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4 Answers About Coming MCAT Changes

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 By this time next year, the Medical College Admission Test that prospective students currently take will be​ discontinued. A newer version of the exam – to be released in April 2015 – will help determine if they will be admitted to medical school.

The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam that most medical schools require for admission. It tests students on variety of science and science-related topics. The current​ version is down to three required sections after the writing skills section was removed in 2013. The new MCAT will include a new section and more questions, among other changes.

This is the first major update to the exam since 1991, when revisions included added the writing skills section.

It's standard practice to regularly review the MCAT and make sure it measures the most important things and in the most capable ways, says Karen Mitchell, senior director for the MCAT at the Association of American Medical Colleges, which administers the test. "That time had come for the MCAT," she says curriculum used in many medical schools.

U.S. News spoke with Mitchell to learn more about what the new exam will ​entail and how students can prepare for it. An edited excerpt from the conversation is below.

What are the differences between the new exam and the current exam?

There will continue to be two sections on the natural sciences, and students will be asked to demonstrate scientific reasoning, Mitchell says, but some of what students will be tested on in this area has changed.

"There’s also some biochemistry in the natural sciences sections which don’t appear on the current exam," she says.

The critical analysis and reasoning section will also remain on the exam and cover content from the humanities and social sciences, albeit with a few tweaks. There is special emphasis on "cultural studies, population health, ethics and philosophy," Mitchell says.

The new section on the MCAT, called "Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior," covers a variety of topics. "That section tests concepts from psychology, sociology and biology that provide the foundation for learning in medical school about the behavioral and socio-cultural determinants of health," Mitchell says.

Is this exam longer?

The current exam is about four-and-a-half hours​ in testing time, and the new one is about six-and-half hours in testing time, Mitchell says. "Each of the test sections has slightly more test questions on it than the current exam does."

Which undergraduate classes can best prepare prospective medical students for the exam?

"The natural sciences sections teach concepts that students learn at many colleges and universities in year-long introductory courses in biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physics, and in first-semester biochemistry," Mitchell says. For the new section, introductory psychology and sociology classes can help.

Students don't have to study to do well in the critical analysis and reasoning section, Mitchell says. Reading anything that covers the emphasized topics, such as population health, is encouraged.

How can students prepare?
The AAMC has been working with the Khan Academy, a nonprofit education organization, to help students study, Mitchell says. "There are 425 free tutorials on the Khan Academy website," she says.

The tutorials are in a video format. A concept is discussed for a few minutes, and some videos are also linked to questions that allow students to review what they've learned. AAMC has also created other test preparation material, which includes an official guide to the MCAT that costs about $30 and includes 120 sample test questions
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