MCAT to get makeover in 2007

Students planning on attending medical school will soon be taking a new type of Medical College Admissions Test.

The Association of American Medical Colleges announced in July that by 2007, the MCAT will transition entirely to a computer-based test and eliminate pencil-and-paper exams. New features also include fingerprint identification and fewer questions for a shorter test-taking period. Students who are taking the MCAT in 2006 will not be affected by the change. The paper-and-pencil exam will be administered through 2006.

“Our goal is to enhance the testing experience for examinees and the usefulness of the results for the medical schools and other professionals schools that use the MCAT,” said Ellen Julian, associate vice president for the AAMC and director of the MCAT.

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam designed to assess a student’s problem solving, critical thinking and writing skills in addition to knowledge of science concepts and principles that are needed to study medicine. Medical college admission committees consider MCAT scores as part of their admission decision process.

The computer-based test, which has already been available in selected cities for more than a year, takes five hours as opposed to the current eight hours reserved for taking the test. Under the new test, breaks are optional, while the old test called for mandatory breaks, Julian said.

The MCAT is offered twice a year, but the new computerized version may be offered up to 20 times a year, and students will receive their scores in 30 days instead of the 60-day turn-around for the old tests. The computer test will be administered in small, climate-controlled rooms instead of large auditoriums. The new MCAT will also include electronic fingerprint verification technology that should result in a quicker check-in process.

At most U.S. medical schools, MCAT scores are given as much weight as a student’s grade point average, but the tendency is to give the MCAT scores more weight, Julian said.

“It sounds like the new version will be much easier,” said Peter Magee, a sophomore majoring in exercise science who plans on taking the computerized MCAT in 2007.

He added, “Staring at a computer screen for five hours will be hard, but not as hard as staring at a Scantron sheet with hundreds of little dots for eight.”

But not all students have such an optimistic view of the changes.

Junior Tina Lalangas, a biological anthropology major who plans to take the MCAT in August 2006, said she hopes she doesn’t have to take the test again in its new format.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea because most science majors, the people taking the MCAT, are not used to spending hours in front of a computer as much as people in more writing-intensive majors,” Lalangas said.

The AAMC currently administers more than 60,000 MCAT examinations each year at more than 600 locations around the world, Julian said. The test consists of four sections: physical science, verbal reasoning, writing and biological science.

All multiple-choice sections are graded on a scale of one to 15, with eight as the average score. Students also receive a total score for the three multiple-choice sections. Test-takers get a score on the writing section ranging from a low of J to a high of T, with O being the average score.

Last year, GW’s School of Medical and Health Sciences’ entering class averaged a 9.52 in physical sciences, a 9.82 in biological sciences, a 9.41 in verbal reasoning and a P on the written essay.

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