Last week, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced dramatic changes to the Medical College Admissions Test. These changes, which will be implemented in 2015, plan to test aspects of psychology and sociology in addition to the exam’s traditional biological components, and will increase the length of the test from four to six hours. According to the association’s website, “the changes preserve what works about the current exam, eliminate what isn’t working, and further enrich the MCAT exam by giving attention to the concepts tomorrow’s doctors will need.”
The new MCAT exam will include new sections focusing on critical analysis, reasoning skills, and the psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior. To make room for these extra sections, the test makers also eliminated a writing section included in previous years. ”These changes should signal that someone who was a psychology major, or a cross-cultural studies major, or an English major has as much potential to enter medical school as someone who majored in chemistry,” Dr. Stephen Ray Mitchell, the Dean for Medical Education at Georgetown Medical School, said.
Mitchell said the whole medical school application process is a “system that, at a lot of different levels, is flawed.” Georgetown Medical School alone received about 11,700 applications last year for a total of 196 slots, making it the sixth most selective medical school in the United States.
However, in such a competitive environment, admissions counselors lack adequate time frames to holistically review each applicant. Admissions counselors must instead resort, largely, to numbers––grade point average and MCAT scores. The decision made by the Association of American Medical Colleges strives to replace this balance between scores and an overall behavioral understanding that they believe a doctor should possess.
Approximately 25 percent of Georgetown Medical School’s incoming class this year was comprised of social science and humanities majors. According to Mitchell, this diverse applicant pool is the basis for excellent doctors.
One critique of the MCAT extension is that the increased rigor of the exam may discourage college graduates from applying to medical schools. The additional course load of introductory sociology and psychology courses required for MCAT 2015 preparation may prove too much for students who already are enrolled in organic chemistry, human biology, and other heavy sciences. Mitchell said the additional two hours of testing likely will not dishearten students who have already been through a rigorous undergraduate education.
Mitchell believes the MCAT 2015 will not be too dramatic a shift, and cautions students not to be alarmed. “Initially these questions will be considered experimental,” he said. Little by little, as the actual implementation date in 2015 approaches, the MCAT will likely include new questions that, while not counting yet toward the test-taker’s final score, will be analyzed to ensure that such questions are correctly implemented later on.
In evaluating the proposed MCAT, Mitchell remarked, “we didn’t get there the whole way this time, but it’s a little better.” He insists that this is just one step toward ensuring a holistic evaluation of med-school applicants, and creating “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.”