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Faculty, students react to proposed MCAT changes

Last Thursday, an advisory panel appointed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released its recommendations for a new version of the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. The panel’s proposed changes include eliminating the writing section of the test and adding a social science section.

(CAROLINE MARKS/The Stanford Daily)

The advisory panel, dubbed the “MR5 Committee,” developed its recommendations after three years of research and an analysis of 2,700 surveys from undergraduate and medical school faculty and students. If approved by the AAMC, the changes would be introduced in the 2015 MCAT, 25 years after the last series of major revisions to the test.

The proposed MCAT would include four sections. The first two are slated to be natural science sections largely derived from the current format. The verbal section would give way to a critical analysis and reasoning section, while a behavioral and social science section would take the place of the writing section.

The panel tailored its proposal to reflect what it considers to be changing face of medicine.

“You do need a solid foundation in the sciences, but you need more than that,” Steven Gabbe, MR5 Committee Chair and CEO of the Ohio State Medical Center, said in an April 1 interview with Inside Higher Ed.

“You need to think critically and reason, and understand the differences in our society and the patients you see as a physician,” Gabbe said. “We need people who are critical thinkers and people who have sensitivity and understanding of different cultures.”

Dr. Lawrence Shuer, associate dean of graduate medical education at the School of Medicine, said the proposed changes might encourage a rethinking of the qualities necessary to be a good physician.

“We don’t just want technicians or people who are just so into the sciences that they’re not round enough to know about the humanities,” Shuer said. “Much of being a physician is being in human contact.”

Karen Mitchell, senior director of the MCAT program, noted that the recommendations reflect the committee’s efforts to ensure fair testing of groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine.

“Questions of fairness have been at the forefront of the MR5 committee’s conversations about the new exam,” Mitchell wrote in an email to The Daily.

According to Mitchell, one of the goals of the committee was to ensure that the new exam tested material “taught at the same levels of depth at minority-serving and other institutions.”

In 2010, white students who took the MCAT received a mean score of 26, while Latino students received a mean score of 21.3 and black students a mean score of 19.7.

The impact that the proposed MCAT overhaul would have on premedical education throughout the U.S. remains unclear, although Shuer speculates the changes would encourage students to take more humanities courses.

“I would surmise that in some way they’re suggesting to prospective medical school applicants that they not just concentrate in the sciences,” he said.

Hillary Lin ’11, co-president of the Stanford Premedical Association, said the proposed changes would increase the relevancy of test material but questions the feasibility of testing knowledge in the social sciences.

“Medical schools don’t look at writing samples at all, so it’s a good idea to change it into a more applicable section,” she said. “At the same time, how do you make questions that are relevant and testable in the social sciences? I’m not sure how they would do it.”

Fellow pre-med student Jem Bautista ’11 agreed, noting that social science classes are not standardized in the same way chemistry or biology classes are.

“I think social science is too broad a subject to test,” Bautista said. “What classes would students take? There’s no such thing as an Introduction to the Social Sciences class.”


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