AAMC revamps MCAT, revisions to take effect in April

Luisa Venegoni, Senior Staff Reporter

Students taking the Medical College Admissions Test on April 17 or later will take a revised and lengthier version of the test, designed to place greater emphasis on critical thinking and cover additional content including biochemistry, sociology and psychology.

The Association of American Medical Colleges conducted five years of research to revamp the test, which had not been updated since 1991. An advisory committee surveyed more than 1,000 medical school faculty members, students and admissions staff to understand the best predictors of success in medical school.

The test’s previous version emphasized hard sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology and was scaled differently, with a possible maximum score of 45. The new test will consist of four sections with a possible total score of 528. The median score is expected to be 500.

Tulane pre-health advisor Sarah Withers said medical schools are undergoing a shift in what they expect from applicants.

“Medical schools are starting to emphasize core competencies over specific coursework with regard to admission,” Withers said.

These competencies include critical thinking, scientific inquiry, service orientation, teamwork and ethical responsibility to self and others, Withers said.

The addition of new subject areas to the MCAT content means undergraduate pre-medical students must take semesters of behavioral science courses in addition to the previously required eight semesters in physics, chemistry and biology.

Eric Chiu, executive director of pre-medical programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said the test’s redesign looks beyond the admissions process and reflects changes in the industry’s expectations of medical professionals.

“[The test will measure] which students are going to make better doctors, especially in a quickly-evolving healthcare industry,” Chiu said. “The additions of psychology and sociology really speak to a better-rounded physician and the creation of a better generation of doctors who are well-prepared to treat not just the human body, but to treat the societal and psychological impacts that affect our health.”

Beyond more comprehensive content coverage, the MCAT will now be administered over seven hours instead of four. Chiu said, however, that the biggest change underlying the exam does not involve the specific content areas or the length of the test, but the way questions are posed.

“Different science content areas will be integrated in applications to the biological processes and human systems,” Chiu said. “Instead of asking spring questions in the context of physics, they’re asking questions about spring in the context of muscle tension in your arms. That type of application is much more similar to what students will face in medical school.”

Tulane is one of the largest pre-medical population centers in the country, with 207 students applying to medical school in 2014. Students typically take the test during their junior year.

Chiu said the increase in the number of undergraduate courses required to prepare for the MCAT might encourage a greater number of students to spend a fifth year completing their undergraduate degree or take a gap year before applying to medical school.

Senior Dylan Wolff, who took the preceding version of the test in August 2014, said the inclusion of behavior sciences is a needed addition.

“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” Wolff said. “In my limited experiences working and volunteering with physicians, most have emphasized the non-scientific aspects of medicine that the previous MCAT didn’t test.”

Sophomore Ryan Morey plans to spend five years earning a master’s degree in neuroscience before applying to medical school.

“It’ll give me more time to do my prerequisites,” Morey said. “I want to have time for other classes as well.”

Chiu said the revamped test will be more rigorous and demand more endurance, but will serve as a better indicator of success in medical school.

“We know that pre-medical students, are focused, have high ambitions and are going to approach this test like they’ve approached every other challenge in their academic career,” Chiu said.