MCAT changes affect pre-med track

by Bryn Morgan | 11/13/13 6:09pm

Upcoming changes to the Medical College Admission Test, which will go into effect in March 2015, are affecting many students’ decisions about their majors, Dartmouth Plans and test preparations schedules.

The new MCAT, now three hours longer, will test competency in biochemistry, psychology, sociology and statistics, which the Association of American Medical Colleges believes will better emulate the skills needed by physicians and scientists. The exam, announced in February 2012, will keep the standard content in biology, general and organic chemistry and physics.

Lee Witters, faculty director of the pre-health Nathan Smith Society, said that the added material will likely force most pre-medical students to take four more classes. The new recommended major curriculum would include 15 to 16 courses, giving very little room for majoring in a discipline other than the sciences, studying abroad or fulfilling distributive requirements.

“It gets real tight,” Witters said. “It puts a real burden on students.”

Concerns have been raised about the ambiguity of the new exam and the lack of clear preparation material. Witters said his advising has been fairly conservative so far, since the exact content of the test is unknown.

This uncertainty has led Beichen Dai ’16 to hasten to take the MCAT in January 2015, the last time the current exam will be administered.

“I want to avoid taking the new MCAT,” he said. “There isn’t really any precedent for it. There aren’t any practice tests, people don’t have much advice to give because they don’t know what’s on it.”

Taking the test in its current form would also allow Dai, an engineering major, to avoid taking the additional classes needed for the new MCAT, such as introductory psychology.

Hannah Nolan ’16, who became interested in neuroscience after taking a psychology class in preparation for the new MCAT, said she now plans to find a major that best overlaps with the pre-med requirements.

The changes to the MCAT reflect changes in the overall medical school admissions process, and Witters said the AAMC is attempting to shift to a more “holistic” assessment of students. There will be an initial adjustment period, however, for schools as well as students.

“The first time this exam is administered — medical schools won’t know how to interpret it,” Witters said.

Witters said he expects undergraduate schools, including Dartmouth, to gradually begin reducing the overall number of courses pre-medical students need to take in an effort to give room for other possible studies.

“My goal is to try to find ways that Dartmouth students can develop the competencies that they need to do well on the exam, a yet still reach out in a broad liberal education,” he said. “It behooves the institution to have a look at that too, in terms of the courses that we offer, when we offer them, what are we teaching within the courses.”

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