September 29, 2005

Students React to New MCAT

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The MCAT will shift to a computer-based format when the paper and pencil version phases out after August 2006, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced this summer. This change has significant implications for the 60,000 would-be medical students each year who must now plan their course and exam schedules.

Kaplan Test Prep’s MCAT program manager, Amjed Mustafa, said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, this change rates as a nine.”

According to a Kaplan survey of potential medical school students, 82 percent of respondents expressed concern that they will perform worse on the new test format than the paper and pencil version. Such worries included a fear of computers malfunctioning, difficulty annotating, eyestrain, computer-based distractions like hearing other test-takers type and a general lack of familiarity with the exam format.

Explaining worries over the new test, such as students’ inability to draw pictures and underline, Mustafa said, “There’s an additional skill set that needs to be learned to take any test on computers.”

Despite student concern, the new computerized test format does provide benefits. While the MCAT is currently only administered twice per year, it will now be offered 20 times. In addition, the test will be reduced from a grueling eight hours to a more manageable five. Students will also be able to receive their score results faster on the computer test.

Some Cornell pre-med students are nervous about the MCAT’s new format.

Lauren Rotman ’08 was unsure about taking the test in August, but said she now definitely plans to take it at that date to avoid the computer-based format.

“I don’t have much experience taking tests online and you always do best in situations that you’ve been in before, because you’re just most comfortable,” she said. “Also, there’s just something reassuring about having a physical piece of paper in your hands so you can write things down on it,” she said.

However, other students look forward to the change and do not feel a computer-based format will hinder their performance.

Jason Barell ’07 recently took the MCAT but said he may have to take it again next April depending on his score. He feels that the first administration of the exam will be very fair and objective, because students do not know what to expect.

“As of now the test is so long that test takers, myself included, become worn out by the end,” he said.

Regina Myers ’08, who plans on taking the MCAT the summer after her junior year, said she is excited for the change.

“It means the exam will be shorter, it will be given more often, and I can get my score much sooner, which will be great because I hate waiting,” she said.

Mustafa advises students who have already completed their pre-med requirements to take the MCAT in April or August 2006, before it switches to its new format. Students who take the MCAT in August will also have the option of taking the paper and pencil or the computer-based version.

Mustafa said the MCAT will serve as an indicator to see if computer-based standardized testing works for other health profession exams in the future.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer