Undergraduate students preparing for a career in medicine will need to adjust their courseloads to better prepare for the MCAT.
In the next few years, prospective medical school students will begin to take a revised version of the Medical College Admission Test. The changes to the test will include elimination of the writing section in 2013 and the addition of sections on behavioral sciences, social sciences and biochemistry, as well as added focus on critical thinking—to take effect in 2015. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, 87 percent of medical school admissions officers are supportive of the changes. But some think the changes, which will extend the length of the test from 5.5 hours to seven hours, will make pre-med undergraduate courseloads more challenging because of the added topics.
In the 2012 survey of medical school admissions officers—released earlier this month—40 percent of respondents said they believed pre-med courseloads will increase, and no respondents said they believed the changes would make medical school preparation easier. The major subject changes will not affect pre-med students graduating in 2013 and 2014, said Owen Farcy, assistant director of pre-health programs for Kaplan Test Prep. But underclassmen need to plan ahead to make sure they will be prepared for the test when it changes during their junior or senior year.
“Freshmen need to start considering how they will prepare for the test right now,” Farcy said.
Many Duke students will be affected by the changes, given the large number of students interested in pursuing medicine. Farcy noted that 355 members of the class of 2012 applied to medical school.
Academic advisors at Duke will continue to have personal and group advising sessions to help students prepare for the MCAT and medical school, said Daniel Scheirer, director of health professions advising. He added that they will increase the number of courses students should take to better prepare for the test.
“We are advising students to prepare by taking a course in biochemistry and one or more courses in psychology or sociology,” Scheirer wrote in an email Tuesday.
Scheirer added that molecular biology and genetics will be important topics to cover during the undergraduate career of students preparing for the exam. He also noted a new software program called AdviseStream, implemented this Fall, which allows pre-med students to plan and track their curriculum throughout their undergraduate experience.
“The result will be a series of course maps, which will give undergraduates a visual of what courses contain which foundational concepts,” Scheirer said.
Daniel Moore, a freshman who plans to take the MCAT, said he is not concerned about preparing for the new version of the test because of Duke’s advising program.
“My academic dean told me what I need to do—she showed me all the classes I need to take, what I need to do during summers and what I need to do outside of school,” Moore said.
Despite a potentially more difficult undergraduate courseload, approximately 74 percent of those surveyed believe that the new test will prepare students better for medical school.
“The hopes of these changes is that [these students] who have experience in sociology and biological science will come to medical school and have more robust conversations with their peers and professors,” Farcy said.
The last major changes to the MCAT were made about 20 years ago in 1991. The Association of American Medical Colleges formed the MR5 Advisory committee in 2009 to perform the fifth comprehensive MCAT review. The committee evaluated the test in its current form and spoke with medical students, undergraduates and medical school admissions officers to create a list of recommendations for the new version.
“The test has traditionally been used as a measure of science knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, et cetera,” Farcy said. “But it is also a test of critical thinking skills.”
The changes, he said, represent “the humanistic side of medicine, not just science.”
To accommodate the new test length, a lunch break will be added, Farcy said.
Additionally, tests will only be administered in the morning—as opposed to the current format, which allows tests to start in both the morning and afternoon.
“I’m definitely against it being seven hours long,” said Peter Mullen, a pre-med freshman. “Performance would deteriorate throughout the whole thing.”
The AAMC expects that this new version of the MCAT will be in place until 2030, when the format of the test will then be re-evaluated.