How important is the MCAT, really?

Obviously, if you bomb the MCAT you won’t get accepted into a top school (maybe not any school). On the other hand, it seems that getting 40+ is no kind of guarantee that you will be accepted, either. This leads me to suspect that the MCAT is a limiter, not an enabler – that is, it can keep you out of med school, but it won’t get you in.

Is there anyone involved in admissions that can verify how important the MCAT is in admitting a medical student? Suppose you get a strong, but not fantastic, score on your MCAT, say a 34. How much will scoring (let’s say) a 40 improve your chances for admission to a top school? What’s the threshold beyond which a higher score really doesn’t help much? Or is my premise wrong, and school really do look at a 42 as being much better than a 36?


I agree with what you say when stating that the MCAT is a limitation rather than a helping factor. For instance many students who wouldn’t mind going to Med school, don’t even bother because they see the MCAT as an undertaking beyond their capabilities. Thus only very motivated folks make it though that step.

However, I (respectfully) disagree when saying that a 40 may not buy you an admission. It is not that you are wrong here but assuming that you file your application diligently, that you don’t have a 2.0 GPA, I cannot believe that a 40+ will not buy you the admission in the school of your choice. Of course you can screw up your essays or your interview. But with a 40+, your have more chances to get accepted than not. I’d be curious to read abotu any student who didn’t make it into med school with such a score. I am sure it happened in the past, but I’d like to know the reasons in that case, and this would probably be a particular reason that likely won’t apply to many (like robbing a bank or not completing the application, or obviously lying on an application…)

I have recently talked to an MD friend of mine (I was working in a Medical Center doing research, so I know a lot of these folks.). Thinking about going to Med School I asked him what he thought. Then he told me that he was an interviewer of applicants for Med School (I didn’t know he was). Then i asked what he was looking for in applicants so that he’d recommend admission. He answered three major things:

1- Your past experiences to judge your maturity

2- Your drive to be in medicine (this is the part where he tries to weed out the smart young folks who think dollars instead of caring)

3- The MCAT score.

I was surprised by point 3. But whenever you get the interview, the interviewer, through your MCAT score has an idea of your intellectual ability and he will put you in a different spot.

Now and again, I am no expert at all. This is my understanding after chatting with various admission directors.

I hope that Judy Colwell (a contributor to these forums and expert consultant) will pick up the thread and provide us with her insight.

Thanks, redo. That’s exactly the kind of response I was hoping for. I, too, hope that Judy can give her insights into this topic.

If I can score 30+ on the MCAT right now, is it worth taking three months to study so I can score a 33? 6 months to score a 36? A year to score a 40? Assume I’m late 40s, established in a career, so I’m not facing imminent graduation or anything, just trying to be well prepped to get admitted to my one and only school of choice – which just happens to be a top school.


Reading your question, implicit is the assumption that time of preparation correlates with scores. While I believe this is partly true, this correlation is far from being linear.

First of I have been to school most of my life and been an A student, graduating top of my class, very strong in sciences (pulling off crazy grades). I have a PhD in Biochem and I wouldn’t be confident that I would score 30+ right now on the MCAT with no prep. If that’s where you are, then that’s fantastic.

If someone can pull off such a score, then I’d say take it, apply and see what happens. You may land a few interviews. Now in your case you can go to one school only and a top one (pretty much like me). So, your MCAT must be very high, and take as much time as you can to prepare and increase your chances to land a good score. No choice there.

Now you can prepare all you want, and this may not guarantee a 40 score. In fact, studies have shown that preparation of students that focus on knowledge only, marginally increase the score but not much. Many don’t think about strategies and I would say that the MCAT is done in such a way that it doesn’t test knowledge. I mean knowledge is a necessary tool, but far from sufficient. Questions are sometime confusing, contain more info than you need and the time you have to answer make the test very challenging. If there was no time limit, I believe most students could get a 40, because the underlying knowledge (especially in science) is very basic. So here are a few things that I have come to learn in my many years of study and exam taking:

1- Prepare in conditions as close as the one you have during the exam. If the test is on a computer, then that’s how you have to prepare. It is known that the reading speed of an individual varies greatly between computer and paper. We generally have a comfort feeling when reading on paper, that probably explains why the kindle is such a success, it seems to have allied the comfort of reading on paper while being an electronic device

2- Prepare your test so that to be done in 10 to 15% less time than on the day of the exam. Similarly for the scores, expect your scores on the exam to be off by 10% at least from what you get in your prep. This is the added stress, the hour of the day, the feeling that you are playing your life on an exam. A little stress is good and make you alert, but on these days, I think that stress is definitely not helping. If you consistently score high in little time, chances are you going to finish or almost on the day of the exam with a good score.

3- Make sure to come up with strategies. On a MCQ, one of the most important thing to learn is to “move on” when you don’t know the answer on a question. Because if you don’t then you waste time, taking the chance not to get to the easy questions at the end of your test. Moving on is very difficult, and can improve your score significantly.

4- Get sick of your preparation. As long as you are not sick of preparing, then you didn’t prepare enough. Remember that the MCAT is not really a test, it is a contest. Your grade doesn’t only depend on how well you do, it depends on how well all the others do. In that respect an excellent preparation (and psychologically exhausting) is necessary.

This is my take and many will disagree. I have not taken the MCAT, but I can say that I have taken more challenging tests in my life (16 tests and 28 hours over the course of 4 days) and did very well. Now I may just bomb the MCAT, who knows…

Good luck with your prep.

Post #4 in this link is someone who scored 43S and still got rejected from several schools. Here is another guy who (claims to have) scored a perfect 45T and a 4.00 GPA, and who got rejected from several schools – including University of Washington, my target school.

It’s stories like these that make me think that a stratospheric MCAT is not a ticket into the school of your choice, and may not even be that great a thing to get. That seems counterintuitive to me, but might admissions offices actually look askance at the 45T/4.0 GPA students as no-life übergeeks?

  • spoxjox Said:
That seems counterintuitive to me, but might admissions offices actually look askance at the 45T/4.0 GPA students as no-life übergeeks?

I talked to an adcom a few months ago, and used similar numbers to ask my questions, their first impression without meeting the individual was not ubergeek but uber-arrogant, something the medical community is trying to get away from; at least in my neck of the woods, or swamp.

I'm hoping for a 32+ and letting my current GPA speak the remainder... leaving my age out of the equation.
  • spoxjox Said:
Post #4 in this link is someone who scored 43S and still got rejected from several schools. Here is another guy who (claims to have) scored a perfect 45T and a 4.00 GPA, and who got rejected from several schools -- including University of Washington, my target school.

It's stories like these that make me think that a stratospheric MCAT is not a ticket into the school of your choice, and may not even be that great a thing to get. That seems counterintuitive to me, but might admissions offices actually look askance at the 45T/4.0 GPA students as no-life übergeeks?

The 45T/4.0 is an urban legend. No one has scored over a 44 on the computerized MCAT. But, a 35+ score along with a decent application will get you an interview at many top-notch and upper-middle tier schools (it will also get you rejected from many lower-tier schools BTW). But after that it is your personality and interview skills that get you the acceptance. A dean of admissions at a top-ten school told me, "As much as we hate to turn away that 40/4.0 student in terms of our average numbers, if (s)he is an arrogant jerk they are gonna have to go somewhere else. We use the interview to screen out the arrogant jerks."


I think that if you get 40+ you will be accepted to Med School. Now it may not be your top choice (if you are focused on one in particular). The 45T is probably a legend. The 43S applied to 22 school and accepted at 12. Usually students who apply to 20+ schools are accepted to a few and many are not accepted anywhere. So there is definitely a correlation between your MCAT score and your chances of acceptance.

But again, if you want to go to one school only, then things are harder for sure. In general and if you goal is to be a med doctor, then you should also give a chance to other schools as well and try to make it work (easier said than done, but possible).

Also, AAMC’s official MCAT guide has some very useful stats for acceptance rates according to MCAT, GPA, and a whole host of other factors. And I agree, don’t fixate on one school. Fixate on about 29 schools.


The problem is that we own a home in the Seattle area and my kids have all spent their whole lives here. All five are still at home, and we would still have four (or at least three) by the time I was able to go to school. Asking my family to be uprooted so that I can go chase my dream is just too selfish, even for me. (I never spent more than five years in one place while I grew up, so I’m not willing to inflict that on my kids, or for that matter on my wife, who loves where we live.)

I understand that insisting on One Specific University is not the recommended way to get into med school. The problem is that I’m unwilling to require the sacrifice from my family to go elsewhere, so when the time comes (if it comes), I’m afraid it will be UW or nothing for me.


Thanks for the input. I generally interview pretty well, at least for jobs, so I assume I would do okay for med school. Of course, I could be totally wrong about that. I hope I don’t come across as either arrogant or a jerk, but who knows? Guess there isn’t much to do about that except to try my best.

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I totally understand the issue, having 2 kids myself and a house. My wife loves a job and I too fear the day I would have to tell her “we have to live”. I hope I won’t.

In any event, good luck to you.

  • redo-it-all Said:

"we have to live".

I don't know where I was, but I meant "leave", not "live". For my defense, I had slept only 5 hours the 2 night prior...

In response to the original question of how important is the MCAT

In 2007, Kaplan test prep (not the most unbiased parties to this I’ll grant you) reported that in a survey sent to all allopathic medical schools (about 125 at the time) and admissions officers from 83 schools responded.

77% of the responding schools reported that GPA was the first or second factor considered in applications.

75% of the responding schools reported that MCAT was the first or second factor considered in applications.

This implies that about 75% of the MD schools consider GPA and MCAT to the first two factors considered in an application

It should be noted that is the 2007 survey, 34% listed MCAT as the top factor but in 2009 survey by Kaplan where admissions officer from 85 schools responded, 44% listed MCAT as the top factor. This appears to be due to some research showing a correlation between MCAT performance and USLME performance.

But in a phrase most often attributed to Mark Twain, “there are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.” Personally reviewing some of this original research (Link AAMC Bibliography on MCAT research) , particularly some meta-analysis (which try to correlate statistics across multiple articles), it seems a weak to moderate correlation. My personal speculation is with the number of medical school applications now rising again to over 42,000 for 18,000 seats, making ratios of applicants to seat approaching to that of the late 1980’s, schools may be falling back to using numeric cutoffs more to deal with this rising tide.

For large segment of non-traditional students whose original college record is mediocre to poor, I think that the MCAT score becomes vitally important as a validation in addition to an improved post-bacc GPA that the student is academically capable to handle the rigors of medical school.

However, as my rule #3 says, “it depends.”

Take scenario A of a student whose original college work was good (3.5 GPA) but did not take any pre-reqs. Supposed this student does similarly good post-bacc work (3.5-3.6 GPA) and scores 25 or 26 on MCAT. Lets also assume that he/she has excellent volunteer work, LOR’s, leadership experience, and outstanding interview. This student seems to show a solid consistent background and would appear to be an excellent candidate.

Now take scenario B of a student who did original mediocre college work (3.0 GPA) with a science major and poor record in most of the pre-req courses. Here a 3.5 post bacc GPA and a 25 on MCAT may make this student much weaker than the one above. A stronger post-bacc and 28 or better or GPA would go a long way to show consistent improvement.

It should also be noted that most of the above research and statistics come from allopathic applications. There is some research (Link to research article) and adcom perceptions form the osteopathic community that indicate science GPA is the best predictor for success in medical school and on COMLEX.

Below is an excerpt from a college newspaper where Megan Price, admissions director at Virginia college of Osteopathic Medicine is extensively quoted (Link Original Story)

Price said that a student with a 4.0 GPA who scores a 35 on the MCAT (the average MCAT score for VCOM admission is 24) may be a great student academically, but that may mean that they are not doing anything but studying and haven’t had a lot of human contact or interaction.

“Looking at MCAT scores and GPA will give you great candidates that will give you great academic students, but not great doctors,” Price said. “We screen very heavily for those skills we believe will determine bedside manner.”

Lastly, many students face build up long-term anxiety to the MCAT. This, to me, is an extreme example of my rule #10, the FUD factor: fear, uncertainly and doubt. I think this kills more good MCAT scores (and thus more applications) than any other factor. Careful MCAT preparation, in content, test-taking skills, and most especially in focus and relaxation about the MCAT would better serve most students.

gonnif, your analysis sounds pretty spot-on to me. Which might be good news; my original undergrad GPA is not great (though not terrible), and I suspect that if I review and study, I can probably nail the MCAT. I hope, anyway.