One of the first steps to taking the MCAT is deciding when to take the MCAT, which is not as straightforward of a decision as most think.
From our years of researching and interviewing 90+ percentile MCAT scorers, we've seen patterns in the thought process that goes behind choosing a test date.
Plus we have insights from our own experience in getting competitive scores!
So we definitely have a lot of advice but first we want to clarify something important we haven't seen emphasized enough...
There isn't one "best" month to take the MCAT, but there is a "best month" for YOU depending on YOUR unique situation and circumstances.
Which is why in this video and article, we're going to breakdown the best times to take the MCAT depending on your specific goals!
When Is The MCAT Offered?
To start, the MCAT is offered in January and March through September, with most dates between May and August.
This means no MCAT in October, November or December, so we need to plan accordingly!
Click here for a complete list of 2023 MCAT test dates & score release dates (opens in new tab).
When Do You Want To Start Med-School?
To determine when you want to take the MCAT figure out what year you would like to start medical school.
We recommend that you should have the MCAT completed at least 1.5 years ahead of that date.
For instance, if you want to start med school Fall 2024 you should have the MCAT done by Spring of 2023.
Planning Based On Your Current Situation
The Traditional Student
This is becoming less common as more and more people take a gap year before applying, but if you want to go straight through you need to take the MCAT the summer before Junior year or spring of Junior year.
Ideally, you would have the summer off/minimal commitments or a lighter semester schedule in the spring.
The Gap Year (or Two) Student
Similar to the traditional student, except they take the MCAT before senior year or spring of senior year, planning for a gap year.
This is ideal for someone who knows they want to take a year off to strengthen their app, get another degree, or just take some time off.
The Non-Traditional Student
This type of student has the most flexibility when to take the MCAT.
The biggest thing here is to take the MCAT when it is not your job's busy season. For instance, if you are an accountant applying to medical school; don’t take the test in the spring as you’ll be busy!
If you really aren’t sure a good time of year is to study part time September to mid Jan and take the test in Jan.
This gives you the opportunity to postpone if needed until March.
Speaking of Jan test dates, we have a lot more thoughts on it so let's move forward with the most recommended testing months for MCAT registration!
The Most Recommended Testing Months To Keep In Mind For MCAT Registration
Keep in mind, you don't have to take the MCAT in these months, but below we've also listed out some of the reasons you might want to...
In general, most traditional or gap year students should not plan to take the MCAT in Jan.
Previously, with the old MCAT it was possible to study for a few weeks and do well. Now you need more time and so many things come up around the holidays.
Unless you can commit the fall semester to studying, do not plan on a Jan. test date, you will most likely have to postpone.
If you do decide to take the MCAT in Jan and are CERTAIN you can be focused during the fall + Dec break, the benefit here is that you have a good amount of time in the worst case you need to retake before applications open (don’t count on retaking though - this is the last time you’re studying for the MCAT!)
You can also free up your mental energy to focus on applications (personal statement, etc) during the spring. Plus it also feels awesome knocking out the MCAT with a great score in the beginning of the year.
Lastly, if you’re retaking or pushed back your test date from Sept/Summer, you likely already have a good foundation of content, so if you start prep in the fall you just need to learn how to take the MCAT and work on your strategies (if needed, with a strategy tutor), in which case a Jan test date could work for you.
August (The Year Before)
Next we want to highlight a key question top MCAT scorers recommend you ask yourself before registration day...
A Key Question Top MCAT Scorers Asked Themselves Before Registering
You probably have some idea in mind of when you plan to take the MCAT. You may even have a date in mind. Ask yourself this...
Will I honestly be ready to take the MCAT at this time?
Think about your school, extracurriculars, family, work, and anything else that can come in your way of being disciplined enough to put in the hours successful MCAT prep requires...
The MCAT is expensive. Changing your testing date is expensive. Putting in time to study for the MCAT, but not doing it wholeheartedly with complete dedication, is even more expensive!
When your attention is way too divided, you’re likely not doing any of those things with excellence. Be honest with yourself during this time as you’re looking to choose your test date.
Several of the MCAT Mastery Strategy Tutors were able to achieve 510+ scores while juggling a busy schedule (and they can help you with that if you want), so we’re not saying it’s impossible - we’re asking if you’re willing to go through the stress it can require without letting that stress damage your MCAT performance.
We’re asking, are you willing to strategically plan and prepare for that?
And if you don't know if you can do it yourself, are you willing to work with a MCAT coach who can create a customized plan for you (and make sure you stick to it)?
Be sure to spend some time reflecting on that. With that said...
How Much Time Should I Give Myself To Study For The MCAT?
Generally we recommend that you have between 2 and 4 months to study for the MCAT (of course this naturally differs for each student). If you're working with a tutor or are investing in a strategy course, you can cut that to 1-3 months.
But overall, you should base your study time on how confident you are with the material and also how much effort you can put into studying alongside any other responsibilities you may have.
This is so that you give yourself the best possible chance of doing well in your first attempt at taking the MCAT.
Yea, taking the MCAT is not all that fun - but trust us when we say that it is even less fun if you have to retake it.
When Is The Earliest You Should Take The MCAT?
The earliest that you should consider taking the MCAT is some point later on in your sophomore year, or you could consider taking the MCAT during the summer between your sophomore and junior years.
By this point you will have had to complete the majority of your prerequisites.
This will actually work to minimize the amount of content review that you will have to undertake, this will be regardless of which MCAT preparation books or which course you purchase.
If you are deciding to take the MCAT early then there will be a wide variety of dates that will work for you.
When Is The Latest You Should Take The MCAT?
The latest time that you should plan to take the MCAT should be between the January and the April of your application year. For example, if you want to enroll in medical school in August 2025, then at the latest you will need to make sure that you try to take your MCAT during the first four months of 2024 - so, this would be no later than April 2024.
You might be wondering why you need such a vast window of time to take the MCAT, especially because AMCAS will not even allow you to submit your primary application until late May. Well, there are a lot of reasons as to why you should consider getting your MCAT done by April.
This is because you will want to spend a lot of time on your application essays. This is not a quick job, this is something that you will want to devote a lot of time to.
If you put off taking the MCAT for too long then you will not be able to give yourself enough time to write your medical school personal statement, complete the AMCAS Work and Activities section, and write the numerous secondary essays. We say numerous secondary essays because these can also include pre-writing secondary essays before the secondary applications are even released.
Your MCAT score will be a key factor in establishing what medical schools you should apply to. Which means you will not want to spend your precious time and your valuable money applying to certain medical schools, and then finding out after that your MCAT score will not put you in the running for a place at said school.
You might want to take your MCAT more than once if you are not happy with the score that you get the first time. This is perfectly fine, in fact, you can take the MCAT up to three times during a testing year, four times during two consecutive years and as many as seven times during your lifetime.
This will inevitably feel like a lot of pressure, and this is something that will get easier to cope with as time passes. The thing that you just need to bear in mind is the reason why you are putting yourself through this.
It is because you have a passion to study at medical school, and it is because this is something that you want to do. Just remember that it will get better once you start moving along through the application process.
On the whole, it is up to you when you take the MCAT, but our best advice is not to leave it too late. The application process is a pretty hefty one so the sooner you can get this done the better.
MCAT Registration Tips & Reminders
If you haven't registered yet, this article was written to help you decide when you should take the MCAT and register.
A Quick Note On MCAT Pre-Registration
You’re just able to fill out your information during pre-registration. There’s no selecting of test date or exam location just yet!
That’s available on the registration date. During pre-registration, you’re able to work on your background and biological info, which we highly recommend you do!
An Important MCAT Registration Recommendation A Lot of Top Scorers Emphasize
Top MCAT scorers recommend to register early because you’ll get more test date options than later. Sounds obvious but there are so many students every year who are forced to take the MCAT at a really inconvenient time OR location for them, all because they didn’t register early enough. Imagine having to fly somewhere or drive across state to take the MCAT…
Having your preferred location and day makes it easier for your mindset - and mindset is everything! So again, early is key!
Worse case scenarios involve students having to push their applications to another year. If you don’t know when you want to take it, we’d recommend to still register early because you can always change your date. Not to mention that it’s less expensive if you do it earlier than later.
Tips For MCAT Registration Day
Once you get your chosen test date and location, you’ll feel relieved. Enjoy it... Making a decision like that and preparing beforehand, takes a lot of mental power and you deserve to feel good!
At the end of the day, whichever date and location you do get, it’s completely fine. We’ll make it work no matter what 🙂
Most Important Advice: Don't Wait Until It's Too Late
It's usually too late when most premeds realize that just like there’s strategy in how you study for the MCAT, there’s also strategy in when you take the MCAT.
When you choose to take the MCAT can have a major impact on how well you do on the MCAT, on your applications, on how you get considered for med-school, and ultimately if you get in.
With that in mind, we wrote this article showing you how we'd go about deciding on an MCAT test date if we were in your shoes (which we were!).
We know a lot of members from the MCAT Mastery fam are either studying right now for early MCAT dates, are about to start studying (start now!), or have the thought looming in their mind for when they'll start studying lol
Regardless of your situation, we want you to know that we're here for you every step of the way!
Of course, if you want to speak to us one-on-one and get some "hand-holding" through your MCAT prep to your score goal, we got you there too 🙂
Embrace the MCAT journey, it's prepping you for med-school 😉
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors