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MCAT 2015: Changes to the Exam

Created March 7, 2012 by Juliet Farmer

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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