To my fellow premeds of the Class of 2016:
The big test of our lives will change in the spring semester of our junior year, a time when many of us will be planning on taking the MCAT, preparing our personal statements, and asking for letters of recommendation. Not everyone will take the same exam. We now have a choice to make: whether to take the current MCAT by the last time of January 2015 or to take the new test in the spring. I’m here to fill you in on the scoop and help steer you towards making your decision.
What are the changes? According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the engineers of the MCAT program, the 2015 MCAT will entail a brand new section titled “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.” To prepare for this section, the AAMC has recommended taking Introduction to Psychology (PSY 301) and Introduction to Sociology (SOC 302) in addition to the Introductory Biology sequence. The current Biological Sciences section will be refined to “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems,” including on it concepts from first semester Biochemistry (CH 369) along with Introductory Biology. The Physical Sciences section will be reformed to the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” The current Verbal Reasoning fragment will become “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills,” testing social sciences and humanities based passages. This won’t require advanced social sciences/humanities knowledge or coursework.
Taking the new MCAT will add a total of three courses- a semester of psychology, sociology, and biochemistry to the traditional premed requirements. Moreover, the test has undergone a profound change in timing and number of test questions. The current exam time will double to a seven to eight hour length with the new exam. The number of items tested will follow the same trend.
Why the change? Medical schools are looking for future doctors with interpersonal skills and an understanding of human behavior coupled with a well-developed interest in the sciences instead of having pure, science-dependent robots. The AAMC hopes to break down the wall between the doctor and the patient by cultivating an enhanced generation of compassionate physicians.
What does the faculty have to say?
“I think the change is good. Doctors need better interpersonal skills. It’s a positive change, given the change is to improve those set of skills, says Dr. Fatima Fakhreddine, Senior Lecturer of General Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. Regarding the future of medicine, Dr. Fakhreddine adds that “we must see change in health policy before we see change in our future medical students.”
Lesley Riley, Director of the Health Professions Office (Career Design Center) at the University of Texas at Austin mentioned that she’s “grateful of the new MCAT for the significance it gives to social and behavioral concepts.
On the notion of taking the test more than once, she explains that “the idea of giving it everything you have the first time you take it is the best way to go. Taking the test to get a feel for it is not a wise choice. You only want to take this test once! There used to be a paper exam, and if you missed it, that’s it for six months. It forced the test-taker to be prepared for the exam.
The current MCAT is allowing examiners to take an optional trial section, in which the examinee will answer questions based on the new MCAT format so the AAMC can gauge what questions to ask, according to prior classes the examiner has taken. For instance, Karima Khimani, a third year pre-med, was assigned a field section in Biochemistry in the January MCAT of last month. She explains that she “hasn’t taken a lot of sociology/behavioral classes, I guess that’s the reason why I got biochemistry questions.”
As far as what the Health Professions office has in store for the future, Lesley Riley clarifies that, “We’re all in the learning process with the AAMC. We’re in the process of figuring out what beyond a PSY 301 or a SOC 302 would be beneficial for the pre-med student.”
Taking a couple classes won’t make you a better communicator.
“A big part of it has to do with life experience and how you work in groups. That’s where volunteering and participating in student organizations come into play. The idea of cultural competence and inter-professional education has been coming in the forefront. Experience in social circumstances will not only fuel the cultural competency needed for the patient, but also the inter-professional skills necessary for your medical team. The change in the MCAT will force students to recognize the significance of cultural competency.”
–Lesley Riley, Director of the Health Professions Office
My take on shooting for the current exam:
It’s the leanest version created yet. It doesn’t even have a writing section. You’ll have to plan ahead on the next two summers. You’re more likely to take summer classes to fulfill pre-med prerequisites. Give yourself room to take the test two times, January 2015 being the last time. Chalk out a 4 year plan, including potential MCAT test dates and the time period in which you will study for it. Get your adviser’s opinion of it. You might find yourself pressed for time, but on the plus side, you’ve got plenty of materials and resources to study from and many have taken the test before you.
My take on shooting for the new exam:
You’ll have a lot more time to practice for the exam. Study materials will be released later in 2014. If you want to start studying before, it’s not like you cannot open up an old MCAT prep book for biology, chemistry, or physics for review. The level of science will remain the same. Chalk out a plan to include the three additional classes. Get your adviser’s opinion of it. Stay up to date with the changes by referring to the website and joining the UT Health Profession’s List Serv. The AAMC has released a preview guide to the 2015 MCAT so students can get a sneak peek at the new concepts and types of questions. Download it.
Most Texas medical schools will be fine with the idea of submitting a 2014 score, so it’s not like you must take the new MCAT. It’s not a bad idea to call the school you’re interested in and double check. On a side note, you shouldn’t consider the possibility of arranging to take both tests. Just no. The tests are radically different; it’d be ridiculous to change gears with a semester’s worth of time. Make a schedule so you have a better idea of what’s coming in the next couple years. Pick the right test for you.
May the force be with you, Class of 2016.
Ali M. Rasool