Comments on the AAMC’s Recommended Changes to the MCAT: What it means for you

March 31, 2011
Kaplan Test Prep

Written by the Kaplan MCAT Team

The AAMC recently released its preliminary recommendations for a new MCAT exam, scheduled to debut in 2015. Because we know there has been a great deal of speculation on the part of students, pre-health advisors, and the medical schools themselves around the new exam, we wish to examine the proposed changes to the MCAT and offer insight into their impact on the education of future pre-meds.

New Behavioral and Social Sciences Principles Section

According to the recommendations, the new MCAT will include a section that tests students’ knowledge of the behavioral and social sciences, as well as their ability to evaluate and understand the methods and results presented in research and their statistical significance. Concepts to be tested are mainly taught in undergraduate psychology and/or sociology course; the change would effectively demand that students add classes in psychology and sociology to their already busy course schedules.

Addition of advanced sciences

An update to the science sections on the MCAT will add the subjects of cellular/molecular biology, biochemistry, research methods, and statistics, on top of the biology, chemistry, and physics seen on the current MCAT. This change, in concert with the other section requirements, effectively doubles the prerequisite course work for students preparing for the MCAT and extends the timeline of the pre-med track by a year or more. Given the already heavy academic schedules of most pre-meds, this could prove difficult for students to manage.

New Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section

The new MCAT will continue to test critical thinking skills by evaluating students’ ability to read dense passages in an effective manner. Beyond the current content base of the Verbal Reasoning section, the new section will now include topics in cross-cultural studies and population health, broadening the field of study for many students. It is not expected that students will need prior knowledge of the specific subjects tested in this section. Critical thinking ability will likely remain of key importance to admissions committees.

Removal of the Writing Sample Section

The efficacy of the Writing Sample has long been debated by students and admissions officers alike; removal of the section will shed 60 minutes of writing time from test day. That savings, however, is short lived in light of the additional content and sections proposed by the MR5 committee. In all, the proposed new test will be 90 minutes longer than the current MCAT, with a length of approximately 7 hours.

Timeline of the new test

A release date of 2015 means that students who are entering as freshmen this fall or later will need to prepare themselves for these changes; current students planning to take the MCAT prior to 2015 will be largely unaffected. Undergraduate science departments and pre-med advisors, on the other hand, face the immediate challenge of implementing a revised pre-med curriculum that satisfies the broad new requirements and lays down the foundations of success for the new students entering their institutions later this year.

It is clear that the recommendations by the MR5 committee are designed to create a test that is better suited to the needs of the modern medical system. The broad scope of these recommendations and the timeline for their deployment means that students, advisors, and medical schools will have to work closely together to ensure a successful transition to the new exam.

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