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Overhauled MCAT to Be Released in 2015

New Test to Be Longer, More Focused on Cultural Sensitivity

By Rebecca D. Robbins, Crimson Staff Writer

Recently proposed changes to the MCAT could result in a longer and more comprehensive version of the test, to be released in 2015.

Among the recommended changes are the redivision of the test into four new sections—molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, behavioral and social sciences, and critical analysis and reasoning—and the addition of 90 minutes to the current exam, bringing the total test time to seven hours. The report, which was released by the MR5 Committee of the Association of American Medical Colleges, also suggested the removal of the Writing Sample section.

The revisions to the exam are designed to “[give] attention to concepts that future physicians are likely to need,” including a better understanding of cultural and social sensitivity and of modern research methods and statistics, according to the recommendations.

The preliminary proposal will likely affect the pre-medical curriculum for students in the Class of 2015 and beyond, said Amjed Saffarini, executive director of pre-health programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

“From a content perspective, it’s arguably the biggest change ever,” he said.

According to Saffarini, the amount of science material covered will be

“roughly double the current content,” though he predicted that organic chemistry and physics will be de-emphasized in the new exam.

The recommendations are part of a new movement towards a more “holistic” evaluation of medical school applicants, and will likely intensify the pre-med curriculum for students who intend to take the MCAT in their junior year, Saffarini said.

“Students are going to be taking their prereqs earlier, compressing them, and taking more at the same time,” he said.

Saffarini added that he thought the increased amount of material covered on the MCAT would make it more difficult for non-science concentrators to fulfill their pre-med requirements.

“Having that many more prereqs is not going to encourage students to go into medicine from the humanities,” he said.

However, Harvard students may not experience any extra course requirements, according to Director of Premedical and Health Career Advising Lee Ann Michelson ’77.

“I actually don’t see this as adding to the burden on our students,” she said. “The push is on having students seeing certain competencies rather than certain courses.”

Michelson said Harvard is “a little ahead of the game” in its current pre-med course offerings, citing the Life Sciences 1a/1b and Chemistry 17/27 series as interdisciplinary science courses that she thinks will help prepare pre-med students for the new MCAT.

Michelson added that Harvard’s curriculum may already address some of the new topics on the revised exam.

“Critical analysis and behavioral science are things they’re going to get from other classes they take here,” she said. “I think that with Harvard’s distribution requirements in Gen Ed, you’re going to be getting these kinds of concepts already.”

But students may be required to take one semester of biochemistry and only one semester of organic chemistry instead of the two semesters of organic chemistry currently required by most medical schools, Michelson said.

“I think we’re lucky in that we’re a large research institution,” she said of Harvard’s curriculum. “We have resources to make sure that our courses will meet pre-med requirements.”

In 2010, 309 Harvard undergraduates and alumni applied to medical school, according to data collected by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Joshua E. Martin ’11, who took the MCAT in June of his junior year, said he was glad he took the current—and shorter—version of the exam.

“I think [the changes] would not have affected my decision to take the MCAT, but I think [they] would have made the MCAT much more painful,” he said.

Over the next few months, the committee will solicit feedback on their preliminary recommendations before releasing a final proposal in November.

The Association of American Medical Colleges Board of Directors will then approve these recommendations for the creation of a new MCAT next February.

— Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu.

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