A common question we get is if the MCAT is getting harder with the new iterations. We’ll discuss what you as a premed need to understand to do well.
The MCAT Podcast is part of the MedEd Media Network. If you’re a nontraditional student, check out The Premed Years Podcast episode this week where I talked to Dr. Glenn Cummings, the Associate Dean and Director of Bryn Mawr College’s Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program.
Thank you for joining me and Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep today, as we discuss whether the MCAT is really getting harder or not. A common thing I see on many social media posts and even emails is people walking out of the MCAT just totally destroyed. They think it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever seen. They think it’s so much harder than the practice test.
[02:00] Is the MCAT Getting Harder?
As Bryan explains it, the MCAT changed back in 2015. It was that cycle when it felt like the AAMC was “finding their feet” with the new format. And then we have the 2016 season and finally finishing the 2017 season. One of the things students often comment on is how it feels so hard and harder even than last year or the year before.
And Bryan answers this with both a yes and a no.
[03:06] The Yes Part of the Answer – An Alphabet Soup
Bryan mentions this one piece of feedback from students is that the passages feel very much more like complex. He calls it like numbering letter abbreviations for enzyme names, protein names, and pathways. So whenever you get a real, complicated, primary research journal article like the passage, there’s a lot of alphabet soup in the passage. It’s a lot of letters and numbers for genes and transcripts.
Although students tend to panic, this assessment is basically true. The AAMC made it clear that there’s an emphasis on the ability to get through a reading passage from taken from an actual primary research journal. And not from a textbook, a summary, or a lab guide. So the article is cut down into an MCAT passage.
[04:23] The No Part of the Answer
Bryan illustrates two things in the MCAT that haven’t changed at all. First, the questions haven’t changed in terms of the difficulty level, the depth of analysis, the breadth of content required.
On the one hand, you have this intimidating passage and alphabet soup everywhere and crazy figures you have to analyze. This can throw some people off their game.
But then when you get to the questions, they’re asking the same straightforward stuff. They’re asking for the same one or two-step analysis. They’re asking for the same basic process of looking at a figure, looking at the text, and drawing an inference. If you’re familiar with what an MCAT question looks like, it hasn’t changed at all.
[05:20] Equated, Not Curved
Remember that the MCAT is not a curved test like in your college classes. Instead, they’re equated. The AAMC essentially does a “curving” against the difficulty of the test form across 20,000 test takers. And it’s not curved against the 20 kids in the room.
Bryan explains what this means on a nationwide level. Assuming that any two or three-year period and the pool of premeds doesn’t change much, it can’t get any harder. 500 has to be an average MCAT score for your average premed year after year. And the kind of slow migration that might happen over ten or twenty years in the student base is not going to matter for you, listeners, because you’d only care about the students one year before and one year after that. So there’s not much change on that kind of time scale.
[06:55] Reading Scientific Journals
I want to add that those types of passages are so hard to read. Even as a physician, reading journals is hard because they’re written in a very scientific way. There’s actually big move in the scientific community to get out of that trend and start writing journal articles in a way that more people can readily read them and understand them.
Bryan recalls writing his thesis on microbiology during his undergrad and he was so proud of his draft after working on it for a year. And when it got back from his adviser, the whole thing had more red text than black. It’s that weird, abstract, journal-like language.
[08:05] Other MCAT Sections
The CARS (Verbal) is not getting any harder. The bad news is it’s always a bear. For Psychology/Sociology, the AAMC is treating this section as really intensive memorization. It’s broadly based.
Every time the MCAT is administered, students comment on being asked a random theory they’ve never heard of. They checked ten different MCAT books and no one had it on their index. This feedback is common. But the takeaway for this section of the MCAT is to allocate the time you need to memorize everything in Psych/Soc. Memorize every keyword, every famous name, every famous theory.
[09:22] A Qbank is Not Enough
The other piece of common feedback which especially came up this year is that students are starting to get overly confident now that the AAMC has finally released a good amount of prep material. When the test was new, we knew so little about it. But now, we have a bunch of practice tests and the section bank. So students think just taking the AAMC section bank is enough.
Just because one test or the AAMC section bank happens to be light in Physics doesn’t mean you can blow it off. You really have to start from a broad-based review of everything that’s on the MCAT.
[10:34] It’s Not the Same for Everybody
The same goes for hearing your friend’s perspectives as they walk out of the MCAT. What they had on their test might not be what you have on your test.
Bryan adds that in the three seasons of the MCAT, the only one consistent point from literally everybody is, amino acids are important. That’s it. Other than that, one student would complain about so much physiology and digestive or what not while the next student would say they didn’t get any physiology on his whole test.
[11:11] Next Step Test Prep
Stay tuned for next week’s episode as Bryan and I discuss a topic around a tweet I’ve read on whether or not you really need to spend $3,000 for MCAT prep. Join us next week here on the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe.
Lastly, check out Next Step Test Prep. Their one-on-one tutoring is tailored to what you specifically need in the time frame you need. They also have an online class with over 100 video hours as well as access to all their practice tests, AAMC material, to all of their books, and ten live office hours every week. Priced at only $1,300. Use the promo code MCATPOD to save some money on all of their services.
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