How to Read Your MCAT Score Report

Properly interpreting your MCAT score report can help you determine whether your score is ready to be sent to medical schools or if you need to retake the test. Though many applicants emphasize their overall scores, the other data provided in your report may better reflect your competitiveness for medical school admissions.

MCAT score reports contain a great deal of information, and figuring out what it all means can be challenging. Here is a breakdown of what to look for and how to interpret the most important parts of your score report:

— Look first at your total and section scores.

— Examine your confidence bands.

— Check your percentile rank.

— Interpret your score profile.

— Determine how well the report reflects your admissions readiness.

Look First at Your Total and Section Scores

The first step to interpreting your MCAT score is to know the range of possible results and where your score sits within it. There are four sections on the MCAT, each with a minimum score of 118 and a maximum score of 132. These section scores are added up to give you your overall score, which lies between 472 and 528.

[Read: Why the MCAT Is Harder Than a Typical College Exam.]

While it is tempting to look at a high overall score and conclude that your work is done, review your section scores to see if they are lopsided. Ideally, you want to avoid a situation in which higher section scores offset the fact that you scored much lower on another portion of the test. Medical schools look at each section score in addition to your overall score, and an obvious low section score could be a red flag.

Examine Your Confidence Bands

Unlike other standardized tests that you may have taken, the MCAT score report provides confidence bands to better reflect what the test’s developers call your “true score.” They know that there may be factors influencing your performance on any given day, such as multiple questions on an unfamiliar topic or a bad night of sleep, and have created confidence bands to reflect this variability.

Check your confidence bands to make sure your true score lies within the overall average range accepted by your target medical schools. Know that a confidence band that includes borderline scores may not reflect well on your application.

Check Your Percentile Rank

Percentile ranks show you how you stack up against other test-takers. Possible score ranges remain the same from year to year, but percentile ranks are adjusted annually to reflect the performance of the whole population of test-takers.

[Read: 4 Ways to Make Up for a Low MCAT Score.]

Given the large number of students testing every year, percentile rankings tend to remain stable. However, the average MCAT score for students accepted to medical school has been creeping up over the past few years, and comparing your percentile rank to the percentile ranks of accepted students may give you a better idea about where you stand than your score alone.

Interpret Your Score Profile

Score profiles are particularly useful if, after examining the above three components of your MCAT score report, you have determined you need to retake the test. Your score profile reflects your strengths and weaknesses in the different exam sections, and it can be used to help focus your studying for next time.

For example, if you struggled with the chemistry on the test, you would know to spend more time reviewing for that section than for a section where your performance was adequate. Use your score profile as a starting point for your next attempt at studying for the MCAT if you decide to retest.

[3 Inexpensive Types of MCAT Test Prep]

Determine How Well the Report Reflects Your Admissions Readiness

Data on the MCAT scores of accepted students is readily available online, and it should be used to compare your score against the scores of those who were successful in the medical school admissions process. Be sure to look at how your overall score, section scores and percentile ranks measure up to current admissions standards, especially for the schools you are most interested in.

Interpreting your score report and comparing your profile against other students can help you decide if it is time to press “submit” on that med school application you have worked so hard to polish.

More from U.S. News

Why the MCAT Matters Beyond Medical School Admissions

How to Prep for MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Passages

3 Ways to Manage Time for MCAT Success

How to Read Your MCAT Score Report originally appeared on usnews.com

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