Med school hopefuls to see heftier MCAT

The longer test, to start in spring 2015, has drawn mixed reactions.

Tyler Gieseke

As patients complain of a shortage of primary care physicians, a new version of the Medical College Admission Test will be longer and test more material beginning spring 2015 — potentially making it more difficult for students to pass and go on to medical school.

The Association of American Medical Colleges, which produces the MCAT, is adding three new topics and making the test longer. While more than 40 percent of medical school admissions officers say the new test could be more challenging than the current version, students have mixed reactions to the changes.

University of Minnesota psychology sophomore Lucy Zhou has to decide if she should take the MCAT before or after it’s revamped.

“It doesn’t look good to take it more than once most of the time,” she said.

Students who want to fully prepare for the material on the new MCAT will also have to take introductory courses in biochemistry, psychology and sociology, according to the AAMC.

These topics will be added to subjects the MCAT already tests — biology, chemistry, physics and verbal reasoning.

Owen Farcy, Kaplan Test Prep pre-health programs director, said becoming familiar with social science material will help potential physicians better understand aspects of their patients’ behavior and overall health.

Some pre-med students applauded the new requirements in the social sciences.

“We’re treating a society, and we really should know how our society works,” said biochemistry junior Christopher Jennen, who plans to take the current version of the MCAT.

Jennen said it’s important for future medical professionals to be able to relate to people and understand them — two skills that courses in the social sciences will help develop.

Zhou agreed. Because doctors deal with people, she said, they should be personable.

“You need to know how to talk to people in a way that will make them feel comfortable around you,” Zhou said.

Zhou said she wasn’t overly worried about the change. She said she thought most pre-med students would consider some of the introductory psychology and sociology classes to be less rigorous than some of the hard science courses.

Besides extra preparatory work, students who take the new MCAT should expect a long day in the testing room.

The 2015 exam will last about 6.5 hours — about two hours longer than the current MCAT, according to the AAMC. Before the transition from paper to the current computer-administered test in 2006, the length was similar.

Biology senior Amelia Black, who took the MCAT last spring, said she thought the current test was long already and she wouldn’t be interested in taking a longer one.

“[It] doesn’t sound fun to me,” she said.

Physician shortage

The MCAT changes come at a time when the number of primary care physicians is at a low.

Patients are complaining about long wait times and doctors who don’t have as much time for individual patients, Farcy said, because there aren’t enough doctors to go around.

Because the baby boomer generation is growing older and will need more medical care, he said, there could be an even greater shortage going forward.

But Farcy said he doesn’t expect the changes in the MCAT to deter potential primary care physicians from applying to medical school.

Some of the main reasons for the physician shortage are a limited number of seats in medical schools and residencies, Farcy said. The AAMC is working with schools to increase the number of seats available, he said.

Last year, 284 University students applied to U.S. medical schools, according to the AAMC.

Farcy said Kaplan consulted with potential medical students and found that almost none of them said the MCAT changes would discourage them from becoming physicians.

Potential medical students are “really a very driven, highly motivated group,” he said, and they likely won’t abandon their goals because of a long, rigorous exam.

But that doesn’t mean students will enjoy the new MCAT.

“I feel bad for the students that are going to have to take it,” Jennen, the biochemistry junior, said. “It is a long test already.”