Any student interested in a career in medicine knows that the MCAT stands between her and her goals, namely medical school or MD/PhD admissions. So while taking the exam is a must—many students wonder when the right time might be.
The answer to that question depends on a complex balance between the amount of formal coursework she has completed that includes information covered on the exam, how "stale" her knowledge is, and when she wants to apply to medical school.
As an MCAT tutor who has worked with many different types of students, you might guess: the answer is different for everyone.
First, the MCAT is good for three years from the date of the exam to the date of application. So students who know they want to take an extended timeout between the exam and medical school should be weary of taking the exam too soon. Putting the test date off may be a good plan for students who plan to pursue other interests after college or are unsure about when or even if they want to go to medical school in the first place.
The other important considerations are a) the degree of testable knowledge with which students are familiar and b) how stale that knowledge is. Some students prefer to take the exam as soon as possible—say between their sophomore and junior undergraduate years. While their knowledge is as fresh as it can be, they may be sacrificing the amount of exposure they might otherwise have gotten to new, possibly testable material. This can be a good strategy for students who have taken their core requirements early—such as physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, introductory biology and physiology.
On the other hand, some students elect to take the MCAT after they've seen everything that is likely to be included on the exam during their undergraduate coursework. Unlike their counterparts, their volume of content may be high, but it may be more stale—wilted in the back of their minds.
What do we recommend? That students be introspective. If you're the type who gets easily ruffled by new information, perhaps waiting until you've seen more of the content in your coursework is a good idea. On the other hand, if you're someone who has a hard time holding on to knowledge for a long time or likes to clear hurdles early, perhaps taking the MCAT earlier is the way to go.
In any circumstance, a good standardized test preparation plan can help you brush up on the material you've forgotten and master the material you're seeing for the first time. That’s the reason why we, at Cambridge Coaching, feel that it's so important to tailor our approach to each student, a unique aspect of our training.
In the end, there's no right choice—just the right choice for you. And if you think honestly about your strengths and weakness, you'll figure out what that is.