Is the January MCAT Right for You?
As we head into the end-of-year holiday season and the winter break, those of you planning to take the MCAT in 2012 are giving careful consideration to your selection of an MCAT test date. While most of you will likely choose a test date sometime in the spring or early summer, you should be aware that the January test dates – there are two of them – provide some real benefits and opportunities that are unique to this slightly-off-the-grid testing window.
I can hear some of you already: why in the name of all that is good and pure would I ruin my winter break by taking the MCAT at the end of January? No thanks; I’d rather schedule back-to-back root canals. Well, hold on a second, there. Sure, it’s not the most fun way you could spend your time off, but then again, you’re going to have to face the challenge of preparing for and taking the MCAT eventually. Here are some factors to consider.
First and foremost, there’s the matter of whether you’ve completed the basic premed sciences that are tested on the MCAT. This is of course a consideration to make when selecting ANY MCAT test date; you would do yourself a terrible disservice to take the MCAT, which tests you on your mastery of concepts from these four sciences, before you’ve completed the actual coursework. So, to cut to the chase: if you will not have completed the second semester of physics or organic chemistry before the January 2012 test dates, then January is NOT the right testing window for you. With this caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at the positives.
There are actually a number of really good reasons for taking the MCAT in January. The most obvious is that you can use the time of your winter break to prepare for the MCAT with far fewer distractions, obligations, and demands of your time than you would likely face during the spring semester. While it would be inadvisable actually to wait until January 1st (or 2nd, depending on what you did for New Year’s Eve) to start your preparation for the MCAT, you can begin your preparation now, while you’re in the final weeks of your fall semester, make some initial progress between now and the start of your winter break, and then kick your preparation into high gear once the term is over. In a sense, your winter break provides you an opportunity to IMMERSE yourself in the world of the MCAT; the deeper you can immerse yourself into the MCAT, the quicker and more meaningful the learning process will be for you.
The other reasons for taking the MCAT in January relate to the positive impact on the med school application process itself. Among the many time-consuming steps of the application process, the MCAT is just one of them; you’ll also need to write a personal statement, request letters of recommendation, complete the AMCAS primary application (which itself requires the arduous process of recording every college-credit course you’ve ever taken), and eventually complete secondary applications. As the time for applying to med school approaches, the demands on your time will only increase. By taking the MCAT in January, you’ll spare yourself the burden of fitting MCAT preparation into the busy application season. If you use this extra time wisely, by the time the AAMC makes the AMCAS primary application available in May you’ll be well prepared to complete the application and be among the first applicants to submit it in early June – a huge competitive advantage in the context of rolling admissions.
Finally, taking the MCAT in January opens up the opportunity to retest in the early spring, should your January MCAT scores come back lower than you want or need. As you are probably aware, you’ll get your scores about 30 days after your test date, which means for January test takers, you’ll have your score report in-hand by the end of February. Should you decide that retesting is in your best interest, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare again in anticipation of the April or May test dates (which still allow you to submit your application in June when the cycle opens).
So as winter approaches, ask yourself, is the January MCAT right for me? I think I’ve given you a lot of (comfort) food for thought.