GW’s pre-med students brace for MCAT changes

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Photographer

GW students study in the Milken Institute School of Public Health. The MCAT, an entrance exam for medical school, will be revamped this April to include new topics and a different grading system.

The test to get into medical school is about to get a little harder.

Starting in April, the Medical College Admission Test will evaluate pre-med students on new topics with a revamped point system. Those changes will make the exam almost double the length, and GW advisers are now working to make sure its aspiring health professionals are prepared.

The exam, developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, will have an entirely new section focused on psychology and sociology, and will also delve deeper into biochemistry.

“It’s good practice to look at standardized tests every 10 years or so and see if what you’re testing is still up to date. That’s what we did with the MCAT,” said Karen Mitchell, the director of the MCAT program at the AAMC. “We’re testing skills that are currently needed to succeed in medical school and the medical world.”

The new section added to the exam this year will be called “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior,” and will cover the various influences on how people process emotions and stress.

“There is a growing amount of evidence regarding the importance of behavioral and sociological study in medicine,” Mitchell said. “A person’s health depends on it, and adding this section to the MCAT recognizes the importance of the behavioral side of health.”

The old MCAT took five hours and 10 minutes to complete, while the new test will run for seven hours and 30 minutes. The test will also now be scored out of 500 points, a large increase from the previous 45-point grading scale.

“Since the new exam tests different things than the old one, we wanted to implement a new scoring system that would reflect these changes,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t want people equating scores from the old test with ones from the new test.”

New skills will be tested including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Additionally, the biological section of the exam will expand to include biochemistry, and will be renamed “Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems.” More than 50 percent of the MCAT, which will first be given to students in April, will include new material.

Students were given a trial section of the new content last year, but the points did not count toward their official scores.

GW’s pre-med advisers are encouraging students to take biochemistry, psychology and sociology courses in preparation for the MCAT and helping professors tailor their courses to the new test.

“We are working with academic departments to make sure they are aware of MCAT changes that relate to the content of their courses and so that they can identify specific classes that may be helpful to students and tweak existing classes,” said Amy Serridge, a health professions advisor in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Serridge said she was encouraging more students to take statistics and gain experience in research to better prepare themselves for the exam.

“It has always been recommended, but we are emphasizing it a bit more than in the past,” Serridge said. “That is not a change from what we would recommend to pre-med students in the past, but it may have some added benefit, given the nature of the 2015 MCAT.”

Serridge said she heard concerns from students about dealing with the new content for the test, but her office is working to spread the word about resources they can use to study for the new MCAT.

Pre-med students think more can be done to prepare them for the exam, said Amela Rugova, the public relations chair of GW’s pre-med fraternity, Delta Epsilon Mu.

“We haven’t really collaborated with the University or professors to help prep for the new MCAT,” Rugova said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them didn’t even know it had changed.”

The fraternity members are taking advantage of resources like MCAT tutors and a partnership with Kaplan, Inc., a test preparation company, to get ready for the exam.

“If the school could even have an MCAT strategy class that would be fantastic,” she said. “The University has some decent resources, but it can certainly do better.”

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