As a premed student applying to medical school, you need to recognize that schools accept students on a rolling admissions basis. This means that the earlier you apply, the greater your chance of getting accepted. However, this acceptance implies that all else being equal, your MCAT score is competitive.

You may have been planning your medical school application since your first day of college, or you may have recently decided to apply; in either case, you set about with a study plan, picked an estimated ‘ready date,’ and signed up for your MCAT exam.

But as the exam date draws nearer, you suddenly realize, “Wait a minute: I haven’t stuck to my plan. I haven’t finished studying, or I am simply not scoring high enough on my practice exams to promise a competitive MCAT score.”

When to Consider Delaying Your MCAT Date

If this is the case, you really want to consider postponing your exam. As an MCAT tutor, I’ve had many students come to me saying, “My MCAT is scheduled for 3 weeks from now. I scored a 17 on last week’s full-length AAMC practice exam, but I’m hoping to score a 30 on my MCAT.”

If you aren’t scoring within your desired range by a week or two before your test date, your chances of achieving your desired score are highly improbable. It may be possible, but do you want to bank your future on a miracle?

Setting a Realistic Time-Table

If you’re scoring in the teens you can expect to raise your score 1-3 points per week with heavy studying. With this score you may be lacking in knowledge, concepts and foundations. These are easily learned through in-depth content review and practice.

If you’re scoring in the low 20’s you can realistically expect to improve 1-2 points per week. At this stage you have likely covered most of the content, however there are still holes in your knowledge. These can be filled by reviewing your practice exams, making a list of topics you’ve missed, and reviewing each topic in great detail.

It becomes increasingly difficult to raise your score the closer you get to 30 on your practice exams. At this point you’ve likely mastered all of the content, having minimal gaps remaining in your knowledge. Your score increase will come from analyzing your testing approach:

  • How quickly do you get through the passages?
  • How efficient are you at setting up equations and working through calculations?
  • How easily do you identify the question and come up with a solution?
  • How calm/confident do you feel while taking a test?

Drawbacks of Delaying Your Exam

The big drawback of delaying your exam, of course, is that the later you take your exam, the later your application will be complete, and the lower your chances of getting accepted this time around.

I understand that there is stigma associated with delaying your exam date. You may fear being viewed as a failure in your own eyes or those of family and friends.  Not to mention the financial loss of your MCAT exam fee.

But most importantly, if you delay your MCAT date you may have to take another year off against your will. Because let’s face it, if you apply with an abysmal score, you stand to be rejected. And if you get rejected from medical school and choose to apply again next year, you are forced to take a year off anyway. But applying with a low MCAT score means a painful rejection you could have predicted, not to mention the wasted costs of primary and secondary applications.

Is it Really The End Of The World?

Look at it this way. Is taking a later exam really the end of the world? The average student applying to medical school is still in their 20’s with little experience in life and adventure. Use this year off wisely; do some research, apply for a fun volunteering position, travel the world. Broaden your horizons and increase your experiences to make yourself a stronger medical school candidate.

While applying early in the medical school registration cycle is important, it will only work in your favor if you have a decent MCAT score. If your practice full-length exams indicate that you will not achieve a competitive score, it’s not worth wasting your time or money, and you will be better off postponing your MCAT date until you are ready to achieve a competitive score.

A free copy of Leah’s new ebook MCAT Exam Strategy – A 6 Week Guide To Crushing The MCAT is available at