Pre-meds scramble to take MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test is set for its first changes in over two decades this spring.

by Christopher Aadland

A surge of doctor-hopefuls at the University of Minnesota is scrambling to take the Medical College Admission Test before it changes drastically in April.

The beefed-up version of the test — which has stayed the same since its initial introduction in 1991 — will include new sections on social and behavioral sciences, biochemistry and critical analysis and reasoning.

While some say the new version will lead to more qualified medical school candidates and better future doctors, many say they’re intimidated by the new exam and are clamoring to take the old one this fall before it retires.

On top of the added sections, the Association of American Medical Colleges — which administers the MCAT — nearly doubled the examination time from its initial length of three hours and 20 minutes.

The AAMC revamped the test to make it more relevant for today’s aspiring doctors and to reflect a shift in health care, said Karen Mitchell, senior director of admissions testing services.

She said the test will now evaluate students on how they interact with patients, along with cultural and social theories and how those affect well-being.

The revitalized exam isn’t necessarily harder, but it is longer and covers a broader scope of content, said Eric Chiu, an executive director at Kaplan Test Prep.

In the past, students who were “straight test-takers” — or had excellent rote memorization skills — had an advantage when taking the MCAT, said Josh Bush, an engineering senior and president of the Minneapolis pre-med chapter of the American Medical Student Association.

But now, the updated MCAT’s social sciences and critical thinking sections give an edge to more well-rounded students, Bush said, and will test “facets of what being a doctor is about.”

Physiology senior Nicolette Meyer said she’s taking the new version of the exam this spring because she thinks it will better equip the next generation of doctors to navigate the evolving medical field — even though she said it’s a more rigorous test.

“If you can’t understand a person on a psychological level, it’s hard to make a connection with anyone,” Meyer said. “A handful of kids going into medicine just think they need to be smart and know hard facts, but really, it takes a lot of social skills.”

Although students acknowledge the revamped MCAT will benefit them in the long run, many are scrambling to sign up for the current version of the exam before it’s too late, said Bush, who will join them in taking the test this fall.

If a student is prepared now, Chiu said, they should register for the old MCAT as soon as possible because slots are filling up fast.

Meyer said she sees many of her peers doing just that.

“A lot of people are hearing how the new one is longer and has more sections — it scares people off,” she said. “A lot of people are cramming to get into the old one.”

Mitchell said the AAMC has noticed and anticipated the rush, consequently adding extra testing dates to accommodate the surge of students hoping to take the exam this fall.

To succeed on the new test next spring, Chiu said students should modify how they prepare for the MCAT. The exam’s extra length means students must become more efficient when studying, he said.

Whether a student takes the old or new MCAT likely won’t impact many medical school admissions decisions.

According to a survey of medical schools released earlier this year by Kaplan, 44 percent of institutions said they won’t factor which test is taken into decisions, while 27 percent recommend that students take the new version.

For now, the University of Minnesota Medical School will accept both tests and doesn’t have a preference for one or the other, said Assistant Dean of Admissions Dimple Patel. Like most schools, Patel said the University will accept scores from the current MCAT through the 2017 application cycle.