The Medical College Admission Test plans to change its format to include additional social science sections, effec- tive in 2015, that aim to single out well- rounded students who will make patient- conscious doctors.
The new social and behavioral scienc- es section will gauge candidates’ abilities to understand the psycho-social and bio- logical basis of mental processes, while the critical analysis section will require test-takers to read passages and apply information related to the humanities and social sciences. The proposal will also add two hours to the MCAT — bringing the total testing time to six and a half hours — and reform the exam’s natural sciences sections, which focus on chemistry, biology and physics.
These reforms are the first adjust- ments made to the exam since 1991 and will be used as a basis for medi- cal school admissions beginning in fall 2016. Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges recently decided to remove the writing portion of the test as early as 2013.
Emily Xiao, a fourth-year biology major who recently took the MCAT, said although analytical and social skills are important qualities for doctors to pos- sess, she hopes the humanities section will not detract from the core sciences that have long characterized the MCAT.
“I do not think it should be just sci- ence; it is important to assess a student’s reading ability and [ability to] be able to deduce information and apply it,” Xiao said. “[But] I think they should keep a lot of the sciences. These things play an important part in understanding the human body.”
Comparable to the SAT of medical school admissions, the test determines not only what school an applicant will attend but whether or not an applicant will be accepted at all. In 2011, only 19,000 of the 44,000 U.S. medical school applicants received acceptanc- es. According to the AAMC, which administers the MCAT, the average score of those admitted last year was 30.9 out of 45, above the overall average of 28.1.
According to the AAMC, the amended MCAT will test applicants’ knowledge in socio-cultural and behav- ioral aspects of patient care in addition to science and biological understanding to “help prepare tomor- row’s doctors for the chal- lenges, advancements and reformations of our future health care system.”
Biochemistry professor Christopher Hayes, who took the MCAT nearly 20 years ago, said modifying the examination is equiva- lent to a food company creating a new flavor for the sake of change.
“Certainly it is not going to hurt,” Hayes said. “You do not want science robots, but generally stu- dents in medical school are not hardcore scientists. One wonders what is driv- ing the changes; it is like introducing a new ‘orange- mango’ exam.”