New MCAT to add section on behavioral sciences

    The medical school entrance exam is getting its first major makeover in 20 years. An MCAT advisory committee recently announced its recommendations for the next version of the MCAT, the fifth since it was introduced in 1928.

    The committee recommended the written portion of the exam be dropped, since it found many medical schools do not use those scores in the admissions process. It also recommended adding a section on social and behavioral sciences.

    Advisory committee member Dr. Dwight Davis, associate dean of admissions at the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, said the addition reflects increased awareness of how much behavioral factors affect health outcomes, especially relating to things such as obesity and addiction.

    “We hope we’re sending a message to the public, as well as students preparing for the practice of medicine, about the importance of behavioral and social determinants of health, in addition to all of the other scientific areas that are part of this test,” Davis said.

    The MCAT has never been good at determining personal characteristics–if the student taking the test is actually someone you would want to be your doctor. Davis said the advisory panel toyed with adding personal questions to help remedy this, but decided that was better left to the essays and interviews that are part of the medical school application process.

    Dr. Clara Callahan, dean of admissions at Jefferson Medical College, approved of the decision. She said it would be too easy to game the system with personal questions.

    “The worst-case scenario would be that they figured out they had a test and then the companies that provide preparation courses suddenly teach people how to answer these questions so that we don’t know what the person is really like anyway because they’ve been taught how to answer the questions,” said Callahan. “It’s really kind of a frightening idea.”

    In a study looking at how good the MCAT is in predicting success in medical school, Callahan found that the test scores were very good at predicting how medical students would do in studies of the hard sciences, but not as good at determining how they would perform on tests of clinical skills. She said only time will tell if the new test does a better job in that area.

    The recommendations will be open for public comment through February, and a new test will begin in 2015.

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