Monday, November 19

Officially approved changes to MCAT could affect premedical students’ coursework at UCLA

Matt Sasaki headed out for happy hour drinks with his friends after completing his Medical College Admission Test.

He had been counting down to the test date with dread, and felt a wave of relief upon completing the test, he said.

For UCLA premedical students like Sasaki, a fourth-year ecology and evolutionary biology student, months of studying and the five-and-a-half-hour-long exam could determine whether or not they can pursue careers as medical doctors.

But the ways that students study for the exam may soon change. Last week, the Association of American Medical Colleges formally approved revisions to the MCAT for the first time in 21 years.

The revised test, which will be issued starting in 2015, will include upper-level biology courses, such as biochemistry, and a new section that will focus on behavioral and social sciences. The writing sample will be removed, and the overall exam time will increase from five and a half to seven hours.

The general consensus among pre-health advisers and others involved in the discussion is that the new MCAT will ensure more well-rounded students enter medical school, said Jeff Koetje, director of pre-health programs for Kaplan Test Prep.

Koetje said an added level of difficulty to the MCAT will be the 90-minute increase in testing time.

“These changes will bring the MCAT into alignment with the current state of medical changes brought about by advancement in technology and will be relevant for 15 to 20 years until it needs to be changed again,” Koetje said.

The revised MCAT will be more focused on the ability of students to think critically, said Erin Sanders, assistant professor and academic coordinator of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics.

She said UCLA students will be well-prepared because the science curriculum at UCLA provides the research and laboratory experience necessary to excel in critical thinking. Life science students are currently required to take laboratory courses, which varies based on major.

The MCAT revisions may create scheduling conflicts for students who take the exam during their third year, Koetje said. Two-thirds of students take biochemistry during their fourth year at school, but the MCAT now requires that they take the course early in preparation for the exam, he said.

Medical schools are also moving away from requiring specific coursework for admission, Koetje said.

Less emphasis is being stressed on taking courses and more is being put on knowing the relevant material, with the MCAT used as a measurement of mastery, he said.

Students will also have to consider taking courses like psychology and sociology, in addition to the current premedical courses, to prepare for the new section of the MCAT.

This could result in more students taking a break before medical school, Koetje said. The changes may also increase the number of premedical students who will pursue a major in the humanities, arts or social sciences because they have major requirements separate from medical school prerequisites.

Each university must decide how to change its premedical track and advising to match the changes in the MCAT, Koetje said.

“The number one thing that students need to be doing is to talk to advisers earlier than they are probably inclined to,” Koetje said.

Sanders said some changes may need to be made to UCLA’s premedical program, but these will not be drastic.

“Though the curriculum at UCLA is already well suited to the MCAT changes, there may be further curriculum changes in order to prepare students for the exam,” she said.

But Sasaki said that overall, the changes to the test should not make a big difference to students determined to enter the medical field.

“For me, no matter what (the testing agency) threw at me ““ a three-hour or ten-hour exam ““ I would put up with it because I do need it for my career,” Sasaki said.

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