The New MCAT Format: What Does It Mean for Premeds Now?

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CARS 78: The New MCAT Format: What Does It Mean for Premeds Now?

Session 78

The AAMC just dropped a BOMB on the premed world — a shorter MCAT. What does this mean for you? How should you go about studying? And more! Don’t miss it!

Jack Westin joins me today as we talk all about CARS, what you should be thinking, how you should be preparing for this shorter test, and much more.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:21] Reason for the Shortened Period

Jack speculates the reason AAMC has done this is they want to provide students with as many test date options as possible.

By shortening the test, you have three different exam times per administration.

You have the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. The evening examination period is interesting. It starts around six or seven so you’re going to be there probably from 6pm till almost midnight. It will actually benefit some students.

AAMC initially said they’re shortening the section to 81 minutes. They actually initially said 76 minutes but then corrected it a couple of hours later, they said they had a typo. And they corrected it to 81 minutes.

Jack honestly thinks this new situation is not fair. You don’t have as long of a break. They haven’t at least administered or mentioned, how long or how many passages you have. Hopefully, they’ll release that information before the next test date on May 29.

But they should at least tell everyone how many passages you have, whether it’s seven or eight. It’s probably going to be eight because they’ve just basically reduced the number of questions by passage.

[04:56] Number of Passages

Normally, there are nine passages to be done in 90 minutes.  And there are 53 questions. Now, you have, who knows how many passages, probably eight, and you have 48 questions instead of 53. So you have five less to be done in 81 minutes. That means you’re going to have about an extra minute instead of 9 minutes per passage.

“It's going to be a little bit over 10 minutes per passage, because they've only reduced the time.”Click To Tweet

[06:30] Preparing for the Timing

Students who are going to take this shortened test aren’t going to have access to full length practice tests that mimic the shortened test. Jack recommends that you just stick to the format that the AAMC gives you first, the standard test.

So if you’re taking the test in September, just treat it as a standard test. Do nine passages. This way, you can see your score and see where you stand whether it’s a 124, 125, 127. You have a better idea of what your deficits are so you can fix them. Now, it’s obviously not going to be the real test. As you get closer to your test date, try to do eight passages instead of the nine.

Do eight of it, have a timer, and do it in 81 minutes. Stop the timer when you get down to nine minutes remaining.

“If you miss 10 questions, you're looking at a 127 on the standard test. It’s pretty much enough to get into any school.”Click To Tweet

If you get 43 questions out of 53, that’s roughly either 126, 127, or 128, which is pretty much enough to get into any school.

If you’re a Canadian, you would want to bump those numbers up. Probably get closer to no more than eight wrong or seven wrong. 

Because some passages at the end may have five, six, or seven questions, just skip that passage. Just don’t do that last passage, obviously, look at it later, but not while you’re taking the test.

Do the eight in 81 minutes then assess how many questions you got. 38 out of 48 or closer to 39 is a decent score. You should be fine because there are less questions now. And that’s again equivalent to 127.

All that being said, you get more time per passage. You actually get an eighth of a minute longer per passage. So it hasn’t really drastically changed much. 

Now, if it was really 76 minutes, then that’s a different story because it’s not going to be very fair. Thankfully, they addressed that. And even if you were given 76 minutes instead of the 81, everyone’s in the same position. You’re in the same boat as everyone else taking the test with you so that should give you some comfort.

[11:17] Do You Still Have Time for Break?

“The problem with this new version is you don't have as long of a break in the middle between the CARS section and Bio section.”Click To Tweet

Ten minutes may not be enough time to run out, check your locker, go pee and then go back. And that’s really stressful because a lot of students may be coming in and out. And if you’ve ever been into one of these testing centers, they ID you every time you come in. Whether it’s a fingerprint or face ID, whatever they use.

You may even spend more time than you really need it during your break. You may actually miss some of the time on the real test. Because the test will go on after whether you’re there or not there after 10 minutes. So you have to just be very careful and be very wise.

[12:24] Challenges for the Afternoon and Evening Administrations

“It's also probably going to be very hectic for the afternoon and evening administrations because it's very hard to get everyone ready to go right at the right hour.”Click To Tweet

Usually, they don’t start everyone at the same time. They start you when you get in or when they call on you.

Jack’s advice to everyone that wants to take this test in the summer is to take it in the morning. That way, you don’t have to deal with people behind you or ahead of you and them having to finish before you get to start. They’ll probably be able to monitor everything well. But imagine people who are actually proctoring the test will get very tired by the evening. And you don’t want anyone messing up. So go in early, start early in the morning. And that’s when you’re really fresh.

But you could also do it in the evening if you’re a night owl. If you’re studying at night, and your brain works better at night, go for it. Just be careful because they’ve never done this before and you never know what’s going to happen.

[15:02] Reason for the Longer Test: More Questions, Better Accuracy

Jack thinks the reason they made the test longer is because they want you to show your strengths.

Whereas if you’re given less questions, let’s say you only have 10 questions, there is a better probability that you will mess up because you may not know a lot about those specific 10 questions.

“By having more questions, more time, you're able to show them what you really know.” Click To Tweet

But say the test is longer and it’s 100 questions. Then you missed five out of those 10 questions that you were going to miss, you’re still fine. You’d still do better on the rest of those questions. If you do better on the additional 90 questions, then your percentage will still be high.

By having more questions, you have a better accuracy or a better measurement of that student’s achievements. And this is probably why they’ve extended the test, why they’ve made it longer, and why they’ve also added a new section to the test.

[16:06] Are There Going to Be Experimental Questions?

Every single section has experimental questions and that’s how standardized tests work. They have new questions every year because they want to make the test better. The test actually evolves every year.

They also want to prevent cheating so they add new questions that no one can memorize because they literally change the questions every year.

That’s why these experimental questions are so important because they get the test into a more critical thinking based exam. They also allow you to assess the validity of the question so that it doesn’t affect you, but it will affect the future generation.

The experimental questions are field test questions that don’t count on your test. 

You don’t know which ones they are. You don’t know if it’s the first question or the last question. You don’t know how many they have included. That’s why they’re so great because they’re just field testing how good that question is for the future.

Even though the format of the test doesn’t change every year, that changes pretty much every 10 years.

“The actual questions have definitely transitioned into a more critical thinking based test over the years.”Click To Tweet

If you see the tests from 10 years ago, the difference between old and now is literally night and day. You can’t tell that these were actually the same test.

Whether they’re going to remove the field test questions from the new format or not, they do one thing very well which is to intimidate you. 

They’ll throw in a really random question once in awhile just to make you waste time, to intimidate you, and to make you doubt yourself. That’s how they make this test really hard as they try to make things harder than they really are. And if you really studied you can see through that, yeah.

[23:59] A Test of Adaptability

Jack personally believes that the MCAT is trying to see if you’re smart enough to deal with this mess, to deal with this kind of test, and to deal with medical school. Because ultimately, if you have a hard time dealing with this test, you can’t overcome it eventually. These schools are thinking what makes you think you can do four years of medical school?

If you ask most medical students though, after the first year of medical school, they’ll tell you the MCAT was a joke compared to what they did their first year in medical school.

And they’ll still tell you that the MCAT was harder because it was a thinking test. Jack doesn’t think it’s a fair test.

People who come from lower socioeconomic statuses do not have a fair equal level playing field when it comes to this test. But these medical schools know that and they account for that when they look at your application.

So Jack believes that this is a test of adaptability.

“It shows how well you're going to adapt to different styles of tests in medical school.”Click To Tweet

Whether it’s problem based learning or whatever the case may be, they want to see if you can transition from one way of learning to another. And Jack thinks the test does a really good job at that.

If you don’t have this test, we don’t know if you’re smart. We don’t know if you’re capable of adapting. We don’t know if you’re capable, if you’re sharp enough to handle medical school.

The MCAT makes sure that you can handle medical school. It makes sure that even if you got C’s or B’s or lower scores in your premed years because of a random professor that decided to just make the tests really hard, you’re still assessed on a very level playing field.

[27:26] To Push Back or to Push Through?

Jack says everyone should push through this. If you plan to take this test this summer, don’t let the test dates and the new format deter you.

“You're going to have hurdles the rest of your life. This is just one of those hurdles you have to overcome.”Click To Tweet

If anything, you’re getting an extra minute on the test. So maybe it comes out to help you and maybe it’s not because you have less questions or maybe it’s not because there’s less time in between CARS and Bio to take a break.

Jack thinks it’s fair enough for most people to take it. If you don’t have to take it this summer, don’t take it because of the risk of getting infected since you’re going into a place with many people. But who knows eventually maybe we’re not going to be social distancing as much.

But if you have school and you’re going to get busy and your life might be falling behind because you can’t take this test this summer, then take it. Jack recommends everyone should take it if you were planning on taking it.

[28:44] 3 Phases of the Jack Westin Course

Phase 1: Accuracy

Before you worry about the timer, just focus on understanding your mistakes. Focus on reading comprehension, which is the focus of this podcast. Focus on your critical thinking skills and how you can get better at deducing the right answer. Those are actually more important than the timer.

“If you can't get every question right, without the timer, what makes you think that you can get all the questions right or close to that with the timer?”Click To Tweet

Now, let’s say you have a pretty good degree of accuracy and 85% or higher is pretty strong.  This is still not a reason to focus on the timer. Instead focus on endurance.

Eight passages in a row is very tough. You can easily lose focus and just melt down halfway through. And this has happened to mostly, pretty much everyone that’s taken this test. It’s tough, mentally challenging and exhausting. So instead of worrying about the time, focus on accuracy.

Phase 2: Endurance

Try to do eight in a row to see how you do. And once you’re doing eight passages in a row, now, with a good degree of accuracy, then you can focus on timing.

Phase 3: Timing

Think about how to finish on time given that you already have the accuracy down, given that you also have the endurance, the mental stamina to go through this test. That’s when you should really worry about the timer.

“Timing is very natural. If you can read well, if you can answer questions, well, you will finish on time.”Click To Tweet

If you have timing issues, it probably means that you’re not doing your job. You’re either not reading well, you’re not answering questions well. Or you’re not confident in some part of your prep. This gives you the ability to kind of hone in on that problem.

Find out what that problem is whether it’s a type of passage or a type of question that makes you linger, or whether you’re rereading too often. These are the things that really matter when it comes to timing.

[32:57] How Much Time to Spend on Each Passage

Now there are test prep companies that say you should do x amount of passages and x minutes. Why do you want to spend the same amount of time on the easy passages as you would on the hard? It doesn’t make sense.

“Not every passage is created equal. Some passages are harder, some passages are easier.”Click To Tweet

Spend more time on the hard ones and less time on the easy ones. You want to average 10 minutes per passage, even in this new format. Try it out. 10 minutes or so, are 10.1 minutes. But that doesn’t mean you ever have to hit your average. Some passages could be eight minutes, some passages can be 12 minutes. It just depends on the passage and how difficult it really is to read and to answer the questions. Just read the questions, making sure you really understand it.

If you want to adjust your timing, the best thing you can do is make sure you understand the passage well, because if you don’t, you’re going to be going back often.

Again, read the passage because that’s really the key. Don’t worry about the timer. Don’t worry if you’re given 81 minutes or even 76 minutes.

Worry about your job and let that naturally come in when you feel you can confidently get the questions right without losing focus.


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Jack Westin