MCAT Scoring: How is the MCAT Scored?

Most students I have worked with are a little confused about MCAT scoring. With the changes to the MCAT that occurred in 2015, things have only become worse. The stuff that most people know is that there are 4 sections:

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living systems
  4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Here’s where MCAT scoring can start to get a little strange though.  Each section is scored from 118 to 132.  That may seem a bit arbitrary, but it allows the AAMC to set the average score right in the middle, at 125.  That means that the when the four section scores are added up, it ranges from 472-528, with the “average MCAT taker” scoring a 500.  The following image comes directly from the AAMC.

The curving of each section to 125 is integral to MCAT scoring, and allows medical schools to compare students between MCATs.  It’s true that some MCATs may be slightly harder or easier than others.  To get a 510 on an “easier MCAT,” you would have to get more answers correct than you would have to get on a more difficult version.

So if someone has told you that you can miss 6 questions in a section and get a 128(I hear some version of this all the time!), that’s not strictly correct.  The truth about MCAT scoring is that missing six questions could be a 131 or it could be a 125, depending on the test difficulty.  You will often hear this explained as “The better your peers do on test day, the harder it is to score higher.”   This leads to the misguided question I hear most often:

If the test I am taking is curved in relation to how my peers do on that particular test, when should I take the test so that I am being compared to less competitive students?

In actuality, the curve has already been established before the date of the test, and I am forced to admit to the student that it doesn’t really matter.  There is a whole fleet of statisticians at the AAMC whose job is to make sure that the curves and scores are comparable everywhere and for every test date.

So, the MCAT date you should sign up for has nothing to do with scoring, and everything to do with when will you be prepared!

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