Is the MCAT getting harder with new iterations?
A common thing I see in many social media posts and even in emails to me directly is people walking out of the MCAT just totally destroyed. They think it was so much harder than the practice tests. Today Bryan and I will address this question.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:00] Is the MCAT Getting Harder?
The MCAT underwent many changes back in 2015. And it was that first cycle in 2015 when it felt like the AAMC was “finding their feet” with the new format. But now one of the things students have been commenting on year to year is how it seems to be getting harder.
Is the MCAT getting harder? There is a “yes” part and a “no” part to the answer.
[03:06] The Yes Part of the Answer: An Alphabet Soup
One piece of feedback from students is that passages on the MCAT feel so complex with letter and number abbreviations for enzymes, proteins, and pathways. There’s a lot of alphabet soup in the passages—all these genes and transcription factor names.
Although students tend to panic, the AAMC has made it clear that there’s an emphasis on the ability to get through reading passages taken from actual primary research journals, not just from textbooks or lab guides. So actually primary research articles are cut down into MCAT passages.Getting accustomed to reading primary research articles is super intimidating and can be hard for students.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Common MCAT Prep Mistakes Premeds Make and How to Avoid Them]
[04:23] The No Part of the Answer
The actual questions on the MCAT haven’t changed in terms of the difficulty level, the depth of analysis, or the breadth of content required.
Sure, you have this intimidating passage with alphabet soup everywhere and crazy figures you have to analyze. This can throw some people off their game. But 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.Even though the passages seem to be getting crazier on newer iterations of the MCAT, the questions are basically the same as they've been.Click To Tweet
[05:20] MCAT Scores are 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 from across 20,000 test takers. It’s not curved against the 20 kids in the room with you.
So, assuming that in any two or three-year period the pool of premeds doesn’t change much, it can’t get any harder. 500 will always be an average MCAT score for your average premed, and this has to stay consistent year to year.
There could be a slow migration that might happen over ten or twenty years in the student base, but that’s not going to matter for you, because you’d only care about the students one year before and one year after you. So there’s not much change on that kind of practical time scale.The newer iterations of MCAT have more complicated looking passages, but objectively it's not harder: You're competing against the same people and the questions are the same.Click To Tweet
[06:55] Read Scientific Journals to Prepare for the MCAT
Even as a physician, reading scientific 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 read 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 came back from his adviser, the whole thing had more red text than black. It’s that weird, abstract, journal-like language.Studying the style of writing in scientific journals could be its own field of study.Click To Tweet
[08:05] Difficult MCAT Sections
The CARS section 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 about a random theory they’ve never heard of. They checked ten different MCAT books, and no one had it in their index. This feedback is common.The takeaway for the Psych/Soc section of the MCAT is to allocate the time you need to memorize everything. Memorize every keyword, every famous name, every famous theory.Click To Tweet
[09:22] A Qbank is Not Enough. The AAMC Section Bank is Not Enough.
Another piece of common feedback that came up this year is that students are starting to get overly confident now that the AAMC has released so much prep material. When the test was new in 2015, we knew so little about it. But now, we have a bunch of official practice tests and the AAMC section bank. So students think just working through the AAMC section bank is enough.Just because one practice test or the AAMC section bank happens to be light in physics doesn't mean you can blow off physics as a whole.Click To Tweet
Just because one practice test or the AAMC section bank happens to be light in physics doesn’t mean you can blow off physics as a whole. 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 had on your test.
In all the years since the new MCAT came out in 2015, the only consistent point from literally everybody is that amino acids are important. That’s it. Other than that, one student would complain about so much physiology and digestive stuff while the next student would say they didn’t get any physiology on his whole test.You can't rely on single accounts of what people said was emphasized on the MCAT they took.Click To Tweet
[11:11] Next Step Test Prep
Be sure to 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, all of their books, and ten live office hours every week. Check it out here!
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my book about the MCAT, co-written with Next Step Test Prep: The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.
- Related episode: What the Average MCAT Score Increase Means for You.
- Related episode: How Are Med Schools Looking at Your New MCAT Score?
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” for 10% off Next Step full-length practice tests or “MSHQTOC” for $50 off MCAT tutoring or the Next Step MCAT Course at Next Step Test Prep!
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