A Guide to the New MCAT Format for 2020

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MP 181: A Guide to the New MCAT Format for 2020

Session 181

We’re breaking down the most recent AAMC MCAT announcement. What’s changing? What isn’t? Who should be taking the MCAT this year, and who should wait?

We’re joined by Phil from Blueprint MCAT, formerly Next Step Test Prep.

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

[02:44] Changes in the New Format

The AAMC has carved the MCAT into a smaller exam. So you’re going to be spending 5 hours to 5 hours and 45 minutes compared to the previous 7.5-8 hours that most students are used to.

They are cutting stuff like the survey and all the other fluff. But most of it comes down to each section which is actually shorter. You have less time for each section. Then they’ve gotten rid of the lunch break because they tried to condense it down to the point where you can do it in one setting without running to lunch in the middle of it.

Experimental Questions

One of the things that a lot of students don’t know about is that there are some questions on the test that are experimental questions that aren’t going to be scored. You don’t know which questions they are, but they’re testing the validity of those questions and everything else. And whether those are going to be removed, we still don’t know. But if they’re going to remove those then it makes sense. Their concern right now isn’t the testing of figuring out what they’re going to be asking about in the future. It’s more about just getting people to take the exam. And so that seems an option.

CARS Time Correction

So there’s about the same amount of time for every section which is down to 76 minutes for every session except for CARS which is 81 minutes.

Generally during the actual exam, you have more time for CARS because it’s a harder section for students, especially for ESL students. When the announcement was first made that it was 76 minutes, everyone started freaking out and people were doing the math. Good thing they corrected it.

Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Tests

There are three times for the test per day at 630am, 12pm, and 6pm. From a public health standpoint, it’s going to be an issue as there would be a lot of people going to the testing centers in one day. And considering two people use the computer on the same day, do they have time to go in there and sterilize everything?

[08:25] Should You Take It This Year or Wait a Year?

“There's no harm in waiting until next year.”Click To Tweet

If you think you may be ready this year, go take it. The June 28 exam date is probably designed for early applicants. And if you’re planning on not applying this year, because that needs to go to somebody who is applying this year, consider the September 28th or 29th ones as there may be less demand.

[10:54] Some Concerns at This Point

By the time a student sits down to take an exam they should know they don’t really need the tutorial. They’re probably writing down equations so for the most part, tutorials are actually not that useful. If you can write out all your equations on a sheet of paper, then you probably don’t need to. 

The concern is for people who are hypoglycemic because you only have 10-minute breaks to sprint out and sprint back in. And you won’t be having real food in those four to five hours. That’s not long. But you’re going to be sitting down taking an MCAT and having the stress of taking an MCAT. You have the cognitive calorie burn of taking an MCAT.

“You’re going for four or five hours and 45 minutes without any real food.”Click To Tweet

One of the biggest challenges of the MCAT is the ability to stay sharp and in the zone for seven and a half hours. Fom the fatigue endurance standpoint, it’s a little bit nicer here because there’s just less time upfront. It’s still not a 30-minute test. It’s still going to be an ordeal to make it through but maybe a little bit less of an ordeal. So that’s something to be aware of.

Previously, students would take it over two days. And now, this remains to be one of the many unanswered questions in terms of the time accommodations.

“How can they say that this test is equal to the previous test and the future test?”Click To Tweet

The other big thing is from a test validity standpoint and a test standardization standpoint. There’s a shorter time frame for them to do this statistical analysis and it’s a completely new variable with the exam itself.

[15:23] What Are They Going to Test On?

“In any given MCAT, they're not going to test you on everything that you need to know.”Click To Tweet

But now with a shorter exam, if I happened to know about this thing, I’m going to get a point here and that point is going to be weighted heavier, because there’s just less questions.

And so me knowing this one thing about, say, antidiuretic hormone is going to give me an extra weighted point to increase my score versus somebody else who just doesn’t know that.

With the MCAT being a very large exam, it normalizes that. So it’s a little bit less peaky. Now the shorter exam, maybe some luck is going to play into it as well.

[16:29] Concerns About the Opening of Testing Centers

Another concern is when these testing centers will open. Given the COVID crisis, it’s going to vary from state to state. So how is the AAMC going to play into the fact that students may be in the middle of the country where there’s less population so it’s easier to open back up and have the data to show that they should open back up?

“You're disadvantaging students who are in different parts of the country because they still can't take the test.”Click To Tweet

Probably most states will be open or semi open at that point. But cities sometimes have different rules. I

It’s very confusing trying to figure out what stores are allowed open and when. And it’s just going to get even more complex when you start looking at trying to get everyone to take the exam nationally. Hopefully, everything’s open by then.

[18:20] How Test Prep Companies are Adapting to the Changes

Blueprint MCAT will be updating their site and so there’s eventually going to be a button for those for planning on taking the shorter MCAT so they can simulate that. Questions and passages will be chopped to make the exams shorter.

Phil assumes that most of the test prep companies are trying to do that right now. But he doubts if the AAMC is doing that though just because they’re so focused on everything else and and they’re relatively slow with their full length exam stuff.

[19:27] How Students Can Simulate the New Format Using the Full-Length Material

It makes sense that if you pretend it’s just the old test and you just prepare as if it was the old test, you probably will find the new test easier just because it’s going to require less endurance and stamina.

If you’re dead set on using AAMC materials only, then pretend that you just do it normally. And when you take the actual exams, you’d be surprised that it was a lot shorter and a lot easier than you had anticipated.

That being said though, it’s also good to know what it’s going to be on the actual test day adjusting for timing.

“At some point, you want to do an exam where you're doing the full five hours and 45 minutes without a lunch break in there.”Click To Tweet

If you’re tired, it’s hard to think but you can still walk around or you can still go for a jog. But maybe you can’t do math in your head as well.

Because it’s such a thinking exam, students should really look into those concentrated sucrose and glucose packets that marathoners use. Just squeeze a bunch of sugar in your mouth, take a swig of water, and go back to it.

[21:14] Wearing of Masks and Gloves

AAMC specifically mentions that you will be allowed to bring a mask and gloves to the exam. Now again, it’ll be city by city state by state as to whether you’re going to be required to wear a mask inside the testing center.

Just be prepared to wear a mask for those five and a half, six hours.

Wearing a mask is never a bad idea. That being said, you want to make sure that the mask you’re going to wear is comfortable, because that’s a long time to be wearing a mask.

[22:48] Multiple Variables at Play

There are a lot of variables still at play here, including whether these tests are going to be available at the end of May and June, in their city in their states. So just stay tuned and follow Blueprint on IG @blueprintmcatprep.

It’s understandable that AAMC is stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to get all these students in. But their communication of what’s going on has been horrible.

So stay tuned on their channels because obviously they have the updates the fastest. And there may be some grammar errors and some timing errors in there. So stay tuned even more.

Stay tuned to this podcast. And we’ll keep you guys updated as more information comes out as well!


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Blueprint MCAT


Blueprint on IG @blueprintmcatprep