AAMC’s AMA on /r/MCAT – Ask Me Anything

MCAT Prep

This post is a compilation of the AMA that the AAMC did on Reddit on 7–13–17. I went through as much as I could to combine the relevant questions from users and answers from the AAMC. Pretty great to hear answers to questions directly from the AAMC! Although, I gotta be honest, they gave very intentionally vague answers. BEWARE!

Questions from users are in bold and answers from the AAMC are written in normal text.

“How does the curve for the MCAT work, is it a preset curve or does it depend on how people did on that particular test?”

There is no curve associated with the MCAT exam. Instead, the MCAT exam is scaled and equated so that scores have the same meaning, no matter when you test.

The AAMC does multiple things when we score your exam.

  1. First, we count the number of questions answered correctly. So the score that you achieve on the four scored multiple-choice sections are based on the number of questions you answer correctly. Wrong answers are scored exactly the same way as an unanswered question and there isn’t an additional penalty for wrong answers.
  2. Second, we take the number of correct answers and convert them to an MCAT scale score. Scores from each of these four sections are converted to a scaled score ranging from 118 (lowest) to 132 (highest). For example, if your number correct on one of the sections is between 35 and 37, your converted score might be 123. Number correct ranging from 46 to 48 might have a converted score of 128, and so forth. For the body of knowledge and reasoning skills the MCAT exam covers, the scale score indicates how much an applicant knows.

So why don’t we give you your raw score on test day or on your score report, and instead convert to scaled scores? In a given testing year, there are many different test forms that are produced, any of which you could see on your exam day. The forms of the exam are designed to measure the same basic concepts and skills, but each form contains different sets of questions. While care is taken to make sure that each form is about equivalent in difficulty, one form may be slightly more or less difficult than another. The conversion of raw scores to scaled scores compensates for small variations in difficulty between sets of questions. The exact conversion of raw to scaled scores is not constant because different sets of questions are used on different exams. The 15-point scale tends to provide a more stable and accurate assessment of a student’s abilities. Two students of equal ability would be expected to get the same scaled score, even though there might be a slight difference between the raw scores each student obtained on the test. This is also done to ensure that scores have the same meaning across test administrations and testing years.

“Is the test designed to have the same range of raw correct to mcat score? In your example you used 35-37 correct could be a 123, would that basis be true in all sections?”

The number correct to scale score conversion could vary by section within and across forms; however, test forms are constructed to be approximately similar in difficulty.

“Why does it take an entire month to get our scores back?”

AAMC scales and equates each exam after each test day. This takes 30 to 35 days. The scaling and equating process is done to account for small differences in the difficulty of test questions when we convert the number of questions you answer correctly to the MCAT score scale. Also during this time, we allow time for students to submit any concerns they have about exam questions or testing conditions. The AAMC then reviews and investigates each concern. So due to this careful analysis and review of feedback from each exam date, we aren’t able to provide a score immediately after you complete your exam.

“Why are raw scores not released along with the percentiles?”

In a given testing year, there are many different test forms that are produced, any of which you could see on your exam day. The forms of the exam are designed to measure the same basic concepts and skills, but each form contains different sets of questions. While care is taken to make sure that each form is about equivalent in difficulty, one form may be slightly more or less difficult than another. The conversion of raw scores to scaled scores compensates for small variations in difficulty between sets of questions. The exact conversion of raw to scaled scores is not constant because different sets of questions are used on different exams. The 15-point scale tends to provide a more stable and accurate assessment of a student’s abilities. Two students of equal ability would be expected to get the same scaled score, even though there might be a slight difference between the raw scores each student obtained on the test. This is also done to ensure that scores have the same meaning across test administrations and testing years.

“It has been said multiple times that the resolution of the screen on the actual test is poor, resulting in a grainy presentation of the passages and questions.

Is this the fault of some testing centers or is it the fault of the software used? If it’s the latter, how can we best mimic that resolution at home?”

The screen resolution is standardized across all testing centers. Thank you for your feedback, we do use feedback to develop improvement plans for the future.

“What qualifications and backgrounds do your test writers have?”

All of the test writers are PhD level faculty and are experienced teachers who teach or have taught the basic concepts and skills in introductory level courses tested on the MCAT exam.

“Why did you choose the numbers 472-528 to represent the new scale?”

The new score scales were developed to have nice round, memorable numbers in the center and scales that can’t be confused with the scales from the old MCAT exam, percent-correct scales, or other commonly used score scales. The new scores also draw attention to the center of the scales to encourage admissions committees to consider applicants with a wider range of scores than they might have on the old MCAT exam. Research shows that students who enter with scores at the middle of the scale succeed—they graduate in 4-5 years and pass their licensure exams on the first try.

“Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you mean by “scores at the middle of the scale,” but not many people with a 500 or below on the MCAT even get into MD programs…”

You can find the ranges of MCAT scores and undergraduate GPAs for applicants and acceptees to U.S. medical schools for the 2016-2017 application year in Table A-23 at this link Applicants and Matriculants Data

“There are two official scored AAMC full length exams. It appears that practice exams are released yearly, however, this lead to people with more practice material to perform better on the exam. Why hasn’t the AAMC released more official practice material, specifically more practice exams?”

It does take time to develop practice materials that accurately reflect and mirror what you will see on test day. Also, since the exam only launched in 2015, we are still working to build up our portfolio of test preparation resources. At this time, the AAMC has 13 preparation resources with nearly 2,000 unique questions to help you prepare for exam day. This is separate from the over 3,000 questions in the Khan Academy MCAT Collection which is a free resource. For information about all the available test preparation resources, please see the AAMC website at Prepare for the MCAT Exam

“Regarding material accurately reflecting test day. Does your scoring scale on the practice FLs change based on how other people are scoring or is it set on release?”

It’s set on release.

“When can we expect future MCAT preparatory material to be released?”

The next full length test, Practice Exam 3, will be made available this fall and an updated Official Guide to the MCAT Exam will be made available by the end of this year. We are also working to develop other resources to help you prepare and as we have more information, we will let you know.

“Why does the MCAT cost so much compared to other standardized tests when it’s a 100% electronic test as opposed to a paper test?”

The cost of the MCAT exam covers the costs of developing test questions, registering you for the exam, testing you on your test day, scoring your exam, and reporting your scores. The fee for the MCAT exam is similar to fees for the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT exams.

We would also encourage you to check out the Fee Assistance Program (Fee Assistance Program), which is designed to cover some of the costs associated with preparing for and applying to medical school. If eligible and approved, you will receive reduced MCAT registration fees, as well as some free MCAT preparation products.

“Are some questions/passages on exams experimental and not counted towards one’s score?”

Yes, there are. Every exam includes unscored questions for the specific purpose of making sure they’ll work well as scored questions on future exams. Every question is field tested to determine its difficulty to make sure it’s clear. They are never included in your final score.

“Why are there no test dates in October/November/December/February?”

The testing calendar is designed around the vast majority of application cycles.

“The MCAT heavily focuses on deciphering scientific experiments; however, most third party resources solely focus on the content knowledge aspect of the exam. Are there any resources (i.e. Scientific journals, workbooks, etc.) the AAMC recommends to practice analyzing journal-style experimental data?”

The AAMC isn’t able to recommend specific materials. However, we would recommend that you look into the How I Prepared for the MCAT Exam testimonials: How I Prepared for the MCAT® Exam. This resource includes 21 different examinees study schedules, approaches, resources used, and advice. This would be a great place to start to see what other resources you could think about looking into.

“Thank you for doing this AMA! I was wondering if the mcat is growing increasingly more difficult from 2015 to 2017 and featuring more “section bank” level questions than when the original transition happened to the mcat2015 format?”

We have not made the exam more difficult from when we launched the exam in 2015. In a given testing year, there are many forms produced, any of which you could see on test day. The exams are designed to test the same basic concepts and skills, but each exam contains different sets of questions. While care is taken to make sure that each form is about equivalent in difficulty, one form may be slightly more difficulty than another. We adjust for these difference when we convert the number of questions you answer correctly to the MCAT score scale.

“Other than the Fee assistance Program and Khan Academy, are there any other free programs you plan on allowing in order to lower the barrier for disadvantaged students when it comes to the MCAT and application process?”

The AAMC continues to develop resources each year that are either free or low-cost. Practice Exam 3 and the newest edition of the Official Guide will be released by the end of this year. At his time, the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program is the only program we offer to provide financial assistance to help covers some of the costs for applying to medical school. Please note, if you are approved for the Fee Assistance Program many medical schools will also waive the costs of their secondary applications.

We would also encourage you to look through the AAMC Financial Information Resources, Services, and Tools (FIRST) website. All of these resources are free and can help you with understanding the financial aid process and the resources available to you. Financial Aid

“Will the MCAT have any significant changes in the next 2-3yrs?”

In terms of the content on the exam, the current version of the MCAT exam, launched in April 2015, is expected to be in place for many, many years.

“How does the test-writing team select passages?”

Question writers draw passages from textbooks, journal articles, and may develop them from scratch.

“Hello, and thank you! Have been collecting/do you have data that are demonstrative of the connecction between USMLE pass rates and MCAT proficiency?”

The first students who entered medical school with scores from the new exam will take the USMLE Step 1 exam next spring. We will analyze and report scores for them as soon as their data are available.

“Hi AAMC,

Where did the section bank questions come from? Were they unused drafts for questions from the earlier iterations of the 2015 exam? Or were they made solely for the purpose of giving students more practice?

I ask because some people on here say they’re harder than the actual exam, which makes me wonder how they came about.

Thanks a ton!!”

The questions from the section bank were created specifically for this product. They are not found on other practice material.

“How strictly does each exam adhere to the percentage breakdown of questions per subject on all 4 sections? Ex) organic chemistry 25%”

Each exam is designed to measure the same basic concepts and skills. Refer to the What’s on the MCAT Exam? tool (https://students-residents.aamc…. the Official Guide to see the range of percentages of questions by discipline.

“After a freaking month of waiting, why don’t you just set a specific time to release test scores like 8 am ET or noon or whatever. Was the time release window inspired by Comcast cable?”

Scores are released by 5PM ET on score release days. The AAMC does a number of quality assurance checks before the scores are pushed to the MCAT Score Reporting System. We don’t announce a time so that we can have the time to do final checks and be confident that the scores are accurate and ready to be sent to examinees.

“What is the reasoning behind specific exam dates having sections which are significantly more difficult than other exam dates? For example, one day test takers receive a difficult C/P section with an easy B/B section and on other exams this may be reversed.”

There are many different test forms that are produced during a testing year, any of which you could see on your exam day. The forms of the exam are designed to measure the same basic concepts and skills, but each form contains different sets of questions. Care is taken to make sure that each form is about equivalent in difficulty, however, one form may be slightly more or less difficult than another. We adjust for these differences in the difficulty of test questions when we convert the number of questions you answer correctly to the MCAT score scale. This ensures that scores have the same meaning across test administrations and testing years.

“What third-party company makes tests most similar to those made by the AAMC?”

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to comment on any one specific commercial test preparation company or product as we don’t work with these companies to develop their resources. However, the AAMC has many free and low-cost test preparation resources to help you prepare for all aspects of exam day: Prepare for the MCAT Exam. Also, all of the practice material is written by the same people who develop the actual MCAT exam.

For additional information on how other examinees prepared for exam day and strategies used, check out the How I Prepared for the MCAT Exam which features 21 different examinees study schedules and advice. How I Prepared for the MCAT® Exam

“I have heard rumors the writing portion will possibly be reintroduced in a new formatted MCAT that may potentially expand over a 2 day period in the future, what is the likelihood of this, if it at all, from occurring?”

This is a new one for us! We have no plans to reintroduce the writing section back on the exam. The current version of the MCAT exam is staying for many years to come!

“On a given exam day, does every test taker have the exact same exam (same passages, same questions, same order) or is there different versions of the test on a given test day?”

There are different versions of the exam on a given test day. So it is very likely the person next to you is not taking the same exam you are. However, the exams are designed to measure the same basic concepts and skills. We account for small variations in exam difficulty through the scaling and equating process.

“Why can testing centers cancel their site within in the week period of an scheduled MCAT? I understand if there is inclement weather and it could put everybody involved at risk of danger or even if there are technical issues. I just believe that testing centers shouldn’t be able to cancel a test date with such short notice.”

The AAMC and its test delivery administrator make every attempt to ensure all facilities are properly equipped and fully functional on test day. On those rare occasions when we experience technical or equipment issues preventing administration of the exam, it may be necessary to reschedule a small percentage of examinees to new locations and/or dates based on availability. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances do sometimes occur on short notice.

“Why has AAMC not released official content review that goes over the information on the MCAT? It is painful relying on 3rd parties for content, especially since every 3rd party content book has different information and the MCAT ends up with terms that we’ve never heard before.”

The AAMC has collaborated with the Khan Academy and the Robert Wood Johnson to develop the Khan Academy collection, which now includes 1,100 videos and 3,000 review questions. These videos teach to the entire content on the exam. You can find the collection here: MCAT | Test prep | Khan Academy.

Also, we have two roadmaps for the content in the psychology and sociology content and biochemistry content. These show you where in relevant textbooks you can find the specific content tested on the exam. This is another way for you to prepare for the content on the exam. To see those resources, visit the AAMC website: Study for the MCAT Exam

Don’t forget, you can also use the textbooks, class notes, and your on-campus library to help you prepare for the content on the exam.

“In all honesty, what is the most efficient way to study? Especially given that one can never be 100 percent prepared.”

Based on questionnaires that 2016 examinees completed after their tests, on average, examinees prepared for about 3 months, averaging 20 hours per week. Even with this in mind, there isn’t a right or wrong way to prepare for the exam. What works for you depends on your own personal study habits and schedule. One place to start is by developing a study schedule to help keep you on track and organized. The AAMC has developed a study plan to help get you started and tailor to fit your needs: MCAT Study Plan. While this is just one example of a study plan, incorporating time for studying, practice, and review are something that you will find consistent in any study plan.

Another place to help you get started is to see how other examinees prepared for their exams. The How I Prepared for the MCAT Exam testimonials, feature 21 examinees who took their exam and were satisfied with their scores. They talk about their study schedule, strategies, challenges they may have faced, dos and don’ts, and their advice to help you as you prepare. These profiles show you different ways you can structure your preparation and find different strategies you can incorporate into your own preparation. You can find those profiles here: How I Prepared for the MCAT® Exam.

All of the free and low-cost resources that are made available by the AAMC can be found at Prepare for the MCAT Exam. Don’t forget to take advantage of other resources such as class notes, on-campus library, study groups, or work with your pre-health advisor for help.

“Is there any possible way for medical schools to know a student voided an MCAT test if the student does not tell the medical schools that they voided?”

Medical schools won’t have any record of exams in which you chose void or no-showed. They also don’t have the ability to access any system that shows whether you voided or no-showed. Only you will have a record of these exams through the MCAT Score Reporting System. Only the exams you score will be visible to medical schools. Voids and no-shows count as an attempt and toward testing limits.

Note: the link to the actual AMA can be found at this link.

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