The New MCAT: Top Five Things to Know

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In 2012, the president of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) wrote an open letter  to all pre-medical students to announce the new Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). More than a year has now passed since the first administration of the new MCAT exam. But what exactly has changed about the exam and what do pre-medical students need to know about these changes?

Here are the top five things you must know about the new MCAT:

  1. New Section: The most remarkable change with the new MCAT is the addition of a fourth section: the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. The AAMC created this section because they felt that knowing basic science concepts alone was insufficient preparation for modern medicine. In the words of the president of the AAMC, “the health system of tomorrow will require a different kind of physician.” The result is that pre-medical students must now know introductory psychology and sociology concepts for the MCAT.
  1. New Content: On top of adding a new section, the new exam also drastically increased the amount of biochemistry content. In fact, there is more biochemistry on the new MCAT than general chemistry, organic chemistry, or physics. Pre-medical students were often told that taking biochemistry was optional for the old MCAT and that’s true. Biochemistry was barely tested on the old exam but that’s no longer the case for the new exam. If you’re unconvinced, consider this:
  • The MCAT covers two semesters of physics and one semester of biochemistry.
  • There are twice as many biochemistry questions as physics questions on the MCAT.

Similar arguments can be made for general chemistry and organic chemistry. The point is that biochemistry is a big deal on the new exam. Take biochemistry before the MCAT and you won’t regret it.

  1. Longer Exam: The MCAT is a much longer exam for two reasons: the addition of a fourth section and the increase in the length of each section of the exam. The science sections of the old exam were 70 minutes long, compared with 95 minutes for the new exam. Cumulatively, the total testing time increased from 200 minutes with the old MCAT to 375 minutes with the new MCAT. Including all of the breaks, you can expect your test day for the new MCAT to last 7.5 hours.

As you might imagine, most pre-medical students are not used to taking a test of this length. The solution is to take practice tests. On your first few test, you will likely be mentally exhausted after just the first or second section. That’s perfectly normal. As you take more and more practice exams, you will gradually build up mental stamina. The goal is to take enough tests until you are able to maintain focus throughout the entire exam. At the same time, you will also learn how to pace yourself on the MCAT.

  1. Passage Style: In the old exam, students could get passages on any random chemistry or physics topic. Students complained because many of these passages seemed to have nothing to do with medicine. The good news is that all of the passages on the new MCAT are biologically relevant. For example, a passage testing electrostatics could be about the motion of charges in an action potential.

Another major adjustment is that the majority of the passages on the new MCAT are adapted from scientific journal articles. This change reflects the growing importance of research in medicine. These new passages can be tough, as the questions cannot be answered by memorizing facts alone. Students have to analyze the experimental results to conclude whether or not the researcher’s hypothesis is supported and determine appropriate controls in the design of the experiment.

  1. New Scoring System: On the old exam, students received a score between 1-15 for each of the three sections with the elusive 45 as the perfect score. With the addition of a fourth section on the new MCAT, you can imagine the confusion there would be if the same scoring system were kept. For example, a score of 43 would mean very different things on the old and new exams.

To avoid this confusion, the AAMC created a new MCAT scoring system. It’s not that complicated though. They simply took the old scale and added 117 so each section is now scored between 118-132. You might be thinking that this doesn’t really change anything and you’re right. It’s still a 15-point scale. Just as how 8 was the average on the old exam, 125 is now the average for the new exam. 528 is the new 45!

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Ken Tao from Magoosh graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Bioengineering and Molecular Cell Biology. He has taught MCAT to hundreds of students over several years working as an MCAT specialist for a test preparation company. His students have achieved scores of 40+ on the old exam and 520+ on the new exam.

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