Is the MCAT getting harder and harder? Today, let’s talk about what the AAMC data means and how you should potentially think about it.
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[01:09] The MCAT Minute
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[02:22] Table A-16: MCAT Scores and GPAs
Almost 10,000 more students applied this last cycle than almost any cycle in the last four years. And maybe the Fauci effect is real, it must be. But I think it’s a crappy PR from the people putting data out there. They’re capitalizing on this massive interest in medical school.
Since medical schools said they’re not needing an MCAT this cycle, students who were originally planning on taking a gap year to study for the MCAT apparently don’t have to. So they decide to apply.
Students are trying to take advantage of the situation; they apply and ultimately, get rejected. What happened was students rushed their applications and took advantage of applying, thinking they don’t need to take the MCAT.
[05:47] The Fauci Effect
Unfortunately, the AAMC spun the Fauci effect, saying that all these sociology majors and hospitality majors and whatnot, woke up one day in the middle of the pandemic.
Then they realized they love Dr. Fauci so they’re going to apply to medical school. But they have no idea what organic chemistry or biochemistry is.
They don’t know what the prereqs are or what the MCAT is. They’re just going to apply to medical school and see what happens. That’s not how any of this works!'You don't just wake up one morning and apply to medical school out of the blue. You have to plan for it and it takes a long time to figure out what to do and how to do it.'Click To Tweet
Hence, people who were already on this path rushed their applications because they didn’t want to take the MCAT.
[07:00] What the MCAT Data for Applicants and Matriculants Mean
Let’s look at the MCAT and GPA scores for each of these last four years.
We have mean (average, not median) MCAT scores for applicants. The Total MCAT in 2018-2019 is 505.6. For 2019-2020, 506.1, for 2020-2021, it’s 506.4, and for 2021-2022, it’s 505.9.
And so, we see a drop for 2021-2022 at 505.9. It probably means someone who didn’t score well on their first MCAT, who was planning on taking a gap year. But since there’s no need for the MCAT, they’re just going to apply with their 490 MCAT score. They’re aware that if they applied with medical schools requiring an MCAT score, there’s no way they would get in. But if they’re going to waive the MCAT, then they could have a chance.
My guess is that they probably ignored the people who didn’t have an MCAT score for this data. And for those who did have an MCAT score, the score dropped because students weren’t retaking the MCAT and applying with a more competitive score.
Looking at the MCAT for matriculants. The mean score for 2018-2019 is 511.2. Fo 2019-2020, it’s 511.5, for 2020-2021, it stayed flat at 511.5, and then it went up in 2021-2022 at 511.9.
[09:35] Is the MCAT Getting Harder?
Students are looking at those numbers assuming it’s getting harder to get into medical school because the MCAT score keeps going up. But that’s not how you necessarily have to interpret the number. And I think what’s happening is the same thing that has happened with Step 1 scores and potentially why Step 1 went pass/fail.
Students realize the importance of the MCAT and are taking every potential advantage and every opportunity to find resources. They have both free and paid resources to do better on the MCAT. Several companies like Kaplan, Princeton, and Blueprint MCAT are out there creating more and more resources for students to do better on the MCAT. You have new MCAT test prep companies popping up seemingly every day.'Students are more understanding of what it takes to better on the MCAT and that the MCAT is important.'Click To Tweet
[11:58] Better Understanding of the MCAT
This is the problem with students thinking it’s harder to go to medical school based on the numbers. Sure, it’s hard to get into medical school. But that’s probably not the story. You can’t come to conclusions based on a number. As a physician, you can’t come to conclusions based on one number. You have to ask questions, create hypotheses, and test that hypothesis.
My hypothesis is students understand what the MCAT is more and more. They understand that the MCAT is an important variable in this whole process more than they used to. Especially, now, that they have access to more resources, including free resources like The MCAT Podcast. They understand what it takes to do better on the MCAT. And they’re rearranging their world and their life to allow themselves to do better.'It's not getting harder to get into medical school. People are just doing better on the MCAT. You have to separate those two.'Click To Tweet
[13:57] Looking at Step 1 Data
Looking at Wikipedia, the average Step 1 score in 2008 was 221. In 2019, the average was 232. It’s the same thing that happened with the MCAT. You have all of these resources out there and students are getting more aware that Step 1 is very important when it comes to applying for residency.
Now obviously, with Step 1 going pass-fail, all of that is out the window, and we’re back to square one. So what’s going to be important now?
My take is that Step 2 is just going to replace Step 1, and Step 2 scores will continue to go up. There’s a good Wikipedia article about Step 1, and the unintended consequences of the weight to put on Step 1 when it comes to residency application. Students started studying for Step 1 during their pre-clinical curriculum and increased the intensity of their study time until it reached a maximum of 11 hours a day, over the period of a month before the exam. That’s a lot of studying – and a lot of stress.
[15:47] Why Students Are Now Getting Better on the MCAT
More Dedicated Study Time
Students are starting to study earlier and taking dedicated time (for those privileged enough to do it) to study for the MCAT as a “full-time job” before the exam. They’re pushing off the MCAT until they’re out of school, so they don’t have to take biochemistry and physics and English and whatever else while they’re studying for the MCAT. Instead of relying on their medical school curriculum, the students instead focused heavily on third-party study materials.
More Study Materials
These third-party study materials, whether it’s for Step 1 or for the MCAT, are becoming more and more common. They’re becoming cheaper and cheaper and free, like the MCAT podcasts, and students are getting access to these things, and doing better on the test. Again, this is available for everyone, except the more expensive products and services out there.
The MCAT isn’t becoming easier, but the scores are shifting. Based on AAMC data, the average MCAT percentile in 2019 was 500.9. And for 2021-2022, the average is 501.5.'Things are shifting to higher and higher scores because people are getting better at taking the MCAT, not because schools are getting more selective.'Click To Tweet
If we go back all the way to 2017 the average was 500.2 And it is now 501.5. People are getting better at taking the MCAT. So think about what you’re looking at before reacting and assuming the MCAT is getting harder.
For all the students out there who are struggling with the MCAT, there’s still hope. The MCAT is just one variable, and it’s a very important variable. But you can’t look at this AAMC data and freak out, thinking you need a 512 or a 520 to stand out and get into medical school.