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Med School Officials Support MCAT Changes

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Joseph Castlen / Heights Editor

Last year, 145 Boston College students applied to medical school. Few universities in the country produce more medical school applicants than BC.

Significant changes to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), however, may affect the course plan of many aspiring doctors at the University. The current form of the MCAT has been in place since the 1990s, but changes in the fields of science and medicine have led the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to completely revamp the exam.

While the MCAT has in the past required a strong background in the natural sciences, the new exam will be broader in scope and place a greater emphasis on psychology, sociology, and biology.

Starting in 2015, the MCAT will include several new sections in these areas. It will also feature two natural science sections and will eliminate the writing section.

Owen Farcy, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of pre-health programs, says that the addition of psychology and sociology reflects the changing role of the modern American doctor.

“Doctors need to relate to their patients better. They need to understand what is causing the patient to do what they do,” Farcy said. “For instance, if a patient gets a triple bypass surgery, and then goes and eats three double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s, doctors need to be able to figure out the reasoning behind the patient’s unwise decision.”

As a result of the revisions, the exam will also test students’ endurance. The new MCAT will be over an hour longer than it is now, going from the current five and a half hours to about seven hours.

Despite the substantial content increase, the new MCAT has the strong support of the medical education community, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 survey of medical school admissions officers.

Nearly 87 percent of medical school admissions officers support the changes to the MCAT. Similarly, 74 percent of admissions officers say that the new exam will better prepare aspiring doctors for medical school.

While admissions officers agree that changes in the MCAT are necessary to bring students up to date with the medicine currently being practiced many also believe that the road to medical school will become more intense.

Forty percent of medical admissions officers say that pre-meds’ course loads will increase because of the additional content they will have to learn as undergraduates.

“This year’s freshman class will be most affected by the change, since they will be the first to take the new MCAT,” Farcy said. “Freshmen and subsequent classes of students will need to think more seriously earlier about a career in medicine. They will need to carefully plan all their classes from the get-go.”

Many pre-med programs are in the process of revising their curriculum. Farcy explains that each undergraduate institution is taking its own approach to implement reforms in pre-med curriculum to prepare students for the new MCAT.

“I think that BC, as a well-established institution with a large and reputable pre-med program, will have an easy time adapting to the changes,” Farcy said. “It will definitely have an easier time than some of the smaller liberal arts schools who may be scrambling, at this point, to adjust their program.”

The path to medical school will undoubtedly be a more challenging one, since pre-med students will need to learn significantly more material in the same amount of time.

Nonetheless, Ajmed Saffarini, the vice president of graduate programs at Kaplan, thinks that the new exam is “a potentially daunting, but achievable hurdle for a group of highly motivated students.”

The pre-med office at BC was contacted but was unavailable for comment.

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