Did Someone Say Essay?
When the AAMC added content to the latest version of the MCAT, many students were left wondering whether or not the writing sample would make a comeback. If you were one of the pre-meds racking your brain asking “does the MCAT have an essay?”, then fear not! There is no essay requirement on the new MCAT.
Prior to the 2013 testing year, all test-takers were required to complete a fourth section of the MCAT, which was simply called the Writing Sample. Because of this requirement, students converged upon campus writing centers everywhere to improve their writing. The importance of this section was ambiguous to say the least. Many students didn’t know if schools were even interested in the scores they received on this section. Furthermore, the scoring for this section was privy to inconsistencies because it had to be evaluated by an actual person. Following the 2012-2013 testing year, the AAMC did away with the essay portion of the exam to make room for what was then the optional trial section. The writers used incentives to encourage students to take this optional section. This trial section was comprised of sample items that tested out the types of questions that are now found on the current version of the exam.
Do Med Schools Care About My Writing?
Medical schools absolutely care about your writing! Even though the writing section was removed from the MCAT, an essay is still required as part of your medical school application. Both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools require this essay, better known as the personal statement. Your statement can be up to 5300 characters long for AMCAS and 4500 characters long for AACOMAS. It allows you to expound upon your reasoning for wanting to become a physician.
While your writing is no longer assigned a score, schools use your personal statement as an integral part of you application. This is one of the first opportunities that you will have as an applicant have to set yourself apart from the crowd and let your personality and passion shine through. It’s a great opportunity to identify yourself in your own words and apart from your GPA and MCAT score.
When I first heard about MCAT 2015, I was in disbelief.
For those who do now know what the MCAT is, let me give you a brief introduction. MCAT (or Medical College Admission Test) is a standardized test that all medical school applicants must take before entering medical school. The boards of admissions will use the score as one the factors when deciding to accept you to medical school or not. If you want more information, refer to the MCAT section where I talk about it in much detail.
So what is MCAT 2015? It is basically a massive update to the MCAT. The test in its current form (as of 2012) has been roughly the same since 1991. But in February 2015, hopeful applicants everywhere will get the joy of taking a completely new exam.
Who Will Take MCAT 2015?
January 2015 is the last month the current MCAT will be offered. So if you are taking the MCAT in February 2015 or afterwards, you will be taking the new exam.
If you are going to take the new MCAT, you should read further to find out what is in store for you and how you can prepare for it.
So How Will It Change?
MCAT 2015 will test you on more subjects, beyond biology, physics, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry. It will be bigger. It will take longer to complete. And because it will be a bigger test, it will also cost more. I bet you saw the price increase coming.
Like the current exam, MCAT 2015 will have four sections.
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
If you look closely, you will see that something changed. But what is it?
The writing portion of the exam is gone. No one cared about the writing score anyways, so it makes sense that they get rid of it. In its stead, you get another science section for you to complete — Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior. I’ll explain more about that further below.
So starting in 2013, the writing section will be removed. An optional section (which I am assuming is Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior) will be added in its place. It will not affect your score. Taking the optional section is strongly encouraged and if you make a conscious effort to do it, you may receive financial compensation. Basically, AAMC is paying you to test out their questions. Based on the data, they can see which questions they should use for 2015.
MCAT 2015 will be less segmented than before. You won’t get the physical sciences section comprising of only physics and inorganic chemistry. You won’t get a biological sciences section comprising of only biology and organic chemistry. Instead, it will be one jumbled test. Let me show you what I mean by giving you an overview of each section.
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBFLS) will test you in four subjects: biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry.
Huh? What? Biochemistry?
Yes! This was never tested before, so test takers in 2015 will have a real treat. AAMC claims that only one semester of biochemistry in college should be enough to prepare you for the new subject.
The breakdown of BBFLS is as follows:
- biology – 65%
- organic chemistry – 5%
- inorganic chemistry – 5%
- biochemistry – 25%
As you can see, this section favors biology and biochemistry. It is somewhat comparable to the biological sciences section of the current MCAT.
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CPFBS) will test you in five subjects: biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry.
Its breakdown is as follows:
- biology – 5%
- organic chemistry – 25%
- inorganic chemistry – 30%
- physics – 25%
- biochemistry – 15%
This section has a bit of everything with emphasis on the two chemistries and physics. It is somewhat comparable to the physical sciences section of the current MCAT.
Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior (PSBFB) is a completely new section. As I mentioned above, it replaces the essay portion. So instead of writing two essays, you get to answer even more multiple choice questions. Joy! These questions will be in totally brand-new subjects! Double joy!
The section will test you in three subjects: biology, psychology, and sociology. You’re familiar with biology, but psychology and sociology on the MCAT is something foreign.
Like biochemistry, AAMC claims that one semester of psychology and one semester of sociology should prepare you for the new subjects.
The section’s breakdown is as follows:
- biology – 10%
- psychology – 60%
- sociology – 30%
So as you can see, the new subjects (especially psychology) will play a big role in how well you do on the MCAT of 2015.
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) sounds fancy but it basically is the same as the verbal reasoning section on the current MCAT. You will have to read some passages and answer some questions.
Overview of MCAT 2015’s New Sections
Looking at the new exam as a whole, it will test you on seven science subjects:
- biology – 27% of the total exam
- organic chemistry – 10% of the total exam
- inorganic chemistry – 12% of the total exam
- physics – 8% of the total exam
- biochemistry – 13% of the total exam
- psychology – 20% of the total exam
- sociology – 10% of the total exam
Again, the new subjects (biochemistry, psychology, and sociology) should require only one semester of college course each to prepare you for the new MCAT. Even though AAMC recommends that you take biochemistry, psychology, and sociology, I do not think medical schools will add them as medical school requirements. I’ll keep you updated if things change.
I am actually quite surprised at how little the two chemistries and physics matter on MCAT 2015, considering AAMC still recommends that you take at least two semesters for each course. That is a shame because physics and chemistry were my strong points. I really think this new test will make it even more difficult for non-science majors to get into medical school.
Scoring will be similar. Each section will be scored from a range of 1 to 15, with 1 being the lowest score and 15 being the highest.
Since there are 4 sections, a score of 45 is no longer so impressive. You will have to score a 60 to get a perfect score.
For those who are a bit older, this reminds me of the SAT changes. 1600 used to be perfect. Now it is 2400. So if I tell high school kids these days that I scored a 1400, they probably would not be very impressed.
Bigger & Longer
The total time for MCAT 2015 will increase from 5.5 hours to 7 hours. The current MCAT is already a beast of a test, but the new one will blow everyone away. Compare that to the GMAT (which only takes 4 hours), the LSAT (which only takes 3 hours), and the GRE (which only takes 2.5 hours).
The number of questions per section and the time allotted to complete them are listed below:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems – 65 questions – 95 minutes
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems – 65 questions – 95 minutes
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior – 65 questions – 95 minutes
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills – 60 questions – 90 minutes
That amount of time per question is comparable to what is offered currently, but the numbers of questions have increased drastically from 144 questions plus 2 essays in the current MCAT to 255 questions in MCAT 2015.
For those who are taking the new MCAT, I salute you.
Of course, because the new exam will be bigger, the price will be bigger too.
Preparing for MCAT 2015
If you read my MCAT test prep strategies, you will know that doing practice questions is one of the best ways to prepare for the MCAT.
Can you do practice questions for this one? Yes.
In 2014, AAMC will release one full and free practice exam. It will be like the practice exams it offers now. You can simulate an actual exam (with it being timed) and you can review each question for explanations. AAMC will release another full practice exam in 2015. I’m not sure when in 2015, so if you take it early (as in February), you may only have one practice exam to work with.
My Opinion of the New MCAT
I think it sucks!
Granted, my viewpoint may be a bit premature, but it seems like this exam will make it more difficult for non-traditional applicants to get into medical school. The non-traditional applicants will have to spend more time and money to take more classes, just to prepare for MCAT 2015.
Medical school applicants will have to plan their classes carefully starting freshman year if they want to take the exam by their junior year. They won’t have as much room to explore other fields as before.
Why do they need to test you on biochemistry or psychology? You will learn the same thing in medical school. You’ll get tested on biochemistry and psychiatry on the USMLE and COMLEX. Visit the subjects taught in medical school and see for yourself. This is seriously a waste of brainpower and time.
For those future gunners out there, if you want more details about MCAT 2015, there is no better place than AAMC. It released a Preview Guide for MCAT 2015 that you may want to check it. It is quite lengthy at more than 150 pages. But if you want a sample of the type of questions that will be on the new exam, you will not be disappointed. I, on the other hand, got a headache just by looking through it.
Another excellent summary of the MCAT changes in 2015 is from SDN. If I missed anything, this article should have it. It is not as long as the AAMC Preview Guide, so it’s not as painful a read either.
picture source: Association of American Medical Colleges
This article is part of the Get into Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about getting accepted into medical school.
According to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), people entering college in the fall of 2012 will be taking the new exam in their junior year. If you entered college before 2012, try to take the MCAT before February 2015.