How is the MCAT Scored?
- by Fehbe Meza
- Oct 15, 2019
- MCAT Blog, MCAT Info
When it comes to how the MCAT is scored, there are several questions that I see all the time. In an effort to make things a bit easier to understand with this perplexing scoring scale, we’re going to shed some light on the three most common questions.
MCAT Score to Percentile Conversion
|MCAT Total Score||MCAT Percentile|
Why is the MCAT Scoring Scale so Weird?
On the path to becoming a physician, every student at some point gets a little confused about how the MCAT is scored. And rightfully so! Why is it that a score of 510 is so different from a score of 501? Mathematically, that’s less than a 2% difference in score?!
For beginners, it is a bit tricky to understand MCAT scores because it is so different from any other test. However, this is done on purpose! When the MCAT changed four years ago, they wanted to make sure that nobody got confused and related test scores between these two different forms of the exam. The exam today is incredibly different from the old exam— the old MCAT had three sections, an essay portion that was scored using letters, and took less than four hours to get through. That’s drastically different from today’s test—the new MCAT has 4 sections, no essay, and takes about twice as long to complete. So, they needed a score that looked completely different. There is no way that someone would confuse an old score of 35 with a more recent score of 517, even if the mean the same thing.
They also don’t want people to get confused between percentile ranks and scores. If they set up 100 as the average score for an exam, then someone could say they scored a 98. Is that percentile or raw score? What even is a raw MCAT score? Too confusing!
MCAT Raw Score: Your raw score is the number of right answers without considering difficulty or the performance of other students.
MCAT Scaled Score: what your raw score earns you on a specific test date based on the performance of other students. The idea is to norm the results of all MCATs regardless of date so on a harder test with a lower average performance by the test-taking population, you’ll earn more points with a lower raw score than you would with the same raw score on an easier test.
MCAT Percentile: The percentage of students whose raw scores were lower than yours.
Total MCAT Score/MCAT Score Range: Your MCAT total score (the sum of your section scores ranging from 118-132) ranges from 472–528 and differs from test to test based on difficulty.
So the raw score needed to be well above 100, in a range where percentiles couldn’t go. The MCAT settled on setting the raw score from 118- 132 for each of the four sections, making the average a 125. With the minimum score being above 100, nobody can get confused with percentile ranks. We also get the added bonus that if someone scores perfectly average in each section, they will get a 500 overall. Sadly though, that means that the range for the total score is a pretty weird one. It ranges from 472 to 528 and can be a little confusing for people that are unfamiliar with MCAT scoring.
How many questions do I need to get a good score on the MCAT?
i.e. How many questions do I need to get a 520 on the MCAT…or whatever? I can’t tell you how many times per year I get these types of questions. And it makes sense! Students are obviously interested in figuring out what they need to do in order to get into medical school. However, as is always the case, it turns out to be a bit complex.
Because the MCAT is adjusted so that the average score is a 500, that means that each exam is scored a bit differently. If there is an exam that is a bit “harder” then the score will be adjusted so that students can miss a few more questions and get the same score. An “easier” version of the MCAT will be adjusted in the opposite way: a bit less forgiving when it comes to scoring. An interesting aspect of this scoring system is that you can get a perfect score on the exam and still miss questions in every section. The entire scoring system is built around how difficult the exam is and how your peers will perform.
So this brings us to the only other question that I see as often as the last:
When should I take the MCAT to get the best score?
As students begin to understand that their scores are based on how others perform on the test, they start to wonder what time of the year they can take the exam with *ahem* less skilled *ahem* peers. But of course, the MCAT writers NEED their exam to be comparable. What use is the exam if a student that is more prepared for medical school scores a 510 while a student who is less prepared gets a 515?
The MCAT writers have an idea of how the exam is going to be scored well before anyone ever sits down to take the exam, so there is no magical date for a student to take the test in order to get a better score. Whenever I get that question, my response is always: The best time to take the test is when you are prepared for it. You can’t control how others will perform on the exam, but you can control you well you prep for the MCAT and the best way to do it is with representative prep.
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