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MCAT 2015: Changes to the Exam

Created March 7, 2012 by Juliet Farmer
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In its current iteration, the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination testing problem solving, critical thinking, writing skills, and knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. It’s also a rite of passage for students pursuing allopathic, osteopathic, podiatric, and veterinary medicine.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in addition to MCAT scores, admissions committees use interview recommendations, letters of recommendation, UGPA, and medical community service to help decide which students to accept.

While the MCAT is just one piece of the medical school admissions puzzle, it is one of the foundations to earning a medical degree. If you’ve already taken (and, hopefully, passed) the MCAT, kudos. If not, and especially if you’re not planning to for another few years, take note: the MCAT as you currently know it is changing.

The AAMC recently announced that, beginning in 2015, the MCAT will be revamped for the first time since 1991, keeping what works, removing what doesn’t (the writing sample section will be eliminated in 2013), and adding sections that reflect issues faced by those in the medical profession. Changes to the MCAT are part of an overall effort to improve the medical school admissions process. MCAT 2015 test takers will need an understanding of psychology, sociology and biology as it relates to health, the goal of which is to “help medical students prepare for a changing health care system, an evolving body of medical knowledge, and a growing, aging and diverse population.”

MCAT Changes
This was not a hasty decision, however. For three years AAMC (which administers the MCAT) and its 21-member advisory committee reviewed the current exam format, looking for ways to fine-tune the test. They also reviewed 2,700 surveys completed by med school faculty, residents, and medical students regarding the current MCAT.

Based on their findings, there are some notable changes to the exam. In MCAT 2015, the natural sciences sections will reflect changes in medical education, focusing on biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. There will be a new section on social and behavioral sciences covering introductory psychology and sociology concepts, and introductory biology concepts as they relate to mental processes and behavior. In addition, a new section regarding critical analysis and reasoning skills, which does not require specific knowledge, but rather tests analysis and reasoning skills in general, has been added.

The Writing Sample portion of the MCAT will be eliminated by 2013. In its place will be a voluntary section (non scored) that will test materials for the 2015 version of the exam. The total number of questions for this new section is still being determined, but it is likely that examinees will be given approximately the same amount of time as they are currently given for the writing sample section. Students will be able to opt in or out of taking this portion of the exam, and those demonstrating a good faith effort in completing it will receive a yet to be determined financial compensation for their time.

MCAT 2015 will have four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Scoring will be similar to the current 1-15 scale, and each section will receive its own score.

The two natural sciences sections and the new Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section will test a total of 10 concepts, as well as four scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. The Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section in particular will focus approximately 65 percent on introductory biology, 25 percent on first-semester biochemistry, 5 percent on general chemistry, and 5 percent on organic chemistry. The Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section will focus approximately 30 percent on general chemistry, 25 percent on organic chemistry, 25 percent on introductory physics, 15 percent on first-semester biochemistry, and 5 percent on introductory biology. The Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section will focus approximately 60 percent on introductory psychology, 30 percent on introductory sociology, and 10 percent on introductory biology.

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section will cover the broad categories of humanities and social sciences, with passages regarding anthropology, archaeology, architecture, art, cross-cultural studies, dance, economics, education, ethics, geography, history, linguistics, literature, music, philosophy, political science, popular culture, population health, psychology, religion, sociology, and theater. (Again, this section does not require advanced knowledge, but will focus on critical analysis and reasoning skills.)

Each of the four sections will include approximately 65 questions (or, in the case of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, 60 questions), and each will be allotted 95 minutes to complete (90 minutes, in the case of Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills). Compared to the current test-taking time of about five hours, administration of MCAT 2015 will run about seven hours. Thus, more than likely only one test will be administered per day. In addition, the test-taking fee will be slightly higher to offset the additional administration time (the fee increase has not been decided yet, but, according to the AAMC, “won’t be big”).

MCAT Resources
The first MCAT 2015 free practice test will be offered in 2014. This full-length practice test will feature test-taking options including “Simulate the Actual Test”, which delivers the exam under timed conditions, including timed breaks, as well as a report summarizing your results once you’ve completed the practice test, and the ability to go back and revisit the test item by item. (In 2015, there will be one more practice test.)

In 2014, the Guide to MCAT 2015 will also be released, with sections providing an overview of “everything MCAT,” and an overview of the exam content with practice items for every section of the new exam. Other MCAT 2015 resources will include AAMC’s low-cost test preparation materials and services (a benefit currently offered), and test prep information and videos on the MCAT website.

Change can be unsettling, but students have three years to prepare for MCAT changes, and that, coupled with the many MCAT 2015 resources available now and in the future, should help ease the transition.

How should you prepare for the MCAT? What’s the best study guide? How long should you study before your exam? What do the changes to the MCAT mean to you? Discuss MCAT 2015 and more in the SDN MCAT forum!

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  1. Experimental Guinea says:

    Oh great. Sociology/humanities questions! So we can now select for liberal med students to be nice little drones under Chairman Obama’s master medical plan. After all, the “cultural studies” majors need to get into med school too!

    Does anyone else see the foolishness in this? If you aren’t trained well by your parents to be compassionate and kind, no one will be able to train you.

    This sort of liberal engineering, and avoidance of science, continues to water down our system, equate us with noctors, and pave the way for the communist revolution taking over our medical profession and autonomy.

    1. Experimental Guinea says:

      Oh, and a higher fee for this liberal garbage? Oh my! That must have been a tough decision for the test admins.

    2. John says:


      1. Lobo says:


        I totally understand what you mean!

    3. Darlyn says:

      Actually yes i do see the point. There are sociology and psychology classes that relate to medicine. IE: Medical Sociology and Developmental Psychology

    4. Jonathan W. says:

      Elite institutions are mostly dominated by liberal professors. What’d you expect? They’re in high places.

      Rather then testing on basis of behavior, the MCAT ought to test of social, psychological, and biological basis of illness. That’ll actually be relevant. A doctor doesn’t need to know why a kid and his friends would do drugs. A doctor WOULD need to know how those drugs can affect the body and that would be taught in medical school. In other words, sociology and psychology are useless to a doctor. Compassion and caring are learned outside of the class room through volunteer work and such. No person will become more caring or tolerant because of some class.

      As darlyn said, more appropriate topics would be medical sociology and developmental psychology.

  2. MDMD says:

    But this is political. Everything is. I’ve noticed an extreme liberalization of how we view patients and disease. This is just more touchy-feely crap that really isn’t needed. I find these changes unnecessary and a poor decision. It will now be easier than ever for academic liberal elites to continue to shove their worldviews down the throats of pre-meds willing to gobble up anything to get into medical school. Call it a conspiracy theory, but leftists are in very high positions academically all across the nation. It seems like they are trying to turn the cogs behind everybody’s backs to push their agenda. They call it “compassion”, and if you disagree, you’re a bigot by their standards. This is just more social engineering. If you can’t tell if somebody is compassionate enough just by their experiences, LOR’s, talking with them, etc, then you clearly don’t know how to read people.

    1. Jonathan W. says:

      I agree. Surely, a person who has volunteered countless hours to community service has gained enough interaction skills with the less fortunate, the desperate, or the ill. No amount of sociology or psychology courses will turn a person from being uncompassionate and cold to caring and friendly. Such traits are built outside of academics and can never be gained from a course.

      “They call it ‘compassion’, and if you disagree, you’re a bigot by their standards.” I couldn’t agree more. While I agree with some of their policies, them calling people who disagree with them on social policies bigots turns me away.

  3. smab says:

    The new test is not replacing any “hard science” questions with questions regarding “personality traits”, I think that’s is misrepresenting the added section. It is meant to test “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills,” not how compassionate one is. And in that respect, that is an improvement over the current MCAT. Physicians along with a large body of knowledge of health and biological systems, ought to be able to think and reason with something tangible in front of them and not simply regurgitate information.

    The “intangibles” such as concern over the human condition, communication skills, and the desire to learn will still be reflective exclusively in LOR, volunteer positions, and interviews and not in an objective test.

    As for the the comments regarding the “liberal elites” and “touchy feely medicine,” I don’t really see how this section, which is meant to test critical thinking and reasoning skills, has been implemented by their doing. Nor by anything involving Obama or current health care. These revisions were made by the AAMC after years of deliberating and nothing hints at any direct influence by anyone with strong political biases. Perhaps it is more of a reflection of what the American Physician ought to be moving forward, that is well-rounded, with a holistic perspective on treating patients, and awareness of the current state of health care.

    In conclusion, there is still no bullshiting on the MCAT if you can’t balance an equation.

    1. GK says:

      Personally, I have a completely different opinion. I think the MCAT itself is social injustice, because it selects for people with money. Poor people have more trouble affording the preparation materials necessary to get a good mark on the highly questionable “subjective reading” section (mproperly labeled as “verbal reasoning”) which tests one’s ability to read poorly written articles (primarily self-published books and theses) with grammar mistakes galore, and come up with subjective answers (in many of AAMC’s FL practice tests, the answers they chose as correct are flawed – even after reading their reasoning).

      The MCAT was designed to “solve” the “problem” of soaring medicine dropout rates in 1920’s. Like many solutions, one has to ask what the real problem actually was, and whether the “problem” still exists in the 1920’s.

      I use quotation marks around “problem” because I am also skeptical that there was an actual problem. It seems really strange and highly subjective that students were quickly becoming less committed at finishing medical school without some external reason (otherwise, why would the same formula not also apply to all faculties?). Could the statistics that brought the MCAT into existence even be artificially induced for some reasons that are inappropriate, such as to limit who is allowed into medical school based on social status?

      1. SD says:

        ^ Um ya…there’s something called a URM.
        If an underrepresented minority scores a 26 on their MCAT and has a 3.5 GPA that’s viewed similarly to an Asian of middle class standing with a 30 and a 3.9…so please take your garbage claims out of here.

  4. Jackie says:

    I was just wondering, if it is so difficult to become a doctor and to prepare for all these exams, and then the best is sifted out from all the candidates, why are there so many lousy doctors everywhere, who treat patients “impatiently”, run the wrong tests or none at all and misdiagnose the symptoms, as you can see the list goes on. There is a major communication gap between doctor and patient these days and I can’t get over the fact that it is so difficult to become a doctor in the first place and then when they do become a doctor they are useless. I am so jaded by my experience and those of family and friends. Is something really missing in the system. Is it possible that only the so called smart people become doctors but they are missing something called “empathy” and really can’t help the patient that walks through their door and no high GPA will compensate for this major component in being a good Doctor, who will take his or her time to heal a person.

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