Medical school hopefuls will face a unique hurdle this upcoming year as the primary admissions test changes its face.
The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, will be entirely computerized starting January 2007, abandoning its traditional paper-and-pencil format. And considering that the University of Wisconsin consistently ranks in the top 20 universities for the largest number of students taking the test, which is required for all applicants, this change is particularly pertinent to many Badgers.
"It will be a completely computer-based exam," said Matt Fidler, MCAT program manager at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. "This is not a change to be taken lightly."
Fidler added other changes to the test include a shortened time frame and more possible testing dates. Beginning in 2007, the exam will be three hours shorter and will be offered 22 times annually instead of just two.
But while the test may be shorter, Fidler said students will have to take study time just as seriously.
"You have to understand what it's like to take a five-and-a-half-hour exam on a computer," he said. "And it's still a content exam, so students still have to know everything. There are not fewer topics, just fewer questions."
Pat Henrikson, a UW biological sciences advisor, said the move to computerized testing is not likely to throw off today's technologically savvy students.
And if other test-takers have the same confidence as UW junior Marc Nowak, who will be taking the MCAT this January, the new format could prove a nominal hurdle for students on test day.
"I am actually less worried [about the computerized format] because I'm more used to working with a computer on a daily basis," Nowak said. "There's always that feeling of taking a test in a big room with a bunch of other people — the pressure that makes you concentrate that much more. But I think I'll still be able to focus, and this will be less stressful."
Showing little doubt that students will be able to prepare adequately for the new test format, Henrikson did mention a different worry.
"What I'm concerned about is whether the [testing] sites will be able to handle the number of students wanting to take the test at one time" she said, noting while more exam times will be available, fewer test takers will be accommodated at each sitting.
According to Fidler, each location will offer seats for 16 to 18 students per exam time. While this is a significant decrease from the amount accommodated by lecture hall-style exams of the past, Fidler maintains the new format is superior, nonetheless.
"[Computerized testing] ensures everyone goes through the same experience on test day," he said, noting lecture hall-style testing can allow for variations in proctoring. "This way, it is only knowledge of content that separates them."
Fidler also cited a Kaplan-administered survey of pre-med advisors in which nearly half of the respondents said the new format will require more prep time. Students have to take time to familiarize themselves with the format in preparation for test time, he said.
Noting he has already taken several online practice tests, Nowak said he is not taking test preparation lightly.
"I'm putting in just as much preparation as I would if it was paper-and-pencil," he said. "I'm studying just as hard."