What Does the MCAT Stand For? A Brief History of Med Schools

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

The MCAT stands for Medical College Admissions Test. It is the entrance exam required for admissions to medical schools in the U.S. and Canada that is created and maintained by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The purpose of the MCAT is to test your fitness to build a satisfactory medical career. Due to the nature of the MCAT, the true test of this examination is whether you can think critically and apply concepts, rather than memorize and regurgitate scientific concepts. Likely to build stress placed upon this exam, it is one of the top selection criteria for admissions into medical school. Suffice it to say, the MCAT is extremely important and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon! To better understand what the MCAT stands for, let’s hop back to the 1920s, not the best time for med school students.

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History of the MCAT

In the 1920s, half of all med school students were either failing class or dropping out in their first year of schooling. Clearly seeing the need for some sort of competency-based system in place, an entrance exam named the Scholastic Aptitude Test for Medical Students was put in place in 1928, heavily decreasing the turnover rate of students during their first year of education. This test would later be tweaked and redesigned in 1946 and renamed the Professional Aptitude Test. Another redesign would take place in 1962, paving the way for the first version of the MCAT to be released in 1977. The MCAT has seen some changes since its debut, going through a redesign in 1992, where the first essay section was required. By 2007, testing was to be computerized. For further reading on the MCAT history, you can check out this NCBI article.

The MCAT Today

If there is anything we’ve learned, it’s that the MCAT stands for a way to insure that medical students have the competence to successfully complete medical school followed by successful medical careers. Serious about the pursuit of the most effective and current testing requirements, In January of 2015, a new MCAT was released. According to the AAMC, “The new MCAT exam shifts the focus from testing what students know to testing how well they use what they know.”

This test was developed as a result of a comprehensive review by the AAMC of the previous 2009 version of the MCAT. Of this study, nearly 3,000 pre-med students, faculty, current med school students, admissions, and academic affairs departments of medical schools were surveyed to share what concepts they believed incoming med school students would need to know in order to do well in the curriculum. The results of this study formed the key concepts of the 2015 MCAT redesign.

What the MCAT Looks Like Today

The MCAT today has four sections, and has done away with the writing section that was found on the previous MCAT versions. These sections are:

  • Foundations of Living Systems
  • Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Foundations of Behavior
  • Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills/ Critical Analysis and Reading Skills (CARS)

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It’s fair to say that the first three sections of the MCAT test your understanding of fundamental ideas and knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics. Where the last section, CARS, comes in, is to size up the test takers’ verbal reasoning skills as well as their ability to apply knowledge to new information. This difference in the MCAT today is that it requires more critical thinking and reasoning skills. These skills will not only help them to do well in school but also lead them to developing careers as competent and caring physicians who are ready to take on the current problems in modern medical care. Consider these MCAT prep courses if you are still in the process of developing the skills required to do well on the MCAT! 

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