Incoming freshmen hoping to be pre-med may be facing an entirely new environment, with altered pre-med requirements and a redesigned MCAT exam scheduled for 2015.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) announced Thursday their preliminary recommendations for the new MCAT exam. The AAMC, the exam’s administrator, proposed four main content changes: updating the exam’s two natural science sections, adding an evaluation of behavioral and social sciences, including ethics and philosophy questions in the verbal reasoning section and eliminating the writing sample. In addition to increasing the exam length from five-and-a-half to seven hours, Kaplan test prep officials say these changes might require colleges to add more courses to the required pre-medical curriculum, a source of concern for a number of pre-med students interviewed. But ultimately the altered MCAT will help medical schools better evaluate candidates, Yale School of Medicine Director of Admissions Richard Silverman said.
“There is a recognition that science in general in medicine has changed,” Amjed Saffarini, executive director of pre-health programs for Kaplan Test Prep, said. “25 years ago, no one talked about genetics or genetic screening. Medicine is different in terms of the competency it requires now.”
The “MR5 Committee,” appointed by the AAMC to review the MCAT, released the 14 recommendations after three years of analysis, meetings, surveys and consultations with advisory groups, stakeholders and medical school faculty and administrators, according to a press release from the AAMC. The committee will continue to consult stakeholders regarding the recommendations until it receives final approval from the AAMC Board of Directors in February 2012.
According to the AAMC announcement Thursday, the portion of the MCAT that tests students’ knowledge of natural sciences will be updated to reflect current science.
Saffarini said the new natural science evaluation would place more emphasis on molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, research methods and statistics than the current MCAT. Though he said he predicts the increased focus on advanced sciences will require students to add courses to their pre-med curriculum, Saffarini said the changes would reflect scientific advancement.
“As science has grown, requirements of med schools to teach that science has grown,” Saffarini said. “They are trying to relieve some of that pressure by putting it in undergraduate years.”
Additional undergraduate medical preparation may help students beyond the seven-hour MCAT, as medical schools may advance their curriculum, Saffarini said.
The recommended changes to the MCAT, Silverman said, will also help medical schools during the application process.
“These changes are the result of a tremendous amount of study and consultation with medical school faculty and admissions officers,” Silverman said. “The AAMC committee has come up with an innovative way to expand the capacity of the MCAT to evaluate personal strengths important in medicine, and also to keep up with developments in science.”
The added behavioral and social science sections and the emphasis on ethics in the verbal reasoning portion of the exam also allow the test to keep up with the changing society, Saffarini said. The increasingly diverse population requires doctors to be able to effectively communicate with members of different cultures more so than in the past.
Though the socio-cultural sensitivity testing is somewhat controversial, Saffarini said, the recommended section may be a positive addition, Silverman said. Yale’s admissions committee has relied on application essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews — all within the context of an applicant’s profile of interests, extracurricular and community leadership roles, and accomplishments outside of the classroom, he said. The goal of admissions has always been to evaluate students at a level that is deeper than would be reflected by grades and test scores, he added.
“At the end of the day, we are making decisions that are not based simply on numbers, but on the good judgment of a thoughtful and experienced admissions committee,” Silverman said. “The new MCAT may give us a tool to make these difficult judgments with greater confidence.”
CHANGING SCIENCE COURSES
Saffarini and other Kaplan administrators predict that the additional sections of the improved MCAT will require pre-medical students to take additional biochemistry, molecular biology, statistics, psychology and sociology courses to adequately prepare for the exam.
Douglas Kankel, the director of undergraduate studies for the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department said the Yale College science departments know the MCAT will likely change in 2015, but they will wait for the pending changes to be finalized before they alter the affected curricula.
“If there are any radical changes that require us to make changes in the curriculum, we would, with high probability, consider that,” Kankel said. “We will certainly implement whatever changes will be necessary to ensure Yale students are up to speed.”
Three Yale pre-med students interviewed said they do not fully agree with the AAMC committee’s recommendations.
“I’m hesitant of anything that would add requirements to pre-med,” Michael Solotke ’13 said. “I think everyone knows we’re already stressed and focused on our grades.”
Another pre-med student Lauren Bonomo ’13 said any additional courses might impede the purpose of the AAMC’s recommended socio-cultural evaluation: to draw attention to applicants with a high level of social competency. Bonomo, like a number of pre-med students, participates in a medical program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center that alleviates some of her pre-medical requirements while giving her hands on experience in a hospital.
“Spending time with people is a huge skill important for becoming a doctor,” Bonomo said. “Asking people to complete more requirements makes it hard for programs like Mt. Sinai to exist.”
229 Yale undergraduates took the MCAT and applied to medical schools in 2010.