCAT score percentiles come into play. The MCAT percentile ranks provided on your score report will show you the percentages of test-takers who received the same scores or lower scores on the exam than you did. The higher your overall percentile the better you did in comparison to all other test-takers. Once again you will receive a percentile score for each section of the MCAT and an overall MCAT percentile score.

In the example below outlined in red is your percentile. The score for each individual section of the MCAT is highlighted in yellow and your total score is highlighted in green. In this case, this test-taker received a score that was better than 48% (roughly half) of all test-takers.

From: aamc.org

What is a Good MCAT Score?

Many medical schools have different requirements for entrance to their program. Some weigh the MCAT more heavily than others and will have higher MCAT cutoffs. Others may be more lenient when it comes to MCAT scores and may focus more heavily on extracurricular activities, shadowing, or GPA. It is therefore important to first and foremost check the requirements and averages for the medical school you are thinking of applying to and determine if your score is good enough for admission.

That being said, the AAMC has released various reports detailing the overall scores of test-takers and accepted medical school applicants. From this information, we know that the average score on the MCAT, aka 50th percentile, is 501.5 (125.2, 124.8, 125.5, 126.0).

Summary of MCAT total and section scores for exams administered from 2018 to 2020. (aamc.org)

However, an average score is usually not enough to get into most medical schools. Only a few medical schools will accept applicants that have the average MCAT score.

A “good MCAT score”, which will generally give you a good chance of getting into medical schools, has a score ranging between 509-511 (127-128 per section). An “extremely high MCAT score”, that gives an excellent chance of getting into medical school, has a score ranging around 517+ (129+ per section).

Please remember that admission to medical school is done through a holistic evaluation of students. There are various admissions factors taken into consideration when accepting students including, GPA, MCAT, ECs, shadowing, volunteering, etc. Having a super high score does not mean you are guaranteed admission and having a super low score does not mean it is impossible to be accepted. Applicants should be well-rounded when applying to medical school.

Below is a table published by the AAMC detailing the likelihood of gaining admission to at least one medical school depending on an applicant’s GPA and MCAT score. You can use this to get a good idea of the likelihood of gaining admission based on your academic performance.

Percentage and Number of 2018, 2019, and 2020 Applicants Accepted Into at Least One Medical
School, by MCAT Total Score and Undergraduate GPA Ranges (aamc.org)

Should I Retake the MCAT?

If you have received your score and are wondering if you should retake your MCAT there are some things you should first keep in mind. Please remember that these are general suggestions made by past MCAT test-takers, and may not work for all situations:

DO consider retaking the exam if:

  • You scored lower than a 125 on one or more of the MCAT sections
  • You scored lower than 500 on your overall MCAT exam
  • Your score is below the median of the medical schools you would like to be accepted to
  • You would be substantially more competitive if your score increased by 2 points
  • There were major distractions on your test day
  • You left more than a few questions blank during the test
  • You know you did not sufficiently prepare for the exam
  • You scored significantly below your practice exam scores

DO NOT retake the exam if:

  • You scored above the 80th percentile
  • Your score is at or above the median of the schools you plan on applying to
  • You do not have the time or energy to increase your score signifcantly

Additionally, keep in mind that the MCAT can only be written a finite number of times. You can write the MCAT three times per year, four times over a two-year period, and seven times throughout your entire life.

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