MCAT to be only computer-based

by Kaitlyn Jahrling

Students planning to take the Medical College Admissions Test will have many more opportunities to take the exam this year.

The Association of American Medical Colleges, which manages the MCAT, is administering all exams on computers. The change will allow 22 opportunities each year to take the MCAT, which was previously offered only twice per year. The computer-based test allows the change because it eliminates the need for large proctored exams, according to the AAMC's Web site.

Kaplan, a company that sells test preparation courses on the MCAT, recently released a study of pre-medical advisers that finds 80 percent of respondents were concerned that the new format will require more preparation time.

"With this added level of complexity that a computer gives you it adds an added complexity to the test," said Amjed Mustafe, MCAT program manager for Kaplan. "We surveyed a bunch of students, over 300 students, recently. Eighty-two percent of them said they have not taken a college exam on a computer before."

Professor Jason Zara, an adviser in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said that his biomedical engineering students will need to study more for the test.

"I mean, the last thing they need is more stress," Zara said. "I think it has the potential to be that way."

Zara described the changes as a trade-off between the new, unfamiliar format and the freedom to pick from a wider range of test dates.

"I do think it will be very good for them because, you know, their whole semester is around taking the MCAT," Zara said. "They're effectively making their own decision on the classes they're taking to study (for the MCAT)."

Kate Zapf, GW's pre-medical adviser said she is not concerned that the students will be unprepared.

"The students have had a computer in front of them for most of their lives, and I think being in front of a computer and taking a test is easy," she said. "I think that they understand that the flexibility in the new test is beneficial."

"I'm hoping that by knowing the dates enough in advance to plan ahead, students will take advantage of that," she added.

Senior Katie Holeman volunteered to take the computer test instead of the paper and pencil exam in August.

"To me, I don't think it's going to be a big hurdle for people to get over for people to switch from taking a paper test to taking it on the computer," Holeman said.

She said that the test format was not like the Graduate Record Exam, in which test-takers are not allowed to go back and change answers within a section.

"Right now it's identical to the original," Holeman said. "But when you take the proctored exam you're in a big room with all of the other kids with their No. 2 pencil."

Holeman said that the small number of students that take the test together and the shortened time waiting for others was an advantage.

The computerized MCAT takes a student about five hours to complete. The manual test takes eight and a half hours. Despite the decrease in time, the MCAT still remains the longest professional exam.

Mustafe said some of the reasons the AAMC decided to change to a computer-based test were errors in giving the exam, the length added by passing out and collecting test materials, and added security in the computer format.

"They've decided to employ fingerprint scanning and face-recognition technology to make sure you're who you say you are," Mustafe said.

The AAMC announced the change in August 2005 but continued to offer the paper and pencil exam until August 2006. MCAT has joined the GRE, Graduate Management Admissions Test and the Dental Admissions Test in offering only computer-based examinations.

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