The MCAT in 2015: What Every Test Taker Should Know

The MCAT is going through its biggest change in over three decades. Having said that, the actual experience of preparing for and taking the MCAT will be remarkably unaffected.

There are, fundamentally, four things to know about the new MCAT:

The new MCAT is essentially the same as the old.

This is by far the most important thing to remember. Despite all the hoopla and superficial changes, at its core, the MCAT is not changing.

The new test will still require students to read a science passage of 200-400 words and 1-3 figures, or a verbal passage of 500-600 words, and then answer multiple choice questions that are a mix of reading comprehension, inferences, and outside knowledge. Students will have about 8 minutes per science passage, and about 10 minutes per verbal passage.

The test will now have feature psychology, sociology, and biochemistry.

Ironically, the change that’s getting the most attention is the least important. Yes, the test will now include psychology, sociology, and biochemistry. But the core issue of having to memorize some new content is the easiest part of the modification to deal with.

The psychology and sociology content will be at the level of a college freshman class, or perhaps a challenging high school AP class. Any diligent MCAT student can do the basic work of memorization in a matter of weeks. The biochemistry will feel like a low-to-mid level science class.

But still, it’s not the raw content that matters. That’s never mattered on the MCAT.

The most important change is timing.

The test will only be given at 8 a.m.. If you’re not a morning person, you’ll have to bite the bullet and get used to getting up at 6 or 7 a.m. to do MCAT practice starting at 8 a.m.

The science sections are up to 95 minutes long. The verbal (now called "CARS": critical analysis and reading skills) is up to 90 minutes long. The new psychology section is also 95 minutes long. Including all the time spent waiting to check in, as well as the breaks, you’re now looking at an 8 or 9-hour test day. Yikes!

On a more subtle level, the verbal is now up to 10 minutes per passage, instead of the current 8 1/2 minutes per passage. This will likely be a neutral change. That is, more time sounds better, until you realize everyone in the room is also getting more time. That means that students are going to get more questions right, making it harder to out-compete your peers.

The big thematic change: on the new test, everything will have a biology slant to it.

You may still get a torque problem to solve but it won’t be about a see-saw — it’ll be about the elbow joint. You may still see springs and Hooke’s Law, but it will be on the elasticity of cartilage in the knee. You could still get an orgo passage about carboxylic acid derivatives, but it’ll focus on peptide bond formation.

All told, these four changes mean that, although the MCAT will superficially seem quite different, the actual process of preparing for the exam will be the same. You’ll still need to set a study schedule at the beginning, to work your way through books and tests, and spend most of your time and effort taking and reviewing practice passages.

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