The Medical College Admission Test is currently being revamped. The changes reflect a new focus on patient-centred care and will be implemented in 2015.
The new test will feature updated sections on biology and chemistry to reflect the explosion in biochemical research since its last revision in 1991. It will also have a new section on the social and behavioral sciences, and the critical analysis section will now be based on the humanities instead of the sciences. In addition, the writing sample will be eliminated.
“We have enriched the exam—which very effectively predicts success in medical school—to increase attention to concepts that future physicians are likely to need, based on a testing format we already know is successful,” Maureen Shandling, the former associate dean of admissions at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, said.
Ronald Franks, vice-chair of the MCAT review committee, explained the removal of the writing sample. “It just turned out that it had no real correlation to speak of with grades or performance, in medical school or beyond,” he said, adding some applicants even paid professionals to write their sample for them.
According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the MCAT is a useful tool for schools to predict the success of candidates in medical school, since schools have such limited space—the University of Toronto, for example, only accepts 10 to 12 per cent of applicants. Before the MCAT was introduced, up to half of the class would drop out of medical school, but since it has been implemented less than five per cent of students fail to graduate.
The new social sciences section on the exam means undergraduate students will have to take care when choosing their courses. Franks said he hoped medical schools won’t increase their pre-requisites, but rather modify them so students won’t have to take more courses to be successful on the exam. He also stressed students need to understand the importance of human behavior as it relates to health, so they can evaluate how to best care for the health of the population they are responsible for.
The MCAT isn’t the only thing about medical school admissions that’s changing. “There’s a lot of subjectivity in the interview process, and consequently it’s resulted in very arbitrary measures about the appropriateness of candidates for medical school,” Tyrone Donnon, associate professor in the medical education research unit at the University of Calgary, said.
Donnon called for a more rigorous, quantified interview process. He would also like to see the introduction of ethical scenarios in the interview process, because they reflect interaction with families and colleagues in real clinical settings.
Shandling reminded applicants that while grades are important, medical schools don’t only care about marks. “Keep in mind that medical schools are looking to fulfill societal expectations by selecting students who are ready for the scientific and humanistic aspects of medical practice,” she said.