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 firstname.lastname@example.org.