New MCAT sees positive reactions

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The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, was changed in April 2015. Experts said the best way BYU students can prepare is by planning ahead, taking test prep courses and enrolling in classes that cover material on the MCAT.

Haley Mosher
Kaplan Test Prep recently published the results of a survey asking medical schools if the updated MCAT helps or worsens their ability to evaluate students. More than half of the schools said they are still unsure. (Haley Mosher)

The updated MCAT is almost twice as long as the old one and includes questions about biochemistry, psychology and sociology.

Many medical schools agree it is too early to decide if the new test is successful, but a recent study by Kaplan Test Prep shows that 43 percent of medical schools said the test helps them better evaluate a student’s ability to succeed. Only one percent reported the new test inhibits the evaluation process.

Eric Chiu, Kaplan’s executive director of pre-health programs, said he and many medical schools are “cautiously optimistic” and awaiting more data. Some students have used old MCAT scores when applying to medical school since the test was changed, Chiu said, so it will take another year or so until they can start evaluating students based only on the new test.

According to Russell Schaffer, Kaplan’s senior communications manager, BYU has one of the largest pre-med populations in the country. Last year 443 BYU students applied to medical school, he said in an email.

Chiu said extensive research went into the test change. He said the test itself doesn’t necessarily prepare students for medical school, but it shows who can perform best in the types of scenarios medical school will present.

“It provides a new integration of concepts from other subjects,” Chiu said. “Much more like what students will face in medical school.”

Emily Graham, a nursing major who will take the MCAT in May, decided to attend medical school just after the test was changed. She said she had not been preparing for the old test and was actually happy with the newer version.

Graham said she has heard many complaints about the new test.

“It measures your mental stamina, how well you can study and how well you can prepare,” Graham said. “Which is what you do in medical school.”

Sarah Wasden, a masters student preparing to take the MCAT, also agrees the new test seems to be “more applicable” to what she will study in medical school.

Chiu said it is never too early for a student to start preparing, especially now that the test is longer and more involved. He said BYU students should begin thinking about the MCAT in their first year of undergraduate school. He also recommended students take more prerequisite classes to prepare for the test’s newly added subjects.

Chiu said past students have spent an average of 300 hours preparing for the MCAT. He said it is not realistic for students to double that amount just because the test is twice as long; instead, they should change their preparation methods.

“Students need to be more efficient with their preparation,” he said. “They need to work smarter, not harder necessarily.”

Chiu said a good way to prepare is by taking realistic, full-length practice exams or taking test prep courses. Chiu added Kaplan has a financial assistance program called “The Starting Line” that can help students afford test prep courses to prepare for the MCAT.
Chiu said aspiring medical school students should speak with their premed advisors to make sure they are enrolled in courses that will prepare them for the MCAT. He also said students should look into what prerequisite classes their medical school of choice requires so they can build those into their schedules.

BYU students can contact their pre-med advisors through the Pre Professional Advisement Center.

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