Thursday, May 5, 2011

Revising the MCAT

As an aspiring doctor, once I make it through my first four years as a biology major, I'll have to start studying for the most important test of my life, the MCAT. The MCAT is basically the "wanna be doctor's SAT" and as a wanna be doctor, I'm going to have to take it. Now, it's not like this will be my first big standardized test; I mean, ever since high school started I've been bombarded with PSSA's, finals, PSAT's, SAT's, AP tests, and just regular everyday exams.  Even though I do not agree, it really seems like testing is the preferred way to asses if a person knows the material or not. However, if that doesn't cause enough stress, the creators of the MCAT are going to revise it, according to The New York Times.

The first MCAT, then referred to as the Scholastic Aptitude Test for Medical Schools, was administered in 1928 and represented an effort to address the significant medical school dropout rates of the time. Over the years, the MCAT has gone through four major revisions and has only strengthened its ability to predict success in medical school, particularly when evaluated in combination with grades. But the MCAT has had one major failing in its otherwise brilliant performance: It has been unable to consistently predict personal and professional characteristics. As early as 1946, medical educators were trying to design the MCAT in a way that might tease out such information, but they, and those who followed, were unable to succeed.

Now the MCAT is about to undergo its fifth revision, the first in nearly 25 years. Last month, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the national organization that administers the MCAT, recommend, among other things, lengthening the four-and-a-half hour exam by 90 minutes and adding questions on disciplines like sociology and psychology. The new exam would also test analytical and reasoning skills in areas like ethics, philosophy and cross-cultural studies, which could include questions about how someone living in a particular demographic situation, for example, might perceive and interact with others.

Lengthening an already four-and-a-half hour exam, they have to be kidding. I've taken the five hour SAT's and it was awful. Sitting there and trying to concentrate for that long was almost impossible and the SAT's tests you on easy topics like math and reading, not on the functions of different enzymes in your body and the dreaded organic chemistry. Maybe if the creators feel this part of the test needs to be added it could be a separate test, taken on another day coupled with maybe an interview to find out if you have strong people skills.

Despite what some view as a long overdue re-examination of this linchpin of medical school admissions, many medical educators, including members of the advisory committee, remain cautious about tampering with a test that has proved successful so far.

The science of personality testing has advanced tremendously over the last 25 years, but the committee felt it was still unclear how accurately a test could predict traits like integrity, altruism and the ability to collaborate. Some members were uncomfortable, too, with the long-term implications. “Will we end up labeling someone forever with a 9.2 for their personality?” Dr. Franks asked.

Only time will tell whether this newest version succeeds where earlier ones have not. But one thing is certain: Taking the MCAT is likely to remain a rite of passage for doctors-to-be for years to come. The new exam will be administered beginning in 2015.

And to top it all off, this new revised version of the MCAT will be administered for the first time, the year I graduate from my four year college. Looks like I'm going to be one of the many guinea pigs for this new revised version. I better start practicing my sitting and concentrating skills.

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