Applying to Med/PA School
Everything You Need to Know About Registering for the MCAT
Kasey Isaacs is a senior at Morehead State University and is pursuing his Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Sciences, with an emphasis in Pre-Medicine. A recipient of the Atlantis Pre-med Leaders Scholarship, he spent three weeks on an Atlantis Clinical Shadowing Fellowship in Milan, Italy in Summer 2017.
MCAT Test and Registration Dates
As spring rapidly approaches, bleary-eyed pre-med students are emerging from the science halls of universities across the nation to begin preparation for the MCAT. Studying for this infamous exam is a herculean task in itself, and the logistics shouldn’t add extra stress to the process. Despite this, test registration tends to be a point of needless confusion for already harried students. Is there an optimal time to take the exam? You might be wondering. Can I take it too early or too late, and if I do, how will that affect my success? In the following article, I hope to lighten your load and clarify these questions through tips I’ve developed from my own experience.
The proper time to take the MCAT depends on a lot of factors—including your personal schedule, goals, and strategies—but regardless of your preferences it is always important to stay informed. The AAMC has created a very helpful chart which goes into great detail about MCAT test and registration dates. Understanding this chart will allow you to make the most informed decision this year.
When choosing a test date, it can be a bit confusing to sift through the verbiage. What does the AAMC mean by Gold, Silver, and Bronze zones?
This registration zone generally encompasses the period 29 days before the test date (e.g. the gold zone deadline for the June 1 test date is May 3). This is the ideal time to schedule your exam, especially if you want the flexibility of changing your test date. Within the gold zone, you will receive the best exam registration price ($315) and the fee to reschedule your exam will be lower ($95) than those in the other zones. This is also the only time period in which you can receive a partial refund for canceling ($155).
This registration zone’s deadline is 15 days prior to exam day, so the zone itself includes all days between the gold zone deadline and the silver zone deadline. Within this time frame you still can register for an exam at the normal registration charge ($315), but the rescheduling fee rises to $155. There are no partial refunds for exams within this period.
This is the final registration zone with a deadline eight days prior to the exam day. Thus the bronze zone incorporates the time between the silver zone deadline and the bronze zone deadline. The bronze zone deadline represents the last day in which you can register for a particular test date. Within this zone, you will be charged a higher registration fee of $370 and you cannot reschedule or receive any refunds for a cancelation.
To find out more about registration fees and information regarding international students, check out the AAMC’s official site.
Choosing a Test Date
As I struggled to determine the best course of action for myself, I sought the advice of countless professors, mentors, friends and family members who had navigated the process before me. Although I was met with a wide range of opinions on timing and scheduling, I condensed their advice into this helpful maxim: strive for the intersection of early and prepared. In other words, take the MCAT as early as you possibly can without compromising your level of preparation.
But here is the reality: only you know when you are fully prepared and what you must do to arrive at that goal. This may involve a bit of self-reflection. Personally, I dislike change of routine, I prefer to feel “over-prepared” for assessments, and I have discovered that studying more than five weeks prior to an exam is wasted time. I recognize that these may not be your exact quirks. Nonetheless, I’d like to walk you through my own decision process to give you an idea of how I integrated the advice I received into my own situation.
“Take the MCAT as early as you possibly can without compromising your level of preparation.”
In the months leading up to my exam, I decided that I would not waver from my normal routine in the semester prior to it, as the very thought of doing so caused me a great deal of stress. From my perspective, the value of staying fully committed to my schoolwork throughout the semester outweighed any potential value in studying MCAT review material. I was further justified in this reasoning as I felt that all of my classes applied in some way to the MCAT, and by mastering the class content I was actually reducing the quantity of material I would need to review prior to exam day.
Knowing that I wanted to maintain a normal semester, this limited my test date options to those directly following winter break (in January) or to dates in summer and beyond (May-September). My pre-med advisor, mentors and physician friends recommended avoiding any dates later than July, as this would stall my entire application process. Medical schools generally operate under a system of “rolling admission”; thus it is in the applicant’s best interest to submit his or her AMCAS or AACOMAS (the medical school application services) as quickly as possible (for more on the application process, see this link). This narrowed my time window a bit more, leaving only the dates in January, May, and June.
The idea of taking the test in January appealed to my inner overachiever, but I felt I would miss the important content from key classes that I would take in the spring semester—notably Physics II and Developmental Biology. Thus, I was left with the dates in May and June. In choosing between these two months, I knew that I wanted a month for rigorous review. My semester ended the first week of May, quickly ruling out the May dates. After some personal considerations (I was actually getting married that same summer), I decided that the mid-June date (June 16 my year, June 15 above) was the opportune time.
Please remember that I arrived at my decision based off of the realities of my situation. I certainly am not suggesting that this is the only time period in which you should take the MCAT. What I am suggesting is that selecting a test date requires proper planning time, seeking the advice of trusted mentors, and taking the time to honestly self-evaluate personal factors that can influence test preparation and timing. Choosing a test date can be stressful, but proper preparation and thought will enable you to embark on the path to achieving your MCAT score goals with more confidence and less confusion (for more on MCAT scoring, check out this quick guide).
How to Register for the MCAT
Once you have consulted the proper mentors and carefully decided which test date is appropriate for your situation, how do you actually go about registering for the MCAT?
The registration process is all online. You will first need to make an account with the AAMC (save this password and username, you will need it for the application process). Next, simply follow the “Register for the MCAT Exam” prompt from this page. You will be asked to login using your newly-created AAMC account, and then you can follow the “Start Exam Registration” button. The rest is straightforward.
The road to medical school is fraught with little complexities that can make the process seem overwhelming at times—even the registration process to sign up for the MCAT is complex. However, with some proper preparation and thought you can master it. In summary:
1. Don’t procrastinate.
Begin the registration process, or at least plan your plan, early. Your test date helps define your MCAT study plan and needs to be decided well in advance.
2. Tap your connections.
Your professors, pre-med advisors, and the physicians you meet as a pre-med student have valuable experience that can help guide you through the registration process. If you are a younger pre-med, start building these connections! You will need guidance and professional mentorship throughout the application process (not to mention a few letters of recommendation).
3. Honestly evaluate your situation.
As cliché as it may seem, you know yourself better than anyone. Consider the collective advice of your mentors (who may or may not agree with one another) in the context of your personal study habits, skills, and struggles. This will shape how you study for the MCAT, and thus when you choose to schedule your test day. If you are a younger student, experiment with different study styles to help mold yourself into the most efficient student that you can become.
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