Sally Engelhart | Is 2015 doomsday for the pre-med?
Scientifically Blonde | The new MCAT looks tougher, but might be worth the trouble
March 15, 2012, 12:06 am · Updated March 16, 2012, 12:30 am·
To a sorry group of students out there, the end of March not only marks the start of 70-degree weather, St. Patrick’s Day and the onset of April showers — it also marks the start of MCAT season.
The MCAT is the pinnacle of awfulness in the entire pre-med experience. It’s even worse than taking organic chemistry and physics at the same time. After I took the test last summer, I was sure that the whole MCAT process was just about as bad as it could get.
And then it got worse.
Last month, the Association of American Medical Colleges approved dramatic changes to the MCAT that will be implemented in 2015.
In a nutshell: the AAMC scrapped the easiest section of the test (the writing sample), amped up the hard sciences by adding biochemistry and added sections on behavioral and social science and one on critical analysis and reasoning.
Together, the changes add an extra hour to the test, which will now ring in at six and a half hours of test-taking.
If it sounds like the MCAT is about to get a whole lot longer, more comprehensive and difficult — that’s because it is.
But as much as it’s going to suck to have to take this new test, pre-med kids are used to these kinds of masochistic endeavors.
If implementing the new MCAT is going to produce doctors of a better caliber — I’m all for it. Students who pick the pre-med path, after all, expect a tough academic load.
But the real question is whether these changes are going to improve the care that doctors provide in a way that we’d want and expect them to.
By adding new topics to the MCAT, the AAMC sends a message that it wants students to have a broader foundation beyond the traditional sciences.
While it sucks for those who have to take a longer, more comprehensive and trickier test — I admit that what the AAMC is trying to achieve makes sense.
Radical breakthroughs in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology that have taken place since 1990 — the last time the MCAT was overhauled — need to be reflected on the test.
The new non-science components reflect how being a good doctor today requires more than just scientific knowledge. An understanding of people and populations is critical as well.
Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the AAMC, said in a statement that “being a good doctor … also requires an understanding of people. By balancing the MCAT exam’s focus on the natural sciences with a new section on the psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior, the new exam will better prepare students to build strong knowledge of the socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health.”
So if the AAMC’s goal is to recruit medical students with a broader and stronger academic background, it looks like the 2015 MCAT will do the trick.
Some people also think that the new MCAT will attract a different kind of applicant — one who is interested in people and behavior, not just tinkering around in a lab. But I’m not so sure.
They argue that the new MCAT — complete with a section entitled, “Psychological, Social and Biological Basis of Behavior” — might seem more appealing to psychology or sociology majors. That being said, the behavior section won’t utilize material beyond a single semester intro course (who hasn’t taken Intro to Psychology?) and the test will still demand students be well versed in the hard sciences.
College junior Laura Shook, a fellow pre-med student, said, “I would probably just buy a study guide book from Kaplan or Princeton if I needed to know about intro sociology for the MCAT.”
My guess is that most other pre-meds would do the same.
Perhaps this reveals a flaw in the new test, since I highly doubt that cramming from a study guide will have any impact on the way that future doctors interact with their patients.
All things considered, I do commend the AAMC for encouraging applicants to further develop their understanding of people, populations and their behavior. If the new test does succeed in this goal, I’ll be very impressed.
But I’m not sure we’re going to see radical changes any time soon. In the meantime, the new MCAT is just going to suck a little bit more.
Sally Engelhart is a College senior from Toronto. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Scientifically Blonde appears every other Thursday.