News and Commentary George Thibault Examines the New MCAT Exam

This month, the Association of American Medical Colleges will be administering its revised MCAT exam. The new test, now expected to last about 7.5 hours instead of 3.5, has several new sections. Two in particular will examine an applicant’s knowledge of the social and behavioral factors that influence health. Macy President George Thibault reflects on these changes and the impact that a revised test structure will have on medical school admissions.

How significant are the changes to the MCAT?
It’s important that the new MCAT is expanding into other areas of knowledge to help schools evaluate who is going to be a good doctor. Expanding test content beyond the basic science to the social and behavior sciences is very important. Many educators have recognized that students need to be more grounded in understanding human behaviors and tendencies to work more effectively with patients.

Do you see any downside to this?
While expanding content is a nod in the right direction, I am not particularly in favor of tests as predictive of who is going to be a successful doctor. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that the MCAT only predicts how well students will do in their first few years of med school. I don’t think making a test longer and more comprehensive alone will bring forth the changes we need to see in admissions today. The test is just a small piece of the puzzle, and we need to continue to look at other factors within admissions criteria to ensure a holistic approach is in place. We need to see fundamental reform focus on how we encourage careers in medicine and how we select the right people to enter into these careers.

The updated MCAT is also now slated to last more than twice as long as it used to. I’m afraid a 7.5 hour test may also drive people away. We could end up seeing more prospective students, especially those that come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have as strong a background in test taking, be intimidated by the exam and forgo taking it.

How do you think med schools are looking at this?
Some schools are already looking at taking the MCAT out of their admission criteria. Mt. Sinai School of Medicine’s program admits a quarter of its students who haven’t taken the MCAT. Instead, they identify promising undergraduate students early in their sophomore year of college and track their coursework as they transition to the medical program. Mt. Sinai will soon be expanding this and admit half of its class this way.

Do we need to do more to diversify the applicant pool?
Admissions practices are changing and becoming more holistic. However, more needs to be done to ensure we are diversifying the field and making medical school accessible to a wide range of students who have different backgrounds and experiences and better reflect the patients they will be serving.

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