Feldman ’15: Numbers never lie, but they do on the MCAT

Opinions Columnist
Friday, January 24, 2014

Graduate schools constantly look for an objective way to predict a student’s potential. When looking at undergraduate applications, admission counselors strongly consider SAT and ACT scores. These scores can make the difference in whether or not one earns admission, but they aren’t necessarily an immediate disqualification.

Low Medical College Admission Test scores, on the other hand, can and often do immediately disqualify students. Most schools require certain scores out of the maximum 15 points in each of the three categories: physical sciences, verbal reasoning and biological sciences. Failing to meet the minimum score in any one of those categories can result in immediate disqualification, regardless of whether the other scores bring the average above the requirement.

Early admission programs increase this overemphasis on MCAT scores. Many universities offer programs that accept students into affiliated medical schools if they meet a required GPA and MCAT score. Not only does this leave out the student’s major and courses he or she took, but it also completely ignores extracurricular activities and anything else that makes a person an individual.

Students can spend four years at a top university, get perfect GPAs, volunteer all their free time and then be told they need to find a different career because their ability to answer timed comprehension questions is not satisfactory. Medical school admission should be based on more than just an eight-hour exam.

But just as bad as the pressure students feel is what this turns students into. People who would love nothing more than to spend their time volunteering or shadowing a physician must spend every waking moment with dusty, cumbersome textbooks. Instead of going home to visit with family and friends, students go home to a library and study group.

As of 2015, a new MCAT will be implemented that will include biochemistry, psychology, sociology and statistics. While that makes the MCAT suited for a more well-rounded applicant, it also adds on more material and diminishes the value of each point. Already, a subject like organic chemistry, which eliminates many potential medical students, only accounts for about 30 percent of the biological science section — less than 10 percent of the test.

Several additional hurdles are already in place to limit the number of pre-med students applying to medical schools, such as physics and chemistry course requirements. Is it necessary to weed out applicants further by setting strict limits on MCAT scores? While most medical schools have thousands of applicants for only hundreds of spots and these applicants do need some measure of a scientific background, setting a requirement based on one test score is not the best option. If requirements are to be set, schools should lower the minimum score needed from the MCAT while creating a standard for every category, such as a minimum number of community service hours and a minimum number of extracurricular activities.

The MCAT is primarily based around multiple-choice questions, which aren’t necessarily relevant to becoming a successful physician. The test loses sight of many of the key components to being a good physician. An applicant needs to be an effective communicator and be able to talk to future patients. A future physician must also be able to write, which is often necessary when making comprehensive case notes.

But most importantly, a physician should be able to relate to patients. Being consumed by an exam won’t help as much as learning outside the field of science. Students should be encouraged to take courses that give them a more well-rounded education and engage in activities that will help them meet new people without the fear of a test destroying their lives. There has been such a large priority placed on creating perfect physicians who will never make mistakes that the importance of doctors being able to relate to patients has been lost along the way.


Andrew Feldman ’15 is creating his own medical school, which applicants can learn more about by emailing

  • Joe MD’09

    Here, a pre-med tells what he thinks the physician selection process should be. Let’s watch.

  • MD’18

    You do know that there is no “minimum” cutoff right? many schools accept really low scorers and deny many high scorers.

    Also, “The MCAT is primarily based around multiple-choice questions, which aren’t necessarily relevant to becoming a successful physician.” You do realize that future licensing is all multiple-choice? USMLE steps 1 2CK and 3 all have MC questions, as well as many board certification exams.

  • JohnnyT

    Very biased article against medical school selection committees and their use of mcat. Recent changes to mcat and medical school interviews using multiple case-based scenarios are leading to the selection of excellent future physicians who can relate to patients. If I needed a physician/ surgeon, etc., I would take the smartest, most talented and highest scoring physician even if they were arrogant and didn’t want to come sit by my bedside and talk, NOT a mediocre, passing-level, just-there, gliding-through physician who seems to be nice. It seems that Feldman’s future medical school will take the latter!

    • adicadabra

      It’s supposed to be biased. It’s an opinion column.

      • Shao Kam

        That guy is a troll. Do not mind him.

  • Hmm

    Standardized tests exist because they have to.

    Yes it is high stress, and there is time limitation, and it is unnecessarily harsh at times. But the medical field ITSELF is that way. You make one mistake, your patient dies. You delay your decision another 5 minutes, your patient dies. Of course you can say that it’s only in emergency situation that this applies, but the entire field of medicine is, more or less, about patient’s lives.

    Also, without standardized exams, you now have nothing to measure the difference between GPA from school A vs GPA from B. No disrespect to the “easier” colleges, but you the author, who seems to be at Brown, should know that there is definitely a difference in level of competition among different schools.

    Plus, it is really not impossible to get an average acceptance score on MCAT if you really do sit down and study for 3-4 months if you do really have a perfect GPA and extracurricular activities.

    I’m sure you the author also had to score a certain number on the SAT to get into your college. Standardized exams are necessary evil, and we just have to deal with it.

    As for well-roundedness, that’s what college is for. Do you want your neurosurgeon to be a dude who also has 3-4 other part-time jobs (that he/she equally prioritizes) besides operating on your brain? I think I would prefer a narrow-minded, but excellent, neurosurgeon to operate on my brain over someone who is well-rounded but not as good at neurosurgery…

  • DoctorWhoo

    Speaking as someone who scored in the top percentile on the MCAT and still struggled getting into medical school (I am a well rounded applicant and person), I would say that there are MANY factors besides the MCAT that are taken into account in the selection process… and there is no way to standardize them. You can’t set a minimum for hours of community service, you can’t tell an applicant exactly ‘how interesting’ they need to be, you can’t require X leadership positions… because everyone’s undergraduate (and post-graduate) experiences are completely different.

    The only thing I agree with in this post is that the new MCAT is unfair… there is no way anyone can be expected to learn all of that material. Oh well, good luck future med students!

  • boop

    uhm also its unlikely that if you had a ‘perfect gpa’ at a ‘top college’ you’d do so badly on the mcat that you’d be ineligible for medical school.

  • adicadabra

    I think this is a valid argument. While it shouldn’t be easy for just anyone to get into medical schools or become doctors, the exams are creating doctors who are really just savvy test-takers–physicians who don’t even look their patients in the eye. Of course you need to be able to pass hard tests so you can get a license to practice medicine, but a score on a test really says nothing about your ability to actually perform as a good doctor. I think they need to change things.

  • Orange

    Sounds like someone did bad on the MCAT. 😉

    Also, I feel like there are certain unofficial minimums even if medical schools don’t explicitly state them (volunteering, both clinical and non clinical, research, shadowing). They can’t merely assign hours to these minimums because the quality of the activity is much more important than the quantity of hours. Medical schools know that. I could have volunteered in an ER all four years of undergrad and never learned as much as I did in one month as a scribe.

    The MCAT allows medical schools to narrow down and holistically review each applicant that they feel is a good fit. Its the universal equalizer because GPAs are definitely not equivalent