How do changes to the MCAT affect medical school applicants?

When you're preparing your application, it's essential to have a handle on all the elements you're expected to include. If you know what a school's program is looking for, you can dedicate time to ensuring you put your best face forward.

Prospective medical school students have long been familiar with the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. This standardized test is a necessary part of the application process, and preparing for it effectively can be as important as tracking down your recommendation letters or nailing your personal statement. Recent changes to the MCAT format, however, may mean that applicants' current MCAT knowledge may be obsolete. If medical school is in your immediate future, here are a few things to keep in mind so you can best prepare.

MCAT Basics

Before you can begin studying for the test, you'll need to know what it covers and what you can anticipate in terms of material and knowledge level expectations. If you didn’t spend your undergraduate career in a pre-med program don't worry - the test is designed to test general knowledge and reasoning ability rather than to see if you're ready to be a doctor already.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in addition to basic scientific knowledge such as physical and biological science - both of which will be tested for basic subject matter knowledge - the MCAT also tests verbal reasoning and verbal and scientific cognitive skills. This can range anywhere from vocabulary to information on why a particular study would be carried out. Fortunately for students, the AAMC website provides helpful documents which further detail how testees should tailor their studying.

MCAT Changes

This year's crop of prospective students will experience a change in the MCAT structure. According to the AAMC website the new test covers much of the same material with added sections on behavioral and psychological science as well. This indicates that there is likely to be an increased emphasis on sociocultural factors in the health and medical industry. New cognitive reasoning sections will also be added to round out the test to check for more than just information retention. According to the source, it's more important for schools than ever to demonstrate well-roundedness in applicants.

MCAT Decisions for Medical School Applicants

Current applicants are faced with a unique decision. Do they hurry to get their testing done on the older model before January or begin studying for the new version, which includes more information but may be viewed more favorably by schools? Fortunately, candidates will be happy to hear that there's no reason to start cramming new material just yet. According to Kaplan executive director of pre-med programs Eric Chiu wrote:

"Students should take whichever version of the MCAT for which they'll be better prepared. That said, there is a pretty compelling reason for students to take the current test by January if they can,"

Chiu cited the fact that the revised MCAT will be around twice the length of its current incarnation. As a result, students may find themselves spreading their limited study time out over more sections, resulting in a reduced grasp of knowledge in any one particular area. Moreover, a Kaplan-conducted survey of graduate schools revealed that there's no real overall preference in admissions offices. While some 27 percent indicated a preference for the newer test, 44 percent claimed that they had no preference for which MCAT was submitted with students' applications.

Find Schools