Major MCAT changes


Pre-med students across the U.S. are facing a dilemma: Take the Medical College Admissions Test in its current form by January, or wait for the longer, more comprehensive version due out in April.

Butler University’s pre-med students are no exception.

Butler Pre-Med Society President Carah Austin said she will take the new exam in April.

“For a lot of juniors and younger, there is no way we could take the test before January,” Austin said. “You have to have certain classes, like biochemistry that I’m just now taking, so I probably would have done pretty poorly anyway.”

Austin, a junior, will be part of the first class of students to take the revamped test. Pre-med students typically take the exam around the end of their junior year.

The new MCAT exam is nearly twice as long as its predecessor, and will add psychology, sociology and biochemistry sections to the test. It is the first change to the test since 1991.

Dr. Stacy O’Reilly, Butler’s interim senior pre-health professions advisor, said students come to her with concerns about the new test.

“They are terrified,” she said. “They have been wanting to be a physician for many years, and they are taking a test that has never been given before.”

She said one of the best ways to study was to take old exams. That option is nonexistent for students taking the new test. They will have to rely on a sample test released in the spring.

Despite this challenge, O’Reilly said she had only one advisee choose to take the exam early, and another student is still mulling over the decision. She said the students completed the prerequisite coursework early in both cases.

Regardless of the longer test, O’Reilly said she is advising students to take it once they have learned the material in class.

“If a student thought they could be ready, I’d work with them and help them to get ready,” O’Reilly said. “But most will be taking it in line with everyone else.”

Dr. Geoff Hoops, Butler’s junior pre-health professions advisor, said he was initially surprised to hear the test would be altered. However, after attending a National Association of American Pre-Health Advisors conference, Hoops said he thought the changes made sense.

“I’m guessing the changes are going to be good,” he said. “The new emphasis on social sciences and humanities is something that I think should bode very well for Butler students.”

O’Reilly said she cannot speak for all pre-med students, but said she believes Butler’s pre-med students are better disposed to do well on the test than students at other universities.

 “We are rooted in the liberal arts and sciences,” O’Reilly said. “I think the exam is going to benefit students who have better reading skills, better critical thinking skills and are still well-educated in the sciences. I think that’s what Butler’s curriculum tries to do.”

Hoops said he was told one of the reasons for the new test was to improve how doctors interact with their patients.

The Association of American Medical Colleges—the same association responsible for the MCAT—conducted a study which determined that Americans have confidence in a doctor’s ability to treat a disease. However, there were complaints about bedside manner.

“(The AAMC) feel they’re already putting out doctors who can treat diseases very well,” Hoops said. “They feel there is room for improvement in treating the patients. That is, treating the human beings that suffer from the disease a little more humanely—a little more carefully and thoroughly.”

Hoops said he thinks the AAMC wants a test that will foster doctors who understand the human condition better, and the toll a disease takes on a patient’s psyche.

Hoops said he does not anticipate changes to Butler’s curriculum as a result of the test.

“I don’t think there is a single department at Butler University that is going to allow any other person’s exam to dictate their curriculum,” he said. “I don’t see there being classes created or overhauled in response to this, but we will have to change how we advise students in which classes to take.”

O’Reilly said she plans to hold an informational meeting for students about the new test.

She said the meetings are planned for the Tuesday and Wednesday before fall break.

Neither O’Reilly, Hoops or Austin said they heard about any students backing out of the pre-med program because of the new MCAT.

“I think that the test may be longer, and it may be harder, but if you are pre-med then that is what you want to do,” Austin said. “If you really have it in your heart to go to medical school, then I don’t think a harder test is really going to affect your decision.”