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Medical school exam will test more than science
February 16th, 2012
04:14 PM ET

Medical school exam will test more than science

The exam all medical school applicants take will have new sections requiring a broader knowledge of psychology, sociology, and the social components of health starting in 2015.

The changes are the first made since 1991 for the Medical College Admission Test, known as the MCAT.

Patients tend to have great confidence in the scientific knowledge in their doctors, but less confidence in their bedside manners, said Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The exam is “designed to help students prepare for a rapidly changing health care system and an evolving body of medical knowledge while addressing the needs of a growing, aging, and increasingly diverse population,” according to a press release from the AAMC, which represents all 136 accredited U.S. medical schools.

The exam is "a key tool that we have used and will continue to use to select the people who will be our doctors in the future," Kirch said. "This is an important component in the gateway to the profession of medicine."

The MCATs will now take six and a half hours (instead of the current four and a half hours), with a total of four sections.

A new segment of the exam called the “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior” will test understanding of human behavior, cultural and social differences and other factors.  Another new section called “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills” will test students’ ability to reason through passages pertaining to social sciences, ethics philosophy and cross-cultural studies and population health.

"Being a good doctor isn’t just about understanding science," Kirch said.  "It’s about understanding people - it must go hand in hand."

The two new sections replace a writing portion, which surveys showed was not useful in evaluating prospective medical students. The test will continue to have two sections testing science, such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry and physics.

"One of the best preparations for the test is to read broadly, to be knowledgeable about the world at large," Kirch said.

The changes to the MCATs come after three years of outreach events and surveys.

The MCATs play a crucial role in medical school admissions. Critics have long said that the exam was unfair because statistics indicate that students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to score lower on MCATs.

Diversity has also been a concern. Of nearly 80,000 medical students in the U.S, about 7% are African American and 8% are of Hispanic descent in a country that is increasingly more diverse. Asians and whites comprise nearly 80%.

For more background on this issue, read Wanted: Fewer science nerds, more 'culturally competent' doctors

If you want to test yourself on the MCATs, the sample questions are here:  Preview Guide for MCAT2015.


soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. tamara reina

    Wow that's really great for future doctors like myself

    February 16, 2012 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ciescokid

      I pray you are joking. There is absolutely nothing good about that test.

      February 17, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
  2. Jonathan

    A huge sigh of relief...I'm so glad I'm in medical school and don't have to re-take the exam with the added content. lol

    February 16, 2012 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ciescokid

      You said a mouthful. Hopefully they don't do the same thing to Boards.

      February 17, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  3. Portland tony

    Well to tell the truth, I would much rather have a have a good surgeon who is that science nerd with a terrible bedside manner ..than a lousy physician that is a great snake oil salesman.

    February 16, 2012 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fred

    This is not the first change in the MCAT since 1991. The MCAT changed in the mid 2000's to become a shorter exam and have a greater focus on biochemistry, genetics and cell biology. Fact check, please CNN.

    February 16, 2012 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fermi

      Incorrect Fred. The exam change in the mid-2000's was a result of changing from a paper and pencil based test to a computer based test. Content was updated in the early 2000's but the exam's sections stayed completely the same. In essence you need to fact check.

      February 17, 2012 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
  5. jake

    Kinda wonder if this might be targeting foreign students as well. There certainly seems to be a lot of foreign born doctors who are probably very smart but also complete jerks who don't care about their patients.

    February 17, 2012 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Philippe

    Social component? Im sorry but being a doctor is about effectively treating patients...not how nice someone is. Make "social classes" a part of medical school if you need to, but if we start losing smart doctors just because they lack social skills and can't pass that part of the test, our health care in this country is going to go down in quality even more

    February 17, 2012 at 07:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michi

      I totally agree with you. If a doctor wants to be nice then they can. But if they are mean and does a good job, patients still rather choose that person. It really depends on a doctor, what they want to be viewed as. Schools and AAMC should not be determining a characteristic of a doctor. What happened America? Why are we doing all the things that are unnecessary now a days.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:22 | Report abuse |
  7. jon

    This should be accomplished by the rest of the medical school applicant's resume and interview, not by an addition to the MCAT. I think this goes to show that medical school admissions relied too heavily on test scores to begin with and that the "whole package" clearly meant less than it should have.

    February 17, 2012 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Heather

    As a prospective medical school student, I do not necessarily think that the changes should have been made to the MCAT, but to the admissions process of medical schools. Unfortunately, test scores are what medical schools rely heavily upon. Yes, your doctor should be knowledgable and should be able to pass not only the MCAT but also the licensing exams that come later, but that does not mean that all of the emphasis should be placed on these test scores. Test scores do not always show which students will turn out to be great doctors. If medical schools are concerned with doctor's bedside manners, then they should offer more classes in medical school that teach them these skills. I know that many of the medical schools I have looked at require these classes for their students now. Also, a LONGER test?! The MCAT was ridiculously long enough to begin with...even now the MCAT is more of an endurance test than anything else–see who can make it without cracking under the pressure...

    February 17, 2012 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Michael

    I think it is incorrect to assume that being compassionate and intelligent are mutually exclusive. Shouldn't your future doctor be both?

    February 17, 2012 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ciescokid

    This proves to me that the entry process is more about the ability to take a test than any other parameter. Instead of having applicants answer psychology/sociology questions, why don't they just have them interact with different people in a natural setting? Thank God I am done with that hell of an exam and don't have to look at it ever again.

    February 17, 2012 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kristin

    I'm not sure why so many people disagree with this. There are many physicians who are absolutely brilliant with respect to science but have terrible outcomes when it comes to patient care. Patient care doesn't begin and end with medicines and procedures. How can you properly diagnose a patient when you don't have the communication skills to elicit the appropriate information? How can you make sure they won't get an infection after surgery if you cannot adequately instruct them on proper home care and guage their understanding? How likely is it that people will follow your recommendations if you are not the sort of person who takes the time to explain the reasoning and importance?

    Everyone seems to have this bias that the more high-tech and complicated health care is, the better it must be. Well, we are #1 in the world with respect to technology and innovatio so explain to me why we are # 42 with respect to health outcomes!

    February 17, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M

      It sounds very good to a patient and anyone who will be taken care by a doctor. However, for a future doctor, it is just giving them a harder time, when it is hard enough already now. This will reduce the amount of doctors out there in the future, and ess incentive for a younger student to become a doctor now.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • Amanda

      Agreed! It's amazing what can happen when you take 5-10 minutes to explain something to a patient. They are more compliant and are more satisfied with their care.

      February 18, 2012 at 18:29 | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Look, as I said above....give me a deaf-mute brain surgeon who has never lost a patient. Anyone can hand out "after care" literature. Although your primary care physician, should have a good patient communication skills, your surgeon doesn't need those skills since you are unconscious when he does his best work.

      February 18, 2012 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
  12. A Reasoner

    Think personal make up doesn't count? Check out Michael Swango.

    February 17, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Amanda

    I can understand what they are trying to do here, but I really do not think that this will make a difference. I did not really understand the social and psychological complexities of medicine until I was at least in my 3rd year of medical school. As a college student taking the test, you do not have the hands-on exposure to absorb or even properly learn this material. The MCAT is bad enough without having to learn extra topics such as this. If anything, there should be more rigorous social teaching in medical school before students go off into their respective residencies. Your surgeon may not have the same bedside manner as your general internist, and the culture of the different subspecialties of medicine often dictate bedside behaviour. (And if you think that the MCAT is long, wait until you take your UMSLE Step exams....)

    February 18, 2012 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Internist

    The MCAT is to test science. This is critical in a good physician. That other stuff should be bloody apparent during the interview and on letters of recommendation. Good luck finding it out on an A-E multiple choice test.

    February 20, 2012 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. smartdoc

    This is nothing more than liberals trying to "dumb down" the exam so more minorities can qualify based on scores rather than affirmative action preferences. If you can't get the proper mix of racial groups, lower the bar. Thats the mantra of our educational cabal.

    February 22, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply

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