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Taking the MCAT, The Hard Way

Don't Force Pre-Meds to Take the Test at Tufts Again

By Jonathan Samuels

Sometimes you just have to laugh and hope for the best,. Or at least place faith in those who say lightning never strikes the same place twice.

While few would dare to take their chances a second time, Tufts University and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have put on their helmets and crossed their fingers in preparation for tomorrow's Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

While AAMC spokesperson Patty Shay said this week that "we want students to take the exam in best possible circumstances," one could argue that these organizations are not taking all of the elementary precaution to ensure that tomorrow's stress-filled MCAT goes as smoothly as possible for everyone.

Just like last year, about 150 premeds will take the test at Tufts. Sound like trouble. That is, if you believe in superstition. Hee hee.

First, the history: last April's administering of the MCAT in Somerville was delayed for more than two hours because a thunderstorm caused a campus-wide black-out--which occurred literally two seconds before the already-nervous pre-meds opened the seal of their first section.

The room went dark, as if a science genius was trying to sneak in and take the test for a friend. But no cunning activity had transpired. the pre-meds were held prisoner for two hours, with updates every half hour informing them that the power might not return and they might have to wait until the next day (or perhaps September) to take the dreaded test.

After the power finally returned, sans air conditioning, the students began the lengthy test and finished at about 8 p.m., after a 12-hour ordeal.

Representatives from Tufts and the AAMC said this week that the blackout was a fluke, and should not preclude Tufts from serving as one of this year's nine MCAT sites in Massachusetts (most of them in the Boston area). This sounds perfectly reasonable, but the fact remains that there is no pressing need to administer the test at Tufts when there are eight other MCAT testing sites around the Boston area.

Furthermore, this was not the first blackout at Tufts in recent years. Students at Tufts said there have been blackouts on campus during their exams. A blizzard a couple of years ago halted a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) at Tufts. Of course, there is reason behind this statistical improbability: Tufts is located at the highest point in the Boston area and is specially susceptible to power outages.

What's worse, the mere thought of Tufts as a testing site doesn't sit well with last year's proctor--for reasons independent of the Blackout misfortune. Paula Kaplan, the proctor, who is working toward a Ph.D. in biology at Tufts, has given the test there for four years. "Our building where we give the test isn't great in terms of seating and lighting. We don't have any better area to administer it because we don't have great facilities."

"It's just given here for the convenience of the students," she continued. Now there's an oxymoron: convenient and uncomfortable.

some Harvard pre-meds who requested anonymity said they selected one of the other Boston area locations because of these very problems. But inevitably, when other locations filled up, some students who failed to register early were assigned to the Tufts locations.

When AAMC and Tufts officials were asked about their decision to continue the tests a Tufts, each one pointed out that Harvard has repeatedly declined requests to administer the exams. According to John Hackett, the manager for test administration with the MCAT program Office of the Association of American Medical Colleges, "If the Harvard administration would have us on campus, we would be there."

No Harvard official--from Office of Career Services Director Martha P. Leape to those manning the registrar's office--could explain why Harvard doesn't administer the MCAT (or the GRE) When Harvard provides more test takers than any other school. The "best" generic response from Leape and others: "The Person who asked to administer the tests here is no alive." They said no one had stepped forward" to take the job. Hmmm.

But even without Harvard's facilities, it seems reasonable that AAMC could have found a replacement for Tufts in Boston (yes, the city with more colleges than any other in America). For as Hackett said himself, "They day [last year] was long and disruptive." Why should the AAMC chance it again?

For those of you who are in fact venturing out to Somerville tomorrow morning, please take the above information for what it's worth: very little. Please relax, because the inconvenience probably didn't have much effect on student's scores, and it's statistically improbable that the same will happen to you (unless there's a thunderstorm).

While it is rather upsetting that the AAMC and Tufts--supposedly looking out for the student's best interests--didn't show a little more concern for all of you, it is no reason to worry. Just stay cool and do what you can to get one of the few seats with lots of legroom.

One more suggestion--bring a hardhat with a flashlight if you can. Even if you don't have a blackout or even bad lights above you, it might inject a little humor into your otherwise treacherous day.

Good luck to you all.

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