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Test history now reported with MCAT

The medical school admissions pressure-cooker known as the MCAT just got a whole lot hotter.

Among the changes approved for 2003, the most significant is that medical schools will now receive an applicant's entire testing history--not just the highest score--when a student applies. This means that the days of taking the MCAT "for practice" are all but over.

"It's a good change for everybody," said Albert Chen, executive director of graduate programs for the Kaplan test prep company. "Do it once, do it right--that's mostly our take on it."

Previously, if a student fared poorly on the test and wished to withhold the results, subsequent score reports would indicate that the test was taken but would not reveal the score. That option is no longer available.

Chen said schools will benefit from more information. "[Admissions officers] will have more opportunity to look at the student," he said. "If a student does consistently bad for a while, then does well, that's something a school may consider."

Likewise, he said students will benefit in that they will no longer be tempted to take the examination frivolously and pay the $185 registration fee.

With a likely decrease in the number of tests taken per year, it is unclear whether the change will negatively or positively affect the Association of American Medical Colleges--the non-profit organization that manages the MCAT--and test prep companies like Kaplan.

While admitting the move seems counterintuitive at first glance, Chen said fewer careless test-takers will cause scores to rise on the whole, helping the industry. "You'll automatically make money when people are succeeding," he said.

Many students were wary of the change, which adds more pressure to an already nerve-wracking test.

"Going into the first time taking the MCATs, people are definitely going to feel more pressure," sophomore Michael Hatch said. "Students will no longer have the luxury to take it just once to see what it's like."

The test is normally taken only once, but many viewed the withholding option as a safety net in the event of unpreparedness or simply a bad day.

Jessie Brotherton, a junior who took the MCAT last summer, said she would have prepared differently if the new changes had been in effect.

"I think I would have been more serious about it," she said. "There was always the option that if I screwed up, I could always take it again, which I think is kind of necessary."

Both Hatch and sophomore Lindsay Chaney said the change may make them rethink when they take the test.

"I had been planning to take it this August and so if I did poorly on it, of course I would prefer to hide that score and be able to take it again in April," Chaney said. [The change] could possibly make me rethink taking it so soon. If I don't feel I'm prepared enough to take it, I probably won't."

In addition to eliminating the withholding option, the AAMC will be changing the MCAT in several other ways. Three questions on DNA and genetics will be added, and the verbal reasoning section will be moved from the first to second section and reduced by five questions. The price of the examination will increase by five dollars from last year's price of $180.

Because of the changes, Chen advises students studying for the MCAT to ensure that their test materials are the most recent available.

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