Major changes will be made to the Medical College Admissions Test in the next year.
Almost all medical schools in the U.S. require applicants to take the test, which will change this January to a computer-based format and will be offered 20 times throughout the year.
But it will now be offered in fewer locations with a capacity of only 16 to 20 students each, which means students will have to register early in order to reserve spots.
The new available dates and computer format mean that students can take the MCAT up to four times a year, twice more than previously available.
Test-takers will receive their scores within 30 days of taking the test. Previously, the test was only administered in August and April and scores were received within two months afterwards.
“The real reason the AAMC [American Association of Medical Colleges] was looking to change the MCAT was to allow greater flexibility and greater security in the administration of the exam,” said Amjed Mustafa, MCAT manager for Kaplan, a test preparation company.
The AAMC is the organization that administers the MCAT.
The length of the test is also being shortened from eight-and-a-half hours to five-and-a-half hours by cutting 70 questions, which Mustafa called “bittersweet.”
“Of course it’s a good thing because endurance is a factor,” Mustafa said. “But it’s the longest test out there, and being so, it allows students less chances to make a mistake. You can no longer get one or two answers wrong and still get a high score. Every question counts.”
There are only three locations in Philadelphia where students can take the MCAT, and with the enormous amount of college students in the area who apply to medical school (Mustafa said Temple has one of the highest number of MCAT-takers in the country), registrants will need to sign up extra early to secure a spot.
The computer interface is something that may be foreign to many students, and how they perform in the new format will only be discovered after the test is taken, Neida Perez, director of pre-professional health studies advising, said.
“It’s still too early to tell [what] the scores are going to show,” Perez said. “It’s shortening the actual time you’re taking the exam, but then you’re looking at it on the computer screen. It could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing.”
According to a press release from Kaplan, 80 percent of students have never taken a computerized test.
Tana Freeland, a junior kinesiology major, said the prospect of staring at a computer screen for more than five hours is daunting.
“For me, after awhile it makes room for error greater,” she said.
And, she said, the ability to take it more times is irrelevant since medical schools will frown upon applicants who take it more than once anyway.
“If they think that you take it all those times, it might look bad,” she said. “You should really only take it once, maybe twice.”
Vanessa Smith, a senior biology major, also prefers the pencil-and-paper format to the computer one.
“Staring at a computer screen the whole time – I’m just used to being able to write things down in front of me,” she said.
And she agreed with Freeland that taking the MCAT more than once or twice isn’t the best idea.
When asked what she would do if she didn’t perform well on the first try, she replied, “I won’t do poorly.”
Andrew Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.