Last month, registration opened for the new version of the Medical College Admission Test, better known as the MCAT.
The updated test, developed by the American Association of Medical Colleges, will focus more on experimentation and practicality. The AAMC will first administer the new test on April 17. The old exam was last taken on Jan. 23.
According to the AAMC, the four updated 95-minute sections include Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
The test is expected to last about 7.5 hours — contrasting a previous three and a half time span. Testing time has increased due to the addition of a fourth section, as well as the longer length of each section compared to the previous exam. According to a January report in The New York Times, the additional testing time necessitates more stamina and focus.
Eric Chiu, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-medical programs, said the changes will ultimately permit the exam to test application of material, for example, in an unprecedented way.
“The MCAT is undergoing not just a change in the content areas covered and the length of the exam, but also in terms of how it tests science content and, in particular, application and integration of that knowledge in a different way,” Chiu said.
He added that the new emphasis should aid students in their careers as doctors.
“It’s the type of skill pre-meds will need once they get to medical school,” Chiu said. “That’s how their medical school classes and, someday, how they will act as doctors really apply content knowledge from lots of different science areas to real-life scenarios.”
The changes include recommendations that students take 11 semesters of prerequisite courses, compared to the previous eight. Sociology, psychology, biochemistry and statistics are now included in this list. The exam will also place more focus on chemistry and physics in the context of biological processes, which may require students to take additional coursework in that realm.
LSA junior Tiffany Brocke took the previous version of the MCAT in August 2014, and has no plans to retake the new one. However, she said the changes in the test, particularly the new emphasis on sociology and psychology, will likely benefit students.
“I think it’s important for doctors to have an understanding of people as social animals and how complex the mind is as well as the physical body,” Brocke said. “I do think it’s important to evaluate that understanding of people on a personality level, so I think it’s a positive change overall.”
In addition to demanding more endurance and a broader material base from test takers, the new MCAT test will also serve as a challenge for medical school admissions officers. Chiu noted that for the next few years, medical school admissions offices will be tasked with comparing applications from students who have taken the old MCAT to those who have taken the new version.
“This is going to be a challenge for medical schools to figure out how they compare test scores across the two exams,” Chiu said. “But remember that the new exam is meant to help medical schools make even better decisions, so as much as possible they’re going to be looking for ways to use that new score to inform better decisions about applicants.”
The new test will be scored differently from the previous 1-15 and 3-45 scale. Each section will range from a low score of 118 to a high score of 132. Total scores will range from 472 to 528.
Changes in the MCAT’s demands reflect broader adjustments in the demands of medical schools. The University’s Medical School recently revised its admissions requirements to include a humanities-based experience and to encourage applicants to learn necessary material in unique and alternative ways.
Steven Gay, assistant dean of admissions at the University Medical School, said he believes the MCAT is being updated in response to changes that have already starting occurring in pre-medical education.
“I’m very pleased that the MCAT is trying to mirror what schools find are very important characteristics to have as you go to medical school,” Gay said.
Brocke, the LSA junior, echoed Gay’s opinion on the changes, saying she believes the entire process is becoming more holistic.
“Overall, I think it reflects a trend of looking at the applicant as a person and much less as a set of numbers and achievements and extracurricular activities,” Brocke said.
LSA freshman Krishna Vemulapalli said he disagrees with the MCAT’s added focus on humanities-related topics.
“I think the humanities is something that students should learn on their own, rather than being tested on for medical school,” Vemulapalli said.
Chiu said the more demanding exam should not discourage pre-med hopefuls.
“Pre-med students are a highly motivated group of students, so it’s unlikely that this more challenging exam will deter them from aspiring to medical school,” he said.