Every MCAT plan starts with deciding what type of MCAT prep you choose. Between self-studying, buying a MCAT prep course, or a private tutor, there's...
Reasons to Take the MCAT Off Cycle When Choosing an MCAT Test Date
When choosing an MCAT test date, there are many factors to consider if you should choose the MCAT off cycle or in cycle.
You are in the early stages of preparing for the MCAT, and one of the first decisions to make is when to schedule your test. Or maybe you took the MCAT already and didn’t quite get the score you wanted, and so you need to re-take it. Or maybe, for reasons out of your control, you simply have to choose an MCAT test date at a different time than most students traditionally do. Or maybe you are a nontraditional student who had a different career path prior to deciding to go to med school. Whatever path may have led you to the MCAT, here are some reasons why it may be advantageous to choose an MCAT test date off-cycle compared to when the majority of other students take it.
Typical ‘On-cycle’ timeframe to take the MCAT
One important decision when initially preparing for the MCAT is deciding when to take the exam. This can be a surprisingly difficult decision for many reasons, one of which is that the AAMC usually doesn’t publish the next year’s test dates until the fall of the current year. It helps to look at MCAT test dates of previous test years as a reference. Students generally have a 4-week dedicated study period. Figuring out the date to take your MCAT test can also help you plan your fall and spring semesters.
Students typically take the MCAT the spring/early summer of the year that you will apply to medical school. Let’s say you plan to matriculate to medical school immediately after your senior year of undergraduate. It is recommended to choose an MCAT test date the spring/early summer of your junior year. This allows you to receive your score and have plenty of time to submit applications the summer after your junior year. If you feel ready before that, some students will take the MCAT earlier, during winter break of their junior year.
There are advantages to taking the MCAT ‘on-cycle.’ You will be on the same timeline as most other students, so you can use that to gauge your own progress regarding how your application cycle is going. You can read more about this in Blueprint’s blog here. However, there are also certain advantages to taking the MCAT ‘off-cycle’ as well.
Situations to take the MCAT ‘off-cycle’
Some students take the MCAT ‘off-cycle’ which means, NOT during the traditional timeline. Some either take it earlier or later than is traditional.
If you’re on the premed track, you may decide to take the MCAT in the summer after your sophomore year of undergraduate. The argument in favor of this schedule is that you will have taken most, if not all, of the courses that the MCAT covers. This knowledge will then be fresh in your mind. This will also allow you several months during the summer to solely dedicate to studying for the MCAT, without having to worry about studying for classes as well.
If you plan to take a gap year between undergraduate and medical school, you can take it at the end of the summer between your junior and senior year. You would likely receive your score too late to apply after your junior year, but this isn’t a concern because you are taking a gap year anyway. The advantage here once again is that you have the entire summer to study without worrying about classes.
You may also be a nontraditional student, who is juggling a full time career, a family, or other obligations in life and taking the MCAT 'off-cycle' may just fit with your schedule better. This can allow you flexibility to plan your studying and your med school application.
Reasons why it may be advantageous to take the MCAT ‘off-cycle’
One major reason to pick an MCAT test date 'off-cycle' is to allow yourself time to retake the exam if you didn’t get the score you wanted. Taking the MCAT early will give you time to reassess your study methods and focus on your weak areas. Moreover, if you decide to schedule your MCAT early and realize that you aren’t scoring in your desired range on your practice tests, you have the freedom to push your exam back without having to delay your application.
In addition, being a nontraditional student may require taking the MCAT 'off-cycle.' If you have completed your MCAT prerequisite courses several years prior to when you plan to take the exam, it may require an extended study period, which may require scheduling your exam later than most. You may also want to be an early bird and aim to take the MCAT early in the winter which can allow you to take the necessary time to apply to med school.
Finally, also consider your workload during your undergraduate courses. Is your fall semester relatively light, but your spring semester packed with classes and extracurricular activities? It might be a good idea to schedule your test during the lighter semester to allow you to study!
What should you decide, ultimately?
Ultimately, the decision when to take the MCAT is up to the individual 😊
Bear in mind that you have to wait ~1 month to get your scores back, so be sure to take this into consideration when deciding when to send your applications out.
If your undergraduate premed advisor is available, this individual is usually a great resource.
Further information about the 2023 MCAT test dates can be found here.
Gearing up to study for the MCAT this year? The Blueprint x Sketchy Bundle has everything you need, which combines the Sketchy course, Blueprint full-length practice exams, and an integrated study plan calendar into one great package.