First changes to MCAT in 23 years to take effect next April

For pre-medical students, there is perhaps nothing more daunting than the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the standardized test required of all medical school applicants. Starting in April 2015, the MCAT is going to look a lot different.

The current MCAT exam has been administered since 1991. It features four sections that measure a student’s competency in biological sciences, physical sciences, verbal reasoning and writing. The new test, titled MCAT2015, which will be administered starting next April, has not only updated these sections, but added a few additional subjects as well—most notably biochemistry, psychology and sociology.

In addition to the added subject matter, the MCAT2015 will measure not just a student’s knowledge in a particular subject area, but their ability to reason scientifically and apply that knowledge. As the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) states on their website, the exam accomplishes this by requiring the application of scientific reasoning skills to solve problems in the natural, social and behavioral sciences test sections.

As a result of this added material, the length of the test has increased, and the MCAT2015 is, according to the AAMC , expected to take about 7.5 hours including breaks.

While it is not unusual for standardized tests to make changes, especially in fields such as medicine, where information and knowledge is always evolving, this particular update to the MCAT illustrates an interesting trend in the medical school admissions process.

The MCAT2015, with the addition of the Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section, recognizes the necessity of having a holistic approach to medicine. As part of that holistic approach, medical schools want applicants to have not only scientific knowledge, but experience working with people. While the new section gets at those skills,  Dr. Barbara Keyes, director of Albion College’s Institute for Healthcare Professions emphasized the importance of developing those interpersonal skills firsthand.

“The other thing that has changed in the past decade is an increasing focus on what is called holistic review,” Keyes said. “So, academic competencies are essential, but then schools are looking at what they call personal and interpersonal competencies – communication skills, cultural competence [and] a whole slew of personal characteristics they want to see in future physicians.”

These personal and interpersonal competencies can be found on the AAMC’s website, and include things like service orientation, resilience and adaptability, and cultural competency. In fact, of the 15 overall competencies the AAMC lists, only six of them are related to specific subjects one can learn in school. The remaining nine are arguably traits that cannot simply be learned from a textbook.

Despite all these changes to the exam, Marikay Dobbins, Albion College Health Professions adviser, believes that Albion College students will be well equipped to handle the added subject matter, as they are used to an extensive, liberal arts approach.

“We’re a liberal arts college – we’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to prepare students in a broad way for medical school,” Dobbins said. “Our students already do take classes that are going to help them with the new MCAT[2015] , just because it’s part of what a liberal arts college does.”

Since 2009, Dobbins and Keyes have been working with various academic departments within the college to ensure that Albion College courses will cover the new material on the MCAT2015 exam.

“There’s a course-mapping tool that we’ve had our departments on campus do that basically looks at what courses we offer that cover the competencies that a student might need for the new MCAT exam,” Dobbins said. “Our departments are all pretty well-versed on what is coming, and have all looked at their courses and told us which specific courses are going to help fulfill various competencies.”

For additional information about the MCAT2015 including test dates, registration fees, and preperation materials, visit the AAMC’s MCAT website.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

About Tess Haadsma 24 Articles
Tess is a senior from Battle Creek, Mich., studying English literature and psychology. She is a member of the swimming and diving team, and is an avid burrito enthusiast. Follow her on twitter at @TessHaadsma.

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