Starting this January, the Medical College Admission Test will undergo drastic changes, switching from pencil and paper to a computer-based format. Also, the new test will have fewer questions, more scheduled testing dates and shorter testing time.
The automated process is being touted to expedite the notification of MCAT scores to test-takers and allow medical schools to accelerate the enrollment process. The computer-based format is also said to ensure regularity between testing sites.
The MCAT is not the first graduate school test to switch to a computer-based format. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) are all taken on the computer. Still, the MCAT has different types of questions that might require scratch work.
Sean Lynch, outreach Director at Princeton Review, believes that the reading comprehension section of the MCAT might be more challenging because students will not be able to highlight or take notes. He suggests that students come prepared for sections like the reading comprehension that will be different than standardized tests they have taken in the past.
“I feel the test online might be shorter,” Nisha Viswanathan said, “but you cannot highlight or take notes on the computer.” Viswanathan is a pre-med student who already took the non-computerized version of the MCAT
The MCAT will be administered at Thomas Prometric Centers, a corporation that provides technology-enabled testing and assessment services. Thomas Prometric teamed up with the Association of American Medical Colleges in July of 2005 to convert the test to a computer-based format.
The changes are designed to make the testing process easier for students, but, as reported last year in an article in the Miami Hurricane, a Kaplan survey of 3,858 pre-med students found that 82 percent of students feel that they will perform worse on the new version of the MCAT.
“I’d rather take a paper exam any day because it’s harder to concentrate on the computer,” Nitin Aggarwal, a senior and pre-med student, said. “There’s nothing physically in front of you.”
Though the new format will not take full effect until January, a number of testing sites have experimented with the computerized version. The Association of American Medical Colleges, a non-profit organization involved in the accreditation of medical schools, is the principle administrator of the MCAT and has tested the electronic format on a few thousand students over the previous year.
“People fear the unknown,” said Lynch. “The MCAT has changed. Students have to accept this instead of being intimidated.”
The scores from the trial computer-based tests taken in August will come out in the second week of October. The AAMC will then compare these scores with scores from the paper-and-pencil format.
Matt Fidler, director of MCAT programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, suggested that students start taking practices tests on the computer to become comfortable with an electronic test.
“When a student goes to take the real thing, they will have already gotten their feet wet,” Fidler said.
Fidler also suggested that students register months in advance for their testing date. The new MCAT will be offered 19 times on 17 different days instead of twice a year, but the new testing sites will only accommodate about 20 students.
Registration for January test dates will begin on Nov. 15. Registration for popular summer months like June and July will begin as early as Feb. 14.
Fidler pointed out that test-takers already have to worry about learning multiple subjects and building stamina to take a five-hour test, so students should not also worry about registration.
Jennifer Tang, a pre-med student, is currently enrolled in a Princeton Review course.
“I’m a little scared because I’m not used to taking tests online,” Tang said. Tang also emphasized the importance of taking online tests to familiarize oneself with the computer-based format.
Students interested in taking a practice computer-based MCAT can go online to Kaptest.com/MCAT or PrincetonReview.com.
Karyn Meshbane may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org