Achieving a good MCAT score will be a crucial part of your medical school application. The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is a standardized, multiple-choice examination used by the majority of U.S. medical schools and many Canadian ones, as part of their admission process. Therefore, to be accepted at a top medical school, achieving a good MCAT score is essential.
As there is no set passing mark for the exam, understanding how the MCAT is scored, the score range and the MCAT percentiles is important. This guide will break down all the information you need to know and allow you to set realistic targets while preparing for the MCAT.
The MCAT assesses your problem solving and critical thinking skills, and knowledge of natural, behavioral and social science concepts and principles; supporting medical schools by demonstrating that you have the prerequisites for studying medicine. For information on registering, preparing for and undertaking the MCAT exam, visit our MCAT Guide and MCAT Checklist blogs.
There are four multiple-choice sections within the MCAT exam: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS); Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. You’ll receive a separate score for each of the sections and a total score for the MCAT exam; these are known as raw scores and are based on the number of questions you answered correctly.
It’s worth noting that there is no negative marking or penalties for incorrect answers in the MCAT exam – these are scored the same as unanswered questions – therefore, you won’t be penalized for guessing an answer if you’re unsure.
Raw scores for each section of the MCAT are then converted into a scaled score and combined to also give a total scaled score for the exam. You can learn more about the MCAT scaled scoring in the section below.
The MCAT Essentials for Testing Year 2023 provides information on receiving your test scores, reporting your score through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), and the rescoring process. If you’re applying to a non-AMCAS institution, you can find information on how to submit your MCAT score on the AAMC website here.
The scaled score range for each section of the MCAT is 118 (lowest) to 132 (highest), with a midway point of 125. Your scaled scores for each of the individual sections are combined to give a total scaled score ranging from 472 (lowest) to 528 (highest). The midway point for the total scaled score is 500.
The MCAT uses scaled scoring, rather than your raw score in the exam, as this ‘tends to provide a more stable and accurate assessment’ of your performance. Each MCAT exam is designed to assess the same basic concepts and skills; however, the specific questions will vary across the different MCAT exam papers used throughout the testing period. This means that understandably there may be a slight variation in difficulty between the exams, and therefore comparison of raw scores between candidates who undertook different MCAT papers would not be entirely fair. Converting raw scores to scaled scores – through a process called equating – compensates for these small variations in difficulty between different sets of questions. Therefore, candidates who undertook different MCAT exams can be fairly compared, as their scores have the same meaning.
The same raw score will not be equal to the same scaled score each time, as raw scores will be converted depending on the specific set of questions, to account for differences between exams. You could, therefore, have a different number of correct answers on the exam, and so a different raw score compared to a candidate who took a different MCAT exam, but the same scaled score.
The use of scaled scoring for the MCAT exam also means that it is not graded on a curve. For exams graded on a curve, your score depends on how you performed in comparison to the other candidates who undertook the same test paper. Again, this makes the scoring more fair and consistent, as your score will not differ depending on when you take the test or how other candidates perform.
As well as a score for each section and a total score for the MCAT, you’ll also receive a percentile rank for each of your scores. The percentile rank shows you the percentage of other test-takers who scored the same or lower than you scored within each section of the MCAT and overall, allowing you to see how your scores compare to others. For example, if you received a percentile rank of 45 for a total scaled score of 500, this would mean that 45% of candidates scored a total of 500 or less.
The AAMC provides updated percentile ranks every year, using data from the most recent three years of all examinees’ scores; this ensures that any changes reflect a meaningful change in the scores of examinees, not simply year-to-year fluctuations.
You can find more information regarding percentile ranks for the MCAT exam, including historical and current percentile ranks, on the AAMC’s website here.
As mentioned previously, the highest possible total score – ‘the perfect score’ – for the MCAT exam is 528. However, anything above the 90th percentile would be considered outstanding for the MCAT exam.
The following data provided by the AAMC demonstrates the current percentile ranks for the period of May 1, 2022 – April 30, 2023:
These percentiles are based on the combined MCAT results from the testing years 2019, 2020 and 2021, meaning that 100% of candidates scored 524 or lower, demonstrating that the ‘perfect score’ has not been achieved in this data collection period.
There is no set score which could be said to be a ‘good’ MCAT score; this will vary depending on other factors, such as the medical school which you’re applying to and their MCAT expectations. Remember the MCAT exam is also only one aspect of the application process and other elements of your application will be a factor.
As a general guide, you should aim to score at least above the 50th percentile, as this will mean achieving an above average score for the exam. More realistically, you’ll be aiming for above the 75th, as this will give you a competitive score. However, it will ultimately depend on the demands of your medical school. Being aware of what MCAT score is accepted by your chosen medical school, and aiming to score higher than this, will be more useful than aiming for a generalized ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ MCAT score.
Again, there isn’t a set score which will automatically mean you won’t be accepted. A general rule of aiming for anything above the 50th percentile – effectively achieving an above average score – will ensure that you can compete with other applicants.
Remember you can retake the exam if you feel you have unachieved. To find out more about how many times you can take the MCAT exam visit our MCAT guide.
The MCAT is undeniably a challenging exam. The length of the exam and the vast subject knowledge required is the key reason for this. However, with dedicated preparation it’s possible not only to pass the MCAT but to achieve a good score too.
For guidance and advice to help you to prepare effectively and perform well in the MCAT exam, check out our ‘MCAT Guide’, ‘MCAT Checklist’ and the ‘Differences between the MCAT and UCAT’. For thousands of professionally written practice questions and tests, we also have an adaptive MCAT question bank, which is launching soon. Powered by artificial intelligence, our adaptive MCAT question bank uses state of the art algorithms to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and ensure that your revision time is focused on areas which you need to develop. This not only makes more effective use of your MCAT preparation time but also helps you to progress faster, supporting you to perform as well as possible in the MCAT exam.
MCAT score calculators convert your raw score on practice tests, i.e. the total number of correct answers you get for each section, into a scaled MCAT score. They are widely available online, and while they can provide you with a rough estimate of the scaled score associated with the number of correct answers you achieved, they are limited. As the scaled score is designed to compensate for variations between questions, the number of correct answers to scaled scores changes, and therefore it’s impossible to say that ‘x’ amount of correct answers equals a certain scaled score. So while these may be useful for giving estimates, using them as an accurate representation of what score you will achieve on the MCAT is problematic, as this will vary depending on the exam.
The current version of the MCAT exam has been in use since April 2015, but you can still access scores from prior versions of the MCAT, should you wish to. However, medical schools will generally only accept scores dating back two or three years, so it’s advised that you check the admission requirements of individual medical schools before applying, to ensure that your MCAT score will be accepted.
The AAMC offers further information about the previous version of the MCAT (administered from 1991 to 2015) and how it was scored, which you can find on their website here.
For more guidance on applying, preparing and undertaking the MCAT exam, visit the MCAT section of our website, where you’ll find useful blog posts – sharing a ‘MCAT Checklist’, the ‘Differences between the MCAT and UCAT’ and crucially our MCAT Guide and guide to CARS for the MCAT – as well as access to our adaptive MCAT question bank with thousands of professionally written practice questions and tests. There’s also revision materials covering a wide range of MCAT topics, including Amino Acids, Protein Structures, the Circulatory System, and many more, to help you prepare for the exam.