February 16th, 2012
04:14 PM ET
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.
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