Students await MCAT alterations

By Josh Qian, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 3, 2012

Members of the University’s medical community have expressed mixed emotions on pending changes to the Medical College Admission Test, which will be implemented in an attempt to help medical schools select more well-rounded candidates who excel beyond the sciences.

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and required for admission by most medical schools in the United States. The test is currently composed of four sections: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, writing sample and biological sciences. However, in February, the AAMC approved three major changes to the exam, which will go into effect in January 2015.

According to the preview guide for MCAT2015 published by the AAMC, the natural sciences sections have been revised to reflect recent changes in medical education. In addition, two new sections — psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior and critical analysis and reasoning skills — have been added to the test.

The new psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior section will assess the test taker’s understanding of the aspects of medicine and health concerning psychological, social and biological factors influencing behavior.

Additionally, the new critical analysis and reasoning skills section will also evaluate the test-taker’s ability to analyze and apply information from a variety of disciplines, including social sciences and the humanities.

Ronald Franks, vice president for health sciences at the University of South Alabama, said changes to the natural sciences section will include emphasizing biochemistry and molecular cell biology. Franks — who is also vice chair of the AAMC’s MR5 Committee, which conducted the fifth comprehensive review of the MCAT, and an alum of the University’s Medical School — added that all the changes reflect scientific advances and an expanding understanding of diseases and treatment approaches.

“(The test) won’t be much harder, but more comprehensive and (will) better indicate the strength of the applicant,” Franks said.

Franks said the new psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior section will reflect the diverse population of patients that doctors serve, and will include content on health determinants like risky behavior.

Rajesh Mangrulkar, the University’s associate dean for medical student education, said revisions to the MCAT reflect the University’s need to look for candidates from all disciplines.

“The MCAT changes are a good step forward to better reflect the skills that we require of graduating physicians,” Mangrulkar said. “For example, the added elements of the social and behavioral sciences, as well as critical thinking, are just as important competencies as a good grasp of biology, chemistry and physics.”

Mangrulkar added that it is still important to use the MCAT as one part of assessing an applicant’s academic and personal competence.

David Brawn, associate director of the Newnan LSA Academic Advising Center and a pre-health advisor, said he believes LSA offers an extensive range of courses, and students can already find classes that address the materials being added to the test.

“Generally speaking, I don’t expect things to change too much here in LSA,” Brown said. “Also, over the years, we’ve already seen instructors incorporate ideas about medicine and pre-medical sciences into their courses, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this happening in response to the new generation of changes.”

Brawn added that some students may find themselves confronting more choices at an earlier stage in their career as a result of the wider range of materials covered on the MCAT.

“In LSA, that probably does put some pressure on the exploratory aspect of the liberal arts education, but this may simply boil down to something like students needing to be more self-conscious about how they use that flexibility,” Brawn said.

According to a press release from Kaplan Test Prep, a provider of educational and career services, the new test will be more difficult for test takers. The release stated that the test will require most universities across the nation to adjust their curricula to prepare students for the test in the same four-year time frame.

LSA sophomore Lauren Burton, who expressed interest in eventually taking the MCAT, said she thinks the changes are necessary since doctors need to be able to incorporate a wide array of skills in their practices beyond just memorizing facts.

“Being a doctor involves a lot of human interaction, and if you do not study human interaction in any way, it will be very difficult to give quality care to the patients,” Burton said.

Burton added that she believes universities should reduce the number of science courses required for students applying to medical school to compensate for the added material in other academic fields.

First-year Medical student Isabel Greenfield said she agrees with the changes if they are intended to identify more qualified students.

“There are plenty of current medical students who are just really good at science but lack a certain human appeal that most would probably prefer in their doctor,” Greenfield said. “The essays and interviews during the application process are somewhat helpful in weeding out the robots, but honestly, it’s not that hard to act passionate in two page-long essays or for a 30-minute interview.”

However, Greenfield added that individual schools should come up with their own ways to test how well-rounded a candidate is in addition to relying on the new MCAT.

LSA junior Patrick Parkinson, co-president of the Black Pre-Health Association, said though he believes the changes will improve the selection process, these changes are not absolutely necessary to determine whether or not a candidate is qualified.

“In regards to what this means for a pre-med student, I don't believe it will change much,” Parksinson said.