How are MCAT Percentiles Related to MCAT Grades

Talking about MCAT scores, you often find confusing statements. Sometimes the number is in the range 24-45, and sometimes it is reported as 11 or so. There is this talk about raw scores, MCAT grading scale, and percentiles. What is an MCAT grading scale? How are the MCAT percentiles related to MCAT grades?

The current version of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) has the following sections:

• Three multiple-choice question sections:
• Physical Sciences
• Biological Sciences
• Verbal Reasoning
• One Writing Sample section

Aggregate MCAT scoring is based on all the four parts. For the multiple-choice sections, the raw scoring is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no additional penalty for wrong answers. For the Writing Sample section, the raw grade is based on the marks you receive for each of the two samples you write. Two different ratings (on a 6-point scale) happen for each of the sample write-ups and the total raw score is arrived at by adding all the four scores.

However, the MCAT scoring system makes use of a normalized grading scale. This is to make up for the minor variations/difficulty level differences that might exist between various sets of questions across various administrations of the MCAT exam. For each of the multiple-choice sections, a 15-point MCAT grading scale is used and the raw scores are converted to scaled scores starting from 1 to 15. This 15-point scale is said to provide a more accurate assessment of a candidate's abilities. That is, when a raw score in the range 40-43 is converted into the MCAT grading scale, the converted score might be 11 or so. Hence a difference of 1 or 2 points in the raw scores (40, 41) would not actually make a difference in the reported score. For the Writing Sample part, the raw scores are converted in to an alphabetical MCAT grading scale, with scores ranging from J to T. An X indicates one or both of the responses could not be scored.

When reporting the MCAT score, the individual scores of the sections are included separately, and a total of all the four is also included. For example if your graded scores for the multiple-choice sections are 11, 12, and 10, and that of the Writing Sample section is Q, the report will also include a composite MCAT score of 33Q.

MCAT Percentiles

Now coming to the percentiles given in the score report, it is an indicator where you stand in relation to other exam takers. The percentile is the value to which certain percent of observations fall. For example, if your score is in the 85th percentile, it means that 85% of the exam takers scored less than you.

The MCAT percentile ranking is not based on the individual administration of the test you have taken, but rather all the MCAT test administrations conducted in the year. However, when considering the percentile ranking of MCAT scores, the Writing Sample scores are not considered and only the MCAT multiple-choice section grades on the MCAT grading scale are counted. The MCAT total score (scaled score) is plotted on a bell curve with an SD of 6.5 or so and the percentile is determined.

According to the data available on the AAMC website (https://www.aamc.org), the national average MCAT score over recent years is around 25 (with 50% of exam takers placed below). On an average, a total MCAT score of 30 or more is considered a competitive MCAT score, and this falls in the 75.3 - 80.4 percentile range; this implies that only 19.6-24.7% of exam takers score an MCAT score of 30 or so. Data related to section-wise and total percentile ranking of all MCAT exam takers in the recent years are available at the AAMC website.

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