Aspiring doctors to face tougher test

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Aspiring medical doctors endure a grueling academic gauntlet throughout undergraduate studies. Challenging courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics compose a pre-medicine curriculum that is required alongside a student’s degree requirements.  One stop along the journey to medical school looms over students from day one: The Medical College Admissions Test.

For the crop of incoming freshmen in the Pre-Med program that plan on attending medical school in the Fall of 2016, the notoriously difficult standardized test will become even more challenging.

According to a press release by Kaplan, a prominent provider of standardized test preparation materials for students across the globe, the MCAT will expand its breadth of content and time requirements beginning in the Spring of 2015.

The Association of American Medical Colleges, the official governing body of all accredited medical schools in the United States, voted to approve the addition of advanced concepts in biochemistry, additional critical thinking questions, and new sections covering behavioral and social sciences.

“These are beneficial and needed changes, as today’s medicine includes scientific advances that didn’t exist a generation ago, and today’s doctors serve an increasingly diverse population,” Amjed Saffarini, Kaplan Test Prep executive director of pre-health programs, said in a press release. “However, there’s no question the new MCAT will be more difficult than the current one.”

The additions will necessitate seven hours to complete the MCAT, as opposed to the current five and a half hours allotted to test-takers. The changes to the test come in the wake of the announcement that the writing sample section of the MCAT being removed in January 2013.

The behavioral and social sciences section seeks to tests students’ knowledge regarding the behavioral and sociocultural concepts regarding health, drawing off of concepts in Biology, Sociology, Psychology and Statistics.

The current content testing knowledge of the Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences and Verbal Reasoning will remain on the test with updates to reflect recent changes in medical education. According to the AAMC, the changes will not only better prepare students for the medicine curriculum, but aid them in becoming better doctors.

Adding more content also adds a heavier workload for pre-medicine students and leaves undergraduate institutions a short timeframe to implement programs that prepare students for the new subject matter.

“The new MCAT will be more difficult than the current one. The additional content will also be challenging for undergraduate pre-med programs that will need to quickly ensure their curricula cover the expanded topics,” said Kaplan senior communication manager Russell Schaffer. “It will also challenge pre-med students to learn significantly more material within the same amount of time.”

In a survey of 559 students who took the MCAT in January of 2012, Kaplan Test Prep found that pre-med students acknowledged the difficulty of their curriculum and would not be deterred from their professional goals despite the more difficult MCAT. 92 percent of respondents said that if they had to face the additional content in the MCAT, they would still pursue a career in medicine. Additionally, 95 percent of respondents said that their course work is “very intense”, with 29 percent stating that their difficult coursework prevented them from broadening their academic horizons and exploring courses outside of pre-med.

Freshman Peter Iliya, a pre-med student, the curriculum is difficult, especially during the first year when students tackle courses commonly referred to as ‘weed out’ classes.

“I wouldn’t say it’s much of a difference in the difficulty of the class, but rather the workload,” said Iliya. “It’s different because of the weed out classes like Chemistry and Biology. But the amount of work that pre-med students have to do to stay on the right track [to medical school] is definitely higher than a lot of other majors.”

The intense coursework is matched by the intense admissions process for medical schools around the country. In 2011, 43,919 students applied to medical school in the United States. Only 43 percent were accepted. The average grade point average for an accepted student in 2011 was 3.67, and the average MCAT score was 31.1 (out of 45).