By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many aspects of the medical school admissions process, but no issue has been thornier than the changes to the MCAT exam.
As test dates were canceled, pre-meds and pre-health advisors wondered: would the test move online? NOPE!
Rather than follow the lead of the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and SAT and ACT, the MCAT has decided not to make its exam available online. No, that wouldn't be fair, you see, to all of the students who had to take the exam in person.
Instead, they've announced that they will cram in more applicants - three times per day - into the same testing centers. They're even increasing the number of test dates to cram more virus-carriers into close proximity with each other! And to do so, they've decided to shorten the test.
In a recent 4/24 article from the AAMC, decision-makers dismissed the idea of an online test, with an emphasis on the ideas of fairness and balance:
What about an online exam? Karen Mitchell, AAMC senior director of admissions testing, says online testing raises possible concerns, including that some students may face obstacles to an online offering, such as not having the right display resolution, reliable internet coverage, or a quiet spot to take the test. “Fairness must be central to any solutions,” she says.
But from our perspective, this attitude is misguided.
So let’s get this straight: since the AAMC is concerned that some students can't access the internet (yes, in the year 2020), they are going to deny the opportunity to take the test safely for thousands of test-takers, risk that entire regions of the country will be shut down, and change the exam itself in a way that advantages some but disadvantages others? Great...
Despite their emphasis on fairness, it seems the AAMC has forgotten the key components of any standardized test: that it be fair, valid, and reliable. And given the state of our lockdown after coronavirus, it would seem obvious that some regions will be open to gatherings of more than 10 people, while others may not. This will lead to a situation where you can take the MCAT in some states, but not others.
Amidst the MCAT chaos, we want to keep you as informed and updated as possible, especially in regards to the most common questions we’re hearing!
If you have a question that’s not answered in the FAQ below, let us know in the comments below so we can answer it and add it to our list!
All test dates with an "X" have been canceled due to COVID-19.
Zone Deadlines (borrowed from AAMC):
All deadlines are at 11:59 p.m. local test center time on the day of the deadline.
For more details, visit the AAMC’s MCAT coronavirus FAQs.
The AAMC has said that they removed the “experimental questions” that are included in the test as a way to vet questions for future MCAT exams, so overall, the old and new tests should hypothetically be the same.
The new 2020 MCAT will become more of a time crunch, considering the fact that there is now less time per question:
Old MCAT: 1.61 minutes per question
New MCAT: 1.58 minutes per question
Old MCAT: 1.70 minutes per question
New MCAT: 1.58 minutes per question
But at the same time, the new 2020 MCAT will be less of a marathon. Focusing for 95 minutes at a time is not easy. 76 minutes is still long, but not the same.
Overall, we believe that these changes should affect everyone relatively equally.
The MCAT swears it's not curved, but merely that it's "scaled and equated" (someone please explain the meaningful difference there, since we don't see one).
What this means is that if there are substantive differences between the new format and the old format, those will get curved, er... scaled differently so that they match what past applicants have scored on average.
We've racked our brains to figure out whether anyone would gain an advantage with the new format over the old, but we can't see one.
Yes! And they’re not all created equal!
The new MCAT will be given at three different test times throughout the day:
The old exam was uniformly given at 8:00 a.m. As we know, most people’s brains take a few hours to “warm up.” So, if your MCAT is at 8:00 a.m., you would wake no later than 6:00 a.m., which is early but reasonable for most college students.
We believe that most should take the 12:15 p.m. test, but night owls might be fine with a 6:00 p.m. start time. No one should be forced to take an MCAT at 6:15 a.m.!
Dear, AAMC: how exactly are variable start times standard or fair?
The new 2020 MCAT will still be scored from 472 to 528, but your scores will be released in two weeks rather than four weeks with the old exam.
No. It will still be treated as standardized, since schools will have no research or evidence to gauge the difference between the old and new exam.
So we believe they will operate under the assumption that scores are valid. If you’ve already taken the old MCAT, your score will be weighed the same against those taking the new exam.
Decisions will be made soon about the May 29 exams. Our guess is that there will be testing in some centers, but other areas will be too restricted.
According to the AAMC, registration will open on May 7 for three new test dates (June 28, September 27, and September 28).
It's a good idea to submit your application without your score.
If you've taken the MCAT before and are re-taking the MCAT later in the summer, then you will simply check a box on the application that indicates you're taking the MCAT in the future. Schools will then (probably) wait to review your application until the score comes in.
If you've yet to take the MCAT, schools will also wait to review your application until the score comes in.
While it's theoretically possible, it's unlikely. Medical schools have a limited number of interview spots, so they don't want to “waste” a spot on someone who is going to get a disappointing MCAT score and not get in. So I don't expect many medical schools to offer interviews to students without an MCAT.
Given the new two-week scoring turnaround, it's okay to take your MCAT as late as late July and still apply this cycle.Anything beyond that will put you well behind the majority of candidates applying.
But given that the expected number of candidates will increase next cycle, it still makes sense to take an August or even September MCAT and apply this cycle.
We recommend the one-school application trick: pick one school - any school, maybe your in-state school - and only apply to it prior to your MCAT.
The benefits of the one-school trick:
Next year? Maybe?
A medium.com article described the “Hammer and Dance” dynamic to the coronavirus. The “Hammer” phase refers to our current lockdown, and the “Dance” refers to the period when we begin to lift restrictions and stay-at-home measures.
Most health experts are expecting an upward spike in cases during the Dance, followed by a reaction of reinstated restrictions.
It seems like the AAMC is assuming that the regional differences during the Dance will be minimal, but how can that be true?
It’s likely that some regions (rural, less populated, less affected) will be more permissive to MCAT test-takers, which will create an imbalance. If this imbalance gets bad enough, then the AAMC might consider canceling all tests out of fairness (they seem big on that concept).
Overall, we believe that the supply of tests will not be enough to meet the demand.
So wake up early on May 7th, register for your test, hold on for dear life, and hope for the best!