Make no mistake: the revisions are extensive...but for good reason.
Beyond the particular emphasis on biological and physical sciences of past versions, the new MCAT will now also emphasize behavioral and social sciences. Still, specific prescribed material is only a portion of the next version's focus. The new MCAT will also assess competencies that are becoming increasingly important to success in medical school and beyond. They'll surely help you here at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
Per the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the new exam is "Designed to help better prepare future physicians for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system." The medical education community by and large supports this transition.
So what has changed and how should a person prepare?
The revision will restructure the MCAT into four new sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
The top three sections are all science-based. While the first two cover natural sciences, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior will draw from social and behavioral sciences concepts.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills is different in that it does not test any specific subject area. Instead, this section tests analysis and reasoning skills.
So what courses should you take to prepare?
You will still need biology, organic chemistry, general chemistry, and physics. These will prepare you for the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems and Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems sections. While the new MCAT won't have as large a proportion of general and organic chemistry as the last version, biochemistry will also be needed as it will be more emphasized in Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems.
In addition to biochemistry, the new revisions will also require at least some introduction to psychology and sociology to build your competency with behavioral sciences for the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section.
This portion of the exam will test your ability to understand sociocultural, biological and psychological influences on behavior and social interactions. So if you happen to have completed some coursework in anthropology, culture, ethics and even communications, you may find that helpful too.
The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section will have questions that test your ability to analyze passages you will read—no specific outside knowledge will be necessary.
We always try to guide potential applicants to their school's pre-health/pre-professional office as each school will be able to advise what courses can fulfill those required competencies. The advisers there are naturally much more familiar with that institution's offerings. But in general, the courses outlined will offer a solid foundation for the new exam.
Click here to learn more about what's on the MCAT exam.
The most obvious change to the MCAT scoring scale is that scores will now be in three digits, rather than two. Each section will now be scored using a range from 118 to 132, with a median score of 125. The total score is the sum of the sectional scores and will be centered at 500 with ranges from 472 to 528.
Percentile ranks will be used to identify how you did in comparison to others. Students can use those percentile ranks to gauge how competitive their score is.
As with any exam, preparation is key. Only take the exam when you feel that you have thoroughly prepared and believe you can do your best. While many schools, including our own, look at candidates holistically, a good MCAT score is still a very important component to that review.
Taking a sample MCAT test can be a helpful in your preparation. Take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with both the content and format. According to the AAMC, "The second full-length test will be available in fall 2015. This 230-question test will be the first practice test offering scoring information."
The new test will be longer.
Each section will be 59 questions and 95 minutes long with the exception of Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, which will be 53 questions and 90 minutes long.
The content time will be 6 hours and 15 minutes. The addition of the new section and each section's increase in length will raise the seated time from 5 hours and 10 minutes to approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes.
Taking practice tests under test conditions (i.e. strict time limits) is a good way to prepare for the new version.
Limits on Attempts
With the new exam, there are new limits on how many attempts you may take. Keep in mind that no-shows still count as an attempt, by the way.
In a single testing year, the MCAT may be taken up to three times. In consecutive testing years, it may be taken up to four. Seven attempts may be made in a lifetime.
Chances are you may have already begun to prepare, especially if you are among the first to take the new version this spring. If not, a good place to start is on the AAMC's MCAT webpage, where you will find the official guide, MCAT Essentials and many more helpful, authoritative resources.
As we've noted several times throughout this blog, each school is different. So, how exactly an applicant's MCAT scores are viewed depends on each institution. For MSU, we not prefer one MCAT over the other and will continue to accept MCAT scores given within four years of the current application cycle. As long as you've taken the MCAT after spring of 2011, your score will be accepted and reviewed fairly as part of your overall application.
Good luck and...
Note: This is the first of a two-piece installment regarding the most recent set of revisions being made to the MCAT in April 2015. To read the second piece, please see "New MCAT Reflective of Changes to Med School Admissions and Beyond."
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