There are many hoops to jump through to be a competitive medical school applicant. Many people consider the most challenging hoop to be the MCAT. Understanding the MCAT’s structure and content is the best way to address the anxiety and misunderstanding concerning the test. The very first question to ask when demystifying the MCAT is, “What does MCAT stand for?”
Simply and aptly named, “MCAT” stands for the Medical College Admission Test. The first test, then known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test for Medical Students, was administered in 1928 in response to high rates of medical school dropouts.
By testing students’ readiness for medical school, the exam was meant to help differentiate those who were more likely to succeed from those at risk of dropping out. Within the two decades following the implementation of this test requirement, the med-school dropout rate plummeted from 50% to 7%.
Administering the Scholastic Aptitude Test for Medical Students to all pre-med students was an effective start to ensuring med-school readiness. It lasted until 1946 when the composition of the test was revisited.
This version of the test—known from 1946-1948 as the Professional School Aptitude Test until it officially became the MCAT—included four subsections. These categories were Verbal Ability, Quantitative Ability, Science Achievement, and Understanding Modern Society.
Separating the test into four parts gave admissions committees the opportunity to look comparatively at the strengths prospective students exhibited. These strengths were meant to relate to how they would succeed in medical school, and by 1948 the committee realized there was one section that didn’t help to narrow down the decision: Understanding Modern Society.
Between 1962-1977, the AAMC changed the section on Understanding Modern Society to “General Information,” but the inclusion of it on a test for future physicians still felt superfluous to some admissions committees.
By 1977, the AAMC officially did away with this section. The test then became a composite of individual test scores on scientific knowledge, science problems, reading skills analysis, and quantitative skills analysis, while individual test scores for biology, chemistry, and physics were provided to illuminate performance on each. This version of the test lasted until 1991.
From 1991-2014, the MCAT was divided again into four sections including Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Writing Sample Sections. The addition of writing replaced the General Knowledge section and was meant to gauge “text comprehension, data analysis, ability to evaluate an argument, or apply knowledge from the passage to other contexts.”
The latest version of the MCAT came about in 2015. The test’s 21-person advisory committee surveyed fellow peers and students in the medical field to find what would be most useful to assess in pre-med students.
The committee’s members designed the current version of the test, known as the MCAT 2015 or the New MCAT. They removed the writing sample portion, as admissions committees reported not putting heavy consideration on it.
Changes also included the addition of a section on psychology and sociology concepts. The test-development committee cites these concepts as “essential” for a physician’s healthcare participation.
The science sections now include biochemical topics, which are noted as the most important subject material needed to succeed in the evolving curricula of medical school.
Today, the test takes a total of 7.5 hours to complete. The score is based on a converted score, which puts test results on a scale between 472 and 528. This version of the MCAT will remain unchanged until it’s revisited in 2030.
Admissions committees have many things to consider when reviewing applications. The intention of standardized tests is to present the aptitude of any prospective student, but, as indicated by the various revisions the MCAT has undergone, having a truly reflective test is harder than it seems.
The test in place now is the best version the AAMC developed for testing students’ abilities to succeed amidst medical schools’ current curricula. There is no alternative to the MCAT if you plan to earn your own stethoscope, so start studying.