MCAT2015: Here’s the Scoop

by Lorien E. Menhennett

The MCAT is my friend.

That was my mantra for three months, the amount of time I spent studying for this infamous medical school entrance exam. While content is clearly important, so is the mental component of this test. It wasn’t until I conquered my major fears and anxieties that my scores really soared, from upper 20s to mid 30s. (To answer the unspoken question, I got a nicely balanced 33: 10PS/12BS/11VR.)

With the new MCAT2015 approaching, I get the sense that this mental component continues to be key. People I have talked to seem more afraid than ever of the MCAT. While a healthy respect for this exam is important, fear will get you nowhere. It only makes things worse, actually. While I certainly never plan on taking the MCAT again (whew!), I am learning what I can about new exam to help those of you who are where I was a year or two ago—trying to make it into medical school. The purpose of this post, then, is to demystify the MCAT2015 using information from official sources (everything here comes straight from the AAMC) and to point you toward trustworthy resources to help you prepare.

Why change?

The current MCAT exam (last test administration date: January 23, 2015) has been around, in more or less the same form, since 1991. A lot has changed since then, say people at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—in science, medicine, and in standardized testing. So the AAMC put together a committee in late 2008, called MR5. This committee gathered survey information from more than 2,700 medical school and university faculty, medical students, and residents, as well as compiling data from outreach events and other panels. The result was a set of recommendations that became the MCAT2015. The new test will be divided into four sections. Click on the title of the section to access the AAMC’s description of what the section will cover.

  1. Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills

Rather than focus on requiring specific courses, the new exam aims to focus on competencies. These competencies include topics in the biological and physical sciences of course, but extend to the social sciences as well—and this is new MCAT content. Each of these competencies aligns with what the AAMC calls a “Building Block” for learning in medical school. In other words, there is supposed to be a direct link between what you learn as you prepare for the MCAT and what you will learn in medical school.

In addition to these 10 foundational concepts (aka competencies), AAMC expects students to have mastered some specific Scientific & Inquiry Reasoning Skills. These include (1) knowledge of scientific principles, (2) scientific reasoning and problem solving, (3) reasoning about the design and execution of research, (4) data-based and statistical reasoning, and (5) general mathematical concepts and techniques.

What’s the big deal?

The big deal, for one, is that this exam will cover more content. In addition to the concepts usually taught in general chemistry, general biology, physics, and organic chemistry, content from the first semester of introductory biochemistry, psychology, and sociology is tested.

The MCAT2015, clocking in at 7 hours and 30 minutes of seat time, is a marathon exam. It’s 2 hours longer than the old MCAT, in fact. That requires dedication to prepare for, both mentally and physically (you think I’m joking—I’m not).

In addition to content and length changes, there are also changes in administration. While AAMC says there will be the same number of seats available for the MCAT2015, they will be spread across fewer dates (14 testing dates to be exact), with most test administrations on Saturday or Sunday. All tests now start at 8 a.m., and there are no more double-day administrations. (There used to be administrations in both the morning and the afternoon on the same day—no more with MCAT2015.) Click here for MCAT2015 test dates.

How is MCAT2015 scored?

According to the AAMC, MCAT2015 score reports will be more comprehensive and useful. Along with a total score (ranging from 472 to 528), there will be four section scores and several interpretation tools. These include:

  • Percentile rank for each score (applicable to THAT year’s test only)
  • Confidence band for each score (reliability and accuracy of the score)
  • Score profile (to highlight strengths and weaknesses of the test taker)

This new scoring system, says Scott Oppler, PhD, director of MCAT Development and Psychometrics, is “designed to draw attention to applicants who might otherwise be overlooked.” It does this, he explains, by highlighting the middle of scoring pack rather than the top third. (I’m still not quite clear on how this works, but I’m not a standardized test designer, or an ADCOM.)

In the beginning, percentile ranks will be based on a small number of test administrations (simply because there is no other data). This, and all the new analysis being done, will slightly delay scores for people who take the test first in April/May. Although AAMC is offering an incentive to those people: a $150 Amazon gift card.

Where are those resources?!

Right here:

  • MCAT2015 Offical AAMC site for the new MCAT
  • Which exam? A site dedicated to help students decide between the old and new MCAT tests (for those who have the option to take either exam)
  • What’s on the MCAT2015 Exam? An interactive site put together by the AAMC that lists the competencies, links to the content you should know, has videos and practice questions, lots of good stuff
  • Khan Academy partnership AAMC teamed up with the great people at Khan Academy (yes, that’s an endorsement) to create content to help students prepare for the new exam; there are free videos and tutorials, as well as practice questions
  • Resources for Administrators This site is geared toward administratos (like pre-health advisors), but it’s publicly accessible content, and you may find it helpful
  • the e-mail address for questions related to the new MCAT exam

In addition, AAMC says a full-length practice test will be available this fall, MCAT2015 Study Sets (question compilations) available early 2015, and the Official MCAT2015 Practice Test #1 available fall 2015.

Given that no one has even taken the exam yet, it’s far too early to make any sort of judgment about it. The fact is, it’s coming. And AAMC’s goal is for it to last for 15 years. The best thing to do is prepare yourself as best you can. And as always, remember: Take a breath.