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Survey results suggest revised MCAT inadequately prepares students

By Eliza Blackorby

Oct. 29, 2015 3:56 a.m.

A survey released Friday found less than half of medical school admissions officers think the newly revised Medical College Admission Test adequately prepares students for medical school.

Results from the 2015 survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, a test preparation company, showed 42 percent of medical school admissions officers think the new MCAT prepares students, compared to nearly 70 percent who thought last year’s version provided sufficient preparation. UCLA students and professors expressed mixed feelings about the changes to the exam.

Eric Chiu, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of premedical programs, said the new test, which was first used in April, presented the largest changes to the MCAT in more than 20 years.

He added the exam now takes about seven hours, compared to the old exam that lasted about three hours. The new exam also includes additional content in biochemistry and behavioral sciences, like psychology and sociology, which were not previously included on the test.

Karen Miotto, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, said she supported the test’s efforts to broaden its scope by incorporating newer sections with an emphasis on critical thinking.

Miotto, a member of the medical school’s Faculty Executive Committee, said she thinks the changes will help admissions officers select more well-rounded students from diverse backgrounds, but still does not holistically assess candidates’ intelligence and skill.

“It’s still a numbers game,” Miotto said.

Sarika Thakur, director of research, admissions and outreach at the David Geffen School of Medicine, said she thinks the old exam needed to be updated by adding a psycho-social component, to better prepare students for all aspects of the medical field.

Chiu said he thinks the new test requires more critical thinking. He said the new material is similar to what students would see in medical school exams and the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Medical students must pass the USMLE to become licensed doctors.

He explained the earlier test might prompt students to solve a problem with Hooke’s law, whereas the new test would ask students to apply Hooke’s law to solve a real-world problem about muscle tension. The old exam requires memorization, but the new one asks students to demonstrate another layer of understanding.

Chiu said he thinks admissions officers who responded to the survey showed uncertainty about the exam’s effectiveness in part because they have no information about prior data and scores.

Brandon Pham, chief executive officer of UCLA’s Fellowship for International Service and Health, a pre-med group that provides medical services to underserved communities in Mexico, took the new MCAT in September. He said he thinks it was much harder than practice tests for the previous version of the exam.

Pham, a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said he thinks the multiple-choice exam required students to think logically and conceptually, especially in sections that aimed to test reading and critical thinking skills.

Miotto said she thinks an ideal version of the test would encourage students to learn and solve real-world problems.

“I wish that people could go through college without feeling this horrific sense of competition and shame and failure,” she said. “If the new MCAT helps (with that), I’m all for it.”

Contributing reports by Ravija Harjai, Bruin contributor.

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