New MCAT focuses on human behavior, adds to workload

| Stephen Spanos

Washington University’s plethora of pre-meds will take a longer, more comprehensive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) starting in 2015.

The exam, which is used for admission to medical school and other health professions, will be altered in four major ways: adding a behavioral and social sciences section, including ethics and philosophy questions in the verbal reasoning portion, updating the science section to include more advanced biology, and removing the writing sample. The exam length will increase from 5 1/2 to seven hours.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) approved the new exam last week.

Dr. Barry Hong, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and a member of the committee in charge of making the changes, said that the changes reflect the advances of modern technology and medicine.

“Some people felt that the current content didn’t reflect a lot of current areas in medicine, like molecular biology or cell biology,” Dr. Hong said. “And more importantly, the old test didn’t cover the ways that human behavior was related to medical issues.”

Dr. Hong also emphasized the importance of understanding the link between the social and natural sciences.

“There’s been a concern by medical educators that the physician of the future has to understand how social science and psychology interact with biology and chemistry in a way that is much more significant.”

Junior Jeff Shevach, who is currently taking an MCAT prep course, agreed that human behavior should be included on the exam. He explained that sometimes it is easy to focus on the science and forget that one is dealing with a human.

“You’re not necessarily healing a disease—you’re healing a person,” Shevach said. “It’s important to understand your patients, and classes like sociology or psychology would help you deal with different types of people.”

Other students disagreed, saying that the additional exam content will only make an already difficult process more exhausting, especially for those students who do not begin their pre-medical track immediately upon entering college.

Sophomore Juan Alban, who became a full-time student in the spring of 2011, will need to enroll in summer courses in order to take the current MCAT exam with the rest of his grade. He said that if he had to take the MCAT in 2015, it would be even more difficult.

“I would have had to plan how to catch up and fulfill not only the pre-med requirements that were already in place, but also courses in psychology and sociology,” he said.

Assistant Dean Carolyn Herman, who directs the MCAT preparation course at Washington University, said that the changes should not significantly affect most students.

“Most of our students already pursue a broad curriculum that will position them quite well for this exam, we believe,” she said.

She added that four-year advisers of pre-medical students won’t change their advising philosophy or goals and will have another reason to encourage students to explore their academics broadly.

The AAMC’s “Preview Guide for MCAT 2015” states that most undergraduate introductory psychology and sociology courses should prepare students for the social sciences section of the exam, while the new cellular and molecular biology information should be covered in most introductory biology sequences.

Most current undergraduates will take the MCAT before 2015, with the incoming class of fall 2012 to be the most affected by the changes.

According to AAMC, a group of 21 individuals, known as the MR5 Committee spent three years reviewing over 2,700 informational and opinion surveys from undergraduate and medical school faculty, administrators and medical students, as well as seeking advice from experts and advisory groups before proposing the changes.

The updates mark the first time that the exam has been significantly changed since 1991.