Med schools less confident in new MCAT

Less than half of schools believe the new MCAT will prove med school readiness.

Benjamin Farniok

Changes to the Medical College Admission Test had some students scrambling to take the test before new subjects were added in April.
Now, students and medical schools aren’t convinced the new test will prove whether prospective doctors are prepared for medical school.
A Kaplan Test Prep survey released last month showed medical school admissions offices are less confident in the MCAT after new subjects were added to the test. This year is the first application cycle where students who took the new test will be considered for admission into medical schools. 
In 2014, 68 percent of surveyed schools said they believed the revamp — which added new subject areas like biochemistry, sociology and psychology — to be an improvement.  
Forty-two percent of the 68 responding medical schools this year said they were unsure whether the new test will better show if prospective students are prepared to enter medical school.
Much of the concern comes from schools’ lack of information about the new test scores, said Eric Chiu, executive director of pre-medical programs at Kaplan.
Uncertainty could drive around one in 10 schools to consider college entrance exams, like the ACT and SAT, to help gauge student ability, according to the survey. Chiu said many schools will also put more weight on other application factors, like GPA and application letters, because of the new test.
First-year medical student Kate Hanson said she took the MCAT ahead of the normal schedule so she could take the old, shorter version, which she said is relevant to medical school classes.
But Chiu said many of the new questions, which take a direct approach to how a subject could be applied to medical treatment, are more relevant than in the past.
“Instead of testing a physics concept like spring constants and Hooke’s Law in the context of a spring, they will actually test muscle tension in a bicep,” he said.
Chiu said students had to take extra classes to prepare for the new subjects, effectively adding three more semesters to the eight-semester track pre-med students typically pursue.
Many University of Minnesota pre-med students were aware of the change ahead of time, so they were able to prepare before they finalized a course schedule, said Brady Anderson, president of the local pre-med chapter of the American Medical Student Association.
Kaila Thatcher, a genetics, cell biology and development junior, said she had to add a sociology class to her course schedule, but she was able to take it while she was still a freshman, so it didn’t cause a problem.
The beefed-up test’s time requirement also increased from about three hours to just over six, which Thatcher said could increase anxiety among students.
“I think it’s good to add the material that they did; I just believe that they should have shortened the other material,” she said.
Hanson said while the test is daunting, it is consistent with the testing medical students receive in their classes.
“Every mid-term is four hours,” she said.
Students who decide they want to attend medical school later in their university careers would be the most affected by the added course requirements, Anderson said.
Hanson said it could take a few years for admissions offices to know what to make of the test, which could hurt medical schools in the meantime.
Before the change, admissions offices had decades of testing information to determine whether a student with a certain score would perform well once they were accepted into the school, Chiu said.
Over time, Chiu said he expects admissions offices to grow just as comfortable with the updated MCAT.
Registration for the test opened Oct. 21, and the first round of 2016 testing begins in January.